Carnival of Space 404

1. NASA Chandra X-ray Space Telescope blog – NASA’s Chandra Suggests Black Holes Gorging at Excessive Rates

Astronomers have studied 51 quasars with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and found they may represent an unusual population of black holes that consume excessive amounts of matter, as described in our latest press release. Quasars are objects that have supermassive black holes that also shine very brightly in different types of light. By examining the X-ray properties with Chandra, and combining them with data from ultraviolet and visible light observations, scientists are trying to determine exactly how these large black holes grow so quickly in the early Universe.

The quasars in this study – including the three shown as Chandra images in the bottom of the graphic – are located between about 5 billion and 11.5 billion light years from Earth. These quasars were selected because they had unusually weak emission from certain atoms, especially carbon, at ultraviolet wavelengths. Also, about 65% of the quasars in this new study were found to be much fainter in X-rays, by about 40 times on average, than typical quasars.

2. NASA Chandra X-ray Space Telescope blog- Supermassive Black Holes Running at Full Tilt

Bin Luo has mainly been working on X-ray studies of supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. He is now leading the data analysis of the 7-million-second (81 days) Chandra Deep Field-South survey, the deepest Chandra observation ever performed.

Monstrous black holes – quasars fueled by large amounts of gas and dust, consuming of the order of a couple solar masses per year – are known nearly universally to be strong X-ray emitters. Meanwhile, strong line emission – that is, light coming from a narrow range of wavelengths – is also a hallmark of quasar spectra in optical and ultraviolet bands. Therefore, I was quite puzzled when we discovered that a small group of quasars with remarkably weak ultraviolet line emission are often extremely X-ray weak. The pioneering work was led by Jianfeng Wu, Niel Brandt, and Pat Hall in 2011 and 2012, where the X-ray emission from 19 such quasars was examined. What makes things even more interesting is that for a subgroup of these quasars selected with refined ultraviolet properties, almost 100% are weak in X-ray light.

3. The Meridiani Journal – Discovery of salty aquifer beneath Antarctica may have implications for life on Mars

Scientists have discovered a vast network of salty aquifers beneath the surface of Antarctica, thanks to an airborne imaging system used there for the first time. The finding may have interesting implications for the search for life elsewhere, such as Mars, since it is known that, at least on Earth, a large variety of microscopic life forms can thrive in those kinds of environments.

Researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Dartmouth College made the discovery using SkyTEM, an airborne electromagnetic sensor. The system can detect and map otherwise unseen features below the icy surface, using an antennae suspended beneath a helicopter to create a magnetic field which can probe the subsurface to a depth of about 1,000 feet. Large areas of rugged terrain were able to be studied, thanks to the use of the helicopter.

The SkyTEM sensor suspended beneath a helicopter over Blood Falls and the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. Photo Credit: L. Jansan

4. Vega00 – During next weeks, two dwarf planets will be visible before sunrise, Pluto and Ceres. The article proposes to readers the observation of both bodies. The article is written in Spanish.

5. Urban Astronomer’s observing guide for May – biased towards southern hemisphere observers

On the 5th of May, the Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks. This is usually a good shower, with a zenith hourly rate of about 55 meteors per hour, but conditions will be far from ideal, with the Moon only a day past full. Still, if you’d like to give them a go, remember to get up at about 2am, bundle up extra warm and face east. Good luck!

On the 8th, between sunrise and sunset, the Moon will be threading the needle between several open clusters north of Sagittarius, including M23 and M25. Depending on your location, you might even catch a cluster occultation (although at 85% illumination, the individual stars will be hard to spot).

6. Universe Today -Mercury MESSENGER Mission Concludes with a Smashing Finale!

The planet Mercury has a brand new 52-foot-wide crater. At 3:26 p.m. EDT this afternoon, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft bit the Mercurial dust, crashing into the planet’s surface at over 8,700 mph just north of the Shakespeare Basin. Because the impact happened out of sight and communication with the Earth, the MESSENGER team had to wait about 30 minutes after the predicted impact to announce the mission’s end.

7. Universe Today -New Horizons, Approaching Pluto, Detects Signs of Polar Caps

8. Nextbigfuture – Five sub-earth size exoplanets around an 11.2 billion year old star

Kepler-444 and its planets to an astounding 11.2 billion years old. That’s nearly 2.5 times as old as our solar system. None of Kepler-444’s planets are thought to be habitable, as they circle the star at a scorchingly-close distance. However, Campante said that finding those planets is a great stride forward in the search for older, habitable worlds and the best may be yet to come.

“This system gives us hope that there are other habitable worlds that we can’t detect because we don’t have enough observing timespan yet,” Campante said.

NIRC2 adaptive optics image of Kepler-444. The image was obtained using the for a total of 378 s of integration time. Declination and right ascension coordinates (J2000.0) are given along the vertical and horizontal axes, respectively.

