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Tuesday 27 October 2015

Cassini gears up for big fly by, and what will we do if there is life around KIC 8462852?

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NASA gives a preview of historic Enceladus flyby:

On Wednesday the 28th (Edit: Today!) the Cassini spacecraft will fly through the geysers shooting out of the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Enceldaus is a major mystery in space exploration: This world is tiny, barely bigger than the main island of Britain, yet it has mysterious internal heat source that has melted a sea beneath it's icy surface. That sea is one of the most habitable environments we've discovered in our solar system - Jupiter's moon Europa is similar -  but unlike other icy worlds that have oceans, Enceladus' is actually leaking into space through the geysers at its south pole. This is why we've seen groups like groups like SETI  push to make Enceladus an exploration priority 
Since it will be a very, very long time before we can get another spaceship out to Saturn with the tools to explore this ocean, NASA is taking advantage of the geysers and flying its Cassini space craft straight through them, so Cassinis' sensors can get information on the oceans makeup. This is a daring move, and a risk that is only being taken because Cassini is reaching the end of its operational life.
NASA just gave a press conference on what the fly-through is all about, so depending on whether you've got time to kick back with a cup of tea/beer or not, here's the long version.....


...and the short version:


What does happen if we find an alien intelligence at KIC 8462852?

After the recent excitement over the mystery star KIC 8462852 the same question has arisen in a few places: What if we do one day discover intelligent alien life there, or anywhere? This is something that SETI have thought long and hard about - searching the universe for signs of intelligent aliens is, after all, their job. The Atlantic has an interesting and well researched article (title link) examining  what protocols and procedures are in place, and what professional astronomers and researchers think the worlds reaction would be.

"Live long and prosper," say's the suspiciously humanoid space man who' s just landed his space ship on your car and doesn't have insurance. Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan plan to create joint institute for space research

[John's note: I can't actually see anything about this on the Roscosmos website yet, so this may turn out to be rumour]

According to the Russian national space agency, the representatives of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan agreed to to establish a Joint Institute for Space Research, leading to a joint system for space monitoring of emergency situations, a satellite communication system. This could see the start of a major new dynamic in space exploration and use, as well as opening up new opportunities to the member states.

Giant sized asteroid will fly past Earth on Halloween

If you're an astronomer looking for a challenge over this Halloween weekend, you could have a try at spotting asteroid '2015 TB145' a huge (400meter wide) space rock that will pass by Earth on October the 31st. The space rock isn't a wold ender, although it would definitely be the biggest disaster in recorded history if it hit us - luckily it will pass by a t one-and-a-third times the distance to the Moon.

Above: The course of 2015 TB 145. Courtesy of Astronomy Now magazine.

Plans for manned spy satellites declassified  

In this age of ultra fast electronics, long range remote control, and virtual reality, the US National Reconnaissance Office seems to have gone for the robotic approach to space and left manned spaceflight to the civilians.  
But that wasn't always the case. In a fascinating bit of space history, the NRO has released it's (now long defunct) plans to launch a crewed spy satellite - a little space station that would have drifted over the world with the crew busily taking pictures of the countries below them.

Above: Some seriously old school space expionage, complete with a guy who looks suspiciously like 'Q' from the old James Bond films. Courtesy of the NRO.


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