China plans to launch the world’s first ‘artificial moon’

October 29, 2018 by  
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A private aerospace institute in China has announced its ambitious plan to launch an “artificial moon” into stationary orbit above the city of Chengdu. Referred to as an “illumination satellite,” the new moon would serve as a sunlight reflector to provide a nighttime and backup light source for residents in the Sichuan province city. The venture — still obscure due to a lack of information — was first reported by Chinese newspaper People’s Daily in mid October. Since then, there have been many conflicting reports and figures on how the new moon would operate — or if it even could. Wu Chunfeng, chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Co., Ltd. and head of Tianfu New District System Science Research Institute, said the artificial moon has been under development and testing for a few years and “is now nearly ready to launch.” Related: California plans to launch its own satellite to monitor air pollution There have been no accounts of what the stunt-double moon actually looks like or if it has any official support from the government or financial backers. Both experts and the general public have expressed widespread skepticism and even ridicule at the announcement. If the 2020 project does succeed, Wu claimed that two additional moons could be ready for orbit by 2022. “By then, the three huge mirrors will divide the 360-degree orbital plane, realizing illuminating an area for 24 hours continuously,” he said. The project aims to help Chengdu save money and electricity on street lamps and provide a reliable light source during blackouts caused by natural disasters and grid malfunctions. According to the aerospace center’s figures, a whopping $173 million ($1.2 billion yuan) could be saved on streetlights yearly for illuminating even a small portion of 19 square miles (50 sq km). The cost of illuminating the whole city? Well, in the long run, it’s certainly less than putting a moon in space, according to Wu. Dr. Matteo Ceriotti, a professor of space systems engineering, said the project is feasible and not as silly as it sounds. “Think of this as sort of an investment,” he explained to BBC . “ Electricity at night is very expensive, so if you could say, have free illumination for up to 15 years, it might work out better economically in the long term.” Recent social media backlash against the Chengdu moon has centered around the issue of animal protection. While Harbin Institute of Technology Director Kang Weimin insists that the fake moon “should not affect animals’ routines,” because its light would be similar to a “dusk-like glow,” other scientists disagree. Despite his agreeable response to the project, Ceriotti said, “It will disrupt the night cycle of nature [if the light is too strong], and this could possibly affect animals.” Wu insisted that the aerospace company’s technology could dim and brighten the moon. The light, which has the ability to reflect a beam “eight times” brighter than the moon, could also be timed. All in all, the few and contradicting details surrounding the project makes it uncertain whether the new moon will launch successfully in 2020. While experts debate whether or not it should be launched in the first place, those in Chengdu are probably looking upward, wondering whether or not they’ll miss this night sky — one that might never look the same again. Via BBC , China Daily  and  People’s Daily Images via Spencer Arquimedes and Mike Petrucci

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China plans to launch the world’s first ‘artificial moon’

A family’s unique tiny home uses wool and hemp for insulation

October 29, 2018 by  
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Tiny homes come in many shapes and sizes, but for a wandering family of three, the Valhalla tiny home is just the right fit. Built by French tiny home builder  Baluchon , this wood-clad tiny home on wheels is a lightweight structure that measures just under 20 feet long; however, a stunning space-strategic interior, which includes two bedrooms, makes you forget all about its itsy-bitsy size. Clad in red cedar with white and teal accents, the Valhalla tiny home emits a modern cabin feel from the outside. Three porthole-style windows along with a series of clerestory windows on each side give the design a contemporary edge and brighten the interior naturally. To create an energy-efficient shell, the home is insulated with sustainable materials such as sheep’s wool for the floor, cotton, linen and hemp in the walls and wood fiber in the ceiling. Related: The off-grid Eucalyptus tiny home radiates cool, Californian vibes The interior is clad in light spruce panels, which help to make the compact space feel larger. The front door opens to the fully-equipped kitchen area complete with custom cabinets, a fridge, a sink and a two-burner propane stove. On the adjacent wall, a narrow desk serves as a work or dining space. The master bedroom, which has enough space for a a double bed, is located on a sleeping loft reached by a set of floating stairs above the desk. On the other side of the home, another elevated platform houses the living room. Underneath the living area on the ground floor, a small room is located right next to the kitchen. Separated from the communal space by curtains, this compact area is well-lit and perfect for a child’s room, guest quarters or extra storage. + Baluchon Via Tiny House Talk Photography by Vincent Bouhours via Baluchon

