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Under The Weather

Here on Earth, we are subject to the whims of weather as it walks across the planet. Such phenomena is not known only on Earth, but a variety of weather can be found on several planets in our very own solar system. What some people might not realise is that weather can also be found in space itself. Weather in space? Really?

Yes, really! While space doesn’t have air, it can still have certain forms of weather thanks to the Sun. From the sun, solar winds, solar flares, and plasma are tossed out into space which can actually affect spacecrafts that are sent to explore our solar system. Because of this, radiation can actually harm whatever scientist send beyond our atmosphere. A study of space weather can actually help scientists determine ways to protect spacecraft from damage. In space, a variety of ‘weather’ can affect the finely tuned instruments. Besides radiation, damage can occur when charged particles stop on the outside or even the inside of a spacecraft. This type of event is called “spacecraft charging”.

Certain types of space weather can also affect what happens here on earth. When magnetic surveys are conducted via aircraft, the rapid magnetic field variations during geomagnetic storms can have an impact on the interpretation of the data being collected.

Combine these with other types of weather such as coronal mass ejections (when huge amounts of plasma as well as magnetic fields are ejected from the sun), radiation belts and galactic cosmic rays, space weather is a lot more dynamic than one might think.

Want to learn more about space weather? Check out NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center and Space Weather @ NASA.

(Image source.)

Voyager: Boldly Going

Space. The final frontier. We’re familiar with the voyages of the Starship Enterprise and its mission – to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. During the years of Star Trek: The Original Series and subsequent spin-offs, mankind has used its imagination in an attempt to answer just what might be out there. Through the course of various incarnations, new planets and new civilizations were indeed discovered, but revelations in real life haven’t been quite so dramatic. Or have they?

In comparison with television, one may not think that certain pieces of information gleaned by NASA would be significant, but perhaps if you take a closer look, you might discover exactly how marvelous what discoveries have been made truly are. Think about it, what do we know about this universe, or even our own solar system? In comparison with what we could know, it’s hardly anything. That hasn’t stopped man from attempting to find out.

Strangers in the night sky

Everyone knows that while the night sky is black between the stars and planets, it is anything but empty. Throughout our universe, space is filled with all sorts of objects – comets, meteoroids, asteroids and a variety of debris. Ever since man has made its first exploration into space, scientists have been studying the debris found there. Scientists have also made a habit of naming items they’ve found, comets, stars, and even some of those asteroids. Studies have shown a variety of interesting fact that have helped us learn something about our own planet and our solar system.

Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE Encourages Innovation

The tricorder is one of Star Trek’s most recognizable technologies. Unlike handheld communicators and the PADD, the tricorder does not yet exist in our world. The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is one inventive avenue into the development of this technology, particularly the medical tricorder.

The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is a $10 million competition from the XPRIZE Foundation, sponsored by Qualcomm. Its goal is to promote the creation of integrated medical diagnostic systems that will put healthcare in the palm of your hand.

Teams from around the world entered this competition, with entries due by May 2014. Consumer testing of submitted products will begin in May 2015, with the winning technology announced in January 2016.

The day is near when you will be doing your best Beverly Crusher impersonation in the comfort of your own home. The time to stock up on orange wigs is now.

Mojave Aerospace Ventures is a previous XPRIZE winner for developing the suborbital SpaceShipOne.

Microsoft Develops Universal Translator Technology

Many of Star Trek’s technologies once seemed like far-fetched plot devices with only a faint basis in reality. Today, many of these imagined devices — like communicators, padds, and even tricorders — have proven Star Trek’s ability to predict and inspire the future of technology.

The Universal Translator was the ultimate plot device. Darmok and a few other exceptions aside, the device enabled Starfleet crews to speak directly with anyone they met, fluently and in a language TV audiences could understand.

Now, Universal Translator technology has entered reality. Microsoft has unveiled Skype Translator, a real-time translation program for video chat. This adaptation of text-based translation programs builds on decades of research and practice to include new video technology.

How long until someone programs it to understand Klingon?

Read more and watch a video demonstration of real-time translation here.

Learn more about video and text translation technologies here.

