A quick note: This week, the BBC posted the second of Stephen Hawking’s Reith Lectures focusing on Black Holes. And, once again, they’ve animated the presentation with some fun chalkboard illustrations. You can watch Part 1, “Do Black Holes Have No Hair?” here. And now Part 2, “Black Holes Ain’t as Black as They Are Painted,” above. Hawking is getting a little playful with his grammar, isn’t he? Enjoy.
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Earth-Buzzing Asteroid Worth $195 Billion, Space Miners Say
By Mike Wall | SPACE.com – 10 hrs ago
This story was updated at 12:44 p.m. EST on Feb. 13.
The space rock set to give Earth a historically close shave this Friday (Feb. 15) may be worth nearly $200 billion, prospective asteroid miners say.
The 150-foot-wide (45 meters) asteroid 2012 DA14 — which will zoom within 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers) of Earth on Friday, marking the closest approach by such a large space rock that astronomers have ever known about in advance — may harbor $65 billion of recoverable water and $130 billion in metals, say officials with celestial mining firm Deep Space Industries.
That’s just a guess, they stressed, since 2012 DA14’s composition is not well known and its size is an estimate based on the asteroid‘s brightness. And not everyone thinks the guess is likely to be right.
“Deep Space Industries is being far too optimistic about this particular rock,” Michael Bush, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, told SPACE.com via email.
“Nick Moskovitz at MIT has obtained an IR spectrum of DA14, and it is an L-class object,” he added. “That means a stony composition, made of iron-magnesium-silicates, and minimal water and accessible metal content. It also is not obvious how much the value of water and metal in Earth orbit would decrease with an increased supply.”
The company has no plans to go after 2012 DA14; the asteroid’s orbit is highly tilted relative to Earth, making it too difficult to chase down. But the space rock’s close flyby serves to illustrate the wealth of asteroid resources just waiting to be extracted and used, Deep Space officials said. [Deep Space Industries’ Asteroid-Mining Vision in Photos]
“While this week’s visitor isn’t going the right way for us to harvest it, there will be others that are, and we want to be ready when they arrive,” Deep Space chairman Rick Tumlinson said in a statement Tuesday (Feb. 12).
Deep Space Industries wants to use asteroid resources to help humanity expand its footprint out into the solar system. The company plans to convert space rock water into rocket fuel, which would be used to top up the tanks of off-Earth satellites and spaceships cheaply and efficiently.
Asteroidal metals such as iron and nickel, for their part, would form the basis of a space-based manufacturing industry that could build spaceships, human habitats and other structures off the planet.
The idea is to dramatically reduce the amount of material that needs to be launched from Earth, since it currently costs at least $10 million to send 1 ton of material to high-Earth orbit, officials said.
“Getting these supplies to serve communications satellites and coming crewed missions to Mars from in-space sources like asteroids is key if we are going to explore and settle space,” Tumlinson said.
Deep Space Industries is just one of two asteroid-mining firms that have revealed their existence and intentions in the past 10 months. The other is Planetary Resources, which has financial backing from billionaires such as Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.
Deep Space aims to launch a phalanx of small, robotic prospecting probes called Fireflies in 2015. Sample-return missions to potential targets would occur shortly thereafter, with space mining operations possibly beginning around 2020.
Planetary Resources also hopes its activities open the solar system up for further and more efficient exploration. The company may launch its first low-cost prospecting space telescopes within the next year or so.
- Asteroid 2012 DA14 Earth Flyby of Feb. 15: Complete Coverage
- How Asteroid Mining Could Work (Infographic)
- Planetary Resources Unveils Asteroid-Hunting Arkyd Telescope | Video
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“Mount Pleasant Middle School Goes StarGazing” – seeking funds to organize a stargazing party for African-American middle school students from Mount Pleasant Middle School at Alafia State Park.
Creating a personal Radio Telescope
Working with the XlabsUSF.com for develop research engineering technology.
Secure DARPA/SBIR research funds to support advanced scientific research at USF.
NASA Gets Two New Hubble Telescopes — for Free
It hardly bears mentioning that the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most extraordinarily successful scientific instruments of all time. Since 1993, when the telescope’s flawed mirror was set right by a set of custom-fit corrective lenses, the Hubble has captured one spectacular image after another of everything from the familiar planets of the solar system to quasars and galaxies at the edge of the visible universe — and thanks to four repair missions by shuttle-riding astronauts, the telescope has managed to survive the harsh environment of orbital space far longer than anyone could have imagined.
All good things must come to an end, though. The shuttle is flying no more, and within the next couple of years, the aging telescope will gradually wink out too. It will be a terrible loss to science, and it kind of makes you wish someone had a spare Hubble secretly stashed away, just waiting to be unpacked and sent into orbit. That’s what would happen in the Hollywood version, anyway.
But it turns out that it is happening in real life too. The National Science Foundation has just revealed the existence of not one but two pristine, Hubble-class space telescopes still in their original wrappings in a warehouse in Rochester, N.Y. The pair was originally built for the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency in charge of spy satellites, to look down at Earth rather than up into space. But the NRO has moved on to bigger and better instruments, and decided to hand the telescopes over. “It just blew me away when I heard about this,” says Princeton astrophysicist David Spergel, a member of the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Astrophysics and Astronomy. “I knew nothing about it.”
