The Space Station,
The Space Shuttle, and
Their Construction Workers

The Space Station, The Space Shuttle, and Their Construction Workers

180042main_image_feature_848_ys_3.jpgOne of the things that NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency have each proven over and over again is that astro/cosmonauts are the best construction workers in and off this world. In my mind, there is only one reason for us to send people into space for non-commercial purposes is to build or repair things.

These belief leaves me with very mixed emotions right now.

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A new day rises on other Worlds

A new day rises on other Worlds

07depthxnightarm.jpgWe seem to be entering a renaissance age of planetary science. Using the great observatories of the Earth (on and off the surface), scientists are discovering new worlds of every imaginable shape and size. More locally, we are building space craft to explore our solar system. New Horizons is on its way past Jupiter as it heads to the Kuiper Belt and the non-planet Pluto. Phoenix has been delivered to Florida, its layover station as it travels from Colorado to the polar ice caps of Mars. Waiting in the wings are plans to go Europa and look for life. As we explore these worlds, care is being taken to leave them as pristine as we find them, and we are using the results of our great terrestrial experiment at civilized life to identify some of the ways life can effect atnospheres. Our goals are simple: explore, leave no biological imprint, and find other life via their biological imprints.

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The Sky *was* Falling

On Monday, March 26, a Chilean flight to New Zealand was almost struck by falling bits of space something. The pilot of the flight noted he could see burning up materials both in front and behind the flight. (Information obtained from numerous news sources). Some reports attributed the falling carnage to a Progress M-58 burning up through the atmosphere as it returned from the International Space Station, or at least insinuated as much. In fact, there had been an alert that such a re-entry would be occurring. According to US space officials, however, at the time of the incident the Progress was still attached to the ISS, and no set of calculations can make a Progress be in two places at once. The US Space Surveillance Network had no reports of other re-entering space junk. With all known space junk ruled out, it looks like that airplane was almost almost hit by an asteroid.

That silly little kid in me wishes I had been on that airplane. They could actually hear the fragments burning up.

Should I worry about meteors when I fly? Nope. And doing stats can be fun.

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Flying Metal Bits

Flying Metal Bits

corot.jpgA quick fly through the nearby universe will show you, well, a whole lot of nothing. But, embedded in the nearest bits of that nothing are 8 spectacular planets, dozens of moons, and hundreds of random bits of rock and ice that, depending on where they orbit, fall into such categories as asteroids, Kuiper belt objects, and comets. Somewhat randomly distributed around (and sometimes on) these celestial objects are little bits of flying metal.

Locally, COROT (vaguely rhymes with Inspector Perot), obtained first light today (image above, credit CNES 2006 – D. Ducros). This orbital observatory will dedicate it self to the search for rocky worlds around other stars. A product of the European Space Agency, COROT will study nearby stars with its 30cm telescope, looking for slight changes in brightness indicative of planetary transits. The images it takes will also be useful for asteroseismology, the study of how stars bump and wiggle in reaction to chemical and thermal processes deep beneath their surfaces. Pre-launch calculations predict that every 150 days (the time COROT will spend studying one area of the sky), COROT could discover 10-40 rocky planets and tens of gas giants. Since the first published discoveries of an extrasolar planet around a pulsar in 1992, and around a normal star in 1995, astronomers have only discovered 209 extrasolar worlds. With COROT, that number could double in as little as 1 year.

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