NASA Tips Their Hat To Cosmos With A Gorgeous Space Gallery

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FeatWhile Cosmos may not have lived up to Fox’s ratings expectations, it was still a humbling primer on our vast, marvelous universe. Neil deGrasse Tyson played host as he explored our “cosmic address,” voyaging from our home planet, our solar system, our galaxy, out to the fringes of the observable universe. Never ones to be upstaged by some slick CGI and an imaginary spaceship, earlier this week NASA released a gallery of beautiful images showing off our wonderful cosmos.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a new incarnation of the classic and beloved 1980 science series hosted by the late Carl Sagan. The original version inspired many a youngster who has since gone on to a career in science, and hopefully Fox’s new version will do the same (assuming they don’t cancel it sometime in the next 15 minutes). The first episode kept things pretty basic, focusing on the vast scale of our universe, the story of persecuted Renaissance visionary Giordano Bruno, and Tyson’s own tale of his relationship with Sagan, who became a mentor of sorts to the noted astrophysicist and science advocate. Cosmos airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on Fox.


SpaceX To Launch Missions for the U.S. Military

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Falcon 9SpaceX seems to be taking the world—make that the universe—by storm. The private contractor hauls cargo to the ISS, and despite an initial launch glitch, it has begun taking communications satellites into orbit. The company is also working on manned flight capabilities, with the long-term goal to get people to Mars. There seems to be no aspect of space travel SpaceX isn’t involved in, and now it’s poised to launch missions for the U.S. military.

This week, Elon Musk told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that he’s ready to get in the running for Air Force contracts based on the strength of theFalcon rocket. “Frankly, if our rockets are good enough for NASA, why are they not good enough for the Air Force?” Musk says. Fair point, though NASA has different requirements for its contracts.


MythBusters’ Adam Savage Shows Off His Gorgeous Mercury Spacesuit Replica

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Mercury2Adam Savage’s life is just frankly unfair. It’s bad enough that he gets paid to blow things up, put Hollywood’s sillier action moments to the test, and hang around Kari Byron all day. But he also gets to throw around all that mad MythBusters money to buy things like exact replicas of the Apollo program flight jackets and, even cooler, the gorgeous spacesuit design used by NASA’s Mercury-era astronauts. I admit it: I’m burning with incandescent jets of pure envy right now. This may very well be the moment that tips me over the edge of reason and into a career as a supervillain focused on stealing the entire contents of Adam Savage’s man cave.


Is A Manned Mars Mission Suicide? According To A UAE Fatwa, Yes.

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MarsMars One, the Dutch nonprofit that plans to send colonists on a one-way trip to Mars in 2024, narrowed down a field of over 200,000 applicants to just over 1,000 at the end of last year. Those 1,000 applicants run the demographic gamut, from home country (applicants hail from 107 countries, including the US, India, China, Brazil, UK, Canada, Russia, Mexico, Turkey, and more) to education to age. And, one could assume, in terms of religion. Recently, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments (GAIAE), an organization within the United Arab Emirates whose mission is to enhance religious and social awareness, has urged Muslims not to participate in the Mars One mission.

GAIAE issued a fatwa, an official judgment on an issue concerning Islamic law, against Muslims traveling to Mars. GAIAE employs scholars whose job it is to tackle such issues and deliver a ruling, and they said, “It is not permissible to travel to Mars and never to return if there is no life on Mars. The chances of dying are higher than living.” That being their stance, a manned mission to Mars is akin to a suicide mission, and suicide violates Islamic principles.


Our Moon May Not Be Able To Have Its Own Mini-Moon, But A Meteorite Recently Exploded On The Lunar Surface

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moonsWhen you realize that planets like Saturn have 60 moons, and Jupiter has 63, you have to wonder whether moons can have their own moons. Saturn’s satelite Titan is larger than the planet Mercury, so it’s not hard to imagine another rock circling it. Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today, one of my favorite space publications, tackled this question, and has dashed my hopes of discovering an infinite series of moons. It turns out that a moon can’t have a moon—unless some specific stuff is going on, which we’ll talk about later. At least the reasons this can’t happen are interesting, and that makes everything okay.

Apparently, “moon” has no explicit definition. If you look it up, you’ll find references to Earth’s Moon, but no official definition about what moons are in general. I thought science had this stuff nailed down. Moons do have some consistent attributes, though: they’re whole, sold objects that orbit around a bigger body, probably a planet, probably orbiting a star. Whatever the moon orbits is orbiting something else, etc. Technically, the Moon does have a moon, or at least something distinct orbiting it: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling and photographing our Moon since 2009. But its lifespan is limited, and sheds light on why no moons in our Solar System can have their own satellites.


ESA’s Cosmic Vision Includes New Planet-Hunting Mission

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NASA likes to boast about its planet-hunting capabilities thanks to both the Kepler and the Hubble telescopes. But NASA’s not the only organization looking to identify new planets in the cosmos. The European Space Agency (ESA) conducts its own searches from across the pond, and they recently selected the PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) mission to join its 10-year Cosmic Vision programme.

In broad terms, the Cosmic Vision programme strives to push the foundation it has built in space science into a more contemporary, forward-thinking realm by foreseeing and addressing the challenges of the future. The overarching goals of the programme include identifying scientific challenges, prioritizing space research, figuring how how to marshal resources to achieve the maximum return on investment, maintaining Europe’s competitive technological status, and reinforcing ESA’s ability to advance space science.

PLATO, a space-based observatory, addresses these goals by focusing on the conditions necessary for planetary formation (link?) as well as how the Solar System formed, functions, and compares to other systems. Its particular specialty is identify Sun-Earth analogue systems using 34 distinct telescopes and cameras, PLATO will search for planets the same way Kepler does–by monitoring roughly a million stars and looking for the small but consistent reductions in brightness that signify a planet passing in front of them.