Leap from 23 miles above the Earth's surface

Felix Baumgartner plans to leap from just under 23 miles above the Earth's surface tomorrow, in what will be the world's highest ever skydive. A helium balloon will carry the Austrian to an altitude of 120,000 feet. If successful, his jump will break both a 52 year sky-diving record and the sound barrier.


Hubble Sees a Spiral Within a Spiral

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured a new image of the spiral galaxy known as ESO 498-G5. One interesting feature of this galaxy is that its spiral arms wind all the way into the center, so that ESO 498-G5's core looks like a bit like a miniature spiral galaxy. This sort of structure is in contrast to the elliptical star-filled centers (or bulges) of many other spiral galaxies, which instead appear as glowing masses.

Astronomers refer to the distinctive spiral-like bulge of galaxies such as ESO 498-G5 as disc-type bulges, or pseudobulges, while bright elliptical centers are called classical bulges. Observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, which does not have to contend with the distorting effects of Earth's atmosphere, have helped to reveal that these two different types of galactic centers exist. These observations have also shown that star formation is still going on in disc-type bulges and has ceased in classical bulges. This means that galaxies can be a bit like Russian matryoshka dolls: classical bulges look much like a miniature version of an elliptical galaxy, embedded in the center of a spiral, while disc-type bulges look like a second, smaller spiral galaxy located at the heart of the first -- a spiral within a spiral.
The similarities between types of galaxy bulge and types of galaxy go beyond their appearance. Just like giant elliptical galaxies, the classical bulges consist of great swarms of stars moving about in random orbits. Conversely, the structure and movement of stars within disc-type bulges mirror the spiral arms arrayed in a galaxy's disc. These differences suggest different origins for the two types of bulges: while classical bulges are thought to develop through major events, such as mergers with other galaxies, disc-type bulges evolve gradually, developing their spiral pattern as stars and gas migrate to the galaxy's center.
ESO 498-G5 is located around 100 million light-years away in the constellation of Pyxis (The Compass). This image is made up of exposures in visible and infrared light taken by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. The field of view is approximately 3.3 by 1.6 arcminutes.


10-year-old boy spends his summer vacation helping his chemist dad solve the structure of complicated materials.

Chemist Sven Hovmöller of Stockholm University had been trying for nearly a decade to determine the structures of materials known as quasicrystals and their nearly identical approximants. Thought to be physically impossible until some 30 years ago, quasicrystals are aperiodic structures—meaning they don’t display the rigidly repeating patterns characteristic of crystals like sodium chloride, for example. Since their discovery in the lab, physicists had been working tirelessly to better understand the structure of quasicrystals. But because the existence of such materials was doubted for so long, computer programs currently used to interpret imaging data aren’t equipped to analyze the aperiodic structures.

Hovmöller has worked on and off in the field of quasicrystals for more than 25 years, focusing primarily on the aluminum-cobalt-nickel (Al-Co-Ni) system. Like other quasicrystal researchers, he studied not the elusive materials themselves but their approximants, which differ in atom placement by only 1 or 2 percent and have more tractable patterns of atomic arrangement. Hovmöller’s interest in quasicrystals was piqued when he saw a conference poster displaying an electron microscopy image of one of the Al-Co-Ni approximants. The image was “so beautiful, so clear, [that] it should be possible to solve it,” recalls Hovmöller, who immediately invited Markus Döblinger, the student who made the poster, to do a postdoc in his lab.

But after months of further electron microscopy studies, the duo couldn’t seem to solve the structure. “Not only him and me, but other people also involved, tried so hard, but we didn’t get anywhere,” Hovmöller recalls. “It was extremely annoying."

The image was so beautiful, so clear, that it should be possible to solve it.
—Sven Hovmöller, Stockholm University
Döblinger eventually moved on to the University of Munich, but Hovmöller couldn’t let the idea go. “Every year, once or twice, I [tried] to solve these things, and I just couldn’t.” Then, last summer, he had a seemingly off-the-wall idea. He’d enlist the aid of his 10-year-old son, Linus. “I thought, He’s a smart guy; maybe he could help me,” Hovmöller says.
The father-and-son team sat at the kitchen table for 2 days, poring over the dozens of electron microscopy images Döblinger had generated, as well as some X-ray diffraction data, which provides more precise information on the materials’ atomic positions. Hovmöller would explain to Linus what he was thinking about how the images all fit together, and when Linus didn’t understand something, he’d interrupt his father to ask. This made Hovmöller realize that he was rushing to conclusions. When he slowed down to clear up Linus’s confusion, he’d get new ideas. “In 2 days, we solved four new structures.”

