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Monday, 2 November 2015

The beauty of Earth, Skylon space plane gets investment, coronal hole may cause geomagnetic storms.

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What does Earth look like from space? 

This is a frankly amazing visualisation of the kinds of data collected by the fleets of unmanned spacecraft orbiting our planet. It goes on  a bit - 17 minutes - but it's a great illustration of how much we've come to use space as a resource, and it's beautiful (and slightly trippy) to boot.

Above: A visualisation of the data collected by our space platforms, courtesy of NASA. 

Hole in the Sun may mean powerful aurora this week

OK, not an actual hole all the way through the Sun, but a part of the solar corona where the magnetic field lines are open, allowing massive numbers of fast moving particles to gush out. Right now the coronal hole is on our side of the Sun, so we're getting sprayed with high speed protons. This raises the chance of aurora's, as well as communications disruption and damage to national power grids. A strong geomagnetic storm watch has been issued for today (Nov 2nd) and tomorrow.

Above: The Coronal hole responsible for the storm warning, as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.

World View edge-of-space tourist company passes major milestone test flight

World view is a space tourism company with a difference: instead of firing its customers to the edge of space on a rocket it plans to float them there using a balloon. High altitude balloon that can take experiments, and even people up to the top of the atmosphere have been around for a while, but World Views are the first to take this idea as a route to (near) space tourism. Last week they launched 10% scale test version of their balloon - the final version of which will be the size of a football stadium - with spectacular results. "Our team is comprised of some of the best aerospace engineers in the world and they've achieved some major technological advancements in the last few months. Those efforts have resulted in new and innovative technologies that will, without a doubt, make private travel to the edge of space routine in the years to come. This test flight is symbolic of a major step towards a new era of accessible space travel for us all," said World View's Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder Jane Poynter.

Above: Video of World View's test flight.

Hugely bright meteor comes down over Poland

Confirmed by ESA's Near Earth Object team this video shows earth getting a spectacular new visitor on Halloween - something big enough to penetrate deep into our atmosphere and leave behind a brilliant trail. It's not clear if this was a chunk of rock, ice, or core-iron from a destroyed protoplanet, but it looks big enough for some fragments to have reached the ground intact so we may be hearing more of this story....

Above: The ultra bright meteor.

Halloween asteroid was likely a comet's corpse

Analysis of the NEO that buzzed Earth on Halloween night suggests it is probably the husk of a dead comet. The object - named 2015 TB145 - passed by at around one and a third times the distance to the Moon and was studied by the Arecibo radio observatory and with NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The amount of radiation it reflects is on par with fresh asphalt, which suggests a surface covered in dark organic compounds, much like a comet. "We found that the object reflects about six percent of the light it receives from the sun," said Vishnu Reddy, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona. "That is similar to fresh asphalt, and while here on Earth we think that is pretty dark, it is brighter than a typical comet which reflects only 3 to 5 percent of the light. That suggests it could be cometary in origin –- but as there is no coma evident, the conclusion is it is a dead comet.”

Radar images taken by the huge Arecibo dish are available here

Above: A Radar view of the dead comet, taken by the Arecibo observatory,

British Aerospace Engineering buys 20% of Reaction Engines

Above: An artists impression of the Skylon space plane. Courtesy of Reaction Engines..

Reaction engines are a British company developing a revolutionary type of engine: Named Sabre an aircraft using these engines could take off from a runway like an normal plane, accelerate to more than five times the speed of sound, then switch to a rocket mode which would propel the aircraft into orbit. The company plans to use the engines on a vehicle called Skylon, which would launch satellites at a fraction of the current cost. The company plans to begin unmanned test flights by 2025. Their innovation and ambition has attracted  a lot of attention, and last week BAE bought a stake in the company for over £20 million. The British government is also investing £60 million in the firm.
"Today's announcement represents an important landmark in the transition of Reaction Engines from a company that has been focused on the research and testing of enabling technologies for the Sabre engine to one that is now focused on the development and testing of the world's first Sabre engine," said Mark Thomas, managing director of Reaction Engines.

Above: A quick breakdown of some of the planned innovations in the Sabre engine.Courtesy of Reaction Engines.

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