Archive for Science & Space

Massive U.S. Machines That Hunt For Ripples In Space-Time Just Got An Upgrade

Scientists are about to restart the two giant facilities in the United States that register gravitational waves, the ripples in the very fabric of the universe that were predicted by Albert Einstein more than a century ago.

Einstein realized that when massive objects such as black holes collide, the impact sends shock waves through space-time that are like the ripples in water created by tossing a pebble in a pond.

In 2015, researchers made history by detecting gravitational waves from colliding black holes for the first time — and this was such a milestone that three U.S. physicists almost immediately won the Nobel Prize for their work on the project.

Since then, physicists have detected gravitational waves from other exotic smashups. The grand total is10 pairs of black holes colliding and a pair of neutron stars crashing together.

Now they’re getting ready to discover more of these cosmic events. On April 1, the twin facilities in Louisiana and Washington state that make up the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory will start doing science again after being shut down for more than a year so that workers could install hardware upgrades.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation and the improvements should dramatically increase the detector’s ability to sense some of the most mysterious and powerful events in the universe.

“So far, we’ve seen 11 things. Maybe we’ll see twice that many this year,” says Joseph Giaime, head of the LIGO Observatory in Livingston, La.

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NASA Aims to Alter an Asteroid’s Course

Can NASA’s Dart spacecraft, a potential defensive weapon against incoming asteroids, hit one and change its course or speed? We should find out in 2022.

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After a reset, Curiosity is operating normally

Curiosity encountered a hurdle last Friday, when a hiccup during boot-up interrupted its planned activities and triggered a protective safe mode. The rover was brought out of this mode on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and is otherwise operating normally, having successfully booted up over 30 times without further issues.

Throughout the weekend, Curiosity was sending and receiving technical data, communicating with the team in order to help them pinpoint the cause of the issue.

“We’re still not sure of its exact cause and are gathering the relevant data for analysis,” said Steven Lee, Curiosity’s deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the Curiosity mission. “The rover experienced a one-time computer reset but has operated normally ever since, which is a good sign,” he added. “We’re currently working to take a snapshot of its memory to better understand what might have happened.”

Out of an abundance of caution, Lee said, science operations will remain on hold until the issue is better understood.

“In the short term, we are limiting commands to the vehicle to minimize changes to its memory,” Lee said. “We don’t want to destroy any evidence of what might have caused the computer reset. As a result, we expect science operations will be suspended for a short period of time.”

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NASA’s Space Shuttle Rises From the Dead to Power New Vehicles

Modified left-over Shuttle engines will power NASA’s delayed Space Launch System (SLS), a giant launch vehicle intended for lunar missions and, eventually, Mars. An experimental autonomous DARPA spaceplane, called the Phantom Express, will also rely on a Shuttle engine. This vehicle is designed to offer swift, aircraft-like access to space. Both projects are being built by Boeing.

Now yet more Shuttle hardware is getting ready to fly again, also within Boeing’s empire. A Space Act Agreement signed in 2018 shows that the aerospace company wants to include a handful of the Shuttle’s smaller orbital maneuvering engines in a secret Department of Defense project. Known as the R40b, the engine was originally developed to allow Shuttles to adjust their speed and direction while in orbit, helping the iconic spacecraft to deploy the Hubble Telescope and parts of the International Space Station.

Under the $818,000 agreement, NASA will select eight engines that are currently mothballed at its White Sands Test Facility, in New Mexico. The agency will clean up, inspect, and test-fire them to identify the best four, before handing them over to Boeing for “return to service” in an unnamed DoD program.

The NASA agreement was signed in September by an engineer at Boeing’s facility in El Segundo, California. According to the LA Times, development work for DARPA’s Phantom Express spaceplane is being carried out there. Phantom Express is an uncrewed, reusable spaceplane that will take off vertically to deploy small satellites or other spacecraft, and then glide back down to land horizontally, like the Shuttle.

The Shuttle, which cost around $450 million per mission, was supposed to fly once a month but never got close to its goal. DARPA hopes the Phantom Express will be faster on its feet, able to launch, land, and launch again in as little as a day, with a price tag of just $5 million per flight. That would be a fraction of the cost of today’s SpaceX launches, though that company is also aiming to turn around its reusable rockets in about a day, which is expected to then shrink its price tag.