They published their findings in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A honoring the 85th birthday of Alan Mackay, who had predicted the existence of quasicrystals before they were identified in 1982. Linus was listed as a coauthor on the paper (370:2949-59, 2012).

“A kid [who] is clever and good at spatial things might well come up with a solution to a problem like that,” says surface physicist Renee Diehl of Penn State University. “I think there’s probably a lot of potential in 10-year-old kids that we’re not tapping.”

And in fact, Linus isn’t as unlikely a character as one might expect in the field of quasicrystals. “There have been a lot of highly creative and unusual people associated with the field,” says Carnegie Mellon University theoretical physicist Mike Widom. Amateur mathematician Robert Ammann, for example, made several significant contributions to quasicrystal theory before the crystals were even proven to exist. Others have pointed to the links between quasicrystals and art, such as aperiodic tilings and mosaics found in Persia. There’s even a company, called Zometool, that manufactures toys used to model quasicrystalline shapes, Widom notes. “The field is quite rich … [in] unusual personalities,” he says. “This boy is in the tradition of the field attracting some nontraditional scientists.”

But all the structures of the Al-Co-Ni quasicrystal and its approximants aren’t exactly solved. “What Sven Hovmöller did is quite nice,” says Walter Steurer of the Laboratory of Crystallography at ETH Zurich, but his methods are qualitative. Thus, Hovmöller and Linus merely mapped out some of the repeating motifs in four of the approximant structures, but “did not publish any atomic coordinates.” The precise locations of some of the crystals’ atoms have yet to be pinpointed.

“A lot of the interesting controversy in the field of quasicrystals has to do with fairly fine details,” which are critically important to understanding the materials’ true structures, Widom says. “You can know where 90 percent of the atoms are, but still not really know the structure because a minority of the atoms are doing interesting and crucial things. . . . What [Hovmöller and Linus] give us is a good starting point for future structure refinement.”

But if someone eventually solves the true structure of the Al-Co-Ni quasicrystal or its approximants, it won’t be Linus. “He’s refused” to work on the remaining structures, Hovmöller says with a laugh. “He’s still a little bit tired” from the last bout of structure solving.


President Obama's Signature Riding on Mars Rover Curiosity

If President Barack Obama wants to win over the space geeks watching tonight's (Oct. 3) debate, he might consider mentioning that he's the only candidate who's made his mark on Mars ... literally.

Obama will square off against Republican challenger Mitt Romney tonight in Denver for the 2012 presidential election's first debate, which covers domestic policy. The two contenders' visions for the nation's space program may well come up, at which point Obama could mention that his autograph has been cruising around Mars for nearly two months.

The president's signature is etched on a plaque that technicians affixed to the deck of NASA's Curiosity rover before it launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 26, 2011.

Early Galaxies and Black Holes Grew Up Together

As galaxies feverishly churned out new stars in the early universe, the huge black holes at their hearts were firing off intense bursts of energy, a new study reveals.

The discovery could help explain why more massive galaxies host more massive central black holes, researchers said. And the find sheds light on the dynamics and growth of so-called "active galaxies" such as quasars, which were abundant in the early universe.

By contrast, many modern galaxies, including our own Milky Way, are inactive, with quiet central black holes and very low star-forming rates.

Pair of Black Holes in Star Cluster Surprises Scientists

Black holes might seem too monstrous to keep company, but surprising new findings suggest they can live in groups within clusters of stars inside our Milky Way galaxy, researchers say.

The presence of multiple black holes within these clusters might drastically alter the way way these major components of galaxies evolve, scientists added.

"Before this work, there were zero black holes known in Milky Way globular clusters, so even finding one would have been exciting," said lead study author Jay Strader, an astronomer at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Black holes are the densest objects in the universe, with the largest ones, found at the centers of galaxies, containing millions to billions times more mass than the sun. Stellar-mass size black holes are born from the explosive deaths of stars known as supernovas.

Hundreds of black holes, each with the mass of a star, probably form in globular clusters, spherical collections of hundreds of thousands of stars that orbit the center of the galaxy. However, past research suggested these clusters would never house multiple black holes at any one time. Since black holes are so massive, they tend to fall toward the center of globular clusters, similar to how denser materials made their way to Earth's center during its formation. At the hearts of clusters, these black holes would gravitationally tug at each other and tend to kick all, or perhaps all but one, out of the clusters.

Based on radio emissions, however, scientists have apparently discovered a pair of black holes within the large globular cluster M22, located about 10,600 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius, near the Milky Way's bulge. M22 is one of the brightest globular clusters in the night sky, and holds nearly a million stars.

