by John Assaraf,Nobel Prize winning physicists have proven beyond doubt that the physical world is one large sea of energy that flashes into and out of being in milliseconds, over and over again.Nothing is solid.This is the world of Quantum Physics.They have proven that thoughts are what put together and hold together this ever-changing energy field into the ‘objects’ that we see.So why do we see a person instead of a flashing cluster of energy?Think of a movie [...]
Julie Fidler, Natural SocietyCould it all be based on a myth?For years we’ve been told that depression is caused by low serotonin levels in the brain.Now, a leading professor of psychiatry is warning that belief is little more than a dangerous miscommunication, saying the marketing of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs is “based on a myth.”SSRI use began to skyrocket in the early 1990’s. The drugs were seen as a safer alternative to [...]
Scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that the immense halo of gas enveloping the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest massive galactic neighbor, is about six times larger and 1,000 times more massive than previously measured. The dark, nearly invisible halo stretches about a million light-years from its host galaxy, halfway to our own Milky Way galaxy. This finding promises to tell astronomers more about the evolution and structure of majestic giant spirals, one of the most common types of galaxies in the universe.
"Halos are the gaseous atmospheres of galaxies. The properties of these gaseous halos control the rate at which stars form in galaxies according to models of galaxy formation," explained the lead investigator, Nicolas Lehner of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. The gargantuan halo is estimated to contain half the mass of the stars in the Andromeda galaxy itself, in the form of a hot, diffuse gas. If it could be viewed with the naked eye, the halo would be 100 times the diameter of the full Moon in the sky. This is equivalent to the patch of sky covered by two basketballs held at arm's length.
The Andromeda galaxy, also known as M31, lies 2.5 million light-years away and looks like a faint spindle, about 6 times the diameter of the full Moon. It is considered a near-twin to the Milky Way galaxy.
Because the gas in Andromeda's halo is dark, the team looked at bright background objects through the gas and observed how the light changed. This is a bit like looking at a glowing light at the bottom of a pool at night. The ideal background "lights" for such a study are quasars, which are very distant bright cores of active galaxies powered by black holes. The team used 18 quasars residing far behind Andromeda to probe how material is distributed well beyond the visible disk of the galaxy. Their findings were published in the May 10, 2015, edition of The Astrophysical Journal.
Earlier research from Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS)-Halos program studied 44 distant galaxies and found halos like Andromeda's, but never before has such a massive halo been seen in a neighboring galaxy. Because the previously studied galaxies were much farther away, they appeared much smaller on the sky. Only one quasar could be detected behind each faraway galaxy, providing only one light anchor point to map their halo size and structure. With its close proximity to Earth and its correspondingly large footprint on the sky, Andromeda provides a far more extensive sampling of a lot of background quasars. "As the light from the quasars travels toward Hubble, the halo's gas will absorb some of that light and make the quasar appear a little darker in just a very small wavelength range," explains co-investigator J. Christopher Howk, also of Notre Dame. "By measuring the dip in brightness in that range, we can tell how much halo gas from M31 there is between us and that quasar."
The scientists used Hubble's unique capability to study the ultraviolet light from the quasars. Ultraviolet light is absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, which makes it difficult to observe with a ground-based telescope. The team drew from about 5 years' worth of observations stored in the Hubble data archive to conduct this research. Many previous Hubble campaigns have used quasars to study gas much farther away than — but in the general direction of — Andromeda, so a treasure trove of data already existed.
But where did the giant halo come from? Large-scale simulations of galaxies suggest that the halo formed at the same time as the rest of Andromeda. The team also determined that it is enriched in elements much heavier than hydrogen and helium, and the only way to get these heavy elements is from exploding stars called supernovae. The supernovae erupt in Andromeda's star-filled disk and violently blow these heavier elements far out into space. Over Andromeda's lifetime, nearly half of all the heavy elements made by its stars have been expelled far beyond the galaxy's 200,000-light-year-diameter stellar disk.
What does this mean for our own galaxy? Because we live inside the Milky Way, scientists cannot determine whether or not such an equally massive and extended halo exists around our galaxy. It's a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. If the Milky Way does possess a similarly huge halo, the two galaxies' halos may be nearly touching already and quiescently merging long before the two massive galaxies collide. Hubble observations indicate that the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies will merge to form a giant elliptical galaxy beginning about 4 billion years from now.
May 10, 2015 / Greg Giles / Comments Off on Carl Sagan’s Solar Sail Goes On Test Flight On May 20: Why You Should Care
Excerpt from techtimes.comMany of the technologies that are in use today such as the airplane and the internet were once ideas that became reality and it appears that this still goes true with the innovations of the future. Take for instance ...
Leapfrogging backward in time to when the universe was apparently feeling its oats, a group of astronomers reported Tuesday that they had measured a bona fide distance to one of the farthest and thus earliest galaxies known.