Unlike their larger brethren, though, the latest Shuttle engines to be resurrected may not be destined for the Phantom Express. El Segundo is also where Boeing builds most of its satellites, and the small engines could be used to boost large military satellites into geostationary orbits. NASA and Boeing both declined to comment on this story.

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NASA: Voyager 2 spacecraft reaches interstellar space after four decades exploring solar system

NASA’s Voyager 2 probe, launched in 1977, is now more than 11 billion miles from Earth and has reached interstellar space, the agency said Monday. This is the second time a human-made object has reached this part of space. And it’s an incredible feat for a spacecraft designed to last five years.

Voyager 2 is now NASA’s longest-running mission, with 41 years under its belt. This boundary is where hot solar wind meets cold interstellar space, and it’s called the heliopause. Mission scientists compared data from instruments on Voyager 2 to determine that the actual date of the crossing was November 5, when the solar wind particles around the probe dipped greatly, meaning it left the heliosphere.
“There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause,” Voyager project scientist Ed Stone said in a statement.
Voyager 1, launched just a few weeks after Voyager 2, crossed the same boundary in 2012 and exited the heliosphere, a bubble of magnetic fields and particles created by the sun.
However, just because the probes have left the heliosphere doesn’t mean they have left our solar system. Its boundary is the outermost edge of the Oort Cloud, a group of small objects influenced by the gravity of our sun.
The mission scientists believe that it would take Voyager 2,300 years to reach the inner edge of the cloud and 30,000 years to fly past it completely.

Full article: https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/10/us/nasa-voyager-2-update/index.html

How NASA beams Pluto images 3 billion miles to Earth

Spanning three continents, the Deep Space Network hears all. And thank goodness, or you wouldn’t be seeing any photos of Pluto.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is delivering amazing images of Pluto, but receiving them from 3 billion miles (4.8 billion kilometers) away is no easy feat.

The strength of the radio signals, the time it takes the signal to travel back and forth and the speed of the data flow all present challenges, but it’s all in a day’s work for NASA’s Deep Space Network. Think of it as the long-distance phone company for the solar system and beyond.

The DSN consists of a network of huge satellite dishes spread across three sites—near Barstow in California; near Madrid in Spain; and near Canberra in Australia. Those locations are about 120 degrees in longitude apart to give wide coverage of the skies, so before a spacecraft is lost by one antenna, another one can pick it up.

The sensitive antennas work alone or in groups and communicate with about 30 space probes each month, said Jeff Osman, contact technical manager for the Deep Space Network, in an interview.

For New Horizons, the first images of its closest Pluto fly-by will be received by 70-meter antennas at the Madrid and Barstow sites, he said.

Data is coming down at a speed of approximately 1,200 bits per second—about as fast as a dial-up Internet modem in the early Nineties—and it takes 4.5 hours for the signal to travel the distance from New Horizons to Earth.

The Deep Space Network isn’t confined to NASA craft. Because of its sensitivity, it also plays a supporting role to international missions, such as those launched by the European Space Agency and Japan’s space agency.

At any one time, the DSN is talking to between 12 and 15 craft. A real-time view of this setup can be found on the Web at DSN Now. The page details which antenna is talking to which space probe, and even the data rate and frequency in use.

Most spacecraft use a portion of the X-band at 8.4-8.5GHz, which is set aside globally for deep space communications. Because the signals coming back to Earth are so weak, agencies like NASA need a dedicated frequency band to avoid interference from terrestrial sources. Noise is also part of the reason space agencies are now eyeing even higher frequencies, around 32GHz, for future generations of craft.

Full article: https://www.pcworld.com/article/2948432/consumer-tech-science/how-nasa-beams-pluto-images-3-billion-miles-to-earth.html

DSN: https://eyes.nasa.gov/dsn/dsn.html

Scientists Have Found Rare Giant Viruses Lurking in The Soil of a US Forest

There’s a forest in Massachusetts that for nearly 30 years has hosted the world’s longest running soil-warming experiment, measuring how hotter temperatures impact the tiny life-forms that live in the dirt.

With the way climate change is going, you could say the future itself is buried in that heated dirt. But our unknown tomorrows aren’t all that’s hiding there.

In this oversized outdoor research laboratory, scientists have made an unexpected discovery, finding 16 rare ‘giant’ viruses that are completely new to science.