Lamarck and the Missing Lnc

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories tell tales not so much of evolution, but of the magic and wonder of the animal world. He describes the wizard who gave the camel a hump for its laziness, and the alligator who snapped and stretched the nose of a naïve young elephant to its current lengthy proportion. Those delightful fables, published some 70 years after Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s death, provide entertaining explanations for such evolved traits, and were clearly inspired by Lamarck’s description of adaptive change, not Charles Darwin’s. In his 1809 publication Philosophie Zoologique, Lamarck wrote of the giraffe, from whose habit of reaching for the green leaves of tall trees “it has resulted . . . that the animal’s forelegs have become longer than its hind legs, and that its neck is lengthened to such a degree that the giraffe, without rearing up on its hind legs . . . attains a height of six meters.”

Although biologists have generally considered Lamarck’s ideas to contain as much truth as Kipling’s fables, the burgeoning field of epigenetics has made some of us reconsider our ridicule. While no biologist believes that organisms can willfully change their physiology in response to their environment and pass those changes on to their offspring, some evidence suggests that the environment can make lasting changes to the genome via epigenetic mechanisms—changes that may be passed on to future generations.


Electronic Skin Technology

Merging biology and electronics gives access to a new and upcoming technology. This has led to the development of a super thin and highly flexible material like a tattoo, embedded with a wireless electronic chip to be stuck on human skin.

Its applications are many, from monitoring health to even sending commands to human-machine interfaces like video games. The newly developed material/ device is easily removable, as easily it’s stuck on the skin surface.

Saturn's Titan is Capable of Creating the Molecules that Make Up DNA

Saturn's moon Titan has many of the components for life without liquid water. But the orange hydrocarbon haze that shrouds the planet's largest moon could be creating the molecules that make up DNA without the help of water – an ingredient widely thought to be necessary for the molecules formation according to a 2011 international study.

Paul Davies, a leading authority in astrobiology, director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and co-director of the ASU Cosmology Initiative, says: "To the best of our knowledge, the original chemicals chosen by known life on Earth do not constitute a unique set; other choices could have been made, and maybe were made if life started elsewhere many times."
Researchers warn however that although Titan's atmosphere is creating these molecules, that doesn't mean that the molecules are combining to form life, But the finding could entice astrobiologists to consider a wider range of extrasolar planets as potential hosts for at least simple forms of organic life, the team of scientists from the US and France suggests.

The findings also suggest that billions of years ago Earth's upper atmosphere – not just the so-called primordial soup on the surface – may have been the sources for these "prebiotic" molecules, amino acids and the so-called nucleotide bases that make up DNA.

"We're really starting to get a sense for what kind of chemistry an atmosphere is capable of" performing, says Sarah Hörst, a graduate student in planetary science at the University of Arizona, who led the research effort.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which has detected large molecules at altitudes of some 600 miles above Titan's surface. But the molecules are so far unidentified because of limitations to the craft's instruments. The Cassini research team replicated Titan's atmosphere in a large chamber at the temperatures present in the moon's upper atmosphere. To play the role of the sun's ultraviolet light hitting Titan's atmosphere, they used radio energy at a power level comparable to a modestly bright light bulb. The UV light is critical because it breaks up molecules such as molecular nitrogen or carbon monoxide in Titan's atmosphere, leaving the individual atoms to choose up different partners, forming new molecules.

The experiment yielded tiny aerosol particles. The team ran the particles through a sensitive mass spectrometer, which showed the chemical formulas for the molecules that made up the aerosols.Hörst then ran the formulas past a roster of molecules biologically important for life on Earth. She got 18 hits, including the four nucleotides whose combinations form an organism's genetic information encoded in DNA. It appears to be less important that water is present to form these molecules than it is for some form of oxygen to be present in the mix of ingredients, she concluded.

On Earth, oxygen early in the planet's pre-life history would come in the form of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from volcanic activity, as well as from water released by volcanism and through meteor and comet impacts. On Titan, the oxygen appears to be coming from Enceladus, an ice-bound moon of Saturn in its own right because of icy geysers spewing into space from near its south pole. Some researchers think the geysers hint at a possible global subsurface sea and a potential habitat for life.

In 2011, researchers showed how water molecules ejected as part of Enceladus's geysers can be carried great distances through the Saturn system, with some oxygen-bearing molecules finding their way to Titan.

The Pillars of Creation - A Celestial Star Factory

 These massive clouds of interstellar dust and gas call the Eagle Nebula home. The pillars were composed of cool molecular hydrogen and dust that were being eroded away by photoevaporation from the ultraviolet light of relatively close and hot stars. The leftmost pillar was about four light years in length. The finger-like protrusions at the top of the clouds were larger than our solar system, and were made visible by the shadows of Evaporating Gaseous Globules (EGGs), which shielded the gas behind them from intense UV flux. EGGs are themselves incubators of new stars.

