WBEZ | Space http://www.wbez.org/tags/space Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Chicago reviewed: 'A city of constant despair and rebirth' http://www.wbez.org/blogs/charlie-meyerson/2013-01/chicago-reviewed-city-constant-despair-and-rebirth-105208 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/tourism.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><strong><a href="http://www.gadling.com/2013/01/29/budget-guide-2013-chicago/" title="Navy Pier by CafeYak.com, on Flickr"><img alt="Navy Pier" src="http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4115/4933056521_be8c4e5cb7.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 224px; float: right;" /></a>&#39;IT IS A CITY OF CRIME, SEGREGATION AND FLOURISH, A CITY OF CONSTANT DESPAIR AND REBIRTH.&#39;</strong>&nbsp;That&#39;s from the introduction to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gadling.com/2013/01/29/budget-guide-2013-chicago/">a new &quot;budget guide&quot; review of Chicago</a> by the Gadling travel blog.<br />* Public school <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/17889243-761/one-week-after-attending-inaugural-south-side-teen-shot-dead-in-neighborhood-park.html">student who performed last week at the Obama inauguration</a> among <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-2-shot-at-or-near-south-side-high-school-20130129,0,6824507.story">latest dead in Chicago shootings</a>.<br />* <em>The Onion: </em>&quot;<a href="http://www.theonion.com/articles/chicagos-annual-homicide-drive-off-to-most-promisi,31066/">Chicago&#39;s Annual Homicide Drive Off To Most Promising Start In Decades</a>.&quot;<br />* And <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-city-council-bed-bug-hearing-0130-20130130,0,7376561.story">what about the bedbugs</a>?</p><p><strong>&#39;HE&rsquo;S GOT A SET OF BALLS, AND HE SAYS WHAT HE BELIEVES.&#39;&nbsp;</strong>That&#39;s New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, describing Vice President Joe Biden in <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/michael-bloomberg-joe-biden-has-set-of-balls-86900.html">an interview with <em>Politico</em></a>.<br />* Bloomberg&#39;s super PAC airs ad <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/blogs/hotlineoncall/2013/01/bloomberg-super-pac-airing-tv-ad-against-halvorson-29">condemning possible Jesse Jackson Jr. replacement Debbie Halvorson</a>: &quot;When it comes to preventing gun violence, she gets an F.&quot;</p><p><iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="288" mozallowfullscreen="" scrolling="no" src="http://www.hulu.com/embed.html?eid=s7zc1n0code9rwobk_3s8w" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="512"></iframe><strong>&#39;THEY PROBABLY READ EVERY FIFTH WORD, YOU KNOW, SO JUST MAKE IT THOSE FIVE WORDS.&#39;&nbsp;</strong>The TV series &quot;Portlandia&quot; takes <strong><a href="http://www.newscastic.com/news/did-portlandia-show-us-the-future-of-journalism-62509/?action_type_map=%7B%22594380677243438%22%3A%22og.likes%22%2C%22594379623910210%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&amp;action_object_map=%7B%22594380677243438%22%3A103842249796871%2C%22594379623910210%22%3A488367477876215%7D&amp;fb_action_types=og.likes&amp;fb_source=other_multiline&amp;fb_action_ids=594380677243438%2C594379623910210&amp;action_ref_map=%5B%5D">a painful look at the state of journalism</a></strong>.<br />* Traditional&nbsp;<a href="http://ijnet.org/blog/why-its-time-rethink-beat-reporting">beat reporting&#39;s time may be past</a>.<br />*&nbsp;<em>Washington Post</em>&nbsp;debuts&nbsp;<a href="http://pandodaily.com/2013/01/29/washington-posts-truth-teller-and-the-future-of-robots-doing-journalism/">realtime fact-checking program</a>.</p><p><strong>DOES FACEBOOK OWE YOU $10?</strong>&nbsp;If one of your photos was used in its &quot;sponsored story&quot; ads, you may be in for&nbsp;<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/facebook-lawsuit_n_2573290.html">a (tiny) windfall</a>.<br />* Despite&nbsp;<a href="http://www.examiner.com/article/double-standard-palin-hate-page-flourishes-as-facebook-bans-conservatives">complaints</a>, Facebook allows page called &quot;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/I-hate-it-when-I-wake-up-and-Sarah-Palin-is-still-alive/129929197021040?v=wall">I hate it when I wake up and Sarah Palin is still alive</a>.&quot;<br />* 8 reasons to&nbsp;<a href="http://mashable.com/2013/01/28/reasons-deactivate-facebook/">deactivate your Facebook account</a>.</p><p><strong>&#39;A JUGGERNAUT THAT SEEMS TO HAVE PERMISSION FROM ITS SHAREHOLDERS TO NOT TURN ANY PROFITS IS REALLY FRIGHTENING.&#39;&nbsp;</strong>Amazon&#39;s take is down 45 percent year-over-year, but Matthew Yglesias writes in <em>Slate</em> that the company is nevertheless awesome -- <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/01/29/amazon_q4_profits_fall_45_percent.html">even for people who never buy from Amazon</a>.<br />* &quot;Welcome to <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/business/2013/01/welcome-end-barnes-noble-you-knew-it/61488/">the End of Barnes &amp; Noble as You Knew It</a>&quot; (<em>The Atlantic</em>).</p><p><strong>EVERYBODY DUCK.</strong>&nbsp;In a little more than two weeks,&nbsp;<a href="http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/429263/20130130/asteroid-2012-da14-near-earth-nasa-doomsday.htm#.UQioP0q-Js8">Earth will be buzzed by an asteroid about 50 meters wide</a>&nbsp;-- in <a href="http://www.universetoday.com/99660/in-two-weeks-this-50-meter-asteroid-will-buzz-our-planet/">a record-setting near-earth flyby</a> -- closer than many satellites (<em>Universe Today</em>).