Carnival of Space 169

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1. Urban Astronomer looks at the question Are the universal constants changing?

The two fundamental assumptions about modern cosmology (the study of the origins of the universe) and astrophysics are homogeneity and universality. The first means that matter is evenly spread out through the universe (if you average out over large enough scales), while the second means that the laws of physics are the same throughout the universe. The principle of homogeneity has always seemed arbitrary to me, and unjustified; at the local level we find matter is quite clumpy, from everyday objects to planets and stars, to galaxies and clusters of galaxies. The second assumption, universality, feels much more solid.

Enter John Webb and Julian King from the University of New South Wales, who recently submitted a paper to Physical Review Letters which suggests that the Fine-Structure Constant may not be constant after all.

If you travel in one particular direction, α seems to become smaller, while if you travel in the opposite it seems to increase. This implies that the principal of universality is wrong.

it’s unclear which of the various constants making up α are changing. Is it the charge on an electron? Is it the speed of light? Nobody knows. In fact, at this stage only one team has managed to show any variation in the Fine-Structure Constant at all, so it might still turn out to be a false alarm. If it is true, then we have just broken one of our most cherished assumptions: That we can predict and model the universe at extreme distances by the same laws that we use here on Earth.


The Planetary society has several pictures of two natural bridges on the moon. The bridge is about 7 meters wide and 20 long; the pit is about 12 meters deep on the left side and shallows to 6 meters on the right. Credit: NASA / GSFC / ASU / Nathanial Burton-Bradford.


21st century waves indicates that the NASA Osiris-Rex mission could be a stepping stone to a Mars mission. OSIRIS-Rex (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer) which, if given final approval by NASA in summer, 2011, will target near-Earth asteroid 1999 RQ 36. OSIRIS would offer an interplanetary first: return of samples from an asteroid for composition analysis in labs around the world. OSIRIS would launch in 2016, acquire samples of the asteroid in 2018, and return them to Earth in 2023


Weird warp has actual and artist images of exoplanets. An actual image has been shot sometime back of an exoplanet but as you can see you might as well be looking at a pixel on a TV screen or computer which is not that exciting. Exoplanets artists minds have gone wild and lots of pictures of imaginary exoplanets have been created to fill this imaginary void.

A Babe in the Universe dove on the wreck of USS Vandenberg.

This missile tracking ship was employed off Cape Canaveral during the Apollo era. The 520-foot Vandenberg can be found off Key West, Florida in 140 feet of water. Diving on this huge ship is adventure akin to spacewalking. The ship began life as a World War 2 transport. In the 1960’s she started her second career armed with huge radar dishes. The ship became part of America’s Space program. In her final resting place she has become a new home for sealife. Our group dives to the ship
and explores the interior.


Astroblogger has several pictures about Comet 103P Hartley, which is a comet with a bright future.


We are all in the gutter has a guest post by Miller Crawford from The Fourth Circle. Miller is sharing his tips for easily capturing lovely images of the night sky.

Weird Sciences considers Interstellar Spaceflight and Extraterrestrial Civilizations

Radio traffic on the Net would be difficult for technologically emerging worlds to intercept, because nearly all of it would be locked into high-bandwidth, pencil-thin beams linking established planets with automated nodes. Our hopes for SETI would rest principally on the extent to which the Net bothers to maintain omnidirectional broadcast antennae, which are economically draining but could from time to time bring in afresh, naive speciesperhaps even one way out here beyond the Milky Way’s Sagittarius Arm. The galaxy would look quiet and serene, although in fact it would be alive with thought.

Weird Sciences considers how we can contact extraterrestrials or how they could contact us.

Fleet of Self Replicating Probes, Wormholes, Radio signals, or extremely Intelligent Panspermian Aliens.

Weird Sciences considers the Andromeda Strain scenario of deadly microbes from space.

The Music of the Spheres announces that if you are interested in space-related educational outreach in the US, note that September is the only time you can apply to become a JPL Solar System Ambassador. This is a volunteer program that supplements NASA’s own educational outreach activities at the community level.

The Spacewriter provides a nightime and starry sky filled view west of Boulder Colorado, looking north, with a backdrop of flames from the 7000 acre Four Mile Fire.

Astroswanny congratulates Ernesto and Giovanni for capturing one of the two asteroids that zipped deep inside one lunar distance using the new Planewave 20inch CDK telescope.

The GRAS-0011 scope is able to carry effortlessly a 6 kg camera assembly and a 12 position (50mm) filter wheel, it’s is a stunning telescope. The Ascension mount is so precise it can handle 300 sec unguided images with great precision.

Global-Rent-A-Scope (GRAS) is the world’s leading Internet Network of remotely operated telescopes for the amateur and semi-professional astronomer. Scopes rent for $20-30 per hour.

Chandra X-ray Space observatory blog provides a composite image which shows the Rosette star formation region, located about 5,000 light years from Earth. Data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory are colored red and outlined by a white line. there are over one hundred stars in the formation.

15. One Astronomers noise talks about Dark Skies, Bright Kids, aka DSBK. This is an astronomy club for elementary school kids in Albemarle County, run by volunteers from the Astronomy Department at the University of Virginia. They have applied for a Pepsi Refresh Grant to make this happen. All YOU need to do is sign up at the site and vote for their project.

16. Out of the cradle looks at the Boy Scout Space Exploration Merit Badge.


Centauri Dreams talks about New Kepler Planets in Resonance. Kepler-9b and 9c mark the first clear detection of transit timing variations by Kepler, allowing us to study the gravitational interactions between the planets involved.

18. China is preparing a second lunar probe the Chang e-2. It should land on the moon in 2013.

19. Japan made a microwave powered rocket.

20. NASA has funded $180 million for five science projects that will be part of the 2018 Solar Probe Plus mission to go to 8.5 solar radii above the surface of the sun.

21. David Criswell advaocates solar power on the moon in an interview with Sander Olson.

22. Astrox has developed what Mark Lewis calls a “mid-fidelity” analytical tool to automatically show likely configurations and performance based on criteria such as inlet shaping and energy sources for thrust. Each of the designs comes from a 2007 study commissioned by Lewis for Astrox to analyse new options for a follow-on to the X-51A. There are several two stage to orbit hypersonic launch designs.

In the Astrox designs, the rectangular inlet shaping is replaced by a circular, inward-turning inlet. This funnel-shaped flowpath, which also was used by the cancelled Blackswift concept, is considered by some to be the next evolution in hypersonic design technology. Lewis says: “It turns out there’s a lot of advantages to going to a round inlet.” In a second major departure, Astrox’s design concepts all depend upon on vertical take-off.

23. Superconducting Nanomesh Films have achieved what appears to be the ultimate critical current of 600 billion Amps per square meter. This is 8 to 60 times better than previous bests and will enable high performance magsails. The depairing current is the theoretically maximum critical current that you can achieve on a given superconducting material as per thermodynamics without losing superconductivity.


The Road to Endeavour website notes that the Mars Exploration Rover “Opportunity“, now ’2,355 days into its 90 day mission’ on the Red Planet, passed a major milestone on its epic trek to the huge Endeavour Crater.

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