The unexpected gift has sent NASA and the astronomical community, both of which have learned to live with smaller budgets and lower expectations in recent years, into a mild state of shock. It’s not clear what they’ll do with this astonishing gift — and indeed, even among the handful of scientists who have been in on the secret, there’s only a general consensus on how they might use just one of the telescopes, never mind both. “Everyone I’ve talked to,” says Spergel, “has said we should follow the Decadal Survey.” That is the once-a-decade report astronomers present to NASA with a wish list of space missions, ranked in order of importance — establishing a sort of united front that relieves the space agency of having to decide on its own what science projects are the most crucial.
In the most recent Decadal Survey, issued in 2010, the astronomers asked for a new space telescope sensitive to the infrared light that comes from newborn galaxies and planets, and with a much wider field of view than Hubble’s sharp but narrow eye. This proposed scope, known as WFIRST (the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope), would also study dark energy and matter, but in order to save money, it would be less than half of Hubble’s size. With the news of the free telescopes, however, astronomers are talking about the possibility of building a “WFIRST-plus.” The basic scope — mirrors, mountings, enclosure — that they’ll be getting from the NRO makes up somewhere between one-third and one-half the cost of the finished product; the rest goes to the instruments that process and record cosmic light.
“We can do it better, and potentially cheaper, because we don’t need to buy the telescope,” says Spergel. “What’s not clear is, Do you just have the original infrared camera, or do you take advantage of this opportunity to add, say, a coronagraph?” That would be a big deal, since the job of a coronagraph is to block out the blazing light of a star to let the much dimmer light of a planet shine through. With it, says Paul Hertz, NASA’s director of astrophysics, the telescope could capture images of Jupiter-like planets around nearby stars and possibly Earth-like planets as well — an achievement astronomers thought wouldn’t be possible until late in the 2020s.
But while the free scopes are essentially there for the taking, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. The cost of adapting cameras and other instruments to the rest of the components, then launching the whole thing and operating it for years won’t be insignificant. “A 50% discount still means you have to come up with the other 50%,” says Spergel. Still, getting the new scope into space should at least be cheaper than it was to launch the Hubble. “Hubble,” he says, “is really a 1960s-era telescope. It’s very heavy and fairly long. This one will be lighter and smaller.” Even with drastic upgrades, Hertz says, it’s plausible that it would cost just $1 billion to adapt and launch the proposed WFIRST — an absurdly low figure for such a powerful machine.
As for the second free telescope, the consensus so far, says Spergel, is that “we wait until sometime in the 2020s to decide what to do with it.” At the moment, the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble’s official successor, is eating up the lion’s share of NASA’s science budget, and even at a discount, there’s no way the agency can move ahead with both of the unexpected freebies at once.
All these ideas are preliminary, however. “A few of us began discussing this quietly when we first learned about it,” says Spergel, “and now we’ll be talking to the wider community.” It will take a while, he says, before there’s a concrete plan on how to move forward. Until that happens, astronomers will just enjoy the improbable fact that they’ve been given two shiny, brand-new toys to play with — and Christmas is still half a year away.
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‘Dream’ Space Telescope for Military Could Spy Anywhere on Earth
14 December 2011 01:04 PM ET
|An artist concept of a lightweight space telescope that deploys a lens made fromflexible membrane.
If the U.S. military wants live video of a missile launcher vehicle halfway around the world, it must rely upon spy planes or drones in danger of being shot down. Tomorrow, the Pentagon wants space telescopes hovering in geosynchronous orbit that could take real-time images or live video of any spot on Earth.
Contrary to Hollywood’s ideas, today’s spy satellites that orbit the Earth at fast speeds and relatively lower altitudes can only snap photos for the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Taking live video of a single location would require satellites to hover by matching the Earth’s rotation in geosynchronous orbit about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) high — but creating and launching a space telescope with the huge optics arrays capable of seeing ground details from such high orbit has proven difficult.
As a solution, DARPA — the Pentagon’s research arm — envisions a lightweight optics array made of flexible membrane that could deploy in space. Ball Aerospace has just completed an early proof-of-concept review as part of a DARPA contract worth almost $37 million.
“The use of membrane optics is an unprecedented approach to building large aperture telescopes,” said David Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colo.
DARPA eventually wants a space telescope with a collection aperture (light-collecting power) of almost 66 feet (20 meters) in diameter. By comparison, NASA’s next-generation James Webb Space Telescope is designed to have an aperture of just 21 feet (6.5 m).
Such a telescope should be able to spot missile launcher vehicles moving at speeds of up to 60 mph on the ground, according to the DARPA contract. That would also require the image resolution to see objects less than 10 feet (3 m) long within a single image pixel.
But first, Ball Aerospace must create and test a 16-foot (5 m) telescope in the DARPA project’s second phase. Phase three would involve launching a 32-foot (10 m) telescope for flight tests in orbit.
If all goes well, U.S. military commanders and intelligence agents may someday get live streaming video and up-to-date images of battlefields or trouble spots around the world. Such capability could complement the swarms of cheap drones providing battlefield surveillance today, and might even spare the U.S. embarrassment from losing spy drones over Iran or other countries.
NASA may also want a similarly flexible solution for cheaper space telescopes — except aimed away from Earth rather than spying on this blue marble of a planet.
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