An anonymous reader shares a report on NASA's ongoing work on a manned trip to the moon. From the report: Without a new administrator even nominated yet, NASA's acting head Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday requested a study of whether next year's first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, billed as the most powerful NASA has built, could have a crew of astronauts. "I know the challenges associated with such a proposition," Lightfoot said in a letter to his agency, citing costs, extra work, and "a different launch date" for the planned 2018 Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The mission would be launched by the massive SLS, which is still in development, then boosted by a European service module to put three astronauts inside the new Orion space capsule on a three-week trip around the moon. NASA first sent three astronauts around the moon in 1968 in the Apollo 8 mission. The last astronaut to stand on the moon, the late Gene Cernan returned to Earth in 1972. The new talk of a repeat moon-circling mission, aboard an untested spacecraft, has space policy experts variously thrilled, dismissive, and puzzled. "I frankly don't quite know what to say about it," space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University said. Writing on NASAWatch, Keith Cowing called the study request a "Hail Mary" pass to save the life of the SLS ahead of Trump installing a budget cutter to head the space agency. The Government Accountability Office estimates the costs of SLS and its two planned launches (a second, crewed mission is planned for 2023) at $23 billion.
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Artem Tashkinov writes: Mozilla has published a plan of add-ons deprecation in future Firefox releases. Firefox 53 will run in multi process mode by default for all users with some exceptions. Most add ons will continue to function, however certain add ons have already ceased to function because they don't expect multi user mode under the hood. Firefox 54-56 will introduce even more changes which will ultimately break even more addons. Firefox 57, which will be preliminarily released on the 28th of Novermber, 2017, will only run WebExtensions: which means no XUL (overlay) add ons, no bootstrapped extensions, no SDK extensions and no Embedded WebExtensions. In other words by this date the chromification of Firefox will have been completed. If you depend on XUL add ons your only choice past this date will be Pale Moon.
Mariella Moon, writing for Engadget: Alphabet is making some huge changes to steer Google Fiber in a new, more wireless direction. According to Wired, the corporation has reassigned hundreds of Fiber employees to other parts of the company and those who remained will mostly work in the field. It has also hired broadband veteran Greg McCray as the new CEO for Access, the division that runs Google Fiber. These changes don't exactly come out of left field: back in October, Google announced that it's pausing the high-speed internet's expansion to new markets and that it's firing nine percent of the service's staff. Wired says running fiber optic cables into people's homes has become too expensive for the company. A Recode report last year says it costs Mountain View $1 billion to bring Fiber to a new market.
SonicSpike quotes a report from CNET: Even if you aren't a space nerd whose idea of a good time is craning your neck to stare into the vast nothingness of space on a frigid evening, this Friday the heavens will put on a show worth heading outdoors for. A penumbral lunar eclipse, a full "snow moon" and a comet will be spicing up the night sky February 10 in a rare convergence of such celestial happenings. We'll start with our nearest neighbor. February brings the full moon known as the "snow moon" because this month in North America tends to see a lot of the white fluffy stuff. This snow moon will be special though because, well... we'll all get in its way in a sense when the penumbral lunar eclipse takes place Friday. The eclipse will be at least partly visible from most but not all places on Earth (sorry Australia and Japan). The moment of greatest eclipse is at 4:43 p.m. PT and the eclipse will then dissipate until it completes a little over two hours later, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. Next up, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova has actually been visible with binoculars and telescopes for several weeks already, but it will be at its closest approach to Earth on the morning of February 11 as it passes by at a distance of 7.4 million miles (11.9 million kilometers) or 30 times further away than the moon.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: We can't recreate the giant impact that led to the moon's formation in a lab, but humans have made some other big explosions. By examining residue from the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, researchers have cracked a window into the moon's past. On 16 July 1945, the U.S. army detonated a nuclear weapon for the first time in an operation codenamed Trinity (see photo, above). As the bomb exploded with an energy equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, the sand underneath it melted, producing a thin sheet of mostly green glass dubbed trinitite. The explosion brought the area around the bomb to temperatures over 8000 C and pressures nearing 80,000 atmospheres. These extreme conditions are similar to those created as the moon formed in a colossal collision between Earth and another rock, probably about the size of Mars. Fortunately for planetary science, scientists meticulously measured and recorded the details of the Trinity detonation, so there is plenty of information to work with. Day and his colleagues took advantage of that past precision to investigate why the moon has surprisingly little water and other volatiles with a relatively low boiling point -- much less than Earth. To do so, they studied the distribution of one volatile element, zinc, in trinitite collected at different distances out from the explosion's center. They found that the closer to the explosion the trinitite formed, the less zinc it had, especially when it came to zinc's lighter isotopes. That's because these evaporated in the intense heat of the explosion, while the heavier isotopes didn't and so remained in the trinitite. The ratios of different forms of zinc left behind in trinitite showed remarkable parallels to what was observed in the moon rocks retrieved in the Apollo missions. This means that zinc and other volatile elements, most notably water, probably evaporated off the moon while it was being formed in a violent collision or soon afterward, while its surface was still incredibly hot. The study has been published in Science Advances.