The galaxy, more than a few billion light-years on the other side of the northern constellation Boötes, is one of the most massive and brightest in the early universe and goes by the name of EGS-zs8-1.
It flowered into stardom only 670 million years after the Big Bang.
The light from that galaxy has taken 13 billion years to reach telescopes on Earth. By now, however, since the universe has continued to expand during that time, the galaxy is about 30 billion light-years away, according to standard cosmological calculations.
The new measurements allow astronomers to see the galaxy in its infancy. Despite its relative youth, however, it is already about one-sixth as massive as the Milky Way, which is 10 billion years old. And it is getting bigger, making stars 80 times faster than the Milky Way is making them today. The discovery was reported in The Astrophysical Journal by Pascal Oesch of Yale University and his colleagues.
By the rules of the expanding universe, the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it is retreating from us, measured by the “redshift” of its light being broadened to longer wavelengths, the way an ambulance siren seems to lower its pitch as it goes by.
In the past few years, as astronomers have raced one another into the past with instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, galaxies have been found that appear even more distant. Those measurements, however, were estimates based on the colors of the objects — so-called photometric redshifts.
The new galaxy stuck out in a survey of distant galaxies by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes known as Candels, for Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey. Its redshift was precisely measured with a powerful spectrograph known as Mosfire — Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infrared Exploration — on Keck 1, one of a pair of 10-meter-diameter telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. That makes it the highest redshift confirmed in this way, said Garth Illingworth, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the astronomers in the study.
How galaxies were able to form and grow so rapidly after the lights came on in the universe is a mystery that will be addressed by a coming generation of instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope, a goliath planned for Mauna Kea, already home to a dozen telescopes.
Recently, however, construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, a $1.4 billion project, has been halted by protests by Hawaii residents who feel their mountain has been abused. An echo of that controversy appears in the new paper, in which Dr. Oesch and his colleagues write: “The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.”
Moon Express, a Mountain View, California-based company that's aiming to send the first commercial robotic spacecraft to the moon next year, just took another step closer toward that lofty goal.
Earlier this year, it became the first company to successfully test a prototype of a lunar lander at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The success of this test—and a series of others that will take place later this year—paves the way for Moon Express to send its lander to the moon in 2016, said company co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain.
Moon Express conducted its tests with the support of NASA engineers, who are sharing with the company their deep well of lunar know-how. The NASA lunar initiative—known as Catalyst—is designed to spur new commercial U.S. capabilities to reach the moon and tap into its considerable resources.In addition to Moon Express, NASA is also working with Astrobotic Technologies of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to develop commercial robotic spacecrafts.
Jain said Moon Express also recently signed an agreement to take over Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral. The historic launchpad will be used for Moon Express's lander development and flight-test operations. Before it was decommissioned, the launchpad was home to NASA's Atlas-Centaur rocket program and its Surveyor moon landers.
"Clearly, NASA has an amazing amount of expertise when it comes to getting to the moon, and it wants to pass that knowledge on to a company like ours that has the best chance of being successful," said Jain, a serial entrepreneur who also founded Internet companies Infospace and Intelius. He believes that the moon holds precious metals and rare minerals that can be brought back to help address Earth's energy, health and resource challenges.
Among the moon's vast riches: gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste. "We went to the moon 50 years ago, yet today we have more computing power with our iPhones than the computers that sent men into space," Jain said. "That type of exponential technological growth is allowing things to happen that was never possible before."
An eye on the Google prize
Helping to drive this newfound interest in privately funded space exploration is the Google Lunar X Prize. It's a competition organized by the X Prize Foundation and sponsored by Google that will award $30 million to the first company that lands a commercial spacecraft on the moon, travels 500 meters across its surface and sends high-definition images and video back to Earth—all before the end of 2016. Moon Express is already at the front of the pack. In January it was awarded a $1 million milestone prize from Google for being the only company in the competition so far to test a prototype of its lander. "Winning the X prize would be a great thing," said Jain. "But building a great company is the ultimate goal with us." When it comes to space exploration, he added, "it's clear that the baton has been passed from the government to the private sector."
Testing in stages
Jain said Moon Express has been putting its lunar lander through a series of tests at the space center. The successful outing earlier this year involved tethering the vehicle—which is the size of a coffee table—to a crane in order to safely test its control systems. "The reason we tethered it to the crane is because the last thing we wanted was the aircraft to go completely haywire and hurt someone," he said.
At the end of March, the company will conduct a completely free flight test with no tethering. The lander will take off from the pad, go up and sideways, then land back at the launchpad. "This is to test that the vehicle knows where to go and how to get back to the launchpad safely," Jain explained. Once all these tests are successfully completed, Jain said the lander—called MX-1—will be ready to travel to the moon. The most likely scenario is that it will be attached to a satellite that will take the lander into a low orbit over the Earth. From there the MX-1 will fire its own rocket, powered by hydrogen peroxide, and launch from that orbit to complete its travel to the moon's surface.
