What's happening on the space station?
January 31st, 2013
11:32 AM ET

What's happening on the space station?

By Zaina Adamu, CNN

High above us, beyond the skies, is the International Space Station, which weighs nearly 1 million pounds and has a wingspan the length of a football field. It has nine rooms, two bathrooms, two kitchens and two mini-gyms, and it is the largest spacecraft orbiting the Earth.

NASA announced this week that an instrument called ISS-RapidScat will be launched to the station in 2014 to improve weather forecasts, by doing things like monitoring hurricanes. It will also help scientists explore the Earth's global wind field; tropical clouds and tropical systems are affected by wind variations caused by the sun.

Another experiment on board is called InSPACE, which stands for "Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates From Colloidal Emulsions." All that means that scientists are studying magnetorheological fluids, which are complex substances that change form or harden when exposed to magnetic fields. These substances could one day be useful in robots, NASA says, acting as a "blood" to make the movement of joints and limbs like that of a living creature.

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News
January 28th, 2013
02:30 PM ET

Iran sends monkey to space

Iran is getting in on space travel. Before it sends humans off the planet, the country's space agency decided to take a test ride with a monkey.

According to the state's semi-official Fars News Agency, Iran "sent a monkey to the orbit, brought it back to the Earth and retrieved the animal and the relevant data successfully."

The creature achieved an altitude of 75 miles, according to the news agency.

This monkey follows in the paw prints of smaller animals like a rat, turtles and worms, that had their own adventures aboard Iran’s Kavoshgar-3 rocket in 2010, the news agency said.

Iran isn't the only country that has used animals for space research. During the 1950s, for example, the Russians launched a mixed-breed dog, Laika, into orbit.

While today's news is a success for monkeys everywhere, Iran’s space agency says it will have its first manned space mission in the next five to eight years.

What’s better than surviving your first trip to space? Bananas. Lots of bananas.

Click on the above video to see the monkey strapped in and raring to go.

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Filed under: In Space
What's special about nanotechnology
Rizia Bardhan studies nanotechnology at Vanderbilt University.
January 25th, 2013
05:37 PM ET

What's special about nanotechnology

By Matthew Rehbein, CNN

At 29, Rizia Bardhan is already making her mark on one of the scientific community’s most exciting and fastest-growing disciplines: nanotechnology. Researchers in this field are innovating on scales that seem impossibly small: One nanometer is just a fraction of the width of a human hair.

Last year Forbes listed Bardhan among its notable “30 Under 30 in Science & Innovation” for her work in nanotechnology. Bardhan accepted an assistant professor position at Vanderbilt University last August.

Bardhan spoke with CNN about her research in nanotechnology and about the tremendous advancements that are possible with it in the fields of medicine and energy. Here is an edited transcript:

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Filed under: On Earth • Science Friday • Voices
Did Earth get zapped in the eighth century?
Artist's rendering of two neutron stars merging.
January 24th, 2013
12:09 PM ET

Did Earth get zapped in the eighth century?

By Sophia Dengo, CNN

History books may tell you that in the eighth century, the Moors invaded Spain and Mayan civilization was on the decline, but they don't say anything about the Earth being irradiated.

That event is not documented, but astronomers say a collision in space at that time could have resulted in the high levels of carbon-14 and beryllium-10 found in trees from the eighth century.

Astronomers Valeri Hambaryan and Ralph Neuhauser, based at the Astrophysics Institute of the University of Jena in Germany, published results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that suggest that two "compact stellar remnants" - which could be neutron stars, black holes or white dwarfs - collided and merged, resulting in a short-duration gamma-ray burst that hit Earth.

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Filed under: News
Neanderthal cloning? Pure fantasy
A display of a reconstruction of a Neanderthal man and boy at the Museum for Prehistory in Eyzies-de-Tayac, France.
January 24th, 2013
11:47 AM ET

Neanderthal cloning? Pure fantasy

Editor's note: Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor and director of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.

