MightyMait writes "There's a plan underway to build a space agency run by African nations, and there is a (non-fictional) George Clooney connection. This BBC article details the history of space exploration in Africa as well as current efforts. Quoting: 'To Western eyes, it may seem rather inappropriate to launch space programs in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 70% of the population still lives on less $2 a day. Yet Joseph Akinyede, director of the African Regional Center for Space Science and Technology Education in Nigeria, an education center affiliated with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, says that the application of space science technology and research to "basic necessities" of life – health, education, energy, food security, environmental management – is critical for the development of the continent.'"
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Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Dennis Overbye reports in the NY Times that two years ago Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss set off on a barnstorming tour to save the world from religion and promote science. Their adventure is now the subject of The Unbelievers, a new documentary. 'If you think a road trip with a pair of intellectuals wielding laptops is likely to lack drama, you haven't been keeping up with the culture wars,' writes Overbye. The scientists are mobbed at glamorous sites like the Sydney Opera House. Inside, they sometimes encounter clueless moderators; outside, demonstrators condemning them to hellfire. At one event, a group of male Muslim protesters are confronted by counterprotesters chanting, 'Where are your women?' 'Travelogue shots, perky editing and some popular rock music, as well as interview bits with such supportive celebrities as Woody Allen, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Silverman and Ricky Gervais, shrewdly enliven the brainy — but accessible — discourse,' writes Gary Goldstein in the LA Times, 'but mostly the movie is an enjoyably high-minded love fest between two deeply committed intellectuals and the scads of atheists, secularists, free-thinkers, skeptics and activists who make up their rock star-like fan base.' The movie ends at the Reason Rally in Washington, billed as the largest convention of atheists in history. Dawkins looks out at the crowd standing in a light rain and pronounces it 'the most incredible sight I can remember ever seeing' and declares that too many people have been cowed out of coming out as atheists, secularists or agnostics. 'We are far more numerous than anybody realizes.'"
coondoggie writes "Private Mars mission planners said today that Lockheed Martin is on board to build the spacecraft that would land a technology demonstration robot on the Red Planet by 2018. The Mars One group ultimately wants to establish a human outpost on Mars. The lander robot would use technology Lockheed previously built for NASA's Phoenix lander, which touched down on Mars in 2008. The Mars One lander will evaluate the use of the Phoenix design for the Mars One mission and identify any modifications that are necessary to meet future requirements. In addition, the mission would go a long way toward determining the cost and schedule of future missions."
KentuckyFC writes "Goldilocks zones are regions around stars that are 'just right' for liquid water and for the chemistry of life as we know it. Now one cosmologist points out that the universe must have been through a Goldilocks epoch, a period in which warm, watery conditions could have existed on almost any planet in the entire cosmos. The key phenomenon here is the cosmic background radiation, the afterglow of the Big Bang which was blazing hot when it first formed. But as the universe expanded, the wavelength of this radiation increased, lowering its energy. Today, it is an icy 3 Kelvin. But somewhere along the way, it must have been between 273 and 300 Kelvin, just right to keep water in liquid form. According to the new calculations, this Goldilocks epoch would have occurred when the universe was about 15 million years old and would have lasted for several million years. And since the first stars had a lifespan of only 3 million years or so, that allows plenty of time for the heavy elements to have formed which are necessary for planet formation and the chemistry of life. Indeed, if live did evolve a this time, it would have predated life on Earth by about 10 billion years."
astroengine writes "The site where NASA's Mars rover Curiosity landed last year contains at least one lake that would have been perfectly suited for colonies of simple, rock-eating microbes found in caves and hydrothermal vents on Earth. Analysis of mudstones in an area known as Yellowknife Bay, located inside the rover's Gale Crater landing site, show that fresh water pooled on the surface for tens of thousands — or even hundreds of thousands — of years. 'The results show that the lake was definitely a habitable environment,' Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology, told Discovery News. The finding was announced at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco."
sfcrazy writes "A giant exoplanet that is in the most distant orbit ever seen around its host star, has been recently discovered. Dubbed HD 106906 b, the newly discovered planet is relatively young (13 million years old, compare this to our 4.5 billion years old Earth) and bigger than any other planet discovered till date. It is 11 times the size of Jupiter, and that's what makes it a most singular discovery."