The lander's first mission is a one-way trip, meaning that it's not designed to travel back to the Earth, said Jain. "The purpose is to show that for the first time, a company has developed the technology to land softly on the moon," he said. "Landing on the moon is not the hard part. Landing softly is the hard part."
That's because even though the gravity of the moon is one-sixth that of the Earth's, the lander will still be traveling down to the surface of the moon "like a bullet," Jain explained. Without the right calculations to indicate when its rockets have to fire in order to slow it down, the lander would hit the surface of the moon and break into millions of pieces. "Unlike here on Earth, there's no GPS on the moon to tell us this, so we have to do all these calculations first," he said.
Looking ahead 15 or 20 years, Jain said he envisions a day when the moon is used as a sort of way station enabling easier travel for exploration to other planets. In the meantime, he said the lander's second and third missions could likely involve bringing precious metals, minerals and even moon rocks back to Earth. "Today, people look at diamonds as this rare thing on Earth," Jain said. He added, "Imagine telling someone you love her by giving her the moon."
Scientists working on Europe's Planck satellite say the first stars lit up the Universe later than previously thought.
The team has made the most precise map of the "oldest light" in the cosmos.
Earlier observations of this radiation had suggested the first generation of stars were bursting into life by about 420 million years after the Big Bang.
Planck's data indicates this great ignition was well established by some 560 million years after it all began.
"This difference of 140 million years might not seem that significant in the context of the 13.8-billion-year history of the cosmos, but proportionately it's actually a very big change in our understanding of how certain key events progressed at the earliest epochs," said Prof George Efstathiou, one of the leaders of the Planck Science Collaboration.
Subtle signal The assessment is based on studies of the "afterglow" of the Big Bang, the ancient light called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which still washes over the Earth today.
Prof George Efstathiou: "We don't need more complicated explanations"
The European Space Agency's (Esa) Planck satellite mapped this "fossil" between 2009 and 2013.
It contains a wealth of information about early conditions in the Universe, and can even be used to work out its age, shape and do an inventory of its contents.
Scientists can also probe it for very subtle "distortions" that tell them about any interactions the CMB has had on its way to us.
Forging elements One of these would have been imprinted when the infant cosmos underwent a major environmental change known as re-ionisation.
Prof Richard McMahon: "The two sides of the bridge now join"
It is when the cooling neutral hydrogen gas that dominated the Universe in the aftermath of the Big Bang was then re-energised by the ignition of the first stars.
These hot giants would have burnt brilliant but brief lives, producing the very first heavy elements. But they would also have "fried" the neutral gas around them - ripping electrons off the hydrogen protons.
And it is the passage of the CMB through this maze of electrons and protons that would have resulted in it picking up a subtle polarisation.
Impression: The first stars would have been unwieldy behemoths that burnt brief but brilliant lives
The Planck team has now analysed this polarisation in fine detail and determined it to have been generated at 560 million years after the Big Bang.
The American satellite WMAP, which operated in the 2000s, made the previous best estimate for the peak of re-ionisation at 420 million years.
The problem with that number was that it sat at odds with Hubble Space Telescope observations of the early Universe.
Hubble could not find stars and galaxies in sufficient numbers to deliver the scale of environmental change at the time when WMAP suggested it was occurring.
Planck's new timing "effectively solves the conflict," commented Prof Richard McMahon from Cambridge University, UK.
"We had two groups of astronomers who were basically working on different sides of the problem. The Planck people came at it from the Big Bang side, while those of us who work on galaxies came at it from the 'now side'.
"It's like a bridge being built over a river. The two sides do now join where previously we had a gap," he told BBC News.
That gap had prompted scientists to invoke complicated scenarios to initiate re-ionisation, including the possibility that there might have been an even earlier population of giant stars or energetic black holes. Such solutions are no longer needed.
No-one knows the exact timing of the very first individual stars. All Planck does is tell us when large numbers of these stars had gathered into galaxies of sufficient strength to alter the cosmic environment.
By definition, this puts the ignition of the "founding stars" well before 560 million years after the Big Bang. Quite how far back in time, though, is uncertain. Perhaps, it was as early as 200 million years. It will be the job of the next generation of observatories like Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, to try to find the answer.
Being built now: The James Webb telescope will conduct a survey of the first galaxies and their stars
The history of the Universe
Planck's CMB studies indicate the Big Bang was 13.8bn years ago
The CMB itself can be thought of as the 'afterglow' of the Big Bang
It spreads across the cosmos some 380,000 years after the Big Bang
This is when the conditions cool to make neutral hydrogen atoms
The period before the first stars is often called the 'Dark Ages'
When the first stars ignite, they 'fry' the neutral gas around them
These giants also forge the first heavy elements in big explosions
'First Light', or 'Cosmic Renaissance', is a key epoch in history
The new Planck result is contained in a raft of new papers just posted on the Esa website.