</p><hr /><p><em><strong>ANNOUNCEMENTS.</strong><br />* Tools used to prepare this post include <a href="http://blog.zite.com/2012/01/11/zite-under-the-hood/">the Zite smartphone app</a>, which helps monitor an otherwise almost incomprehensibly vast Twitter feed that probably includes your tweets -- if you&#39;re following <a href="https://twitter.com/meyerson">@Meyerson</a>. What are you waiting for?</em><br /><em>* Next&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/charlie-meyerson/2013-01/we-got-yer-friday-news-quiz-right-here-105140">WBEZ Meyerson blog news quiz</a>: Friday morning. Be here.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/sciencefair/2013/01/29/asteroid-flyby-february/1875121/">You may not get another chance</a>.<br />* Comments on this blog? Post below or <a href="mailto:cmeyerson@wbez.org">send email</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 30 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/charlie-meyerson/2013-01/chicago-reviewed-city-constant-despair-and-rebirth-105208 Clever Apes #25: Curveballs from space http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-31/clever-apes-25-curveballs-space-95995 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-31/three galaxies.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Clockwise and counterclockwise galaxies from the Hubble Telescope (NASA, ESA, M." class="caption" height="347" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-31/three galaxies.jpg" title="Clockwise and counterclockwise galaxies from the Hubble Telescope (NASA, ESA, M. Livio and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA)" width="600"></p><p>Often in science, a new insight doesn’t fit in with the old patterns. That means something, of course, is wrong – either the fresh idea, or everything we thought we knew leading up to it. In the latest installment of Clever Apes, we consider two of these curveballs. One has already rewritten the solar system's history. The other seemed, for a while, like it might mean the universe is either left-handed, or shaped like a small doughnut.</p><p>For starters, many of us learned in school that the solar system formed by a <a href="http://nineplanets.org/origin.html">nice, orderly process</a>. Tiny things gently coalesced into bigger objects, settling into this pleasant little arrangement of planets and moons. But now, scientists think it was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nice_model">probably a bloodbath</a>, with would-be planets snuffed out in cataclysmic collisions. In some parts of the solar system, as much as 99.9 percent of the material that was once there has been completely ejected from the solar system.</p><p><a href="http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/researchcollections/researchers/#mh">Mark Hammergren</a>, Adler Planetarium astronomer and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/clever-apes-7-apes-space">Friend to the Apes</a>, is trying to recover that lost history. He’s searching for traces of planetesimals, a nearly extinct race of giant asteroids that were the seeds of our planets. Their story shows just how rough of a neighborhood the early solar system was. Jupiter, for example, probably lurched around like a bull in a china shop, its gravity knocking asteroids and planetoids into each other and, in many cases, out of orbit completely.</p><p>The fate of those ejected bodies leads to one of the most evocative consequences of this model of solar system formation: interstellar space could be thick with <a href="http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2072290,00.html">“rogue planets,”</a> whipping through the blackness. Some, says Hammergren, could even still be heated by their molten cores, leading to the speculative, but awesome, possibility that some could harbor life.</p><p>Second, the story of a curveball that threatened to topple some very basic ideas about space and time. Scientists, including the Adler’s <a href="http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/researchcollections/researchers/#chrislintott">Chris Lintott</a>, started several <a href="https://www.zooniverse.org/">“citizen science” initiatives</a>, which enlist the help of tens of thousands of people at their home computers to help sort through data. In this case, they’re <a href="http://www.galaxyzoo.org/">categorizing pictures of galaxies </a>from the Hubble Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. People log on, look at a galaxy and enter its shape, orientation and, if it’s a spiral, which direction the arms are moving. Before long, Lintott noticed that they were getting significantly more counterclockwise galaxies than clockwise galaxies. This was a little scary.</p><p>There’s no reason there should be a bias toward one or the other, because it all depends, of course, on which way you look at the galaxy. If there is more of one kind than the other, that would have some very spooky implications (for example, the universe might be quite small and doughnut-shaped). It would require scientists to throw out well-established axioms about the universe.</p><p>So Lintott and his team worked to get to the bottom of this crazy observation. I won’t give away the punch line, but let’s just say the answer caused Lintott to invoke <a href="http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/fault-dear-brutus-our-stars">this quote </a>from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Click the “listen” button above for the whole story.