An anonymous reader writes in with this link about the advances in China's lunar program. "A $30 million Google-backed competition to land a spacecraft on the moon may be about to be scooped. China's Chang'e 3 probe successfully put itself into lunar orbit on Friday in preparation for an attempted touchdown around Dec. 14. China won't be winning the prize money, which is reserved for privately funded, previously enrolled teams, not government agencies."
First time accepted submitter prajendran writes "James Hansen, the former director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, has been a strong defender of using nuclear energy to replace coal and renewable energy. He and three other researchers had written a letter, arguing just this. In this interview with rediff.com, an Indian news site, he was asked to address some concerns surrounding the issue, especially given the strong feelings generated by it. It may not be Hansen's best interview, but it did bring out his passionate side."
An anonymous reader writes "Ekisto is an interactive network visualization of three online communities: StackOverflow, Github and Friendfeed. Ekisto tries to map our online habitats using graph algorithms and the city as a metaphor. A graph layout algorithm arranges users in 2D space based on their similarity. Cosine similarity is computed based on the users' network (Friendfeed), collaborate, watch, fork and follow relationships (Github), or based on the tags of posts contributed by users (StackOverflow). The height of each user represents the normalized value of the user's Pagerank (Github, Friendfeed) or their reputation points (StackOverflow)."
MojoKid writes "A leaked Intel roadmap for solid state storage technology suggests the company is pushing ahead with its plans to introduce new high-end drives based on cutting-edge NAND flash. It's significant for Intel to be adopting 20nm NAND in its highest-end data center products, because of the challenges smaller NAND nodes present in terms of data retention and reliability. Intel introduced 20nm NAND lower in the product stack over a year ago, but apparently has waited till now to bring 20nm to the highest end. Reportedly, next year, Intel will debut three new drive families — the SSD Pro 2500 Series (codenamed Temple Star), the DC P3500 Series (Pleasantdale) and the DC P3700 Series (Fultondale). The Temple Star family uses the M.2 and M.25 form factors, which are meant to replace the older mSATA form factor for ultrabooks and tablets. The M.2 standard allows more space on PCBs for actual NAND storage and can interface with PCIe, SATA, and USB 3.0-attached storage in the same design. The new high-end enterprise drives, meanwhile, will hit 2TB (up from 800GB), ship in 2.5" and add-in card form factors, and offer vastly improved performance. The current DC S3700 series offers 500MBps writes and 460MBps reads. The DC P3700 will increase this to 2800MBps read and 1700MBps writes. The primary difference between the DC P3500 and DC P3700 families appears to be that the P3700 family will use Intel's High Endurance Technology (HET) MLC, while the DC P3500 family sticks with traditional MLC."
walterbyrd sends this news from Techworld: "A Microsoft storage patent that was used to get a sales ban on products from Google-owned Motorola Mobility in Germany has been invalidated by the German Federal Patent Court. Microsoft's FAT (File Allocation Table) patent, which concerns a 'common name space for long and short filenames' was invalidated on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Federal Patent Court said in an email Friday. She could not give the exact reasons for the court's decision before the written judicial decision is released, which will take a few weeks."
SternisheFan sends this excerpt from a JPL news release: "NASA's Cassini spacecraft has obtained the highest-resolution movie yet of a unique six-sided jet stream, known as the hexagon, around Saturn's north pole. This is the first hexagon movie of its kind (GIF), using color filters, and the first to show a complete view of the top of Saturn down to about 70 degrees latitude. Spanning about 20,000 miles (30,000 kilometers) across, the hexagon is a wavy jet stream of 200-mile-per-hour winds (about 322 kilometers per hour) with a massive, rotating storm at the center. There is no weather feature exactly, consistently like this anywhere else in the solar system. 'The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable,' said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. 'A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades — and who knows — maybe centuries.'"
Kristian vonBengtson writes "Wanna build your own space capsule capable of doing an atmospheric re-entry on a suborbital mission? Well, here are some production hints and a visual guide." The initial stages begin with sketches on paper before moving to 3D design software. He writes, "A whole bunch of sketches were done to get some kind of initial idea of the size, subsystems layout and how to actually produce the capsule while keeping an open structure for further development and potential changes. One of the main concerns was the small size and the ability to easy install and replace avionics. This led to the decision that all external side panels will have to accommodate being taken on and off – no welding, only on the main structure." Afterward, he moves on to show the final metal cuts and how the pieces are put together via bolts and welding.