These papers accompany the latest data release from the satellite that can now be used by the wider scientific community, not just collaboration members.
Dr Andrew Jaffe: "The simplest models for inflation are ruled out"
Two years ago, the data dump largely concerned interpretations of the CMB based on its temperature profile. It is the CMB's polarisation features that take centre-stage this time. It was hoped that Planck might find direct evidence in the CMB's polarisation for inflation - the super-rapid expansion of space thought to have occurred just fractions of a second after the Big Bang. This has not been possible. But all the Planck data - temperature and polarisation information - is consistent with that theory, and the precision measurements mean new, tighter constraints have been put on the likely scale of the inflation signal, which other experiments continue to chase. What is clear from the Planck investigation is that the simplest models for how the super-rapid expansion might have worked are probably no longer tenable, suggesting some exotic physics will eventually be needed to explain it. "We're now being pushed into a parameter space we didn't expect to be in," said collaboration scientist Dr Andrew Jaffe from Imperial College, UK. "That's OK. We like interesting physics; that's why we're physicists, so there's no problem with that. It's just we had this naïve expectation that the simplest answer would be right, and sometimes it just isn't."
Graphene isn't the only game-changing material to come out of a lab. From aerogels nearly as light as air to metamaterials that manipulate light, here are six supermaterials that have the potential to transform the world of the future.
Self-healing Materials — Bioinspired Plastics
Self-healing plastic. Image credit: UIUC
The human body is very good at fixing itself. The built environment is not. Scott White at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champlain has been engineering bioinspired plastics that can self-heal. Last year, White's lab created a new polymer that oozes to repair a visible hole. The polymer is embedded with a vascular system of liquids that when broken and combined, clot just like blood. While other materials have been able to heal microscopic cracks, this new one repaired a hole 4 millimeter wide with cracks radiating all around it. Not big deal for a human skin, but a pretty big deal for plastic.
Engineers have also been envisioning concrete, asphalt, and metal that can heal themselves. (Imagine a city with no more potholes!) The rub, of course, lies in making them cheap enough to actually use, which is why the first applications for self-healing materials are most likely to be in space or in remote areas on Earth.
Thermoelectric Materials — Heat Scavengers
Power blocks with thermoelectric material sued inside Alphabet Energy 's generator. Image credit: Alphabet Energy
If you've ever had a laptop burn up in your lap or touched the hot hood of car, then you've felt evidence of waste. Waste heat is the inevitable effect of running any that device that uses power. One estimate puts the amount of waste heat as two-thirds of all energy used. But what if there was a way to capture all that wasted energy? The answer to that "what if" is thermoelectric materials, which makes electricity from a temperature gradient.
Last year, California-based Alphabet Energy introduced a thermoelectric generator that plugs right into the exhaust pipe of ordinary generator, turning waste heat back into useful electricity. Alphabet Energy's generator uses a relatively cheap and naturally occurring thermoelectric material called tetrahedrite. Alphabet Energy says tetrahedrite can reach 5 to 10 percent efficiency.
Back in the lab, scientists have also been tinkering with another promising and possibly even more efficient thermoelectric material called skutterudite, which is a type of mineral that contains cobalt. Thermoelectric materials have already had niche applications—like on spacecraft—but skutterudite could get cheap and efficient enough to be wrapped around the exhaust pipes of cars or fridges or any other power-hogging machine you can think of. [Nature, MIT Technology Review, New Scientist]
Perovskites — Cheap Solar Cells
Solar cells made of perovskites. Image credit: University of Oxford
The biggest hurdle in moving toward renewable energy is, as these things always are, money. Solar power is getting ever cheaper, but making a plant's worth of solar cells from crystalline silicon is still an expensive, energy-intensive process. There's an alternative material that has the solar world buzzing though, and that's perovskites.
Perovskites were first discovered over a century ago, but scientists are only just realizing its potential. In 2009, solar cells made from perovskites had a solar energy conversion efficiency of a measly 3.8 percent. In 2014, the number had leapt to 19.3 percent. That may not seem like much compared to traditional crystalline silicon cells with efficiencies hovering around 20 percent, but there's two other crucial points to consider: 1) perovskites have made such leaps and bounds in efficiency in just a few years that scientist think it can get even better and 2) perovskites are much, much cheaper.