&nbsp;</p><p>Lintott, by the way, is a fascinating fellow in his own right. Besides his gig at the Adler, he does research at Oxford, hosts a long-running series on the BBC called <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/features/skyatnight/aps/team.shtml"><em>The Sky at Night</em></a>, and even wrote a <a href="http://www.banguniverse.com/">book on cosmology </a>with the guitarist from Queen.</p><p>Anyway, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p><img alt="Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitz" class="caption" height="450" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-31/use this hammergren.JPG" title="Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" width="600"></p></p> Tue, 31 Jan 2012 17:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-31/clever-apes-25-curveballs-space-95995 Asteroids pose less risk to Earth than thought http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-29/asteroids-pose-less-risk-earth-thought-92661 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-30/eros_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Our planet's risk of being hit by a dangerous outer space rock may be smaller than scientists previously thought. That's according to a survey of the sky that NASA is calling the most accurate census yet of near-Earth asteroids.</p><p>A NASA space telescope called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, recently went searching for asteroids lurking nearby — and found far fewer than astronomers had expected.</p><p>"Our understanding of the near-Earth asteroid population has been significantly improved, and we believe that the hazard to the Earth may be somewhat less," says Amy Mainzer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California, who led the new study.</p><p>The Earth has been whacked by big space rocks in the past. One, about six miles across, is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientists would like to prevent something like that from happening in the future, but it would take time to figure out how to best knock an incoming asteroid off its collision course.</p><p>"As one of my colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory likes to say, the best three ways of dealing with the potential of an asteroid impact are to find them early, find them early and find them early," Mainzer says.</p><p>Most of the known near-Earth asteroids have been discovered with ground-based telescopes, but these can't see everything.</p><p>To get a better sense of how many potentially dangerous asteroids might actually be out there, Mainzer and her colleagues did a new survey with the WISE telescope, launched in 2009.</p><p>They used it to get a representative sample of these asteroids that orbit the sun and have a risk of crossing Earth's orbit.</p><p>The study reassuringly suggests that astronomers already know the location of more than 90 percent of the very largest asteroids — the huge planet-busters that could cause mass extinctions.</p><p>"By virtue of the fact that we know these objects and we know their orbits, we can predict that they are no longer hazardous to Earth, in the sense that we can follow them and we know that there are none that pose any imminent risk of an impact," Mainzer says.</p><p><strong>Fewer mid-size asteroids</strong></p><p>There's also some good news when it comes to mid-size asteroids, between 330 and 3,300 feet wide. The survey suggests there are only about 19,500 of them — far fewer than the 35,000 or so that scientists had expected.</p><p>"However, it's very important to note that fewer does not mean none," Mainzer cautions.</p><p>Scientists also don't know where most of these mid-size ones are — there are an estimated 15,000 midsize asteroids left to locate.</p><p>These could cause serious damage if they hit the Earth.</p><p>Lindley Johnson, head of the near-Earth object program at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., says an asteroid the size of a football field could wipe out a major city.</p><p>"If, say, for instance one were to hit in the middle of the D.C. area, it would pretty much devastate the entire area within the Beltway," Johnson says.</p><p>So NASA plans to keep searching.</p><p>"We continue to run several ground-based teams that have been in operation for several years and have actually found the majority of the known objects," Johnson says.</p><p>Hundreds of mid-size asteroids near Earth are discovered every year, but at this rate, it would take decades to locate all of them and see if they pose a threat.</p><p>Last year, an expert committee convened by the National Research Council said there was no way NASA could meet a 2020 deadline set by Congress in 2005 to find 90 percent of asteroids that are about 450 feet or more across. It noted that NASA's budget for this kind of work has historically been small-- only about $4 million a year.</p><p>Johnson says that the administration recently requested a budget increase to about $20 million. But that's still for Congress to decide.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Fri, 30 Sep 2011 03:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-29/asteroids-pose-less-risk-earth-thought-92661 Where falling satellite lands is anyone's guess http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-20/where-falling-satellite-lands-anyones-guess-92268 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-21/uarstwo.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Later this week, a retired NASA satellite the size of a school bus will finally fall back toward Earth after orbiting the planet for two decades. Most of it will burn up in the atmosphere. But about two dozen pieces are expected to hit the ground — somewhere.