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Thursday, 8 October 2015

Balloon rides to the edge of space...

NASA to make 'amazing' announcement about Pluto find

Update: Latest new Horizons release here. It's some cool information - blue skies and red ice on Pluto - but I haven't heard anything that 'changes everything we know about the Solar system yet... maybe when more images are released tomorrow. It's been confirmed on the New Horizons Twitter feed  that the 'huge announcement' was a false rumour - although any news from the NH teams is bound to be worth checking out. Sorry if I raised any false hopes, there seems to be a lot of this 'huge announcement' exaggeration going about right now. I will be extra doubly careful from now on.

Above: A colour image of the Plutonian atmosphere from the latest NASA New Horizons release - very surprisingly the skies of Pluto are blue like Earth's!

OK, it has to be said that the New Horizons team seem to like teasing us with weekly leaks of 'amazing announcements' regarding their finds at Pluto. But, to be fair, so far they've produced some very cool stuff. Alan stern, New Horizons principle investigator has said: “This world is alive. It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, active geology. NASA won’t let me tell you what we’re going to tell you on Thursday. It’s amazing,” he said. Mr Stern claimed NASA would be releasing new data and images this Friday (Australian time) that will change everything we know about the solar system. Which brings me onto...

New Horizon's lead scientist has book deal:

Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, and science writer David Grinspoon have a deal with book publisher Picador for a "behind the scenes" account of July's flyby.
The publisher announced Thursday that the book is called "Chasing New Horizons: Inside Humankind's First Mission to Pluto." It's scheduled for publication in spring 2017.

Above: The sun sets over Cthulhu Regio, on Pluto. Courtesy of NASA.

Edge of space balloon flights to begin taking tourists in 2017

Space tourism is about to take on a new, quiet, form: World View Enterprises is planning to start sending people to the edge of our atmosphere to admire the view in 2017 - using a capsule hanging from a huge, helium filled, balloon. Although weightlessness won't be part of the experience the company offers cheaper prices than their rocket-using competitors  ($75,000 a ride) and a more sedate, relaxing journey. World View chief technology officer Taber MacCallum said: "I hear a lot of people say this: 'I don't want to have lived my entire life on this planet and never really seen it'"

Above: World View have been making waves, including this appearance on the Today show.

Student-built rockets compete for $50,000 prize:

The winners of NASA's 2015 Student Launch competition have been announced. Student Launch isn't about the kind of bottle rockets you might have made at school - these are real single stage rockets, built by students teams and travelling up to over 5,000 feet. Every year dozens of teams compete, and this year the winners are:

First Place: Vanderbilt University, of Nashville, Tennessee
Second Place: The University of Louisville, of Kentucky
Third Place: The University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Rookie of the Year: The University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Above: The Vanderbilt University team with their prize winning rocket.

Asteroids could have hydrated the Moon with water bearing minerals:

The Moon could have large amounts of water locked in its rocks, according to a study by the Moscow Institute of Physics and technology. Vladimir Svettsov and Valery Shuvalov, who have been researching the fall of comets and asteroids, have found that water chemically bound into the rocks of asteroids -  not comets - which smashed into the lunar surface over eons could have delivered far more water that comet impacts, and could account for results that show deposits of lunar water outside the permanently shadowed regions where ice can survive.

Above: Artists impression of frosts in the permanantly shadowed valleys at the lunar poles.

Performance reports from China's Moon based telescope suggest dust is not a problem:

Most people know that the Chinese landed a lunar rover - called Yutu - a couple of years ago. What's less well known is that the robotic 'base' that Yutu rolled out from after landing also functioned as a small science base, including a UV telescope designed to test the idea of doing astronomy from the Moon's surface. The telescope has been taking 10,000 taken images a month, and shows no signs of degradation due to dust contamination, which is a major concern for science instruments operating on the Moon.

Above: A galaxy imaged in UV light by the Chinese UV telescope on the Moon.

How to get NASA to send you stuff:
Lastly, are you working on an educational project (or something personal), and could use some material, advice, or media from NASA?  Pam Hoffman, aka the Everyday Spacer, tells us how simple it is to get things from NASA...

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