9. Nextbigfuture – Planetary Resources will advance towards asteroid mining with two launches in 2015 of our technology demonstration spacecraft.

The first of these spacecraft launched successfully into space today. The Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) technology demonstration spacecraft is on board the SpaceX Falcon 9 that is on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of the CRS-6 crew resupply mission.

Once it reaches the ISS, A3R will be brought on board by the astronauts, and be put in a queue for launch from the Kibo air-lock into low-Earth Orbit tentatively in July 2015. A3R will also complete the mission of the first Arkyd 3 that we lost last year in the Antares explosion, by testing the subsystems we’ll need to venture out into the Solar System and prospect for valuable resources on asteroids.

Arkyd 3 Reflight

Arkyd 6

10. Nextbigfuture – Space Coaches – Reusable Refuelable Interplanetary Spacecraft made mostly of water at one hundredth the cost of conventional chemical rockets

A website,, expands on a 2010 paper which describes a design for a reusable interplanetary spacecraft made mostly out of water or pykrete (ice frozen with fiber material).

The proposed design “burns” water in microwave electrothermal engines, a type of electric propulsion system that has been tested with water as propellant, and proven to be several times more fuel efficient than conventional chemical rockets. The ability to use water, as well as waste streams, as propellant radically alters the economics of deep space missions, reducing the cost of a mission by potentially one hundred fold, making deep space missions comparable in cost to current manned missions to low earth orbit.

The ships made mostly of water, powered by microwave engines, will be capable of reaching destinations throughout the solar system, at just 1/10th to 1/100th the cost of conventional chemical rockets.

The system described in the paper is based entirely on existing technologies that have already been flight tested or are well under development, and is feasible with present day technology and Earth launch platforms to low orbit.

11. Nextbigfuture – EMDrive, possible Warp or hyperspace indications and more Goatguy fame

Adam Crowl provides a summary of the EMdrive research and the recent hype.

EMdrive could enable a huge leap in travel around the solar system and interstellar travel and possibly even open up exotic warp or hyperspace physics.

Adam Crowl is writing on a broad variety of interstellar and SETI topics while changing day-jobs. Adam is on the board of Directors for Icarus Interstellar. He is a member on the Starship Congress Committee.

Adam Crowl is also a designer on the Icarus interstellar spaceship project.

Adam Crowl is a designer on the Project Forward Beamed Propulsion project

Adam Crowl is a designer on Project Tin Tin. This is an effort to lay the foundations for cost-effective technology and engineering validation Cubesat missions, leading up to the first interstellar precursor mission to Alpha Centauri. The objective of Project Tin Tin is to motivate interstellar exploration by pushing the envelope of what is currently possible for deep space exploration.

Adam Crowl noted the years of coverage of the EMdrive provided by Nextbigfuture

Nextbigfuture has over 24 articles on EMDrive

The EMDrive tests seem to also be detecting some indication of warping of space at 4 times the level of the measurement error. This was reported in the NASAflightforum discussion.

12. Nextbigfuture – Emdrive Roger Shawyer believes midterm EMdrive interstellar probe could flyby Alpha Centauri

Roger Shawyer invented the Emdrive. NASA is testing the EMdrive and the Cannae drive and getting interesting results Shawyer presented in October, 2014.

EMDrive results have not been conclusively proven yet and there is no proven underlying theory and any scaling has not been determined.

There are interesting results in the 50-900 micronewton ranges. There does seem to be scaling with increased power levels.

Shawyer sees scaling up the superconducting version of EMdrive to 300 Newtons per kilowatt combined with radioisotope thermoelectric generators or small scale nuclear fission systems to achieve 200 kilowatts for a Alpha Centauri ten year flyby probe. A probe that reaches about 60% of lightspeed and covers 4 light years in ten years.

300 newtons per kilowatt would be scaling up the energy to thrust efficiency by 300 times.

Sawyer projected interstellar probe

13. Nextbigfuture – Blue Origin New Shepard reusable rocket has first development test flight

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle as it makes its first developmental test flight.

Yesterday Blue Origin flew the first developmental test flight of our New Shepard space vehicle. Our 110,000-lbf thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine worked flawlessly, powering New Shepard through Mach 3 to its planned test altitude of 307,000 feet. Guidance, navigation and control was nominal throughout max Q and all of ascent. The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect. Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.

In fact, if New Shepard had been a traditional expendable vehicle, this would have been a flawless first test flight. Of course one of our goals is reusability, and unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent. Fortunately, we’ve already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system. Also, assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway – we’ll be ready to fly again soon.

They continue to be big fans of the vertical takeoff, vertical landing architecture. They chose VTVL because it’s scalable to very large size. We’re already designing New Shepard’s sibling, her Very Big Brother – an orbital launch vehicle that is many times New Shepard’s size and is powered by our 550,000-lbf thrust liquefied natural gas, liquid oxygen BE-4 engine.