</p><p>And the biggest piece will weigh about 300 pounds.</p><p>If that has you worried, NASA emphasizes that in the history of the space age, there have been no confirmed reports of falling space junk hurting anyone. But that doesn't mean no one has ever been hit.</p><p>Back in 1997, Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Okla., was walking through a park around 4 a.m. when she saw what looked like a shooting star.</p><p>"It was just a big ball of fire, shooting across the sky at just a fast speed," she recalls. A little while later, Williams felt a tap on her shoulder. When she turned around, there was no one there — but something fell to the ground.</p><p>It was a small piece of burned mesh. An analysis later showed that it's most likely part of a returning Delta II rocket — the fireball she saw in the sky.</p><p>"I think I was blessed that it doesn't weigh that much," says Williams, noting that larger pieces of this rocket fell elsewhere. "I mean, that was one of the weirdest things that ever happened to me."</p><p>When Williams heard that NASA's huge Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is expected to make an uncontrolled re-entry later this week, she had one question: "It's not going to come across Oklahoma again, is it?"</p><p>The experts don't know. Predicting where and when something like this will come down isn't easy. NASA is saying this satellite is expected back on Friday, "plus or minus a day."</p><p><strong>Predicting the landing zone</strong></p><p>Brian Weeden, a space junk expert with the Secure World Foundation who used to do re-entry analysis when he was in the Air Force, says making these predictions is a tricky business for all kinds of reasons.</p><p>There can be error in the observations made of orbiting objects with radar and telescopes. The atmosphere's density constantly changes. Experts have to factor in things like storms, winds and the object's size and shape. "And all of that makes it a very complex issue and one that's very, very hard to predict accurately," says Weeden.</p><p>He compares it to dropping a coin in a fish tank and trying to guess where it will land. Still, Weeden is not worried about getting hit.</p><p>"The earth is 70 percent water, and within the portions of it that are only land, there is a lot of land," he says.</p><p>NASA has actually calculated the odds that someone might get hit by this satellite. Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, says the risk is 1 in 3,200.</p><p>"That 1 in 3,200 is the probability that someone, somewhere on the Earth will be hit by a piece of debris of sufficient size to cause injury," says Matney.</p><p>But Matney says your own personal risk of being hit by a piece of this satellite is far lower: "It's something like one in trillions, for any one person."</p><p>And he says these days, NASA spacecraft have to meet standards that lower the risk even more. For example, sometimes they're designed to be steered down into the ocean. But this satellite was launched before that policy took effect.</p><p>Space junk falls back to Earth all the time, says Matney, and usually no one notices. Large objects the size of this satellite return about once a year.</p><p>This one is getting advance publicity because it's the biggest NASA satellite to make an uncontrolled re-entry in about three decades. NASA will be announcing the latest predictions on this re-entry as they become available.</p><p>"If you're lucky enough to be near the re-entry at nighttime," says Matney, "you should see a spectacular show."</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Tue, 20 Sep 2011 23:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-20/where-falling-satellite-lands-anyones-guess-92268 Though shuttles are retired, NASA needs more astronauts, panel says http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-07/though-shuttles-are-retired-nasa-needs-more-astronauts-panel-says-91674 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-08/astronauts_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>NASA needs to hire a few more astronauts. That's according to a panel of outside experts enlisted by the agency to review the size of the astronaut corps now that the space shuttles are retired. (The panel's <a href="http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13227" target="_blank">report is posted here</a>.)</p><p>With the <a href="http://www.npr.org/series/137712255/the-end-of-the-space-shuttle-era" target="_blank">shuttles headed for museums</a>, NASA will be flying fewer astronauts — only four to six will go up to the space station each year, for long-duration missions that last months. The agency currently has about 60 active duty astronauts.</p><p>"Why did we need so many astronauts? That was what we went in basically questioning," says Joe Rothenberg, a former NASA senior official who co-chaired the National Research Council committee that examined the astronaut corps.</p><p>He says, to his surprise, the committee found that NASA actually needs to keep a few more astronauts on staff. "We realized that they were taking some risks, or building some risks into the program, by not having enough astronauts," says Rothenberg.</p><p>The committee did not recommend a specific number of additional astronauts that NASA should plan to keep on staff in the future, says Rothenberg, because factors like maintaining the right skill mix may influence that number. "It's less than ten. Maybe closer to five," he estimates.