Carnival of Space #25

Welcome to the 25th weekly Carnival of Space — the best space-related blog carnival that you’ll find within a parsec of home! I’ve gathered up a bountiful crop of blogging goodness for you, so let’s get right down to business.

The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (a.k.a. SETI)
Ata ThumbIf these gizmos were pointed at Washington, D.C., it’d be a long, grueling search…

Starting right at home (but looking outward) the interwebs are all atwitter with discussions of the new Allen Telescope Array. Named after Microsoft co-founder (and major project funding source) Paul Allen, the ATA has been a bit of a soap opera to date. It’s planning was announced, then construction was delayed, funding was on, then off… Well, as of the 11th of October, this beastie is officially a going deal.

The 11th marked the day on which the first 42 of an eventual 350 six-meter radio telescopes were brought online. To keep costs down, the array uses an off-the-shelf satellite dish design — coupled with advanced signal processing software to clean up any interference that may be introduced by the dishes’ sub-optimal design. Universe Today covers the grand opening for you, along with Spaceports, the visible universe, Centauri Dreams, and Futurismic.

And, of course, you can always check out the SETI Institute’s ATA home page for lots of good images, movies, and technical info. Additional MSM coverage is provided by New Scientist, the New York Times, and Space.com.

Space elevators
Elevator ThumbNext floor, Van Allen belts…

Did you know that the 2007 Space Elevator Games are almost under way? Well, honestly, neither did I — these folks need a bit of help with publicity, they certainly aren’t getting any coverage in the local paper’s sports section!

Actually, the Space Elevator competition is part of a larger set of games called the “Spaceward Games,” scheduled for October 19-23 just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The games are all competitions having to do with future space technologies — lots of neat solar powered gizmos and the like. Advanced Nanotechnology will tell you all about them.

Meanwhile, the organizers have craftily assured that they have no less than two blogs covering all the goings on before, during, and after the games — The Space Elevator Reference, and the Space Elevator Blog. I won’t even bother trying to point to any specific posts on these blogs, since they’re daily descriptions of happenings at the games — subscribe, learn, and enjoy!

Space station news
Iss ThumbA week of firsts

Launched back on the 10th, a Russian Soyuz reached the ISS on the 12th — carrying a crew of three, two of whom are setting “firsts” in space. U. S. astronaut Peggy Whitson will take charge of the ISS on the 19th, becoming its first female commander. Meanwhile, her fellow voyager Shiekh Muszaphar Shukor has now become both the first Malaysian to fly in space, and the first muslim to be in space during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. You may recall that earlier this year, there was a flurry of news coverage of this latter point, as special guidelines had to be drawn up so he could maintain his faith’s observances.

Anyway, The Flame Trench covers the flight, and its arrival at the ISS. Tom’s Astronomy Blog discusses the mission, and potential delays in the shuttle flight that’s supposed to bring up another piece to add to the ever-growing construction project that is the ISS. A Babe in the Universe asks why it took so darned long to let a woman take the reins of the station, and why in general society falls so far short in encouraging female participation in science and engineering. Meanwhile, shubber at Space Cynics wonders just how useful the station really is in the long run — although the Chinese government seems to feel no such doubts. If, in the meantime, you have problems onboard — just remember, all you need is a jumper cable, an old book, and some duct tape.

Space-based solar power
Solar ThumbMore power, Scotty!

Solar power satellites were first proposed in the 1960’s by Peter Glaser, an engineer at the consulting firm Arthur D. Little. Designs of the time needed solar panels covering 50 square kilometers, armies of astronauts to build, and came with a $1 trillion price tag. Needless to say, the idea didn’t get a lot of traction, and really hasn’t received much funding since the 1970’s.

Well, that all may have changed in just the past few days. On the 10th, the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office (NSSO) issued an interim report (PDF, 3.5 MBytes) calling for the U.S. government to spend $10 billion over the next 10 years to build a test satellite capable of beaming 10 megawatts of electric power down to Earth. Hmmm… lot of 10’s there. Anyway, the idea is that not only could solar power satellites improve national security by reducing energy imports, but they could be used to provide power for armed forces overseas (simplifying a long supply train).