“We were not looking for giant viruses,” says biologist Jeff Blanchard from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass).

“Our goal was to isolate bacteria directly from the environment to understand how microbial communities are changing in response to soil warming.”

Full article: https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-discovered-rare-giant-viruses-lurking-in-harvard-forest-soil-under-massachusetts

The illusion of time

According to theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, time is an illusion: our naive perception of its flow doesn’t correspond to physical reality. Indeed, as Rovelli argues in The Order of Time, much more is illusory, including Isaac Newton’s picture of a universally ticking clock. Even Albert Einstein’s relativistic space-time — an elastic manifold that contorts so that local times differ depending on one’s relative speed or proximity to a mass — is just an effective simplification.

So what does Rovelli think is really going on? He posits that reality is just a complex network of events onto which we project sequences of past, present and future. The whole Universe obeys the laws of quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, out of which time emerges.

Rovelli is one of the creators and champions of loop quantum gravity theory, one of several ongoing attempts to marry quantum mechanics with general relativity. In contrast to the better-known string theory, loop quantum gravity does not attempt to be a ‘theory of everything’ out of which we can generate all of particle physics and gravitation. Nevertheless, its agenda of joining up these two fundamentally differing laws is incredibly ambitious.

Alongside and inspired by his work in quantum gravity, Rovelli puts forward the idea of ‘physics without time’. This stems from the fact that some equations of quantum gravity (such as the Wheeler–DeWitt equation, which assigns quantum states to the Universe) can be written without any reference to time at all.

Continue reading: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04558-7

Astronomers to peer into a black hole for first time with new Event Horizon Telescope

On April 5-14 2017, the team behind the Event Horizon Telescope hopes to test the fundamental theories of black-hole physics by attempting to take the first ever image of a black hole’s event horizon (the point at which theory predicts nothing can escape). By connecting a global array of radio telescopes together to form the equivalent of a giant Earth-sized telescope – using a technique known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry and Earth-aperture synthesis – scientists will peer into the heart of our Milky Way galaxy where a black hole that is 4m times more massive than our sun – Sagittarius A* – lurks.

Source: Astronomers to peer into a black hole for first time with new Event Horizon Telescope

A new glass electrolyte-based solid-state battery has been developed by the researchers at UT Austin. Led by the Li-ion battery inventor John Goodenough, the team demonstrated that their battery is better than Li-ion. It can hold an almost 3x charge, has more charging cycles, supports fast charging, and isn’t prone to catch fire.

Full article: https://fossbytes.com/goodenough-solid-state-battery-glass-electrolyte/

Study reveals substantial evidence of holographic universe

A UK, Canadian and Italian study has provided what researchers believe is the first observational evidence that our universe could be a vast and complex hologram.

Source: Study reveals substantial evidence of holographic universe

We just got the first real evidence of a strange quantum distortion in empty space

For the first time, astronomers have observed a strange quantum phenomenon in action, where a neutron star is surrounded by a magnetic field so intense, it’s given rise to a region in empty space where matter spontaneously pops in and out of existence.

Called vacuum birefringence, this bizarre phenomenon was first predicted back in the 1930s, but had only ever been observed on the atomic scale. Now scientists have finally seen it occur in nature, and it goes against everything that Newton and Einstein had mapped out.

“This is a macroscopic manifestation of quantum field,” Jeremy Heyl from the University of British Columbia in Canada, who was not involved in the research, told Science“It’s manifest on the scale of a neutron star.”

An international team of astronomers led by Roberto Mignani from INAF Milan in Italy made the discovery while observing a neutron star called RX J1856.5-3754 that’s 400 light-years from Earth.

Neutron stars are the crushed cores of massive stars that collapsed under their own weight when they ran out of fuel, and exploded as a supernova.

They’re made of some of the most dense material in the Universe – just 1 teaspoon of the stuff would weigh 1 billion tons on Earth – and their crust is 10 billion times stronger than steel.

Neutron stars also have the strongest magnetic fields in the known Universe – astronomers predict that the strongest neutron star magnetic fields are nearly 100 trillion times stronger than Earth’s.

These magnetic fields are so ridiculous, they’re thought to affect the properties of the empty space surrounding a neutron star.

In the classical physics of Newton and Einstein, the vacuum of space is entirely empty, but the theory of quantum mechanics assumes something very different.