Perovskites are a class of materials defined by a particular crystalline structure. They can contain any number of elements, usually lead and tin for perovskites used in solar cells. These raw materials are cheap compared to crystalline silicon, and they can be sprayed onto glass rather than meticulously assembled in clean rooms. Oxford Photovoltaics is one of the leading companies trying to commercialize perovskites, which as wonderful as they have been in the lab, still do need to hold up in the real world. [WSJ, IEEE Spectrum, Chemical & Engineering News, Nature Materials]
Aerogels — Superlight and Strong
Image credit: NASA
Aerogels look like they should not be real. Although ghostly and ethereal, they can easily withstand the heat of a blowtorch and the weight of a car. The material is almost what exactly the name implies: gels where where the liquid has been replaced entirely by air. But you can see why it's also been called "frozen smoke" or "blue smoke." The actual matrix of an aerogel can be made of any number of substances, including silica, metal oxides, and, yes, also graphene. But the fact that aerogel is actually mostly made of air means that it's an excellent insulator (see: blowtorch). Its structure also makes it incredibly strong (see: car).
Aerogels do have one fatal flaw though: brittleness, especially when made from silica. But NASA scientists have been experimenting with flexible aerogels made of polymers to use insulators for spacecraft burning through the atmosphere. Mixing other compounds into even silica-based aerogels could make them more flexible. Add that to aerogel's lightness, strength, and insulating qualities, and that's one incredible material. [New Scientist, Gizmodo]
Metamaterials — Light Manipulators
If you've heard of metamaterials, you likely heard about it in a sentence that also mentioned "Harry Potter" and "invisibility cloak." And indeed, metamaterials, whose nanostructures are design to scatter light in specific ways, could possibly one day be used to render objects invisible—though it still probably wouldn't be as magical as Harry Potter's invisibility cloak.
What's more interesting about metamaterials is that they don't just redirect visible light. Depending on how and what a particular metamaterial is made of, it can also scatter microwaves, radiowaves, or the little-known T-rays, which are between microwaves and infrared light on the electromagnetic spectrum. Any piece of electromagnetic spectrum could be manipulated by metamaterials.
That could be, for example, new T-ray scanners in medicine or security or a compact radio antennae made of metamaterials whose properties change on the fly. Metamaterials are at the promising but frustrating cusp where the theoretical possibilities are endless, but commercialization is still a long, hard road. [Nature, Discover Magazine]
Stanene — 100 percent efficient conductor
The molecular structure of stanene. Image credit: SLAC
Like the much better known graphene, stanene is also made of a single layer of atoms. But instead of carbon, stanene is made of tin, and this makes all the difference in allowing stanene to possibly do what even wondermaterial extraordinaire graphene cannot: conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency.
Stanene was first theorized in 2013 by Stanford professor Shoucheng Zhang, whose lab specializes in, along other things, predicting the electronic properties of materials like stanene. According to their models, stanene is a topological insulator, which means its edges are a conductor and its inside is an insulator. (Think of a chocolate-covered ice cream bar. Chocolate conductor, ice cream insulator.)
This means stanene could conduct electricity with zero resistance even, crucially, at room temperature. Stanene's properties have yet to been tested experimentally—making a single-atom sheet tin is no easy task—but several of Zhang's predictions about other topological insulators have proven correct.
If the predictions about stanene bear out, it could revolutionize the microchips inside all your devices. Namely, the chips could get a lot more powerful. Silicon chips are limited by the heat created by electrons zipping around—work 'em too fast and they'll simply get too hot. Stanene, which conducts electricity 100 percent efficiency, would have no such problem. [SLAC, Physical Review Letters, Scientific American]
The US space agency has teamed up with Microsoft to develop a new software that will enable scientists to work on Mars virtually using a wearable technology called Microsoft HoloLens.
Developed by Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, the software called OnSight will give researchers a means to plan and, along with the Mars Curiosity rover, conduct science operations on the Red Planet, the US space agency said in a statement.
“OnSight gives our rover scientists the ability to walk around and explore Mars right from their offices,” said Dave Lavery, program executive for the Mars Science Laboratory mission at Nasa Headquarters in Washington, DC.
OnSight will use real rover data and extend the Curiosity mission’s existing planning tools by creating a 3D simulation of the Martian environment where scientists around the world can meet. Program scientists will be able to examine the rover’s worksite from a first-person perspective, plan new activities and preview the results of their work firsthand.
“We believe OnSight will enhance the ways in which we explore Mars and share that journey of exploration with the world,” added Jeff Norris, JPL’s OnSight project manager.