Dancing With The Stars

Have you ever compared the skies and stars to dancing? In many books and stories I’ve read, heavenly bodies have been depicted as undulating in a coordinated array of motion, as if swaying to some unheard melody that only they can fathom. ‘The stars danced in the sky’ seems to be a popular description among many fellow sim players in the various games I’ve played over the last decade. So do stars really dance? Perhaps they do. At the very least, they play music! Okay, the stars may not play music, but a black hole did – well, a single note anyway.

Back in November of 2003, astronomers actually heard a note coming from the Perseus Galaxy, a massive cluster galaxies located a mere 250 million light years away from earth. What sort of note? Using technology along with gold old fashion music theory, Dr. Andrew Fabian and a team of colleagues at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, England determined that a note detected from the cluster was, in fact, a B-flat. Don’t expect to be able to hear this celestial tone – it rings out at about 57 octaves below middle C. That’s over a billion times lower than the lowest note the human ear can hear.

So next time you gaze up at the stars and see them gleam and prance in the night sky, it may very well be to a tune that only they can hear.

You can read more about this musical cluster by heading over to Nasa’s website.

Nestlé Developing Working Replicator

Like all good science fiction, Star Trek showed us the possibilities our future might hold. Some of these have become reality, from communicators that predicted cell phones, to PADDs that inspired the iPad.

One technology ubiquitous to Star Trek’s world that doesn’t yet exist in ours is the Replicator. Nestlé’s R&D wing seeks to change that – perhaps within a few decades.

The project, codenamed ‘Iron Man,’ is an extension of the company’s effort to analyze and map the nutritional needs of the individual. Eventually, it may be possible to meet these needs with a machine that synthesizes nutritional components into a custom-made meal.

Maybe this is more like the food synthesizer from Star Trek’s 1960s run. Maybe it won’t be able to meet your order of chocolate wobble with pistachio (and peach) like it did for Nurse Chapel. That’s okay – better not to spoil your supper.

Read more at the links below:

Test Your Metal

Star Trek, the original series and beyond, helped us to envision worlds beyond our own, opening our imaginations to the possibilities that could exist in such a vast galaxy. Worlds but ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’ existed, offering a plethora of life to be discovered and adventures to be had. While none of the events in the series have ever come to past, that doesn’t mean that scientists aren’t embarking on their own exciting ventures into outer space.

One such adventure could occur as early as 2015. Scientists had been putting together a proposal for NASA’s Discovery Competition – and the winner actually gets to put their plan into action. Their propsal? Study an asteroid that is a member of the Kuiper belt – the line of asteroids that separate the first four planets from the last four. But asteroids exist in an abundance, right?

True, but this is no ordinary asteroid, but one made of metal and thought to be the core of a protoplanet. The hope is that by studying this great, grey, lump of rock that scientists can learn more about the formation of planets.

Unfortunately, the Psyche mission was not chosen as one of the final contestants, but if nothing else, the discovery of this core does lend itself to the imagination. And who knows, maybe a study of Psyche will come to pass some time in the future.

The Mission that Never Was: Venus Flyby

It is very interesting the amount of missions that NASA had planned, but never carried out. In the early 1960s, after their success with putting a man on the moon, the expectations and dreams of the fledgling organization had grown colossal. One of the many projects that had been considered was a manned flyby of the planet Venus.

With our present day technology, the idea of doing a flyby of the second planet of our solar system would be dangerous, but NASA felt reasonably confident that they could accomplish it in the 1970s. The concept was published on February 1st, 1967 by Bellcomm Inc. who, at the time, was assisting NASA in their development of future missions. The U.S. scientists felt that a trip to Venus would be relatively the same as a trip to the moon except longer and requiring more creature comforts for the crew.

The mission was scheduled to take four hundred days for a few hours of orbit time around Venus. The document stated that it would be using two modules to house the crew and even bring along a backup rescue pod in case anything went wrong.

In the end though, NASA never really considered launching the mission. For all tense and purpose, the Venus Flyby mission was a feasibility study to determine if it was capable to be carried out. That was probably for the better thanks to our new understanding of the solar system and the hidden dangers 1960s scientists would have been unaware of.

The Venus Flyby is still one of the more interesting pieces of our race’s pursuit for the stars. For more information about this fascinating idea, you can go here:

Space News Roundup – March 2014

March 2014 has seen some incredible stories when it comes to the final frontier. Ranging from a truly universal scale down to things a little closer to home. We’ve complied a list of interesting space science news that should pique your interest!

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