NASA's Cassini probe has captured news images of Saturn's rings in unprecedented detail. The images were captured by the probe in its penultimate mission phase of its mission that includes "20 orbits that dive past the outer edge of the main ring system" before the spacecraft plunges into the planet itself. Interestingly, the rings include what NASA calls "moonlets" embedded in them. VOA News reports: The images are the closest ever taken of Saturn's rings and, according to NASA âoeresolve details as small as 550 meters, which is on the scale of Earth's tallest buildings.â The"ring-grazing" orbits began last November and will continue until the end of April, and in addition to spotting the moonlets, they have given greater clarity to other structures within the rings such as the so-called propeller-like formations. NASA added that Cassini has also provided the "closest-ever" glimpses of two small moons, Daphnis and Pandora. The report via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) adds: "Some of the structures seen in recent Cassini images have not been visible at this level of detail since the spacecraft arrived at Saturn in mid-2004. At that time, fine details like straw and propellers -- which are caused by clumping ring particles and small, embedded moonlets, respectively -- had never been seen before. (Although propellers were present in Cassini's arrival images, they were actually discovered in later analysis, the following year.) Cassini came a bit closer to the rings during its arrival at Saturn, but the quality of those arrival images (examples: 1, 2, 3) was not as high as in the new views. Those precious few observations only looked out on the backlit side of the rings, and the team chose short exposure times to minimize smearing due to Cassini's fast motion as it vaulted over the ring plane. This resulted in images that were scientifically stunning, but somewhat dark and noisy.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: New research shows that oxygen from Earth could be journeying all the way out to the Moon, where it then gets lodged inside the lunar soil. It's a process that's likely been happening for 2.4 billion years, ever since oxygen formed around our planet, meaning the Moon's soil may contain trapped particles from Earth's ancient atmosphere. This oxygen exchange, detailed in a study published today in Nature Astronomy, supposedly occurs for just a few days during the Moon's 27-day orbit. Most of the time, the Moon is constantly being blasted with solar wind -- fast streams of charged particles emanating from the Sun. But for five days of every lunar orbit, the Moon passes into Earth's magnetotail, the portion of the planet's magnetic field that stretches outward away from the Sun. This tail shields the Moon from the solar wind, and allows charged oxygen ions from Earth to travel to the lunar surface, according to the study. That means the Moon -- a dead rock incapable of supporting life -- is being showered with the byproducts of life here on Earth. In fact, the source of most of the oxygen in our atmosphere is biological, created by plants during photosynthesis. It's a process that experts have suspected for a while but haven't been able to confirm until today. Researchers have also suggested that other atmospheric components, such as nitrogen and noble gases, are getting to the Moon this way based on lunar soil samples.
An anonymous reader shares a CNET report: The problem with asteroids passing near Earth is that they're often difficult to spot. Fortunately the hardest ones to see in our neighborhood also tend to be the smaller ones. Such is the case with 2017 BH30, which was discovered Sunday by the Catalina Sky Survey just hours before passing by us at the creepy-close distance of only 40,563 miles (65,280 kilometres). This asteroid is estimated to be between 15-32.8 feet (4.6-10 metres) in length, making it somewhere between the size of a truck and a... big truck. That's pretty small by asteroid standards, but it's also the closest spotted asteroid to pass us since September when asteroid 2016 RB1 passed within 24,000 miles (about 39,000 kilometres) of our planet's surface, putting it almost as close as satellites in geosynchronous orbit. This is the third asteroid to buzz by earth closer than the distance to the moon this year. We don't expect a closer pass by one of these visitors until October, when asteroid 2012 TC4 could come more than twice as close.