This processed image, taken Jan. 13, 2015, shows the dwarf planet Ceres as seen from the Dawn spacecraft. The image hints at craters on the surface of Ceres. Dawn's framing camera took this image at 238,000 miles from Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is approaching the dwarf planet Ceres and new images released Monday show a closer view of the planet’s surface. "We know so much about the solar system and yet so little about dwarf planet Ceres. Now, Dawn is ready to change that," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director, according to a news release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The NASA spacecraft is scheduled to conduct a 16-month study of Ceres and will send increasingly better and better images as it gets closer to the planet. It is the first time a spacecraft has ever visited a dwarf planet. "Already, the [latest] images hint at first surface structures such as craters," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany. The images, taken by Dawn 238,000 miles from Ceres on January 13, are at about 80 percent the resolution of Hubble Space Telescope images taken in 2003 and 2004. The next set of images to be released by Dawn – at the end of January – will be the clearest yet, NASA says. Ceres, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, has an average diameter of 590 miles and is the largest body in the main asteroid belt. It is believed to contain a large amount of ice and scientists say the surface of the planet could be concealing an ocean. "The team is very excited to examine the surface of Ceres in never-before-seen detail," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission. "We look forward to the surprises this mysterious world may bring." The Dawn spacecraft has already delivered more than 30,000 images of Vesta – the second largest body in the main asteroid belt – during an orbit in 2011 and 2012.
A new ultrathin multilayered material can cool buildings without air conditioning by radiating warmth from inside the buildings into space while also reflecting sunlight to reduce incoming heat.
Stanford engineers have invented a material designed to help cool buildings. The material reflects incoming sunlight, and it sends heat from inside the structure directly into space as infrared radiation (represented by reddish rays).
Stanford engineers have invented a revolutionary coating material that can help cool buildings, even on sunny days, by radiating heat away from the buildings and sending it directly into space.
A team led by electrical engineering Professor Shanhui Fan and research associate Aaswath Raman reported this energy-saving breakthrough in the journal Nature.
The heart of the invention is an ultrathin, multilayered material that deals with light, both invisible and visible, in a new way.
Invisible light in the form of infrared radiation is one of the ways that all objects and living things throw off heat. When we stand in front of a closed oven without touching it, the heat we feel is infrared light. This invisible, heat-bearing light is what the Stanford invention shunts away from buildings and sends into space.
Of course, sunshine also warms buildings. The new material, in addition dealing with infrared light, is also a stunningly efficient mirror that reflects virtually all of the incoming sunlight that strikes it.
The result is what the Stanford team calls photonic radiative cooling – a one-two punch that offloads infrared heat from within a building while also reflecting the sunlight that would otherwise warm it up. The result is cooler buildings that require less air conditioning.
"This is very novel and an extraordinarily simple idea," said Eli Yablonovitch, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a pioneer of photonics who directs the Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science. "As a result of professor Fan's work, we can now [use radiative cooling], not only at night but counter-intuitively in the daytime as well."
The researchers say they designed the material to be cost-effective for large-scale deployment on building rooftops. Though still a young technology, they believe it could one day reduce demand for electricity. As much as 15 percent of the energy used in buildings in the United States is spent powering air conditioning systems.
In practice the researchers think the coating might be sprayed on a more solid material to make it suitable for withstanding the elements.
"This team has shown how to passively cool structures by simply radiating heat into the cold darkness of space," said Nobel Prize-winning physicist Burton Richter, professor emeritus at Stanford and former director of the research facility now called the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
A warming world needs cooling technologies that don't require power, according to Raman, lead author of the Nature paper.
"Across the developing world, photonic radiative cooling makes off-grid cooling a possibility in rural regions, in addition to meeting skyrocketing demand for air conditioning in urban areas," he said.
Using a window into space
The real breakthrough is how the Stanford material radiates heat away from buildings.
Doctoral candidate Linxiao Zhu, Professor Shanhui Fan and research associate Aaswath Raman are members of the team that invented the breakthrough energy-saving material.
As science students know, heat can be transferred in three ways: conduction, convection and radiation. Conduction transfers heat by touch. That's why you don't touch an oven pan without wearing a mitt. Convection transfers heat by movement of fluids or air. It's the warm rush of air when the oven is opened. Radiation transfers heat in the form of infrared light that emanates outward from objects, sight unseen.
The first part of the coating's one-two punch radiates heat-bearing infrared light directly into space. The ultrathin coating was carefully constructed to send this infrared light away from buildings at the precise frequency that allows it to pass through the atmosphere without warming the air, a key feature given the dangers of global warming.
"Think about it like having a window into space," said Fan.
Aiming the mirror
But transmitting heat into space is not enough on its own. This multilayered coating also acts as a highly efficient mirror, preventing 97 percent of sunlight from striking the building and heating it up.
"We've created something that's a radiator that also happens to be an excellent mirror," said Raman.
Together, the radiation and reflection make the photonic radiative cooler nearly 9 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the surrounding air during the day.
From prototype to building panel
Making photonic radiative cooling practical requires solving at least two technical problems.
The first is how to conduct the heat inside the building to this exterior coating. Once it gets there, the coating can direct the heat into space, but engineers must first figure out how to efficiently deliver the building heat to the coating.
The second problem is production. Right now the Stanford team's prototype is the size of a personal pizza. Cooling buildings will require large panels. The researchers say there exist large-area fabrication facilities that can make their panels at the scales needed.