According to quantum electrodynamics (QED) – a quantum theory that describes how light and matter interact – it’s predicted that space is actually full of ‘virtual particles’ that pop in and out of existence and mess with the activity of light particles (photons) as they zip around the Universe.

These virtual particles aren’t like regular physical particles like electrons and photons, but are fluctuations in quantum fields that have similar properties to a regular particle – the big difference being that they can appear and vanish at any point in space and time.

In regular empty space, photons aren’t affected by these virtual particles, and travel without interference.

But in the empty space near the incredibly intense magnetic field of a neutron star, these virtual particles are ‘excited’, and they have a dramatic effect on any photons passing through.

“According to QED, a highly magnetised vacuum behaves as a prism for the propagation of light, an effect known as vacuum birefringence,” Mignani explains in a press release.

“This effect can be detected only in the presence of enormously strong magnetic fields, such as those around neutron stars,” adds team member Roberto Turolla from the University of Padua in Italy.

As Jay Bennett reports for Popular Mechanics, the researchers directed the world’s most advanced ground-based telescope, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), at their neutron star, and observed linear polarisation – the alignment of light waves influenced by electromagnetic forced – in the empty space around the star.

“This is rather odd, because conventional relativity says that light should pass freely through a vacuum, such as space, without being altered,” says Bennett.

“The linear polarisation was to such a degree (16 degrees, to be precise) that the only known explanations are theories of QED and the influence of virtual particles.”

You can see an illustration of this at the top of the page, where light coming from the surface of a neutron star (on the left) becomes linearly polarised as it travels through the vacuum of space on its way to the observer on Earth (on the right).

The next step now is for the observations to be replicated in another scenario to know for sure that vacuum birefringence is what we’re looking at here, and if that’s the case, we’ve got a whole new phenomenon to investigate in the field of quantum mechanics.

“When Einstein came up with the theory of general relativity 100 years ago, he had no idea that it would be used for navigational systems. The consequences of this discovery probably will also have to be realised on a longer timescale,” Magnani told New Scientist.

The research has been published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and you can access it for free at arXiv.org.

 

Source: We just got the first real evidence of a strange quantum distortion in empty space – ScienceAlert

It’s official: NASA’s peer-reviewed EM Drive paper has finally been published

After months of speculation and leaked documents, NASA’s long-awaited EM Drive paper has finally been peer-reviewed and published. And it shows that the ‘impossible’ propulsion system really does appear to work.

The NASA Eagleworks Laboratory team even put forward a hypothesis for how the EM Drive could produce thrust – something that seems impossible according to our current understanding of the laws of physics.

In case you’ve missed the hype, the EM Drive, or Electromagnetic Drive, is a propulsion system first proposed by British inventor Roger Shawyer back in 1999.

Instead of using heavy, inefficient rocket fuel, it bounces microwaves back and forth inside a cone-shaped metal cavity to generate thrust.

According to Shawyer’s calculations, the EM Drive could be so efficient that it could power us to Mars in just 70 days.

But, there’s a not-small problem with the system. It defies Newton’s third law, which states that everything must have an equal and opposite reaction.

According to the law, for a system to produce thrust, it has to push something out the other way. The EM Drive doesn’t do this.

Yet in test after test it continues to work. Last year, NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratory team got their hands on an EM Drive to try to figure out once and for all what was going on.

And now we finally have those results.

The new peer-reviewed paper is titled “Measurement of Impulsive Thrust from a Closed Radio-Frequency Cavity in Vacuum“, and has been published online as an open access ‘article in advance’ in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)’s Journal of Propulsion and Power. It’ll appear in the December print edition.

[…]

The scientific community is also notoriously unconvinced about the propulsion system – just yesterday a Motherboard article on the EM Drive was deleted by the moderators of the popular subreddit r/Physics because they “consider the EM Drive to be unscientific”.

But is the first peer-reviewed research ever published on the EM Drive, which firmly takes it out of the realm of pseudoscience into a technology that’s worth taking skeptically, but seriously.

The next step for the EM Drive is for it to be tested in space, which is scheduled to happen in the coming months, with plans to launch the first EM Drive having been made back in September.

read full article: http://www.sciencealert.com/it-s-official-nasa-s-peer-reviewed-em-drive-paper-has-finally-been-published