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This Week in Space – August 27, 2010

August 27th, 2010 2 comments

I was a bit busy last week and wasn’t able to do one of the things I really wanted to: write about space and a few extraordinary developments that have been announced or released lately.  Namely, there’s been more fun with exo-planetary systems, Europa and asteroids.

F-Yeah Exo-Planetary Systems

A few months ago I wrote about the discovery of a hot “near-Earth” named GJ 1214b.  The rocky planet measuring about six times the mass of the Earth was discovered at about 40 light years distance using the Radial Velocity method of exo-planetary detection (measuring red-shift of a star to determine slight wobbles caused by a star — in this case, GJ 1214 — orbiting along with exo-planet(s) around their common center of gravity).

Scientists at a conference in France announced this week the discovery of two new exciting sets of exo-planetary systems, each distinguishing in its own way.  The first, which has been observed primarily using Radial Velocity is the discovery of the stellar system with the most known planets outside of our own solar system.  HD 10180, a Sun-like M-Class star sitting about 128 light years away hosts a whopping seven planets.

NASA released the above animation of the planetary system around HD 10180.

Click through for more discussion and discovery. Read more…

NASA, the Mars Rover and a Comic Tribute

January 29th, 2010 Comments off

That would be NASA and not Pixar.

There has been science in the news this week.  It hasn’t been great, but even the worst news sometimes has a silver lining.  And I think that’s the case here with both stories.

President Obama’s budget proposals in his first year have been science heavy.  His 2009 budget gave bumps to several science-focused departments and additional programs, granted NASA stimulus money and tried to find room for a return to the moon by 2020.

Not withstanding my belief that Obama cares more about science than the recently departed government CEO, he’s pretty much been forced to end his support of it this year.  Particularly with NASA, the spending freeze he’s instituting is gutting science.  On Monday, he’s expected to announce that he’s killed the Moon 2020 plan and it looks to move to commercialize and privatize space flight [There’s a joke to be made here that he’s finally found one industry sector he doesn’t want to socialize].

This is not, however, to say that the President has killed NASA.  Quite to the contrary, I think he’s merely made an amputation of the fully government-controlled space flight program in an effort to save the corpus as a whole.  He’s proposing to grant the ISS several more years of life and I’m confident he might try to find a way to extend the Hub and other observational satellites, which are the stuff of scientific magic.  Nevertheless, it’s a bit of a dark day when you realize that manned flight (that which contributes the most to a child’s imagination) is taking the brunt of the hit.

All this comes just two days after the true-life Wall-E story of the robot that just wouldn’t quit.  The Mars rover Spirit is almost 1900 days past its scheduled run of 90 days of operation.  Unfortunately, much as with me golf courses, you don’t want to get stuck in a sand trap on Mars.  That’s exactly what Spirit did this past week.  Spirit is now permanently in said trap but remains scientifically operational.  There’s a long winter ahead for it, but it’s done its service to America and humanity at large, and it appears it will continue to do so, at least for the time being.

XKCD put together a great tribute cartoon for Spirit which I’ve linked after the jump. Read more…