The Google Lunar XPrize (GLXP) teams are still soldiering on and, with the deadline now less than 12 months away, the XPrize Foundation has confirmed that five of those teams have signed launch contracts that that will allow them to launch to the moon by the end of the year. From a report on CNET: The GLXP is a $30 million purse of prizes open to independent teams from around the globe, with the overall goal of fostering the development of commercial space exploration. $20 million goes to the first team to successfully land a vehicle on the moon and then successfully cover a distance of 500 meters of lunar surface while streaming high-definition video back to the Earth. $5 million goes to the second team to do the same, while millions of dollars in other prizes are also up for grabs -- including bonuses for extra distance and visiting historic sites. The deadline? It currently stands at midnight, December 31 of 2017. Any team whose lander hasn't left the launchpad by then is automatically out of the running.
NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Navy captain Gene Cernan was the second American to walk in space and the last to set foot on the moon during that mission. Unfortunately, today Cernan passed away at age 82. Engadget reports: During his time as an astronaut, Cernan logged over 500 hours in space and he spent more than 73 of those on the surface of the moon. Captain Cernan's NASA career began in 1963 and he made his first trip to space as part of the three-day Gemini IX mission in 1966. He went on to serve as the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 10 mission in 1969 before taking the role of spacecraft commander for Apollo 17 in December 1972. Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon for the United States. Cernan retired from the U.S. Navy after a 20-year career in 1976 and left NASA at the same time. Watch Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt sing "I Was Strolling on the Moon One Day" on YouTube.
The company competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, Moon Express, has raised $20 million in funding and announced that they have now fully financed their mission to the moon. The company made history last year as it became the first private company to receive permission to travel to the moon. Moon Express plans to launch their MX-1E spacecraft to the moon at the end of 2017 with the goal of winning the $20 million grand prize in the X-Prize competition. TechCrunch reports: If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company and the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon. The first three entities were all government-funded superpowers from the U.S., USSR and China. Of course to win that title, Moon Express will need to beat the other X-Prize competitors including SpaceIL from Israel, Team Indus from India (carrying the Japanese team HAKUTO as a payload), and the international team Synergy Moon. Each company has had launch contracts confirmed by X-Prize, a requirement to remain in the competition. The first company to soft-land on the Moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth will win the grand prize of $20 million. There's also $5 million up for grabs for the company that comes in second. Perhaps the most challenging of the X-Prize requirements is the deadline. To win the prizes, competitors must complete all tasks by the end of 2017. Although the X-Prize Foundation has pushed the deadline back before. What makes the Google Lunar X-Prize competition especially unique is that it required participants to obtain 90% of their funding from private sources. In theory, this would encourage profit-driven business plans, kick-starting a wave of lunar-based commercialization.
Scientists used rocks and soil collected by the Apollo 14 moonwalkers in 1971 to calculate the age of the moon. It turns out that it is much older than scientists suspected, coming in at 4.51 billion years old. ABC News reports: A research team reported Wednesday that the moon formed within 60 million years of the birth of the solar system. Previous estimates ranged within 100 million years, all the way out to 200 million years after the solar system's creation, not quite 4.6 billion years ago. The scientists conducted uranium-lead dating on fragments of the mineral zircon extracted from Apollo 14 lunar samples. The pieces of zircon were minuscule -- no bigger than a grain of sand. The moon was created from debris knocked off from Earth, which itself is thought to be roughly 4.54 billion years old. Some of the eight zircon samples were used in a previous study, also conducted at UCLA, that utilized more limited techniques. Melanie Barboni, lead author of the study from the University of California, Los Angeles, said she is studying more zircons from Apollo 14 samples, but doesn't expect it to change her estimate of 4.51 billion years for the moon's age, possibly 4.52 billion years at the most. The study was published today in the journal Science.
