Rivers on Pluto—Lakes on the Edge of the Solar System.

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The neighborhood’s getting interesting again. Used to be we thought of Pluto as a cold, hard rock way out on the edge of the solar system. Dry, like an asteroid. But last year’s New Horizons probe is producing some shocking reveals as scientists pore through the data it sent back.

Starting with the possibility of running liquid on the surface at some point in the planetoid’s history. Yep, rivers and even lakes. Though not water—it’s still too cold for that. Instead, researchers believe Pluto may have once been home to bodies of liquid nitrogen.

And they suspect that the unexpected presence of hot and cold running nitrogen has something to do with the planetoid’s extreme axial tilt. Earth’s tilt sits at a relatively comfortable 23 degrees. Pluto, on the other hand, is canted over at a vertigo-inducing 120 degrees. And that means that it has large tropical zones. Places where it gets hot enough for nitrogen to thaw.

But it also has big arctic zones. And, in a weird twist, areas where the two zones overlap.

Check it out at:

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/03/22/pluto-may-have-had-lakes-rivers-once-shocked-nasa-scientists-say.html

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The Martian – Well, A Good First Step, Anyway

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Yesterday, American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko parachuted their Soyuz capsule back to Earth after 340 days on the International Space Station—a new NASA record. Spending almost a year in space is an early step in NASA’s longer term plan for sending astronauts to Mars. And that trip will take two and half years return—hell of a commute.

While orbiting in his tin can, Kelly experienced more than 10,000 sunrises and sunsets in less than a calendar year. He travelled more than 231 million kilometres.

Meanwhile back on Earth, his identical twin, Mark offered himself as a medical test subject so doctors can compare the effects of zero gravity, radiation, etc. on the two brothers.

Here’s to putting boots on mars in our lifetime!

BTW—apparently NASA is looking for volunteers for more 1 year missions.

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/03/02/nasas-space-endurance-champ-savours-fresh-air-after-340-days-in-orbit.html

 

 

And Then There Were Nine…Planets…Again

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We kicked Pluto out of the happy planets club a decade ago, meaning the solar system’s active roster was down to just eight planets in the solar system. But now there’s a new member on the scene—dubbed Planet X.

On Jan. 20, Caltech scientists, Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin, announced their discovery of evidence suggesting the evidence of a Neptune-sized planet out beyond the orbit of outcast Pluto. Evidence suggest it’s a gaseous ice giant that’s up to ten times the mass of the earth. And it’s orbiting so far beyond Pluto that it takes 10,000 years to orbit the sun

Brown and Batygin went looking for evidence of Planet X because something was pulling the orbits of recently discovered planetoids out past Pluto towards a common point near the plane of the solar system—something huge…

And of course, conspiracy theorists have wasting no time in announcing that the discovery of Planet X obviously portends the end of the world. Stay tuned for more on apocalypse times and dates in your local area.

The only thing left now is for someone to actually lay eyes on the elusive giant. Check out the details here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/01/20/new-evidence-suggests-a-ninth-planet-lurking-at-the-edge-of-the-solar-system/

 

The State of Private Space Flight—Good Luck Elon Musk

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Good news—private, corporate space flight company Orbital ATK successfully docked their spacecraft with the international space station last month. Good news—Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard spacecraft managed to land itself on a launch pad in recent weeks.

Not so great? Elon Musk’s SpaceX craft has been grounded since it exploded during what Musk called a ‘rapid, unscheduled disassembly’ while attempting a landing earlier this year. But the Falcon 9 rocket has been updated, and now sits on a Cape Canaveral pad awaiting launch tomorrow night.

So maybe NASA’s not up to as much as it once was. But, given the strides countries like China and India have made in the last year—and the progress made by private interests…it may be that our dreams of a future in space are more realistic than ever before.

That’s all good news to me.

For more, check out: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/spacex-scheduled-to-return-to-flight-sunday-and-attempt-another-dramatic-landing-this-time-on-land

Pluto!—up close and personal

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After nine years in space—a trip covering 5 billion kilometres—NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to distant Pluto this morning.

New Horizon’s has already beamed back pictures of Pluto and its five moons. But tonight it will transmit—hopefully—the final all clear signal indicating that it has survived it’s epic journey to the edge of the solar system in fine shape. A journey that took so long that Pluto itself was demoted from full-fledged planet to dwarf status during the voyage.

But dwarf or not—it looks great to me.

Check out the full story here:

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/07/14/nasa-probe-makes-history-reaches-closest-point-to-pluto.html

The ‘looks-like-we’re-serious-about-space’ year end round up

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The year started out with China’s little Jade Rabbit rover capturing the world’s imagination as it fought valiantly for survival on the frigid surface of the moon. Now, as the days grow short we have an explosion of new space news… Here’s a quick recap of space-related happenings in the last month or so.

Chinese rocket launched to circle moon in preparation for 2017 moon landing…

http://www.space.com/27518-private-moon-mission-4m-luxspace.html

The ultimate drone? Secret spaceplane lands after 674 days in orbit…

http://www.iflscience.com/space/secret-air-force-spaceplane-lands-after-674-days-orbit

Virgin Galactic crash

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2826931/Space-pilot-came-way-gave-thumbs-say-m-OK.html

Philae probe lands on comet

http://www.space.com/24292-rosetta-spacecraft.html

Indian rocket reaches Mars

http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/09/draft-indias-mom-spacecraft-arrive-mars/

It’s Getting Crowded Round Here – Indian Probe Reaches Mars!

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It cost India less than three-quarters as much to send the probe to the red planet as the US spends to build one stealth fighter—which can only fly 1700 km before needing to gas up. Compare that to India’s econo-craft which made it 670 million km on a single tank. The probe, called Mangalyaan (meaning Mars craft in Hindi) is already taking shots of the Martian surface.

For those of you keeping score, that’s MAVEN and Mangalyaan currently in orbit—with the Curiosity rover on the surface. And it was Curiosity who took to twitter to welcome Mangalyaan with a quick, “Namaste.”

Check out the details at:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2767471/India-triumphs-maiden-Mars-mission.html