The cosmic fridge
More broadly, the team sees this project as a first step toward using the cold of space as a resource. In the same way that sunlight provides a renewable source of solar energy, the cold universe supplies a nearly unlimited expanse to dump heat.
"Every object that produces heat has to dump that heat into a heat sink," Fan said. "What we've done is to create a way that should allow us to use the coldness of the universe as a heat sink during the day."
In addition to Fan, Raman and Zhu, this paper has two additional co-authors: Marc Abou Anoma, a master's student in mechanical engineering who has graduated; and Eden Rephaeli, a doctoral student in applied physics who has graduated.
Decades after that first small step, space thinkers are finally getting serious about our nearest neighbor By Kevin Hartnett
This week, the European Space Agency made headlines with the first successful landing of a spacecraft on a comet, 317 million miles from Earth. It was an upbeat moment after two American crashes: the unmanned private rocket that exploded on its way to resupply the International Space Station, and the Virgin Galactic spaceplane that crashed in the Mojave Desert, killing a pilot and raising questions about whether individual businesses are up to the task of operating in space. During this same period, there was one other piece of space news, one far less widely reported in the United States: On Nov. 1, China successfully returned a moon probe to Earth. That mission follows China’s landing of the Yutu moon rover late last year, and its announcement that it will conduct a sample-return mission to the moon in 2017. With NASA and the Europeans focused on robot exploration of distant targets, a moon landing might not seem like a big deal: We’ve been there, and other countries are just catching up. But in recent years, interest in the moon has begun to percolate again, both in the United States and abroad—and it’s catalyzing a surprisingly diverse set of plans for how our nearby satellite will contribute to our space future. China, India, and Japan have all completed lunar missions in the last decade, and have more in mind. Both China and Japan want to build unmanned bases in the early part of the next decade as a prelude to returning a human to the moon. In the United States, meanwhile, entrepreneurs are hatching plans for lunar commerce; one company even promises to ferry freight for paying customers to the moon as early as next year. Scientists are hatching more far-out ideas to mine hydrogen from the poles and build colonies deep in sky-lit lunar caves. This rush of activity has been spurred in part by the Google Lunar X Prize, a $20 million award, expiring in 2015, for the first private team to land a working rover on the moon and prove it by sending back video. It is also driven by a certain understanding: If we really want to launch expeditions deeper into space, our first goal should be to travel safely to the moon—and maybe even figure out how to live there.
Entrepreneurial visions of opening the moon to commerce can seem fanciful, especially in light of the Virgin Galactic and Orbital Sciences crashes, which remind us how far we are from having a truly functional space economy. They also face an uncertain legal environment—in a sense, space belongs to everyone and to no one—whose boundaries will be tested as soon as missions start to succeed. Still, as these plans take shape, they’re a reminder that leaping blindly is sometimes a necessary step in opening any new frontier.
“All I can say is if lunar commerce is foolish,” said Columbia University astrophysicist Arlin Crotts in an e-mail, “there are a lot of industrious and dedicated fools out there!”
At its height, the Apollo program accounted for more than 4 percent of the federal budget. Today, with a mothballed shuttle and a downscaled space station, it can seem almost imaginary that humans actually walked on the moon and came back—and that we did it in the age of adding machines and rotary phones.
“In five years, we jumped into the middle of the 21st century,” says Roger Handberg, a political scientist who studies space policy at the University of Central Florida, speaking of the Apollo program. “No one thought that 40 years later we’d be in a situation where the International Space Station is the height of our ambition.”
An image of Earth and the moon created from photos by Mariner 10, launched in 1973.
Without a clear goal and a geopolitical rivalry to drive it, the space program had to compete with a lot of other national priorities. The dramatic moon shot became an outlier in the longer, slower story of building scientific achievements.
Now, as those achievements accumulate, the moon is coming back into the picture. For a variety of reasons, it’s pretty much guaranteed to play a central role in any meaningful excursions we take into space. It’s the nearest planetary body to our own—238,900 miles away, which the Apollo voyages covered in three days. It has low gravity, which makes it relatively easy to get onto and off of the lunar surface, and it has no atmosphere, which allows telescopes a clearer view into deep space.
The moon itself also still holds some scientific mysteries. A 2007 report on the future of lunar exploration from the National Academies called the moon a place of “profound scientific value,” pointing out that it’s a unique place to study how planets formed, including ours. The surface of the moon is incredibly stable—no tectonic plates, no active volcanoes, no wind, no rain—which means that the loose rock, or regolith, on the moon’s surface looks the way the surface of the earth might have looked billions of years ago.
NASA still launches regular orbital missions to the moon, but its focus is on more distant points. (In a 2010 speech, President Obama brushed off the moon, saying, “We’ve been there before.”) For emerging space powers, though, the moon is still the trophy destination that it was for the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s. In 2008 an Indian probe relayed the best evidence yet that there’s water on the moon, locked in ice deep in craters at the lunar poles. China landed a rover on the surface of the moon in December 2013, though it soon malfunctioned. Despite that setback, China plans a sample-return mission in 2017, which would be the first since a Soviet capsule brought back 6 ounces of lunar soil in 1976.