On Monday at 7:47 A.M. EST, an asteroid thought to be between 36 and 111 feet wide passed roughly 120,000 miles from Earth -- and astronomers didn't spot it until Saturday. Smithsonian reports: According to astronomer Eric Edelman at the Slooh Observatory, 2017 AG13 is an Aten asteroid, or a space rock with an orbital distance from the sun similar to that of Earth. AG13 also has a particularly elliptical orbit, which means that as it circles the sun it also crosses through the orbits of both Venus and Earth. Lucky for us, 2017 AG13 wasn't a planet killer; according to Wall, the asteroid was in the size range of the space rock that exploded in Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February, 2013. According to Deborah Byrd at EarthSky, that meteor exploded 12 miles in the atmosphere, releasing 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Not only did it break windows in six cities, it also sent 1,500 people to the hospital. That meteor also came out of the blue, and researchers are still trying to figure out its orbit and track down its origins. While 2017 AG13 would have caused minor damage if it hit Earth, the close call highlights the dangers of asteroids.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: A series of cosmic collisions may have spawned multiple moonlets that morphed into the one big moon we know today. Rather than one giant impact that knocked off part of early Earth and created the moon, a number of smaller collisions may have produced lots of mini-moons, Israeli scientists reported Monday. And those mini-moons, over millions of years, may have clumped together to make one large one. The researchers conducted nearly 1,000 computer simulations and estimate about 20 impacts could do the job. They say that would explain why the moon seems to be composed of material from Earth, rather than some other planet, too. It's actually an old theory revitalized now by the Weizmann Institute of Science's Raluca Rufu in Rehovot, Israel, and his team. Their findings were published in Nature Geoscience.
China has revealed some ambitious plans for space domination in the 2020s. On Tuesday, China set out its plans to become the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon, in around 2018, and launch its first Mars probe by 2020. Phys.Org reports: "To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly," read a white paper setting out the country's space strategy for the next five years. It says China aims to use space for peaceful purposes and to guarantee national security, and to carry out cutting edge scientific research. The white paper released by the information office of China's Cabinet points to the growing ambitions of China's already rapidly advancing space program. Although the white paper doesn't mention it, China's eventual goal is the symbolic feat of landing an astronaut on the moon. The white paper reiterated China's plans to launch its first Mars probe by 2020, saying this would explore and bring back samples from the red planet, explore the Jupiter system and "conduct research into major scientific questions such as the origin and evolution of the solar system, and search for extraterrestrial life." The paper says the Chang'e-4 lunar probe will help shed light on the formation and evolution of the moon.
schwit1 quotes a report from Behind The Black: A federal judge has ruled that NASA has no right to confiscate an Apollo 11 lunar rock sample bag that had been purchased legally, even though the sale itself had been in error. CollectSPACE.com reports: "Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled in the U.S. District Court for Kansas that Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Illinois, obtained the title to the historic artifact as 'a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.' The government had petitioned the court to reverse the sale and return the lunar sample bag to NASA. 'She is entitled to possession of the bag,' Marten wrote in his order." This court case will hopefully give some legal standing to the private owners of other artifacts or lunar samples that NASA had given away and then demanded their return, decades later. Space.com's report adds: "The zippered cloth pouch, which was labeled in bold black letters 'Lunar Sample Return,' was used on July 20, 1969, as an 'outer decontamination bag' to protect the first moon rocks retrieved from the surface of the moon as they were delivered to Earth by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Carlson purchased the bag for $995 in February 2015, at a Texas auction held on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service. The bag had been forfeited along with other artifacts found in the home of Max Ary, a former curator convicted in 2006 of stealing and selling space artifacts that belonged to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas."