Parts of the clouds, particularly the finger-like projections you can see at various points along the pillars, are dense enough to collapse under their own weight, forming young stars. These embryonic stars continue growing as long as they can draw mass from the surrounding clouds.

Unfortunately the pillars were destroyed about 6000 years ago by a nearby supernova's shock wave; due to the time it takes for light to travel from the Eagle Nebula to Earth this won't be visible for another 1000 years.



As described in a paper published August 26 in Nature Materials, a multi-institutional research team led by Charles M. Lieber, the Mark Hyman, Jr. Professor of Chemistry at Harvard and Daniel Kohane, a Harvard Medical School professor in the Department of Anesthesia at Children's Hospital Boston developed a system for creating nanoscale "scaffolds" which could be seeded with cells which later grew into tissue.
Also contributing to the work were Robert Langer, from the Koch Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Zhigang Suo, the Allen E. and Marilyn M. Puckett Professor of Mechanics and Materials at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
"The current methods we have for monitoring or interacting with living systems are limited," said Lieber. "We can use electrodes to measure activity in cells or tissue, but that damages them. With this technology, for the first time, we can work at the same scale as the unit of biological system without interrupting it. Ultimately, this is about merging tissue with electronics in a way that it becomes difficult to determine where the tissue ends and the electronics begin."
The research addresses a concern that has long been associated with work on bioengineered tissue -- how to create systems capable of sensing chemical or electrical changes in the tissue after it has been grown and implanted. The system might also represent a solution to researchers' struggles in developing methods to directly stimulate engineered tissues and measure cellular reactions.
"In the body, the autonomic nervous system keeps track of pH, chemistry, oxygen and other factors, and triggers responses as needed," Kohane explained. "We need to be able to mimic the kind of intrinsic feedback loops the body has evolved in order to maintain fine control at the cellular and tissue level."
Using the autonomic nervous system as inspiration, Bozhi Tian, a former doctoral student under Lieber and former postdoctoral fellow in the Kohane and Langer labs, and collaborator Jia Liu worked in Lieber's lab at Harvard to build mesh-like networks of nanoscale silicon wires -- about 30 -- 80 nm in diameter -- shaped like flat planes or in a reticular conformation.
The process of building the networks, Lieber said, is similar to that used to etch microchips.
Beginning with a two-dimensional substrate, researchers laid out a mesh of organic polymer around nanoscale wires, which serve as the critical nanoscale sensing elements. Nanoscale electrodes, which connect the nanowire elements, were then built within the mesh to enable nanowire transistors to measure the activity in cells without damaging them. Once complete, the substrate was dissolved, leaving researchers with a net-like sponge or a mesh that can be folded or rolled into a host of three dimensional shapes.
Once complete, the networks were porous enough to allow the team to seed them with cells and encourage those cells to grow in 3D cultures.
"Previous efforts to create bioengineered sensing networks have focused on two-dimensional layouts, where culture cells grow on top of electronic components, or on conformal layouts where probes are placed on tissue surfaces," said Tian. "It is desirable to have an accurate picture of cellular behavior within the 3D structure of a tissue, and it is also important to have nanoscale probes to avoid disruption of either cellular or tissue architecture."
Using heart and nerve cells, the team successfully engineered tissues containing embedded nanoscale networks without affecting the cells' viability or activity. Using the embedded devices, they were able to detect electrical signals generated by cells deep within the tissue, and to measure changes in those signals in response to cardio- or neuro-stimulating drugs.
Researchers were also able to construct bioengineered blood vessels, and used the embedded technology to measure pH changes -- as would be seen in response to inflammation, ischemia and other biochemical or cellular environments -- both inside and outside the vessels.
Though a number of potential applications exist for the technology, the most near-term use, Lieber said, may come from the pharmaceutical industry, where researchers could use the technology to more precisely study how newly-developed drugs act in three dimensional tissues, rather than thin layers of cultured cells. The system might also one day be used to monitor changes inside the body and react accordingly, whether through electrical stimulation or the release of a drug.

JWST Telescope

Webb often gets called the replacement for Hubble, but we prefer to call it a successor. After all, Webb is the scientific successor to Hubble; its science goals were motivated by results from Hubble. Hubble's science pushed us to look to longer wavelengths to "go beyond" what Hubble has already done. In particular, more distant objects are more highly redshifted, and their light is pushed from the UV and optical into the near-infrared. Thus observations of these distant objects (like the first galaxies formed in the Universe, for example) requires an infrared telescope.

