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Tag archives: NASA

NASA showcases its latest tech investments

Cutting edge: NASA's latest X-Plane (Courtesy: Lucina Melesio)

Cutting edge: NASA’s latest X-Plane (Courtesy: Lucina Melesio)

By Lucina Melesio in Washington DC

Yesterday in Washington DC NASA showcased its latest technology investments.  The event took place just few steps away from Capitol Hill, where the US Congress will decide on the current administration’s proposed budget cuts for the agency.

“The technologies displayed here today illustrate how sustained investments made by NASA, industry and academia directly benefit our nation’s innovation economy,” reads the event’s brochure. “These technologies help America maintain its global leadership in aerospace and enable NASA’s current and future missions of exploration and discovery,” it continues.

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Cassini’s emotional countdown, Steve the light show, shooting hoops ‘granny style’

 

By Sarah Tesh

This week has seen the beginning of Cassini’s Grand Finale. The rather dramatically named final mission for the NASA spacecraft involves 22 dives between Saturn and its surrounding rings. Once complete, Cassini will crash into the planet’s atmosphere in what the scientists hope will be a flurry of data gathering. The spacecraft has already sent back stunning images of storms in Saturn’s atmosphere from its first dive on 26 April. After 20 years since its launch, the mission to Saturn’s system has been a masterclass in space exploration, and NASA highlights the best bits in this theatrical video. The short film, reminiscent of Star Trek, could be considered a bit cheesy, but it’s hard not to form an emotional attachment to NASA’s loyal Cassini as you join in the countdown to its final demise.

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Quantum punchlines, the cloud atlas, NASA schooled

 

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive (Courtesy: Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive? (Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

By Sarah Tesh

 You may not normally associate humour with quantum theory, but it’s not just jokes about Schrödinger’s cat and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that links the two. Liane Gabora of the University of British Columbia in Canada and Kirsty Kitto of Queensland University of Technology in Australia have created a new model for humour based upon the mathematical frameworks of quantum theory. The idea for their “Quantum Theory of Humour” stems from jokes like “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Separately, the statements aren’t amusing but together they make a punchline. This requires you to hold two ideas in your head at once – a concept analogous to quantum superposition.

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Hidden Figures behind NASA’s success, LEGO’s famous five women of space, seismic goal in Barcelona

Flight planner: NASA's Katherine Johnson now has a NASA computational facility named after her (Courtesy: NASA)

Flight planner: NASA’s Katherine Johnson now has a NASA computational facility named after her. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

International Women’s Day was this week and to celebrate, we have published K Renee Horton’s review of the film Hidden Figures and the book by Margot Lee Shetterly that the film is based on. The book and film tell the true stories of African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA and played a crucial role in America’s race into space during the Cold War. Indeed, they calculated the flight paths that would send Neil Armstrong to the Moon.

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Exoplanet christening, physics on the catwalk, ultrasonic wine

Whiskey aging barrels

Quick spirit: ultrasonic waves speed up the ageing process. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Bbadgett)

By Sarah Tesh

Last week NASA announced the major find of seven Earth-like exoplanets orbiting a nearby dwarf star. The news that at least three of the seven could possibly support life was reported far and wide. Yet, as with most astronomical finds, the planets do not have the most imaginative names. Simply named after the star they orbit, they are currently called TRAPPIST-1a to TRAPPIST-1h. So NASA took to Twitter with the request #7NamesFor7NewPlanets and the public delivered. Suggestions have included the names of lost astronauts, famous composers and ancient deities. But naturally, there were also some less sensible contributions, including the seven dwarfs, many Harry Potter references, dedications to Pluto and, obviously, Planet McPlanetface 1 to 7.

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Marie Curie battles downloading robots, happy 50th birthday ILL, a dodgy portrayal of astronomers

Robot proof: Marie Curie makes an appearance (Courtesy: APS)

Robots beware: Marie Curie makes an appearance. (Courtesy: APS)

By Sarah Tesh

Avid readers of the Physical Review series of journals will be used to clicking on a photograph of Albert Einstein before downloading papers. This is a security feature designed to stop robots from the mass downloading of papers. Now, the American Physical Society – which publishes the journals – has added a photograph of Marie Curie to the anti-robot system. The addition of a famous female physicist was the idea of Anna Watts, who is an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam. She has since Tweeted “This makes me incredibly happy.”

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Live space station upgrade, more zombie physics, T-shirts for LIGO

Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video (Courtesy: NASA)

Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

NASA is live streaming a video of a spacewalk on its Facebook page, and you just might be able to catch it live from the International Space Station – or watch it again. The video shows astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson upgrading the space station’s power system – and it looks like hard work to me.

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Plush toys launched into space, interplanetary mining missions and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has, as of this week, spent two full years in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, since it reached its destination in August 2014. While Rosetta was the mothership, it also deposited its “baby” lander called Philae onto the comet’s surface in November that year. Sadly Philae was switched off in July this year. If you feel like you want to relive the excitement of the initial launch, take a look at the video above. The folks over at Design and Data, who created Rosetta’s iconic cartoons and memorabilia for ESA, launched a plush-toy version of the spacecraft into space, to see how it would fare. Watch the video to see how their “mission” played out.

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Sporty physics, the pub in a Faraday cage, LEGO NASA women and more

 

By Michael Banks and Tushna Commissariat

The Rio 2016 Olympics will kick off tomorrow and over the next three weeks, while you enjoy watching the world’s top athletes compete in the huge variety of sports, spare a thought for the physics involved. From how to throw a ball to running, from pole vaulting to golf, physics and sport are fellow brethren. Head on over on the JPhys+ blog to read “The big physics of sport round-up!” post and watch our video series above, in between cheering on your favourite teams.

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Killer asteroid bust-up, exposing academic plagiarism, #IAmAPhysicist and more

Time-lapse image of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE space telescope

Time-lapse image of the asteroid Euphrosyne as seen by NASA’s WISE space telescope, which is used by NEOWISE to measure asteroid sizes. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

First-up in this week’s Red Folder is a tale of killer asteroids, hubris and peer review from the Washington Post. The science writer Rachel Feltman has written a nice article about a claim by physicist-turned-entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold that NASA’s research on asteroids that could potentially collide with Earth is deeply flawed. On Monday, Myhrvold posted a 111-page preprint on arXiv that argues that asteroid radii measured by NASA’s NEOWISE project are far less accurate than stated by NASA scientists. What’s more, Myhrvold seems to suggest that NEOWISE scientists have “copied” some results from previous asteroid studies.

Myhrvold began his career as a theoretical physicist and, after a stint as Microsoft’s chief technology officer, founded an intellectual-property firm. He has never worked in the field of asteroids, yet he has taken great exception to some of the physics and statistical analysis underlying the NEOWISE results. His paper has been submitted to the journal Icarus, but has not yet passed peer review – unlike the NEOWISE results. In her article, Feltman ponders why Myhrvold is actively promoting his controversial work – he was featured in a New York Times article on Monday – before it has passed peer review. She also speaks to several NEOWISE scientists, who are not amused.

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