Researchers at Durham University and the UK's Nautical Almanac Office compiled nearly 3,000 years of celestial records and found that with every passing century, the day on Earth lengthens by two milliseconds as the planet's rotation gradually winds down. The Guardian reports: The split second gained since the first world war may not seem much, but the time it takes for a sunbeam to travel 600km towards Earth can cost an Olympic gold medal, as the American Tim McKee found out when he lost to Sweden's Gunnar Larsson in 1972. For those holding out for a whole extra hour a day, be prepared for a long wait. Barring any change in the rate of slowing down, an Earth day will not last 25 hours for about two million centuries more. Researchers at Durham University and the UK's Nautical Almanac Office gathered historical accounts of eclipses and other celestial events from 720BC to 2015. The oldest records came from Babylonian clay tablets written in cuneiform, with more added from ancient Greek texts, such as Ptolemy's 2nd century Almagest, and scripts from China, medieval Europe and the Arab dominions. The ancient records captured the times and places that people witnessed various stages of solar and lunar eclipses, while documents from 1600AD onwards described lunar occultations, when the moon passed in front of particular stars and blocked them from view. To find out how the Earth's rotation has varied over the 2,735-year-long period, the researchers compared the historical records with a computer model that calculated where and when people would have seen past events if Earth's spin had remained constant. The astronomers found that Earth's spin would have slowed down even more had it not been for a counteracting process. Since the end of the most recent ice age, land masses that were once buried under slabs of frozen water have been unloaded and sprung back into place. The shift caused the Earth to be less oblate -- or squished -- on its axis. And just as a spinning ice skater speeds up when she pulls in her arms, so the Earth spins faster when its poles are less compressed. Changes in the world's sea levels and electromagnetic forces between Earth's core and its rocky mantle had effects on Earth's spin too, according to the scientists' report in Proceedings of the Royal Society.
The price of Bitcoin could hit more than $2,000 in 2017 driven by expectations that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may introduce economic stimulus policies, which could send inflation soaring and propel the dollar to record highs, a report from Saxo Bank claims. An anonymous reader shares a CNBC report: Bitcoin is currently trading around $754.51, according to CoinDesk data. A handle of over $2,000 would represent 165 percent appreciation. During his election campaign Trump has talked about an increase in fiscal spending. Saxo Bank's note said that this could increase the roughly $20 trillion of U.S. national debt and triple the current budget deficit from approximately $600 billion to $1.2-1.8 trillion, or some 6-10 percent of the country's current $18.6 trillion economy. As a result, the economy will grow and inflation will "sky rocket," forcing the U.S. Federal Reserve to hike interest rates at a faster pace and causing the U.S. dollar "to hit the moon." When inflation rises the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates to bring it under control. This causes the dollar to appreciate because it would be seen as an attractive currency for foreign investors.
Satellites cost millions of dollars to be launched into space and there's no guarantee that they will work without electrical or mechanical problems once in orbit. NASA has recently announced that it will award a $127 million contract to a company that aims to use a robotic spacecraft to fix satellites in space, thus potentially saving millions of dollars in the long-run by fixing satellites that would otherwise be "expensive e-waste." Gizmodo reports: NASA has just announced that it will award a $127 million contract to the California-based satellite company Space Systems/Loral for Restore-L, a robotic spacecraft capable of grasping, refueling and relocating a satellite in low Earth orbit, in addition to testing technologies for future missions. SSL has three years to build the bot, which is projected to launch in 2020. Without the ability to refuel, a satellite's lifespan is restricted by the amount of propellant engineers can pack in its tank at launch. That lifespan can be cut even shorter should the spacecraft encounter any electrical or mechanical problems on orbit. As more and more satellites reach the end of their operational lifespans, government agencies and private companies have been working to remedy this problem by developing robots that can give satellites a tune-up in zero-gravity. DARPA, for instance, recently launched a program aimed at designing robots capable of servicing satellites at the hard-to-reach but highly-desirable perch of geosynchronous orbit, 22,000 miles above Earth. NASA's Satellite Servicing Division, meanwhile, has a handful of on-orbit repair and refueling technology demonstrators in the works, including a robotic arm with the same range of motion as a human arm, a navigation system designed to help robots rendezvous with moving objects in space, and Restore-L, which combines these and other capabilities into a multi-purpose space mechanic. For now, Restore-L's primary goal is to refuel Landsat 7, a critical Earth-monitoring satellite operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. If successful, the spacecraft may be modified for all sorts of other useful tasks, from mopping up the ever-growing halo of space junk encircling our planet, to servicing exciting new science missions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will grab a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid and tow it back to orbit around the Moon.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Thursday morning that it will provide a "humanitarian medical evacuation flight" from the South Pole for an "ailing" Buzz Aldrin. BusinessInsider adds: Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon, joining Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in July 1969. He has since become an author and advocate for crewed missions to Mars. He is 86, and no further information is available as to his condition. The NSF's statement said that an NSF plane will fly Aldrin from the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole to McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast. At that point ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes flown by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard will haul him to New Zealand "as soon as possible."