For math-phobic, numbers pose threat of pain, study says
October 31st, 2012
06:38 PM ET

For math-phobic, numbers pose threat of pain, study says

You're at a big group dinner and it's time to pay up, to divide the total and multiply a certain percentage for the tip. How many people tense up and say something like, "Oh, I'm so bad at math"?

Fear of math is everywhere - in the adult world where there aren't official pop quizzes, and in schools where the next generation of scientific problem-solvers are struggling with homework.

Researchers report in a new study in the journal PLoS One that this anxiety about mathematics triggers the same brain activity that's linked with the physical sensation of pain. FULL POST

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Filed under: Math • On Earth
A distant planet gets resurrected
Artist's impression of Fomalhaut b in orbit around its star.
October 31st, 2012
10:29 AM ET

A distant planet gets resurrected

Editor's note: Brian Williams is a space enthusiast and writer living in Salinas, California.

Back in 2008, something went bump in the night around Fomalhaut, a star in the constellation Piscis Austrinusa, 25 light-years away from Earth. Originally found by the Hubble Space Telescope, Fomalhaut b was announced as the first exoplanet (a planet outside our solar system)  found through direct imaging in visible light, instead of by the usual planet-finding methods.

Moving through a dusty oblong ring surrounding its star, Fomalhaut b was thought to be a planet as much as three times Jupiter’s mass, carving a path through the ring.

FULL POST

Sandy exposes space shuttle Enterprise
Heather Shapiro took this photo of the space shuttle Enterprise from the window of her 21st floor apartment on Tuesday morning.
October 30th, 2012
11:19 AM ET

Sandy exposes space shuttle Enterprise

In the midst of flooding, power outages and significant damages in New York City as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the space shuttle Enterprise appears to have been uncovered.

CNN iReporter Heather Shapiro, 28, snapped a photo of Enterprise from the window of her New York apartment building on Tuesday morning. She lives on the 21st floor.

Normally, the shuttle is shielded by a dome-like tent at the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum. This tent, which Shapiro described as a "giant gray bubble," appears to have collapsed, with the fabric draped over the shuttle.

Mashable reports, "Despite the loss of the protective structure, the Enterprise looks to be mostly fine, save some possible damage to the vertical stabilizer."

UPDATE: Susan Marenoff-Zausner, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, released this statement:

The rise in the Hudson River due to Hurricane Sandy caused flooding and damage to Pier 86. The pier was designed to withstand the 100 year storm. However, the unprecedented levels of water flooded the main electrical transformers and both of our backup generators.

As a result, power issues caused the Space Shuttle Pavilion to deflate. We currently are assessing the situation. The safety of our employees is most important, and when our teams are able to safely work on site, we will begin to rebuild the areas of our complex that have been affected. We are eager to reopen our doors to the public, but as of now, the Museum will be closed until further notice. Please visit www.intrepidmuseum.org for updates. We appreciate your patience and support.

CNN's David Williams contributed to this report.

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Filed under: News
In Sandy, opportunities for science education
October 30th, 2012
11:18 AM ET

In Sandy, opportunities for science education

By Zaina Adamu, CNN

When Ted Turbiasz, 36, first heard about Hurricane Sandy, he gathered his two children in their backyard and put them to work. Collectively, they built a do-it-yourself weather station equipped with a rain gauge and wind indicator, and connected their home television to feed live video of the storm. They topped it off with a specially-made banner held on with green duct tape and labeling the unit as “Aidan’s Sandy Weather Station.”

The purpose of it all was to “teach them that weather is something that can be monitored," Turbiasz told CNN's iReport.

With more advanced technology and resources, forecasters are doing the same. They predicted the magnitude of Sandy with the help of satellite images from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder tracked the storm and captured a high-resolution photo that meteorologists used to determine the storm's size.

FULL POST

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SpaceX Dragon completes 1st commercial cargo flight
NASA'S Charles Bolden, left, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stand next to the Dragon capsule in June in McGregor, Texas.
October 29th, 2012
10:26 AM ET

SpaceX Dragon completes 1st commercial cargo flight

The SpaceX Dragon has splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after a three-week flight to the International Space Station, completing the first commercial cargo mission to Earth's orbit, NASA announced Sunday.

