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Tuesday 3 November 2015

SETI to look for laser signals from KIC 8462852, ammonia on Ceres, and the dangers of space storms....

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ISS has now been running for 15 years! 

Well done to everyone involved in the International Space Station: The football pitch sized outpost in space has now been running as a continuously manned base for 15 years, and has become a technological wonder, and often quoted example of what humankind can accomplish when many nations work together. Although the project is NASA led, countries around the world have supplied rooms, supply missions, technology, and crew for the space station as full partners.

Above: The ISS, one of mankind's great ongoing adventures. Courtesy of NASA.

Well done to everyone involved, and here's to a bright future for the space station and this planet.

SETI to look for laser signals from KIC 8462852

The mysterious dips in the light of mystery star KIC 8462852 - thought by some to be evidence of alien mega structures - continues to be investigated by SETI.  While there's no news yet on results, they have begun searching for optical signals as well - such as information being transmitted by laser - using Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama.

Above: The Allen array, with which SETI has been searching for radio signals. Courtesy of SETI.

NASA near space balloon needs student experiments

Routes to get your experiments into space are getting more and more diverse these days: NASA is looking for students to design experiments for its 2016 launch of the next High Altitude Student Platform (HASP) mission, a joint project between NASA and the Louisiana Space Consortium. Debbie Fairbrother, chief of NASA's Balloon Program Office said:"It's incredibly rewarding to support the students flying these experiments, many of whom are getting their first real taste of hands-on engineering and science. Programs like HASP are key to educating, training, and inspiring the next generation."

Above: The HASP baloon about to launch. Courtesy of NASA.

...And Earth to sky calculus balloon is already flying them - check out their facebook page

In their latest near space balloon flight on Oct. 22nd, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus sent three strains of yeast to the stratosphere. The unicellular fungus is incredibly tough, surviving high radiation and extreme cold at the edge of space. How well various organisms survive the conditions at high altitude is an ongoing theme of the groups research.

Ammonia and clay on Ceres - signs of an interloper?

A paper soon to be presented gives evidence , collected by the Dawn mission, that the surface of Ceres has a strong component of ammonia phylosillicates. These are compounds caused by ammonia rich liquids interacting with rocky materials - and ammonia is a potent antifreeze. Recently Charon was found to have a strange ammonia rich crater that has been interpreted as evidence of ancient cryovolcanism. Large amounts of ammonia on Ceres might point t one theory in particular - that Ceres is actually a world from the outer solar system that somehow got lost - being true. This older paper also found evidence of these compounds on the Cerean surface. 

Above: Ceres, courtesy of NASA.

Bipartisan budget agreement may ease money worries for NASA

The US Congress approved a major bipartisan budget agreement, negotiated with the White House, that increases discretionary spending by $80 billion total in FY 2016 and FY 2017. For those of you that don't follow American politics much, discretionary spending is (in theory at least) optional for the US government - they don't have to spend that money on any particular thing. Federal science agencies, like NASA, fall under discretionary spending (read into that what you will). Although there is no guarantee of how much, if any, of the extra discretionary money NASA will get, there's a good chance this will help the agency, which has grown used to loosing money with each new budget much more often than it gains it.

How to address the dangers of space weather

Ah, the Carrington event - a massive solar storm that occurred in 1859 and blew out the communications of whole nations. Since then countless smaller space storms have damaged satellites, caused power surge and blackouts, made radio communications hard to impossible across vast areas, and generally proved that the Sun can throw out a whole load of chaos when it wants to. In today's technology dependant world a second Carrington would cause trillions of dollars of damage - so the US government have developed a strategy (here) and an action plan (here) to try and safe guard our planet against a literal menace from space - another one, other than the asteroids, comets, interstellar dust clouds etc etc... 

Above: An artists impression of the incredibly bright aurora caused by the Carrington storm. Courtesy of science@nasa.

Cubesats to an asteroid

ESA has selected five cubesat concepts as finalists to accompany its AIM (Asteroid Impact Mission) spacecraft, which itself is undergoing detailed design and study before a final go /  no go decision in 2016. The main AIM spacecraft would carry smaller probes within it: the Mascot-2 lander from the DLR German Aerospace Center, and an additional pair of triple-unit CubeSats.Cubesats are miniaturised spacecraft, based on a standardised design, that have done a lot to improve space access over the last ten years or so. The concepts ESA is looking at include taking a close-up look at the composition of the asteroid surface, measuring the gravity field, assessing the dust and ejecta plumes created during a collision, and landing a CubeSat for seismic monitoring.AIM would be humanity’s first probe to rendezvous with a double asteroid, the two Didymos asteroids.

Above: An artists impression of the AIM mission. Courtesy of ESA.

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