</p><p>Long duration missions pose staffing challenges that are different than two-week shuttle trips. Astronauts need years of training to be ready to live and work on the station. They need to be familiar with laboratories built in other countries. And because the Russian space agency currently has the only spaceship capable of carrying crew to the station, American astronauts have to be trained to fly in it.</p><p>Health requirements are more stringent for long-duration missions, and the report notes that 13 astronauts have become medically ineligible for long-duration missions after they were assigned to a mission but before they could fly — highlighting the need for an adequate number of potential replacements with the right skills.</p><p>The report cites recent examples of NASA already having trouble in finding the right replacement astronaut in a pinch — for example, after one astronaut assigned to a shuttle mission experienced a serious bicycle injury. "This incident highlights that the Astronaut Corps is approaching a point where it lacks sufficient margin required to deal with unexpected personnel situations," the report notes.</p><p>Plus, when astronauts return from a six-month stay in space, they may not re-qualify for flight, for medical reasons including vision problems, bone loss, or radiation exposure.</p><p>Astronauts also have to be available to fill other important roles, such as working in Mission Control and training other astronauts.</p><p>What's more, commercial companies are working to develop private capsules that could carry NASA astronauts up to the station. The agency wants those "space taxis" or "rental cars" to fill the old transportation role that its space shuttles used to play. Those companies will expect some involvement from NASA astronauts in developing those new vehicles.</p><p>The number of active-duty astronauts working for NASA has declined dramatically in recent years — from around 150 in 1999 to around 60 now. And the committee notes that, in the coming years, NASA may see more astronauts than usual retiring, because of uncertainty about the future of spaceflight.</p><p>Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</p></p> Wed, 07 Sep 2011 11:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-07/though-shuttles-are-retired-nasa-needs-more-astronauts-panel-says-91674 Hubble captures time-lapse videos of stars being born http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-31/hubble-captures-time-lapse-videos-stars-being-born-91411 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-01/stars.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The birth of star is just as traumatic as the birth of a person, only on a much larger scale.</p><p>For years, astronomers have known that newly formed stars fire powerful beams of gas into space called "protostellar jets." Because almost every young star forms these jets, astronomers have been desperate to get a better understanding of their evolution and their role in the star formation process. Until recently, however, astronomers had to be content with simple snapshots of the infant stars and their jets — not a great help when it comes to understanding how something <em>moves</em>.</p><p>Now, using pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope across more than a decade, my colleagues and I have been able to create movies of the jets.</p><p>Pat Hartigan of Rice University and I (along with other collaborators) produced movies that provide a new perspective on protostellar jets as they blast away from their newly formed stars. We can see the jets fragmenting and turning into clumps as they power through the surrounding interstellar material. We can also watch as they bore cavities through the interstellar gas. This kind of movie gives us insights into the formation of a star (such as how the jet might clear away falling gas) that was never possible before.</p><p><em>Adam Frank is an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester and a blogger for NPR's <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/">13.7</a>.</em></p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Wed, 31 Aug 2011 13:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-31/hubble-captures-time-lapse-videos-stars-being-born-91411 NASA: International Space Station may have to go unmanned http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-29/nasa-international-space-station-may-have-go-unmanned-91308 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-31/557294main_iss027e036680_1600_1600-1200_7576817_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The International Space Station may have to fly solo this fall. All of the astronauts, NASA said today, might have to leave the station in late November if Russian spacecrafts can't make trips to the station.</p><p>The AP reports:</p><p>&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>If Russian Soyuz rockets remain grounded beyond mid-November, there will be no way to launch new crews before the current residents are supposed to leave.</p><p>A Russian supply ship was destroyed during liftoff last week. The rocket is similar to what's used to launch astronauts.</p><p>Three of the six space station astronauts, meanwhile, will remain in orbit for at least an extra week. They were supposed to return to Earth on Sept. 8. And the late September launch of a fresh crew has been delayed as well.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>To make it clearer: Now that the United States has ended its space shuttle program, Russian rockets are the only way to get out to the station. What NASA is worried about is that scientists maybe not be able to find what the issue with the Russian rocket is before it's time to send a new group of astronauts to the station.