The unmanned capsule came down about 250 miles west of Baja California at 3:22 p.m., the space agency reported. The craft was launched October 7, the first of a dozen flights to the space station planned under a contract with NASA.

The craft carried nearly 900 pounds of supplies to the station and returned with nearly 1,700 pounds of freight, mostly used hardware and scientific research material. The reusable craft has been loaded onto a ship and was carried back to shore Sunday afternoon, SpaceX said.

FULL STORY

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Filed under: In Space
Dragon in its Nest
October 29th, 2012
10:19 AM ET

Dragon in its Nest

"A Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 3:22 p.m. EDT Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico. The splashdown successfully ended the first contracted cargo delivery flight contracted by NASA to resupply the International Space Station.

The Dragon capsule will be taken by boat to a port near Los Angeles, where it will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing. Returning with the Dragon capsule was 1,673 pounds of cargo, including 866 pounds of scientific research. Not since the space shuttle have NASA and its international partners been able to return considerable amounts of research and samples for analysis."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
Hubble Sees Violent Star Formation Episodes in Dwarf Galaxies
October 29th, 2012
10:16 AM ET

Hubble Sees Violent Star Formation Episodes in Dwarf Galaxies

"The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has imaged the faint irregular galaxy NGC 3738, a starburst galaxy. The galaxy is in the midst of a violent episode of star formation, during which it is converting reservoirs of hydrogen gas located in the galaxy’s center into stars. Hubble spots this gas glowing red around NGC 3738, one of the most distinctive signs of ongoing star formation.

Lying in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear), NGC 3738 is located about 12 million light-years from the sun, and belongs to the Messier 81 group of galaxies. This galaxy — first observed by astronomer William Herschel back in 1789 — is a nearby example of a blue compact dwarf, the faintest type of starburst galaxy. Blue compact dwarfs are small compared to large spiral galaxies — NGC 3738 is around 10,000 light-years across, just one tenth of the size of the Milky Way.

This type of galaxy is blue in appearance by virtue of containing large clusters of hot, massive stars, which ionize the surrounding interstellar gas with their intense ultraviolet radiation. They are relatively faint and appear to be irregular in shape. Unlike spirals or elliptical galaxies, irregular galaxies do not have any distinctive features, such as a nuclear bulge or spiral arms. Rather, they are extremely chaotic in appearance. These galaxies are thought to resemble some of the earliest that formed in the Universe and may provide clues as to how stars appeared shortly after the Big Bang.

This image was created by combining visual and infrared images taken with the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The field of view of the Wide Field Channel is approximately 3.4 by 3.4 arcminutes wide."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
Use your phone to explore space
Use the NASA app to search for the newest images from the agency.
October 26th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Use your phone to explore space

Did you know you could use your mobile device to keep up with what's going on in our universe? These apps will help you get the latest from NASA, identify that bright light in your sky, and land a space shuttle!

SkyView (iOS, $1.99)

SkyView uses an augmented reality engine to show you what's up in your sky. Hold up your device and explore what's around you. You can search for planets, stars, constellations and satellites, and tap an object for more information. Want to know when the International Space Station will be flying overhead, if that bright star in your sky is Jupiter, or when the moon will rise? This app's for you.

Mission Clock (iOS, $4.99)

Want to keep track of the latest launches and missions? Mission Clock contains a wealth of information on both upcoming missions and current ones: launch dates and locations, elapsed mission time, major goals and more. Set alerts to remind yourself of upcoming events, or to keep track of changes for upcoming launches.

F-Sim Shuttle Simulator (iOS and Android, $3.99)

Ever wanted to fly a space shuttle? The real thing may be retired, but you can still try your hand at re-entry and landing with the F-Sim Shuttle Simulator. You've got a ton of options for setting the difficulty of the flight, the landing site, night or day, weather...the list goes on.

And finally...

NASA (iOS and Android, free)

NASA has actually released a few mobile apps, but the core NASA app opens up a wealth of information about the space agency and its missions, not to mention beautiful imagery, Third Rock Radio, and video. Use it to watch NASA TV on the road, check out the latest tweets from NASA accounts, and find out more about the many space agency centers around the country.

