Archive | Exploration

Space Shuttle Pulls Into Port for the Last Time

The second most important part of the shuttle landing this morning (first being a safe reentry and landing) was the dialogue between the shuttle commander and mission control.

Here’s an excerpt of their final exchange:

“Mission complete, Houston,” said STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson after Atlantis came to wheel stop. “After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It’s come to a final stop.”

“We’ll take this opportunity to congratulate you, Atlantis,” replied capcom Barry “Butch” Wilmore in mission control in Houston, “as well as the thousands of passionate individuals across this great, space faring nation who truly empower this incredible spacecraft, which for three decades has inspired millions around the globe. Job well done, America.”

“Hey thanks, Butch, great words, great words,” Ferguson said. “You know, the space shuttle has changed the way we view the world and it’s changed the way we view our universe. There are a lot of emotions today, but one thing is indisputable: America’s not going to stop exploring. Thank you Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and our ship, Atlantis. Thank you for protecting us and bringing this program to such a fitting end. God bless all of you, God bless the United States of America.”

Also, as the shuttle was landing, NASA Public Affairs Officer George Diller had these eloquent final words:

Having fired the imagination of a generation, a ship like no other, its place in history secured, the space shuttle pulls into port for the last time, its voyage at an end.

Video Note: The final exchange begins at 10 minutes and 05 seconds.

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Presenting Vesta the Asteroid

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft entered orbit around asteroid Vesta on July 16, 2011.

Interesting facts:

1) Photo is taken from the spacecraft Dawn 9,900 miles (16,000km) away.

2) We’re uncertain of Vesta’s mass so we played it safe and took a high orbit.

3) Over the next 3 weeks we’ll lower the orbit and get a much more accurate calculation of her mass and even higher resolution images.

Vesta the Asteroid

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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What is the Higgs boson, and why do we want to find it?

In 1993, the UK Science Minister (such a cool title), William Waldegrave, challenged physicists to produce an answer that would fit on one page to the question ‘What is the Higgs boson, and why do we want to find it?’

The following is my favorite of the five.

The Need to Understand Mass

By Roger Cashmore Department of Physics, University of Oxford, UK.

What determines the size of objects that we see around us or indeed even the size of ourselves? The answer is the size of the molecules and in turn the atoms that compose these molecules. But what determines the size of the atoms themselves? Quantum theory and atomic physics provide an answer. The size of the atom is determined by the paths of the electrons orbiting the nucleus. The size of those orbits, however, is determined by the mass of the electron. Were the electron’s mass smaller, the orbits (and hence all atoms) would be smaller, and consequently everything we see would be smaller. So understanding the mass of the electron is essential to understanding the size and dimensions of everything around us.

It might be hard to understand the origin of one quantity, that quantity being the mass of the electron. Fortunately nature has given us more than one elementary particle and they come with a wide variety of masses. The lightest particle is the electron and the heaviest particle is believed to be the particle called the top quark, which weighs at least 200,000 times as much as an electron. With this variety of particles and masses we should have a clue to the individual masses of the particles.

Unfortunately if you try and write down a theory of particles and their interactions then the simplest version requires all the masses of the particles to be zero. So on one hand we have a whole variety of masses and on the other a theory in which all masses should be zero. Such conundrums provide the excitement and the challenges of science.

There is, however, one very clever and very elegant solution to this problem, a solution first proposed by Peter Higgs. He proposed that the whole of space is permeated by a field, similar in some ways to the electromagnetic field. As particles move through space they travel through this field, and if they interact with it they acquire what appears to be mass. This is similar to the action of viscous forces felt by particles moving through any thick liquid. the larger the interaction of the particles with the field, the more mass they appear to have. Thus the existence of this field is essential in Higg’s hypothesis for the production of the mass of particles.

We know from quantum theory that fields have particles associated with them, the particle for the electromagnetic field being the photon. So there must be a particle associated with the Higg’s field, and this is the Higgs boson. Finding the Higgs boson is thus the key to discovering whether the Higgs field does exist and whether our best hypothesis for the origin of mass is indeed correct.

Source: The Higgs Boson – A one page explanation

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Hubble Telescope Captures Thin Galaxy

NGC 4452

NGC 4452 (Click image to enlarge)

Like a snapshot of coins tossed in the air, we see them at all angles, from face-on disks to nearly edge-on lines. And sometimes we catch them so precisely to the side that what we see is hard to believe is real.  – Bad Astronomy (Galaxy on Edge)

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has imaged a striking galaxy called NGC 4452, which appears to lie exactly edge-on as seen from Earth. The result is an extraordinary picture of billions of stars observed from an unusual angle. –

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

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Cupola’s View of Our Planet

Cupola View

Image Courtesy of NASA. Click to Enlarge.

Here’s a photograph of our gorgeous planet from the recently installed Cupola module on the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS is an internationally developed research facility that is being developed in low-earth orbit. It’s scheduled for completion in 2011 and the Cupola module is one of the last remaining components of the ISS.

Cupola serves as a large windowed dome for crew members to use while operating the large robotic arms connected to the ISS. It also serves as a beautiful observation deck for viewing Earth, celestial objects and visiting spacecraft.

And as you would imagine, these beautiful vistas are popular with crew members. NASA has assembled a Twitter list of astronauts currently aboard the ISS, many of them tweet photos from the Cupola module.

Though most of us can’t visit the ISS to get these breathtaking views, we can see the ISS from our own backyards.

You can visit Satellite Flybys by Space Weather to submit your zip code and discover when the next ISS flyby will occur.

You can’t miss it. It’s the biggest, brightest man-made object orbiting Earth.

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