NASA plans to capture an asteroid and start sending astronauts aloft again by 2017, even with a tighter budget, the U.S. space agency announced Wednesday.
The Obama administration is asking Congress for just over $17.7 billion in 2014, down a little more than 1% from the nearly $17.9 billion currently devoted to space exploration, aeronautics and other science.
The request includes $105 million to boost the study of asteroids, both to reduce the risk of one hitting Earth and to start planning for a mission to "identify, capture, redirect, and sample" a small one. The plan is to send an unmanned probe out to seize the asteroid and tow it into orbit around the moon, where astronauts would study it.
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
If you could time travel to 2 million years ago in South Africa, you might see a creature with humanlike hands and an ape-sized brain, walking upright with feet twisted inward.
Would you recognize this as your relative?
Anthropologists are keen on exploring the mysteries of human evolution presented by the fossilized remains of a species called Australopithecus sediba, or A. sediba for short. The latest collection of studies, published Thursday in the journal Science, presents more detail than ever about what this creature was like. Whether it's a direct ancestor of humans is controversial, however.
By Kelly Murray, CNN
Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from many different areas of scientific exploration. This is the fourth installment.
Ever wondered why some tomatoes taste great, and many others don’t?
Professor Harry Klee, a horticulturalist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, is on a mission to improve the taste and quality of supermarket tomatoes. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 for his efforts.
Klee presented his research in Boston recently at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. CNN Light Years spoke with Klee before the conference. Here is an edited transcript:
By Matt Smith, CNN
The meteor that exploded over the steppes of southwestern Russia sent a low-frequency rumble bouncing through the Earth, giving scientists new clues about the biggest cosmic intruder in a century.
The big boom over Chelyabinsk on February 15 also produced a wave of sound thousands of times lower than a piano's middle C - far below the range of human hearing, according to the international agency that watches for nuclear bomb tests. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization said that sound wave showed up on sensors from Greenland to Antarctica, making it the largest ever detected by its network.
Scientists then used that wave to calculate the size of the small asteroid that plunged to Earth, said Margaret Campbell-Brown, an astronomer at Canada's University of Western Ontario.
Follow @CNNLightYears on Twitter.
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
Scientists have been able to pin down the most accurate estimate yet for how fast a supermassive black hole is spinning. The answer is "fast": near the speed of light.
The black hole in question is more than 2 million miles across, with a surface traveling near the speed of light. It is at the center of spiral galaxy NGC 1365 and is the equivalent of about 2 million solar masses. Don't worry, this black hole not an imminent danger to us, given that it's in a galaxy 60 million light years away.
Follow @CNNLightYears on Twitter for more space and science updates.
By John Zarrella, CNN
If newly unveiled plans pan out, a man and a woman may represent humanity on one journey that has never been attempted before: a mission to Mars.
“It’s incredibly feasible. It’s not crazy talk," Taber MacCallum, CEO of Paragon Space Development Corp., told CNN.
MacCallum and millionaire Dennis Tito announced their plans Wednesday to send a couple of earthlings on a 501-day trip in a spacecraft that would fly by the red planet. The proposal was unveiled at the National Press Club in Washington.
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
Mars may have a lot of orangey dust flying around, but now that a rover has retrieved a sample by drilling a rock there, scientists believe the Red Planet may have another color beneath the surface.
The two-ton Mars rover Curiosity, which has been exploring Gale Crater since its miraculous landing on August 6, has become the first robot to drill into a rock to collect a sample on Mars, scientists reported Wednesday. Chemical analyses are still to come, but for now the big news is that the material from the drill appears to be gray.
"We’re sort of seeing a new coloration for Mars here, and it’s an exciting one to us," said Joel Hurowitz, sampling system scientist for Curiosity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Editor’s Note: Ed Lu is an explorer who loves mapping the unknown – whether it’s the oceans at Liquid Robotics, our neighborhoods, leading Google Advanced Projects Teams, or unveiling the secrets of the inner solar system and saving the world with the B612 Foundation, where he serves as CEO. A NASA Astronaut, he’s flown three missions, logging 206 days in space to construct and live aboard the International Space Station. Watch Ed Lu’s full plan to save the world, this Sunday 2:30 P.M. E.T. on “The Next List”
By Ed Lu, Special to CNN
Today's meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk is a reminder that the Earth orbits the Sun in a shooting gallery of asteroids, and that these asteroids sometimes hit the Earth. Later today, a separate and larger asteroid, 2012 DA14, will narrowly miss the Earth passing beneath the orbits of our communications satellites. We have the technology to deflect asteroids, but we cannot do anything about the objects we don't know exist.
Discovered just one year ago by an amateur citizen observer, 2012 DA14 will fly only 17 thousand miles above Earth – the distance the Earth travels in just 15 minutes, and not much longer than many people travel on common air flights. So this truly is a close shave. In fact, 2012 DA14 will pass underneath our communications satellites as it flies by Earth.
If you think the days of staring in amazement at NASA space launches are behind us, you’re wrong.
There are no space shuttles leaving the United States at the moment, but NASA is still launching three communication satellites into orbit. The first capsule, known as TDRS-K, launched on Wednesday at 8:48 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. TDRS stands for Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.
The next one, TDRS-L, is scheduled for launch in 2014. The manufacturing process for the final satellite in the trio, TDRS-M, will be completed in 2015.
NASA says these new satellites are designed with a higher performance solar panel, which should help improve power and return faster communications to the ground.
Take a look at the video above for an up-close view of the rumbling rocket, the take-off from base and a glowing stream of fire and smoke.
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.