(CNN) - So now we know - there won't be a Neanderthal moving into your neighborhood.

Despite a lot of frenzied attention to the intentionally provocative suggestion by a renowned Harvard scientist that new genetic technology makes it possible to splice together a complete set of Neanderthal genes, find an adventurous surrogate mother and use cloning to gin up a Neanderthal baby - it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

Nor should it. But there are plenty of other things in the works involving genetic engineering that do merit serious ethical discussion at the national and international levels.

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'Braids' may heat sun's corona, study says
These are snapshots of an active region of the sun taken by Hi-C. The two on the left are zoomed-in parts of the main image.
January 23rd, 2013
07:03 PM ET

'Braids' may heat sun's corona, study says

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

The sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona, is much hotter than its surface. The atmosphere's temperature rises to millions of degrees, while the surface is only about 5,000 degrees Kelvin - a mysterious contrast, given that the atmosphere is farther from the sun's hot core.

Scientists wanted to find out what energy source could be responsible for the inflated temperatures of the corona, which is where space weather - such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections that can interfere with your GPS - comes from.

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Filed under: In Space • the Sun
'Fireflies' to scope out space rocks for mining
January 23rd, 2013
05:15 PM ET

'Fireflies' to scope out space rocks for mining

Space, it has been said, is big. Really big.

But big enough for two companies that want to mine near-Earth asteroids?

A venture announced Tuesday in California hopes so.

Deep Space Industries says it wants to start sending miniature scout probes, dubbed "Fireflies," on one-way missions to near-Earth asteroids as soon as 2015. Larger probes, "Dragonflies," that will bring back 50- to 100-pound samples from prospective targets could be on their way by 2016, company CEO David Gump told reporters.

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Filed under: In Space
Space missiles
January 23rd, 2013
10:24 AM ET

Don't count 'doomsday asteroid' out yet

Editor's note: Greg Bear is an internationally bestselling science-fiction author of many books, including "Moving Mars," "Darwin's Radio" and "Hull Zero Three." As a freelance journalist, he covered 10 years of the Voyager missions at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Look up at our nearest neighbor, the moon, and you'll see stark evidence of the dangerous neighborhood we live in. The Man in the Moon was sculpted by large-scale events, including many meteor and asteroid impacts.

In 1994, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 dove into Jupiter. The result was awesome. The impact caused a brilliant flash, visible in Earth telescopes, and left an ugly dark scar on Jupiter's cold, gaseous surface.

With the recent fly-by of a 1,000-foot-wide asteroid labeled 99942 Apophis, one of a class of space rocks referred to as "near-Earth objects" or "Earth-grazers," scientists have revised their worst estimates of its chances of striking Earth. Current thinking is: We're safe. For the next couple of decades.

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Filed under: In Space
January 21st, 2013
08:25 AM ET

Morality: It's not just for humans

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

You might recognize prominent primatologist Frans de Waal from lectures he has given about his research on primate behavior, which have been popularized on YouTube.
His face is familiar to chimpanzees, too; some chimps that he knew as babies still recognize him even after decades apart, he said.

"Chimpanzees have the advantage that you cannot ask them questions, so you have to watch (their) behavior to see what they do," says de Waal, director of Emory University's Living Links Center, in his Dutch-accented voice that is both gentle and authoritative.

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Filed under: On Earth
January 16th, 2013
03:03 PM ET

Cutting your fingernails in space

If you had the chance to ask an astronaut one question about space travel, what would it be?

Some may ask what it’s like to be weightless, while others may inquire about the bathroom facilities available on a shuttle or space station.

But what about grooming? Hey, an astronaut has to look good for a NASA briefing or publicity photo! Thankfully, Chris Hadfield is here to help.

Hadfield is the Canadian astronaut who made headlines by posting a series of photos taken from the International Space Station, which he’ll take command of in March, on Twitter. Now he’s back to teach us the art of cutting one’s fingernails while living in space. Click on the above video to find out more!

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Filed under: In Space
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