KSTV WEEKLY SCIENCE WRAP UP
1) Colossal Squid Caught on Camera!
2) The ‘Dark Side’ of the Moon Photobombs Earth
3) New Peacock Spiders Discovered in Australia
4) The Winner of Nat Geo’s Latest Photo Contest
It’s not often you get to see the fully illuminated “dark side” of the moon – but, thanks to a NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite, we received a unique view of the moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth last month. SO cool!
The animation below features actual satellite images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away.
EPIC’s job is to constantly monitor the fully illuminated Earth as it rotates. It provides observations of vegetation, cloud height, ozone, and aerosols in the atmosphere. Once EPIC begins regular observations next month, NASA will post daily color images of Earth to a dedicated public website. 🌍
These images were taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16, showing the moon moving over the Pacific Ocean near North America. The North Pole is in the upper left corner of the image, reflecting the orbital tilt of Earth from the vantage point of the spacecraft.
DSCOVR is a partnership between NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force. For more information visit: http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/DSCOVR
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, just received a very sophisticated tape dispenser. The latest addition to Marshall’s Composites Technology Center is one of the largest composites manufacturing robots created in America. It will help NASA build the biggest, lightweight composite parts ever made for space vehicles.
According to NASA, composites are the materials of the future for aerospace because they are lighter and cheaper than traditional materials, like metals.
“Marshall has been investing in composites for a long time,” said Preston Jones, deputy director of Marshall’s Engineering Directorate. “This addition to Marshall’s Composites Technology Center provides modern technology to develop low-cost and high-speed manufacturing processes for making large composite rocket structures. We will build and test these structures to determine if they are a good fit for space vehicles that will carry humans on exploration missions to Mars and other places.”
Lightweight composites have the potential to increase the amount of payload that can be carried by a rocket – the lighter the rocket, the more crew, food, equipment, and science instruments the rocket can ferry into space. NASA is doing research to determine whether composites can be part of their new Space Launch System and other exploration spacecraft, such as rovers and landers.
In order to make large composite structures, the robot travels down a 40-foot-long track, placing carbon fibers onto a tooling surface in precise patterns. The head at the end of its 21-foot robot arm holds up to 16 spools of carbon fibers that are as thin as human hairs! The robot will build structures larger than 26 feet (8 meters) in diameter, which are some of the largest composite structures ever built for space.
Click the video below to see the new robotic system in action. 🚀
Space has been all the rage this month! NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft made a historic trip to Pluto, the Kepler exoplanet explorer discovered Kepler-452b, and three new crew members successfully joined the ISS. Let me catch you up here! 🌎🚀
NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”
Kepler-452b is 60 percent bigger in diameter than Earth and scientists feel there is a good chance its rocky, although its mass and composition are currently unknown.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”
The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.
A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between flat, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. The image below was taken by New Horizons on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles and sent back to Earth on July 20.
Pluto’s largest moon Charon has snagged most of the press lately, but there are two smaller moons – Nix and Hydra – that were the second and third moons to be discovered.
Pluto’s jelly bean shaped moon Nix (left), has a reddish spot that has attracted the interest of mission scientists. Nix is estimated to be 26 miles long and 22 miles wide. Pluto’s awkwardly shaped moon Hydra (right) is 34 miles in length. The black and white image taken by New Horizons on July 14 reveals features as small as 0.7 miles.
Three crew members representing the United States, Russia and Japan have arrived at the International Space Station to continue important research!
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:02 p.m. EDT Wednesday (3:02 a.m., Thursday, July 23 in Baikonur) and docked at the station at 10:45 p.m. They will be aboard the ISS for five months and are expected to return to Earth at the end of December.
The three men join Expedition 44 commander Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos and flight engineers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since March 27.
Click the video below to see the successful launch of the Russian Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft on July 23, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
It’s official – the world has Pluto fever! NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just completed its nearly decade long mission to fly by the dwarf planet Pluto. Christmas has come early for the scientific community as the exciting discoveries keep rolling in! What they’ve learned over the past week will blow your mind. 🌖🚀
Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by NASA’s New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s first ever Pluto flyby. Here is a collection of incredible photos that highlight just a few of NASA’s recent findings. Feel free to geek out – such an exciting time! 🚀
“Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations.”
July is shaping up to be a great month for America. This year we celebrated our independence, U.S.A. won the Women’s World Cup, the U.S. is about to become the first nation to visit Pluto on the 14th, and now, NASA has announced the four astronauts that will usher space travel back to American soil.
“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a blog post.
Bolden explained that sending commercial flights to space is “all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before.”
Since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia to take astronauts to the International Space Station, which costs upwards of $76 million dollars a seat.
Instead, NASA has over 350 American companies working across 36 states on their commercial crew initiative. These four brave men and women will fly on commercially owned and operated spacecraft, built by contractors, not NASA – which will take the cost from $76 million to $58 million per astronaut. This means that every dollar the U.S. invests in commercial crew is a dollar we invest in ourselves, not the Russian economy.
Last year NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the ISS. NASA hopes that by outsourcing the missions to low-Earth orbit they can focus on flying to deep space – even Mars!
I can barely contain my excitement!
Asteroid Day was this week, and in honor of the completely unknown holiday, campaigners issued a call to action – we must spend more time and money trying to blow up speeding space rocks 🚀
Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, and Brian May, from the rock group Queen, added their names to the 100X declaration (along with Peter Gabriel, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox and Eileen Collins). They also spoke with the Guardian about this pressing issue.
The space community has fully embraced social media and sharing online, which is truly a treat for the world! Day-to-day life on the International Space Station is something very few people get to experience. Plus, the view from up there is simply one-of-a-kind. NASA’s flickr account is updated frequently, pulling from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other internet accounts. I’ve decided to post a few of my favorites in honor of the three space station members set to return to earth in a few days! 🚀
The three ISS crew members pictured above are scheduled to depart the orbiting laboratory on Thursday, June 11, after more than six months in space performing scientific research and technology demonstrations. We will be welcoming back Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Terry Virts, and my girl crush, Italian born ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. For a full schedule of their anticipated departure/arrival click here.
NASA Television will air converge of their departure and return to Earth. Coverage begins at 10:40 a.m. EDT Wednesday, June 10, when Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA hands over command of the space station to cosmonaut Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).