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Filed under: Voices
NASA’s NuStar gets first look at black hole at the center of the Milky Way
October 25th, 2012
04:57 PM ET

NASA’s NuStar gets first look at black hole at the center of the Milky Way

Editor's note: Brian Williams is a space enthusiast and writer living in Salinas, California.

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, called NuSTAR, has taken its first glimpse of our galaxy’s supermassive black hole, thanks to a recent flare-up at the galactic core.

NuSTAR, a state-of-the-art, space-based X-ray telescope, was aimed at Sagittarius A*, a compact radio source identified as a black hole, for two days in July. The goal was to better understand just what makes our galaxy's central black hole so different from others.

Compared to other galaxies, the Milky Way’s black hole is relatively calm. While other supermassive black holes devour gas and stars around them, releasing large amounts of energy in the process, ours only seems to have the occasional light snack, showing just a bit of activity as matter is consumed: the tell-tale burst of energy seen in X-ray and radio emissions.

According to Fiona Harrison, NuSTAR’s principal investigator at CalTech in Pasadena, California, fortuitous timing plays no small role in observing the activity.

“We got lucky to have captured an outburst from the black hole during our observing campaign. These data will help us better understand the gentle giant at the heart of our galaxy and why it sometimes flares up for a few hours and then returns to slumber," she said in a written statement.

Thanks to the instruments aboard NuSTAR, the team was able to see the X-rays created by matter being heated up to approximately 180 million degrees Fahrenheit (or 100 million degrees Celsius) in regions where particles are accelerated close to the speed of light.

"Astronomers have long speculated that the black hole's snacking should produce copious hard X-rays, but NuSTAR is the first telescope with sufficient sensitivity to actually detect them," team member Chuck Hailey of Columbia University said in a written statement.

Fred Baganoff, a NuStar team leader at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stressed in an e-mail the importance of the NuSTAR data for getting a clearer picture of the dark heart of our galaxy.

“Understanding such a complex and alien environment from so far away is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle when you do not know what the final image should look like; most of the pieces are missing and the whole puzzle is too small and far away to be seen by the human eye. What NuSTAR has done is give us more of the pieces. Until 2000, the only pieces we had were on the left-hand side of the puzzle in the radio and millimeter wave bands, where Sagittarius A* had been studied since its discovery in 1974. The entire right-hand side of the puzzle, visible only in the soft X-rays, hard X-rays and gamma-rays, was completely missing. ... The center of the puzzle was missing, too, since vast clouds of gas and dust completely block our view of the center of our galaxy in optical and ultraviolet light. Only one in a trillion optical photons makes it through that dark haze.”

Taken with data from other observatories (NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii were also pointed at Sagittarius A*), scientists hope NuSTAR can shed light on the activity cycles and evolution of black holes. There is also a wealth of non-black hole related data that the X-ray space telescope will help scientists understand,  Harrison said.

“NuSTAR will look at a wide range of phenomena from exploding stars to neutron stars and black holes. NuSTAR will even study our own sun!”

Four months into its two-year mission, NuSTAR is off to a promising start. Launched in June 2012, NuSTAR’s mission is to conduct a survey of black holes throughout the universe that are millions of times more massive than our own sun. As for what's next for NuStar, Harrison said it is working on other targets.

“NuSTAR has already moved on to look at the evolving remnant of a supernova explosion that happened in 1987 nearby, in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a satellite of the Milky Way) called SN1987A. NuSTAR will next look at very luminous objects in nearby galaxies, called ultraluminous X-ray sources. The source of their X-ray brilliance is not understood. NuSTAR looks at a new target every few days.”

Mending the 'space fence'
Raytheon animation image of satellite collision
October 25th, 2012
11:49 AM ET

Mending the 'space fence'

The Air Force wants to rebuild a “fence” around Earth to keep the riff-raff out.

Sounds like a Hollywood script to counter aliens or asteroids but it's a real program the military wants to update at an estimated cost of $3.5 billion.

Just don't expect any space cowboys digging post holes and wrangling barbed wire in orbit.

The Space Fence program is a series of radar signals managed by the Air Force since the early 1960's that has been tracking an ever-growing pile of rocket and satellite parts and other man-made fragments that zoom around Earth’s vicinity at thousands of miles per hour.

FULL STORY

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