</p><p><a href="http://www.space.com/12767-astronauts-space-station-evacuation-nasa.html">Space.com reports</a> this would not be unprecedented, nor would it be a disaster. The ISS flew solo in 2001. And NASA officials said the station — worth $100 billion — could be operated remotely.</p><p>"We know how to do this," NASA's space station program manager Mike Suffredini told Space.com. "Assuming the systems keep operating, like I've said, we can command the vehicle from the ground and operate it fine, and remain on orbit indefinitely."</p><p><strong>Update at 1:07 p.m. ET. How Do They Get Back? </strong></p><p>Currently there are two Soyuz spacecrafts docked at the ISS. One is scheduled to bring back three astronauts in September and another is scheduled to bring the other three back in November. The spacecrafts have to come back because they were designed to spend only 200 days in space.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Mon, 29 Aug 2011 11:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-29/nasa-international-space-station-may-have-go-unmanned-91308 Giant camera will hunt for signs of dark energy http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-22/giant-camera-will-hunt-signs-dark-energy-90908 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-23/dark-energy-camera-worker.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A giant and powerful digital camera is about to be shipped from a lab near Chicago to a telescope in Chile to study a mysterious part of the universe called dark energy.</p><p>Dark energy makes up most of our universe, but scientists currently know almost nothing about it except that it seems to be making the expansion of our universe speed up.</p><p>"There's enough data that people know what we don't understand, but there's not enough data to explain it yet," says Brenna Flaugher, a physicist at Fermilab near Chicago, which assembled the Dark Energy Camera. "There's too much room for the theorists to come up with crazy ideas right now. And so there's lots of crazy ideas. And we need data."</p><p>That's where this new 570-megapixel camera comes in. Flaugher says its basic technology would be familiar to anyone who uses a digital point-and-shoot. "The camera that we built is really very similar to the digital cameras you can buy at Walmart or wherever," she says.</p><p>But this camera is big — its guts fill a shiny cylinder that's about the size of a car engine. "This thing weighs almost a ton," says Flaugher.</p><p>And the lenses are huge and heavy, too — with the largest lens about 3 feet across. This camera is also incredibly sensitive.</p><p>After it's mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope, high in the Chilean mountains, later this year, the camera will survey a large part of the sky for faint galaxies at the distant reaches of our universe.</p><p>By studying these galaxies, scientists hope to learn more about dark energy. "I think this probably is the first camera that's been designed just to do dark energy," says Flaugher.</p><p><strong>Understanding Dark Energy</strong></p><p>Dark energy was discovered only recently. In 1998, two different research teams saw the first evidence for it as they looked at the light coming to Earth from exploding stars in faraway galaxies.</p><p>"What we were really measuring was how far away the galaxies were, and they were much farther away than they should be, just based on gravitation," says Nicholas Suntzeff, an astronomer at Texas A&amp;M University.</p><p>This meant something was acting against gravity. It's as if you threw a rock up in the air and instead of slowing down and coming back, the rock kept shooting up faster and faster, says Suntzeff.</p><p>"You'd think that would be really weird," he says. "That's antigravity. Well, the same thing happened with the galaxies." As galaxies move apart from each other, they are speeding up, going faster and faster instead of slowing down.</p><p>Suntzeff says it seems as though space itself has a natural ability to push away all other space around it. "That's what the equations are saying, that every piece of space, it's like it doesn't like anything else around it," he explains. "It's constantly pushing everything away."</p><p>As it does that, new space is created in between, Suntzeff says, "but that new space that's created will see the other pieces of space and then push on that, which makes it a process which goes faster and faster and faster."</p><p><strong>'A Disturbing Idea'</strong></p><p>This means the universe is not only expanding — that expansion is speeding up. Suntzeff says it seems that the universe is flying apart, and galaxies will ultimately disappear in the sky — everything will go cold and dark.</p><p>"That's a disturbing idea, both philosophically and theologically," Suntzeff says, noting that the world's religions hold that things either renovate themselves or go to some place with eternal life.</p><p>It's a challenging idea for science, too. Suntzeff recently served on an expert task force established to advise the government on future needs for dark energy research. It concluded that so far, science hasn't come up with any good explanations for why dark energy exists, and it recommended "an ambitious observational program to determine the dark energy properties as well as possible."