Space Law Probe discusses the legal ramifications of solar power satellites, Space Solar Power describes the approach taken to compiling the study, and Astroprof goes into depth describing the history and workings of the technology. Shorter discussions come courtesy of Space Pragmatism, Out of the Cradle, Really Rocket Science, and Spaceports. Meanwhile, MSM coverage comes by way of Space.com, the Los Angeles Times, Aviation Week, New Scientist, and MSNBC.

Things lunar
Kaguya Thumb-1To the MOON, Alice!

The moon is getting lots of attention these days, and so there’s all sorts of discussion of events on a variety of blogs. First off, the Japanese SELENE (Selenogical and Engineering Explorer) pulled into orbit around the moon back on the 4th. SELENE is actually a group of 3 spacecraft — the “mother ship,” Kaguya, and two smaller sub-satellites. The first sub-satellite, a radio relay named Rstar, but nicknamed Okina (meaning an elderly respectable man) was deployed on the 9th. The second sub-satellite, VRAD or Ouna (meaning an elderly respectable woman), was deployed on the 12th and will be used for very long baseline interferometry. For mythology buffs, Okina and Ouna were Kaguya’s step-parents in an old Japanese story.

Anyway, Okina’s deployment merited blog posts by the Planetary Society, Wandering Space, and Space Spin. Ouna’s later deployment was covered by the Planetary Society, Space Spin, and Universe Today. New Scientist provides a good overview of the whole mission, and of course, there’s lots of additional information on the JAXA home page.

Meanwhile, a Chinese mission to the moon is counting down to its day in the Sun. Chang’e (also named after a mythological figure) is scheduled to launch on the 25th. The Planetary Society provides a post on the Chinese public’s perspective on the upcoming launch, and a shorter one on the announced launch date. Spaceports gets in on the action as well. By the way, if you’re curious about the whole mythology angle (the ancient story of Chang’e), there’s a nice writeup on Wikipedia.

Mars
Maunder ThumbThings are rolling on the 4th rock…

Especially if you’re talking about the MER rovers. Now three and a half years into their “three month” missions, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers were just given a new financial lease on life with a fifth extension of their missions. Essentially, this means that if the rovers keep behaving themselves, their Earth-bound handlers will be funded through at least 2009. Fraser Cain at Universe Today has the details for you, while Cumbrian Skies provides a retrospective on the rovers missions to date.

Things are hopping in orbit as well — the team running the high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is now releasing color images of the surface. Since these are being used to pick potential landing sites for the upcoming Mars Science Lander (MSL), these images are in false color in order to bring out subtle color differences. Space Spin has the details for you, while the HiRISE Team Blog explains a bit of the processing behind the new images.

Moving asteroids
Mirrors ThumbIt’s all done with mirrors…

When it comes to dealing with potentially hazardous asteroids, there’s little that can match the celluloid satisfaction of Bruce Willis and a bunch of explosives, but it’s not for lack of trying. New Scientist reports that researchers led by Massimiliano Vasile of the University of Glasgow in Scotland have looked at a variety of approaches for changing a rogue asteroid’s orbit, and settled on a new one as the best option — using small spacecraft with inflatable mirrors 20 meters across to focus sunlight on a single spot on the asteroid’s surface. The idea is to heat a small area of the asteroid to 2100 degrees C, vaporizing it, and generating enough thrust to change the asteroid’s course through space. The bigger the rock, the more satellites (or more time) you’d need — 10 mirror spacecraft could deflect a 150 meter asteroid in about six months. Moving a 20 kilometer asteroid, about the size of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, would take 5000 mirror spacecraft working for three or more years. Quasar9 discusses this idea, and the Lifeboat Foundation chips in a link as well.

Speaking of radiation pressure, it turns out that the natural variety can do some interesting things to an asteroid as well. Depending on an asteroid’s shape, color, and composition, it can change the asteroid’s orbit — or even change its spin rate in all sorts of interesting ways. These effects are called YORP (Yarkovsky, O’Keefe, Radzievskii, and Paddack) effects, as sort of a blanket term. It turns out that YORP effects (which had been theoretical beasts) have now been directly detected, although sometimes at levels far below what the theory would predict. Emily Lakdawalla tells all over at the Planetary Society’s blog.