This is the other reason that Webb is not a replacement for Hubble is that its capabilities are not identical. Webb will primarily look at the Universe in the infrared, while Hubble studies it primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths (though it has some infrared capability). Webb also has a much bigger mirror than Hubble. This larger light collecting area means that Webb can peer farther back into time than Hubble is capable of doing. Hubble is in a very close orbit around the earth, while Webb will be 1.5 million kilometers (km) away at the second Lagrange (L2) point.

How Far Will Webb see?

Because of the time it takes light to travel, the further away an object is, the further back in time we are looking.

This illustration compares various telescopes and how far back they are able to see. Essentially, Hubble can see the equivalent of "toddler galaxies" and Webb Telescope will be able see "baby galaxies". One reason Webb will be able to see the first galaxies is because it is an infrared telescope. The Big Bang caused the universe (and thus the galaxies in it) to expand, so most galaxies are moving away from each other. The most distant (and thus youngest) galaxies are moving away so quickly that the light they emit gets shifted towards the red end of the spectrum. This is very similar to listening to a train whistle shifting from higher to lower frequency as it passes by. Because visible light from faraway, quickly moving, “high redshift” galaxies is shifted to the infrared, infrared telescopes, like Webb, are ideal for observing these early galaxies.

The Sombrero Galaxy

This ring is part of the Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104; one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The galaxy spans about 50,000 light years across and is 28 million light years away. This image is in infrared light; in this light the dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Galaxy glows brightly.

This image, digitally sharpened, was recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-colour on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in optical light.

NASA astronaut

This spectacular shot of NASA astronaut Sunita Williams was recently snapped from space, as the flight engineer made routine repairs to the International Space Station. 
Earlier this week two astronauts on board the ISS had a MacGyver moment when they made repairs using a $3 toothbrush and saved around $100 billion.

The Milky Way, seen from the Port Hills

Taken near Christchurch, New Zealand, the Milky Way is shown clearly over the Port Hills and the Sugar Loaf communications tower. The image was shot by Aaron Campbell on Thursday 9th Aug 2012, about 11.30pm; there was a new moon and the light pollution was at a relatively low level. Campbell used a 14-24mm @ 15mm/ f2.8, iso2000, 30secs. 

Hadley Crater, Mars

ESA’s Mars Express has returned to its primary mission of studying the geology and atmosphere of Mars from orbit, after providing support to the Curiosity rover.

This image was created combining High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) nadir and colour channel data taken by Mars Express. The spacecraft imaged the 120 km wide Hadley Crater during revolution 10572 on 9 April 2012. The image has a ground resolution of about 19 m per pixel, and is centred at around 19°S and 157°E. The crater lays to the west of the Al-Qahira Vallis; it is in the transition zone between the old southern highlands and the younger northern lowlands. 

The image shows the main 120 km wide crater, with multiple impacts at later epochs within it. The impacts reached depths of up to 2,600 m below the surrounding surface. These impacts were from large asteroids and/or comets and occurred early in the crater’s formation after infilling with lava and sediments. There is evidence that some of these later impacts were partly buried as there are wrinkle ridges to the north of the crater floor and hints of more crater rims to the west.

There is also evidence of mass wasting, which is where surface material moves down a slope due to gravity. This evidence presents as the southern left side of the crater appearing shallower than the opposite side. It is hard to determine what caused this mass wasting or when it occurred; it can be started by earthquakes (Marsquakes), ice splitting the rocks through a process called freeze-thaw, or water being introduced into the slope material.

The ejecta of the smaller craters within Hadley are particularly interesting. There is evidence for volatiles within two of them, which suggests possible water ice beneath the surface. Upon impact, the ice would mix with surrounding materials to form a kind of ‘mud’ which is then ejected over the surface. The ice could be present to a depth of hundreds of metres. 

Hadley crater is named after British lawyer and meteorologist George Hadley (1685-1768). The ‘Hadley Cell’, which is a circulation system in Earth’s atmosphere, is also named after him.

Human spacecrafts

Now that the US government has halted all funding to the U.S. space shuttle program, NASA have begun to look to the private sector for new reusable manned spacecraft. Five private-spacecraft proposals have won U.S. $50 million in federal grants under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser (a concept drawing of which is illustrated above).

Whichever proposal is successful will have the task of transporting cargo and up to seven astronauts to the International Space Station as well as safely returning crews. The overall aim of the new program is to bridge the gap left by the shuttles dismantling and to allow focus to land on longer trips such as sending rovers to mars.

After the extra caution shown by NASA since the Challenger blew up in 1986, the risk taking in the name of progress taken by the private companies has been heralded as a step in the right direction that could lead to a rush in progress similar to the boom in progress seen with aircrafts in the 1920s.