</p><p>No one can photograph dark energy itself. But Flaugher says the new camera will look for the effects of dark energy by gathering data on more than 300 million galaxies whose faint light has been traveling toward Earth for a very long time.</p><p>"With this camera we'll be able to go back about 6, 7 billion years, so about three-quarters to half-way back to the Big Bang," she says.</p><p>This will let researchers look back at how the universe has been expanding in the past, and see how dark energy may shape the universe's future.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Mon, 22 Aug 2011 16:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-22/giant-camera-will-hunt-signs-dark-energy-90908 Space photos of Chicago offer peek at the sublime http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/2011-08-18/space-photos-chicago-offer-peek-sublime-90752 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-August/2011-08-18/space pic 1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/space-pic-large-cropped.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 202px; margin: 5px;" title="(NASA/Ron Garan, Jr.)"></p><p>Looking down on Earth from hundreds of miles up in space we see an expansive stretch of the North American continent.</p><p>A storm brews to the west, and glowing patches are scattered across the landscape - the various small towns and cities of the Midwest.</p><p>But our eye is drawn to the bright and familiar cluster of lights tracing the curve of Lake Michigan’s abyss. That constellation of light could be an exploding star, not what we suddenly recognize it to be: the familiar grid of Chicago’s streets radiating out from the city center.</p><p>These images, <a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/Astro_Ron">taken early Tuesday morning</a> by “bloggernaut” retired Air Force Col. Ron Garan, Jr. aboard the International Space Station, seem miraculous, even awe-inspiring. On <em>Chicagoist</em> <a href="http://chicagoist.com/2011/08/16/astronaut_photographs_chicago_from.php">Chuck Sudo wrote</a>: “This is why some kids grow up to be astronauts.”</p><p>These images are almost a genre: photos taken from space, not of the cosmos, but looking back at our own planet. The first and most iconic, <em>Earthrise</em>, is a 1968 photo taken by astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 mission.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/Earthrise NASA.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 500px; margin: 5px;" title="(NASA/William Anders)"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p>But what do these images mean? And why do they resonate so deeply?</p><p>The power of these images starts with what one could call the sublime, according to Douglas Nickel, a photo historian and scholar at Brown University. “Being able to see something large and expansive that makes you feel small, viewed from a tremendous distance, is an aesthetic that predates photography’s invention,” Nickel said. “It’s the kind of emotion one experiences standing at the foot of a mountain or at the edge of the ocean or anything that is overwhelming in its immensity and makes you feel small.”</p><p>So these images make us feel tiny, and humbly insignificant in the face of the infinite. But the opposite is also true. “There’s a sense of mastery you always get when you’re up above something and looking down on it," said Nickel. "It’s the point of view of God looking down on creation.”</p><p>Power. Mastery. Having conquered the vast unknown. Nickel drew a connection between these images taken from space, and photos taken at the frontier of the American west during the age of Manifest Destiny.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/Timothy-O%27Sullivan-The-Photographer%27s-wagon%2C-Carson-Nevada-1867.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 377px; margin: 5px;" title="(Timothy O'Sullivan)"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p>The photo above was taken by Timothy O'Sullivan, a land surveyor who travelled the Western frontier in the period just after the Civil War. The vast and empty Nevada desert is strikingly similar to the empty lunar landscape one sees in many photographs taken from the moon. (And is similarly strewn with footsteps.) In O’Sullivan’s photo we see his covered wagon and team of horses; in photos like Garan’s or in those taken by Apollo astronauts on the moon, we see the corner of the International Space Station or other lunar crafts. “You can look at a lot of space pictures,” Nickel said, “and very often you see in a corner of the picture the wheel of the rover or the space craft that’s landed, and then this unfamiliar rocky landscape.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/apollo-11-lem-on-moon.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 404px; margin: 5px;" title="(NASA)"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p>“The vehicle represents home and how you get to that place. And the landscape represents the thing you’ve not seen before. It’s the juxtapositions of human imposition and untouched landscape that represents a marvelous new area of exploration.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/O%27Sullivan-Black-Canon%2C-Colorado-River-1871.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 359px; margin: 5px;" title="(Timothy O'Sullivan)"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p>These images give us a sense of being tiny in an infinitely large universe, but they also allow us to experience the kind of power and mastery that goes to the heart of space exploration. They are a record of having conquered the unconquerable, of having literally and metaphorically put our flag on the moon. And what could represent the juxtaposition of home and the foreign territories together more perfectly than the American flag on the moon?