The moon has also drawn the attention of space-minded entrepreneurs. One of the most obvious opportunities is to deliver scientific instruments for government agencies and universities. This is an attractive, ready clientele in theory, explains Paul Spudis, a scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, though there’s a hitch: “The basic problem with that as a market,” he says, “is scientists never have money of their own.”
One company aspiring to the delivery role is Astrobotic, a startup of young Carnegie Mellon engineers based in Pittsburgh, which is currently positioning itself to be “FedEx to the moon,” says John Thornton, the company’s CEO. Astrobotic has signed a contract with SpaceX, the commercial space firm founded by Elon Musk, to use a Falcon 9 for an inaugural delivery trip in 2015, just in time to claim the Google Lunar X Prize. Thornton says most of the technology is in place for the mission, and that the biggest remaining hurdle is figuring out how to engineer a soft, automated moon landing.
Astrobotic is charging $1.2 million per kilogram—you can, in fact, place an order on its website—and Thornton says the company has five customers so far. They include the entities you might expect, like NASA, but also less obvious ones, like a company that wants to deliver human ashes for permanent internment and a Japanese soft drink manufacturer that wants to place its signature beverage, Pocari Sweat, on the moon as a publicity stunt. Astrobotic is joined in this small sci-fi economy by Moon Express out of Mountain View, Calif., another company competing for the Google Lunar X Prize.
Plans like these are the low-hanging fruit of the lunar economy, the easiest ideas to imagine and execute. Longer-scale thinkers are envisioning ways that the moon will play a larger role in human affairs—and that, says Crotts, is where “serious resource exploitation” comes in.
If this triggers fears of a mined-out moon, be reassured: “Apollo went there and found nothing we wanted. Had we found anything we really wanted, we would have gone back and there would have been a new gold rush,” says Roger Launius, the former chief historian of NASA and now a curator at the National Air and Space Museum.
There is one possible exception: helium-3, an isotope used in nuclear fusion research. It is rare on Earth but thought to be abundant on the surface of the moon, which could make the moon an important energy source if we ever figure out how to harness fusion energy. More immediately intriguing is the billion tons of water ice the scientific community increasingly believes is stored at the poles. If it’s there, that opens the possibility of sustained lunar settlement—the water could be consumed as a liquid, or split into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.
The presence of water could also open a potentially ripe market providing services to the multibillion dollar geosynchronous satellite industry. “We lose billions of dollars a year of geosynchronous satellites because they drift out of orbit,” says Crotts. In a new book, “The New Moon: Water, Exploration, and Future Habitation,” he outlines plans for what he calls a “cislunar tug”: a space tugboat of sorts that would commute between the moon and orbiting satellites, resupplying them with propellant, derived from the hydrogen in water, and nudging them back into the correct orbital position.
In the long term, the truly irreplaceable value of the moon may lie elsewhere, as a staging area for expeditions deeper into space. The most expensive and dangerous part of space travel is lifting cargo out of and back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and some people imagine cutting out those steps by establishing a permanent base on the moon. In this scenario, we’d build lunar colonies deep in natural caves in order to escape the micrometeorites and toxic doses of solar radiation that bombard the moon, all the while preparing for trips to more distant points.
gical hurdles is long, and there’s also a legal one, at least where commerce is concerned. The moon falls under the purview of the Outer Space Treaty, which the United States signed in 1967, and which prohibits countries from claiming any territory on the moon—or anywhere else in space—as their own.
“It is totally unclear whether a private sector entity can extract resources from the moon and gain title or property rights to it,” says Joanne Gabrynowicz, an expert on space law and currently a visiting professor at Beijing Institute of Technology School of Law. She adds that a later document, the 1979 Moon Treaty, which the United States has not signed, anticipates mining on the moon, but leaves open the question of how property rights would be determined.
There are lots of reasons the moon may never realize its potential to mint the world’s first trillionaires, as some space enthusiasts have predicted. But to the most dedicated space entrepreneurs, the economic and legal arguments reflect short-sighted thinking. They point out that when European explorers set sail in the 15th and 16th centuries, they assumed they’d find a fortune in gold waiting for them on the other side of the Atlantic. The real prizes ended up being very different—and slow to materialize.
“When we settled the New World, we didn’t bring a whole lot back to Europe [at first],” Thornton says. “You have to create infrastructure to enable that kind of transfer of goods.” He believes that in the case of the moon, we’ll figure out how to do that eventually.
Roger Handberg is as clear-eyed as anyone about the reasons why the moon may never become more than an object of wonder, but he also understands why we can’t turn away from it completely. That challenge, in the end, may finally be what lures us back.