Taco Cowboy writes "NASA's WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) satellite was looking at a distant galaxy, some 3.8 billion light-years away, and saw something rather unusual. At first they thought that they saw a galaxy was forming new stars at a furious rate, but upon closer checking, they found that they were seeing two supermassive black holes spiraling closer and closer to each other. The dance of this black hole duo started out slowly, with the objects circling each other at a distance of about a few thousand light-years. As the black holes continued to spiral in toward each other, they were separated by just a few light-years. Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies typically shoot out pencil-straight jets, but in this case, the jet showed a zig-zag pattern. According to the scientists, a second massive black hole could, in essence, be pushing its weight around to change the shape of the other black hole's jet. Visible-light spectral data from the Gemini South telescope in Chile showed similar signs of abnormalities, thought to be the result of one black hole causing disk material surrounding the other black hole to clump. Together, these and other signs point to what is probably a fairly close-knit set of circling black holes, though the scientists can't say for sure how much distance separates them."
Velcroman1 writes "A U.S. spacecraft hasn't made a controlled landing on the moon since Apollo 17 left the lunar surface on Dec. 14, 1972. That's about to change. Moon Express will unveil the MX-1 spacecraft at the Autodesk University show in Las Vegas Thursday evening — a micro-spacecraft that will in 2015 mark the first U.S. 'soft' landing since the days of the Apollo program, FoxNews.com has learned. The craft looks for all the world like a pair of donuts wearing an ice cream cone, and the tiny vehicle clearly isn't big enough for a human being. But it is big enough to scoop up some rocks and dirt, store them in an internal compartment, and return it to Earth. After all, the moondirt Gene Cernan, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin once trod holds a king's ransom of titanium, platinum, and other rare elements. Moon Express plans to mine it."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "The Telegraph reports that NASA plans to send turnip, cress, and basil seeds to the Moon inside a specially constructed canister, known as the Lunar Plant Growth Chamber. The chamber will carry enough air for 10 days and NASA says the air in the chamber would be adequate to allow the seeds to sprout and grow for five days. It is hoped that the latest experiment will help to pave the way for astronauts to grow their own food while living on a lunar base. NASA says it will use natural sunlight to germinate the plants inside the chamber and the seeds will grow on pieces of filter paper laden with nutrients. 'If we send plants and they thrive, then we probably can. Thriving plants are needed for life support — food, air, water — for colonists. And plants provide psychological comfort, as the popularity of the greenhouses in Antarctica and on the Space Station show.' The Lunar Plant Growth Chamber is expected to weigh around 2.2lbs and will also carry 10 seeds each of basil and turnips. Upon landing on the Moon a trigger would release a small reservoir of water to wet the filter paper and initiate the germination of the seeds. Photographs of the seedlings would be taken at regular intervals to monitor their progress and compare them to seedlings being growing in similar conditions on Earth."
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket this afternoon in a bid to deliver a large commercial satellite into geostationary orbit. The flight was successful: "Approximately 185 seconds into flight, Falcon 9’s second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8 satellite into its parking orbit. Eighteen minutes after injection into the parking orbit, the second stage engine relit for just over one minute to carry the SES-8 satellite to its final geostationary transfer orbit. The restart of the Falcon 9 second stage is a requirement for all geostationary transfer missions." This is a significant milestone for SpaceX, and it fulfills another of the three objectives set forth by the U.S. Air Force to certify SpaceX flights for National Security Space missions.
sciencehabit writes "Theoretical physicists have forged a connection between the concept of entanglement — itself a mysterious quantum mechanical connection between two widely separated particles — and that of a wormhole — a hypothetical connection between black holes that serves as a shortcut through space (first abstract, second abstract). The insight could help physicists reconcile quantum mechanics and Einstein's general theory of relativity, perhaps the grandest goal in theoretical physics."
The Bad Astronomer writes "Planets orbiting other stars are usually found indirectly (by blocking their stars' light or inducing a Doppler shift in the light as they orbit, for example), but direct images of exoplanets are extremely rare. However, using the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have taken photographs of three nearby exoplanets, all young, massive, and hot. One may be massive enough to count as a brown dwarf, but the other two are more likely in the planet-mass range. All three are very far from their stars, which means they may have formed differently than the planets in our solar system."