</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/flag on the moon.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 503px; margin: 5px;" title="(NASA)"></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>These photos also contain another dual truth – one about humanity’s impact on the planet.</p><p><a href="http://www.terryevansphotography.com/">Terry Evans</a> is a highly regarded practitioner of space photography’s first cousin – aerial photography. For a year and a half, Evans made helicopter flights over Chicago and surrounding suburbs to capture images of the metropolis: its neighborhoods, its industry, its parks and infrastructure. The result was a collection of images titled <em>Revealing Chicago</em>.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/terry-evans-snowy-hood.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 507px; margin: 5px;" title="(Terry Evans for 'Revealing Chicago')"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p>Evans said the project’s purpose “was to show the ecological interconnectedness of the region. And to show how political boundaries intersect natural areas.” Her photos document the landscape in terms of human impact and human scale.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/terry-evans-train.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 499px; margin: 5px;" title="(Terry Evans)"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/terry-evans-salt-pile.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 506px; margin: 5px;" title="(Terry Evans for 'Revealing Chicago')"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p>“The world has become a human scaled landscape in most places,” Evans said. “In an aerial photograph the way I’ve always understood scale has been with some human mark on the landscape.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/terry-evans-beach.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 500px; margin: 5px;" title="(Terry Evans for 'Revealing Chicago')"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p>“But I went to Greenland and did some photography of the melting Jakobshavn Glacier and there were no human signs on the ice. It was very confusing and frustrating because I didn’t have any sense of scale. The iceberg might have been some pile of snow I heaved off my sidewalk.&nbsp; Or it might have been 30 stories high, which it in fact was, approximately.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/glacier evans.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 517px; margin: 5px;" title="(Terry Evans)"></p><p style="text-align: center;">&nbsp;</p><p>These photos depict our relationship, at true scale, to the world we live in. They also show us our hand in changing that world. How do we feel about the fact that what we see in Garan’s photos from space is the grid, the lights of the city? Garan’s images are photographic evidence of our own accomplishments, but also of our impact - right down to the familiar, <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-08-06/news/chi-chicago-starts-replacing-lights-that-have-shrouded-city-in-orange-glow-20110806_1_sodium-vapor-new-lights-orange-glow">but perhaps not long for this world</a>, orange glow of Chicago’s street lamps.</p><p>“I think like most people I was awed,” Evans said about Garan’s images. “Although my first response was not really artistic. It was like, oh my God, we’re using up so much energy. There’s so much light down there in the middle of the night.”</p><p>We can marvel at our ability to build a metropolis that can be seen from space, and still worry about its impact.</p><p>“Depending on your philosophy,” Nickel said, “you could see human beings as part of the natural order, something that’s risen from it, or something that’s working against it.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-18/space-pic-large.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 333px; margin: 5px;" title="(NASA/Ron Garan, Jr.)"></p></p> Thu, 18 Aug 2011 16:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/2011-08-18/space-photos-chicago-offer-peek-sublime-90752 Google's Goal: Inspire First Privately Funded Moon Landing http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-11/googles-goal-inspire-first-privately-funded-moon-landing-90506 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-12/2011_07_07-moon-apollo8_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>As 29 teams worldwide are compete in the Google Lunar X Prize, they're trying to build robots that could reach the moon by the end of 2015, roam around the moon's surface, and send photos and videos back to earth. Why is Google offering $30 million in prizes to winners, what rules must be followed, and have rivalries formed? Guest host Allison Keyes speaks with the X Prize Foundation's founder. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1313158310?&gn=Google%27s+Goal%3A+Inspire+First+Privately+Funded+Moon+Landing&ev=event2&ch=1026&h1=Space,Technology,Science,Business&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=139536084&c7=1026&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1026&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110811&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=46&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Thu, 11 Aug 2011 11:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-11/googles-goal-inspire-first-privately-funded-moon-landing-90506