Curiosity’s Tracks And Latest Sampling

Curiosity has now measured Mars’ atmospheric conditions. It sucked Martian air into its Sample Analysis at Mars (Sam) instrument to investigate the concentration of different gases. This analysis is ongoing however no big surprises are expected; carbon dioxide will most likely be the dominant gas. The Viking probes examined the chemistry of the atmosphere in the 1970’s and carbon dioxide was found to be the chief component. Scientists are more interested as to whether methane is detected, as this gas has been observed on Mars by satellite and by Earth telescopes. The presence of methane would indicate there could be a replenishing source of some kind, either biological or geochemical; methane should be short-lived. It is hoped the results from the first test could be available next week, though it will take a long time before conclusions can be made about the status of methane on Mars.

This image was captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing tracks from NASA's Curiosity rover after a few short drives. Since Aug. 5 PDT, Curiosity has driven a total of 109 metres. There are two marks near the site where the rover landed; these scour marks formed when the reddish surface dust was blown away by the rover’s descent, exposing the darker basaltic rock beneath. This is also why the tracks appear darker, as the rover’s wheels have disturbed the surface dust layer. Studying these track marks over time will give scientists more information about how the surface of Mars changes due to erosive forces.

NASA's SDO Sees Massive Filament Erupt On Sun

On August 31, 2012 a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT.

What is a solar prominence?

A solar prominence (also known as a filament when viewed against the solar disk) is a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun's surface. Prominences are anchored to the Sun's surface in the photosphere, and extend outwards into the Sun's hot outer atmosphere, called the corona. A prominence forms over timescales of about a day, and stable prominences may persist in the corona for several months, looping hundreds of thousands of miles into space. Scientists are still researching how and why prominences are formed.
The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas composed of electrically charged hydrogen and helium. The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun's internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.

What is a coronal mass ejection or CME?

The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields. Where these fields are closed, often above sunspot groups, the confined solar atmosphere can suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections. A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium, impacting any planet or spacecraft in its path. CMEs are sometimes associated with flares but can occur independently.
For more information, visit NASA's Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page 

M2-9: The Twin Jet Nebula

M2-9 is 2100 light years away and over one light year across. It is in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus and is known as a butterfly planetary nebula. It is a low mass star like our Sun, but is in the final throes of its life. While dying, stars like this transform from normal stars to white dwarfs, casting off their outer gaseous layers. This expended gas th
en can form a planetary nebula that fades over thousands of years. In the centre of this planetary nebula are two stars orbiting inside a gaseous disk which is 10 times the orbit of Pluto. The gas expelled from the dying star escapes the disk and creates the bipolar appearance; the measured velocity of this gas is approximately 322 kilometres per second. Ground-based studies show that the nebula's size increases with time, which suggests that the stellar outburst that formed the 'wings' occurred just 1,200 years ago.


Sunset on Mars

This image was taken by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on May 19, 2005. This spectacular view is of the sun setting on Mars as it sings below thee rim of the Gusev crater. It was taken at around 6.07 in the evening on the 489th day Spirit was on Mars. "Sunset and twilight images are occasionally acquired by the science team to determine how high into the atmosphere the Martian dust extends, and to look for dust or ice clouds. Other images have shown that the twilight glow remains visible, but increasingly fainter, for up to two hours before sunrise or after sunset. The long Martian twilight (compared to Earth's) is caused by sunlight scattered around to the night side of the planet by abundant high altitude dust. Similar long twilights or extra-colorful sunrises and sunsets sometimes occur on Earth when tiny dust grains that are erupted from powerful volcanoes scatter light high in the atmosphere." -NASA, http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_347.html

Perseid Meteor Shower

From this weekends Perseid meteor shower. If you look closely at this image, you can see several meteors. The long straight line down the centre is the International Space Station. Image taken in Canmore, Alberta. Credit to Bow Valley Photography.

This image is a composite, created from 7 hours of photography. It contains 22 meteors and was taken in Wyoming. Image Credit : David Kingham Photography


August 2012 Perseid Meteor Shower

As of early morning on August 11, 2012, the zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) of meteors visible in a dark sky has gone up to 65. That’s the number of meteors you would see under a very dark sky with the radiant of the shower at the sky’s zenith (highest point). The count is according to the International Meteor Organization, and it’s a great number – and it might go higher still on the morning of August 12. It’s time to watch meteors! The peak mornings for the annual Perseid meteor shower are August 11, 12 and 13. August 12 might be the best morning. August 11 might be better than August 13. The moon is waning now. The Delta Aquarid and Perseid meteor showers combine in late July and August to create what most consider the best and most reliable meteor display for Northern Hemisphere observers. As always, after midnight is the best time for meteor-watching. The moon will be there, but getting thinner every morning. On the mornings (not the evenings) of August 11, 12 and 13, the moon will be a waning crescent, and the meteors should be flying at a rate closer to their peak of 50 or 60 meteors per hour. As an added treat – on August 11, 12 and 13 – the moon will be sweeping past the brightest planets Venus and Jupiter in the eastern predawn sky. You can’t ask for more!