New Horizons at Jupiter
Jupiter Thumb-1Just passing through…

Back in February, the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Jupiter — using its gravity to give the probe a boost in speed on its way to the (dwarf) planet Pluto. Now that folks have had time to write up their results, a passel of papers about information collected during the flyby has now been published — mostly in a special issue of Science, although Nature got in on the act as well (sorry, both magazines hide many of their links behind a subscriber-only firewall).

Some of these results were discussed by Space.com, Physorg.com, and even Nature’s blog, but the best overview I found was (no surprise) on the Planetary Society blog. Meanwhile, Wanderingspace has a nice collection of cloud images from the flyby — makes for nice computer wallpaper.

Cassini and Saturn
Saturn ThumbQuite the anniversary celebration

Monday, October 15 marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Cassini spacecraft to Saturn — and while Cassini can’t enjoy a piece of cake to celebrate, there is all sorts of new data from the spacecraft (as well as from ground observatories) to mark the occasion with. Aside from the obligatory retrospectives (like a nice one provided by the Bad Astronomer), the new data tends to fall into two categories — news about Titan, and news about Enceladus.

Starting with Titan, astronomers using Hawaii’s W. M. Keck Observatory and Chile’s Very Large Telescope have found that the weather forecast for much of the moon is dreary. Continually cloudy, and drizzly all morning — although, since Titan takes about 16 Earth days to complete a rotation, the “morning” drizzle lasts about 3 Earth days. Cold, cloudy, and drizzly — all-in-all, a lot like life in Seattle — although a bit colder. Actually about 190 degrees C (300+ degrees F) colder. Oh, and did I mention that the drizzle is liquid methane? Again, the Planetary Society blog gives you a good overview, as do Centauri Dreams and Skymania.

Meanwhile, recent analysis of Cassini data has shown that not only does Titan have large hydrocarbon lakes near its north pole — it’s got at least a few smaller ones near its south pole as well. Highly Allochthonous discusses why we think these are lakes, while the Planetary Society’s ever-present Emily Lakdawalla provides a more cautious interpretation of the radar data.

As for Enceladus, recent analysis of Cassini images has provided evidence that the jets of fine ice spraying from the moon originate from the hottest (or more accurately, least cold) spots on the moon’s south polar “tiger stripes.” Posts at Spaceports and Space Spin will fill you in…

Odds & ends
Grb ThumbMiscellaneous items from here and there, mostly there

When you get right down to it, amateurs get a bad rap. The dictionary defines amateurs as people who do what they do without expectation of payment, and there’s a connotation of shoddy work often associated with them, although the word’s latin roots give it the meaning of people who do things for the sheer love of it. As if to prove the power of this love, sometimes amateurs beat out the professionals at their own game. Today’s example of this — one Arto Oksanen, a Finish amateur astronomer who spotted the afterglow of a gamma ray burst just 17 minutes after it started — getting a jump on professionals, and providing crucial data on the early history of the burst. Centauri Dreams discusses the discovery, as does the Bad Astronomer in more detail.

If you’re an amateur astronomer and want to improve your photometry (maybe you track the light curves of variable stars), Star Stryder has the goods for you. If you’re more of a naked-eye astronomer, though, Astropixie explains an interesting alignment of Saturn, Venus, and Regulus — and why it’s reappeared after just a few months.

Space Files hosts some fantastic old footage of aircraft ferrying space shuttles (both the U.S. and Soviet flavors) from place to place, and Colony Worlds wraps things by asking the question “Is humanity heading to space for all the wrong reasons?

Well, that about wraps things up for this outing of the Carnival of Space. Thanks for reading, and please remember to tune in next week at Star Stryder for COS #26 with more spacey goodness. Instructions for submitting posts to the Carnival of Space are available here; if you’d like to host a future episode of the carnival (it’s pretty simple, really), drop Henry a line at cate3 “AT” panix “DOT” com.

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