Discovery News – Magnetic tornadoes measuring several Earths wide have been spotted deep inside the sun’s atmosphere. Using the high-definition eyes of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), researchers from Aberystwyth University have, for the first time, captured a monster solar twister evolving deep inside the corona. But far from the phenomena just being fascinating to watch, it is thought they may help predict space weather.
Attendees at the recently concluded 43rd annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference had front row seats to a heated debate on new data from the Moon. As opposed to how many envision scientific debate – coolly logical, white-frocked intellectuals, dispassionately discussing points of contention in a laboratory – what they witnessed was an impassioned and stormy exchange of differing opinions. There is good reason for passion. Subsequent decisions based on these data places the success or failure of future missions in the crosshairs.
This is not some arcane, academic dispute. We will depend on the mapping results from LRO to identify potential landing sites for future missions, including the selection of the most hydrogen-rich areas for exploration and possible future utilization. Such decisions could involve the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, so there is some pressure to make the correct ones.
the detailed distribution of hydrogen at the poles of the Moon remains unclear. While both LP and LEND uncollimated (e.g., omni-directional) maps appear nearly identical, the collimated LEND polar hydrogen maps show widely varying concentrations, with little coherence over short distances. Repeatability of measurement is important in science. The fact that two completely different instruments on two different missions found nearly identical results suggests that the low resolution, uncollimated LP and LEND maps are currently the best reflection of reality we have. These uncollimated data most likely will remain the polar hydrogen maps of choice by working lunar scientists.
Nextbigfuture covered the NASA Innovative Advanced Conference Spring meeting. One topic was the the Fission Fragment Rocket Engine (FFRE). The FFRE requires small amounts of readily available, energy dense, long lasting fuel, significant thrust at specific impulse of a million seconds, and increases safety by charging the reactor after arrival in LEO. If this study shows the FFRE potential, the return could be immense through savings in travel time, payload fraction, launch vehicle support and safety for deep space exploration.
Nextbigfuture also covered Atomic metallic hydrogen. If metallic hydrogen can be metastable at ambient pressure and temperature, the it could be used as the most powerful chemical rocket fuel, as the atoms recombine to form molecular hydrogen. This light-weight high-energy density material would revolutionize rocketry, allowing single-stage rockets to enter orbit and chemically fueled rockets to explore our solar system. To transform solid molecular hydrogen to metallic hydrogen requires extreme high pressures, but has not yet been accomplished in the laboratory. In the proposed new approach electrons will be injected into solid hydrogen with the objective of lowering the critical pressure for transformation. If successful the metastability properties of hydrogen will be studied. This new approach may scale down the pressures needed to produce this potentially revolutionary rocket propellant. It would have an ISP of 1700 and would be usable for single stage to orbit launches (SSTO).