Pillars of Creation

"Pillars of Creation" is a photograph taken by the Hubble Telescope of elephant trunks of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 7,000 light years from Earth. They are so named because the gas and dust are in the process of forming, or creating, new stars, while also being eroded by the light from nearby stars that have recently formed. Taken April 1, 1995, it was named one of the top ten photographs from the Hubble by Space.com.
Images taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope uncovered a cloud of hot dust in the vicinity of the Pillars of Creation that one group interpreted to be a shock wave produced by a supernova. The appearance of the cloud suggests a supernova that would have been seen on Earth as exploding somewhere between 1000 and 2000 years ago, and will hit and destroy the pillars in another 1000 years. Given the distance of roughly 6000 light years to the Pillars of Creation, this would mean that they have actually already been destroyed, but because of the finite speed of light, this destruction is not yet visible on Earth, but should be visible in the next 1000 years.

Food from space

The first large-scale installations in space may very well be farms. By utilizing the vast emptiness of space, we could construct hundreds or thousands of farming installations and feed potentially billions of more people. The farms could either be automated or worked by astronauts in the ISS. In the latter case, the living quarters would have to be greatly expanded.
Plants don't really give a darn how much radiation shielding they get, so this could be cut to save money spent on installation construction.

The problem about need for many seeds can be eliminated by mass-cloning plant embryos in laboratories, from a single seed. It would then be unneccessary to bring many identical seeds. It would still be good to bring several seeds for genetic diversity, but that would be nowhere near the volumes of seeds needed in normal seeding.

The easiest way to send food to Earth would be to seal large shipments of food it in spherical capsules about the size of attack pods seen on Dragon Ball Z and just drop it onto Earth like a meteorite. Some form of parachutes would be needed to avoid destroying the food however, but that can be easily added to the construction.

Although we make enough food every single year to feed everyone in the world, some people die of starvation while others die from obesity-related diseases. Since such demonstrative property-assertion is a direct consequence of rivalry over scarce resources on overpopulated Earth, the only other way to feed the starving Africans and Indian children is to just make more food and give it to them.

Dropping food capsules into India and Africa every couple of weeks could remedy the starvation situation and relieve efforts to farm the unfarmable land, which will help stop the catastrophic erosion going on in those regions.

If we made farmed in space we also wouldn't have to ship food from Earth to the space station or other space colonies.

One important effect of food from space to poor families would be to eradicate their need to breed many children for agricultural workforce, which would help create zero population growth. Silly space colonization opponents often complain that spacelaunches would be unable to keep up with population increase, but in this way, space colonies would first help stabilize population on Earth, before the final launch-based decompression that eventually ends overpopulation forever. See also grand rescue.

Other help articles can be delivered as well, such as clothes, easily assembled dwellings such as well-insulated tents, warming fuel and medicines. In the case of medicines, the problem with analphabets unable to read instructions can be helped by recorded voices in the local language.

Grand rescue

If only a few hundred Human colonists make it into self-sufficient space colonies before economical collapse cripples Earth-based space activity, the colonists may, after establishing themselves in space, help the Humans who are stuck on Earth, or those of them who want, to leave Earth. See also manipulated spacetimes and the anti-congestion argument.
The grand rescue concept can also economically be considered a variety of better launches. That is, fueled-and-ready spacecraft are mass-produced in space using the abundance of resources out there. Those spacecraft are then sent down to Earth and used for launches from Earth. That would make space travel inexpensive to anyone, enabling large-scale space colonization. Therefore a main aim of the space colonization movement must be to establish a few bases in space from which the abundance of resources can be used for cheaply mass-producing spacecraft.

The spacecraft could be in the form of space planes that uses the atmosphere as a help in the beginning and also use atmospheric oxygen early in the launch, so the oxygen tank can be made smaller (which saves fuel as well due to reduced weight). The fuel, hydrogen, can be taken from gas giants, most practically Saturn due to lowest gravity of all gas giants, less radiation than Jupiter and less other elements (and closer proximity) than Uranus and Neptune. The oxygen can be taken from farms in space, and the spacecraft can also be delivered in the same way as food from space.

We're running out of fossil fuels!

Some say that Peak oil is already here, others say that it will be some considerable time before we hit peak oil. What you believe is up to you, but when you read the following statement in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, one of the most reputable sources of information on the planet, you do step back and think that things may never be the same again on our little planet:
"On a time scale within the span of prospective human history, the utilization of oil as a major source of energy will be a transitory affair of about 100 years. Nonetheless, it will have been an affair of profound importance to world industrialization." [1].

100 years? That essentially means that the recent surge in oil prices could well be, as around half of the commentaries in the media have observed, due to dwindling supplies and increasing demand for oil. If this is the case, and bear in mind that a great many of our essential products are made from oil, then we have got a serious problem in that we need the black stuff to make many of the products that are also essential for space colonization. Even if peak oil is not here just yet, it is obvious that it will arrive some time relatively soon, which means that if we are going to get the human race established in space, we have to do it now, before the oil becomes too scarce.

Of course, the other half of the commentaries in the media state that we may (with increasing technological capability) have enough oil to last a little longer than 100 years, but what then? Put simply, at some point during this generation or the next, relatively cheap oil will have been replaced with completely unaffordable oil, and we will have lost our best chance to use that energy resource for resource exploitation and human evolution in space. We cannot allow that to happen. We must engage as many people as possible in the space colonization project, the reasons for which are obvious: the wealth of natural resources just in our solar system would mean almost limitless energy for the human race for a length of time that could be measured in millions of years; and the likelihood of the human race being wiped out by natural or man-made disasters would be dramatically reduced because we would no longer have all our eggs in one basket.

Bookmark this website and come back regularly to get the latest on how we, and you, can help the human race to colonize space before we run out of cheap energy. Don't forget, if you have something to contribute to the issue of space colonization then you can share it with everyone by writing your own articles on this website.

 Petroleum. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 1, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD

Space colonization

Space colonization (also called space settlement, space humanization, space habitation, etc.) is the concept of autonomous (self-sufficient) human habitation of locations outside Earth. It is a major theme in science fiction, as well as a long-term goal of various national space programs.
While many people think of space colonies on the Moon or Mars, others argue that the first colonies will be in orbit. They have determined that there are ample quantities of all the necessary materials on the Moon and Near Earth Asteroids, that solar energy is readily available in very large quantities.

In 2005 NASA Administrator Michael Griffin identified space colonization as the ultimate goal of current spaceflight programs, saying:

… the goal isn't just scientific exploration … it's also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time … In the long run a single-planet species will not survive … If we humans want to survive for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, we must ultimately populate other planets. Now, today the technology is such that this is barely conceivable. We're in the infancy of it. … I'm talking about that one day, I don't know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it. We may well have people living on the moon. We may have people living on the moons of Jupiter and other planets. We may have people making habitats on asteroids … I know that humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond. – Michael D. Griffin

As of 2008, the international space station provides a permanent, yet still non-autonomous, human presence in space. The NASA Lunar outpost, providing a permanent human presence on the moon, is at the planning stage. There is an ongoing development of technologies that may be used in future space colonization projects.


Future human evolution

We have all our eggs in this one basket called planet Earth that could easily suffer a global disaster, perhaps destroying the human race, but at the least setting us back centuries or longer. Also, sometime within this generation or the next, we will run out of oil, and sometime after that, we will run out of coal and gas. And, as argued in the anti-congestion argument, global overpopulation may cause humanity to devolve. 

We will even run out of nuclear fuel. But that's in the future, and the space agencies of the world are going to be exploiting the resources from space by then anyway, right?

 They don't have the time or resources to explore at even one tenth of the speed that is required if we are to start making use of the resources in space before something bad happens to the human race. What is needed is a directed movement from a large portion of our population to help the space agencies with more money and people to do the work required. Quite literally a planetary effort. Bearing that in mind, it must be said that this is an achievable goal, especially with a tool like the Space Colonization Wiki that allows us to have a truly global communication system that everybody can operate. So please, join in and help direct the next stage of human evolution.

Reasons to colonize space

Colonizing space is really important. If it weren't for colonizing space, the human race would not survive. Numerous challenges will be faced. Humans will face overpopulation in the not too distant future which would cause lack of resources, starvation, poverty, and thirst. 

Diseases will go havoc, pollution will destroy the environment, and world war 3 can become a nuclear war and numerous people will have health issues. Another reason is if an asteroid hits the Earth, the human civilization will collapse entirely. If we become a multi planet species, then none of this will happen. Although, some say that we shouldn't colonize space. 

Other worlds may have native alien life forms and us humans colonizing worlds we are not native to is too repetitive. We have colonized all of the continents on Earth except Antarctica. We are not native to the Americas, Europa, Australia, nor Asia. We are native to Africa. Africa is the birthplace of the human race. In the near future, humans will have focas beyond the Earth.