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Humans have already dumped 400,000 pounds of trash on the Moon

January 31, 2018 by  
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Pollution isn’t just Earth’s problem anymore. Despite not having established a permanent lunar residency, humans have already managed to dump 400,000 pounds of trash on the Moon . Much of this debris has been left behind over the twelve trips by humans to the lunar surface. Earthbound scientists figured out long ago that bringing the lunar visitors home would be cheaper and simpler if as much equipment as possible were left behind. Add in debris accumulated over unmanned missions and we have ourselves something of a lunar junkyard orbiting overhead. It’s important to remember that the trash we have left behind on the Moon does not exist in a vacuum. There is an enormous amount of space waste floating around our planet. Over 21,000 pieces of trash, from spacecraft fragments to disabled satellites, orbit the Earth. Most of the Moon’s trash was the result of crashed spacecraft , of which there are over 70. The remainder of the debris is a mish-mash oddly documenting humanity’s short lunar tenure. Because it is easier to return to Earth with as little weight as possible, each moon landing has permanently dropped a 22,700-pound Lunar Lander on the surface, as well as other modules, craft, or miscellaneous materials associated with that particular mission. Waste from low-gravity golf games as well as literal human waste (all 96 bags of it) litter the Moon’s face. Related: Super blue blood moon eclipse to occur next week for the first time in 150 years To be fair, we haven’t left only waste. A small aluminum memorial left by the crew of Apollo 15 to honor fallen astronauts stands on the silent lunar landscape. The feather dropped in Apollo 15’s “hammer-feather drop” experiment also remains. Even though the Apollo 1 mission never made it to the Moon, as it was shut down prematurely after three astronauts were killed during a training exercise, a patch from the unlaunched mission found its way to the lunar surface too. Via Gizmodo and the Atlantic Images via NASA (1)

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Humans have already dumped 400,000 pounds of trash on the Moon

NASA is returning to the Moon – but they don’t know how

January 9, 2018 by  
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NASA is returning to the Moon . President Donald Trump signed a directive in December to “refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery” using the Moon as something of a first step before a mission to Mars . But not everyone is pleased with the idea – and the space agency doesn’t know how they’ll go back. How will NASA return to the Moon? When will they go? How much will it cost? These are questions that are as of yet unanswered. The Washington Post spoke with acting administrator Robert Lightfoot, who said the agency would partner with other countries, but didn’t specify which ones. He also said the effort would be a public-private partnership, but didn’t name any companies. The Washington Post said he offered “no specifics about the architecture of a moon program;” he told them, “We have no idea yet.” Related: Trump signs directive to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars The president’s yearly budget request to Congress could bring more details to light, according to Lightfoot. As for now many specifics are open to speculation – and the agency still doesn’t have a permanent administrator, just another top science position still unfilled in Trump’s administration, according to The Washington Post. Trump nominated United States Representative Jim Bridenstine, a Republican of Oklahoma, in September, but Florida’s two senators Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson criticized the choice. Some people say the top position in NASA – which has received bipartisan support for years – shouldn’t be handed to a politician. Other people expressed frustration the agency’s direction has been changed once again – the third time in this century. Former astronaut Scott Kelly told The Washington Post, “We’re always asked to change directions every time we get a new president, and that just causes you to do negative work, work that doesn’t matter. I just hope someday we’ll have a president that will say, ‘You know what, we’ll just leave NASA on the course they are on, and see what NASA can achieve if we untie their hands.” Via The Washington Post Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Trump signs directive to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars

December 12, 2017 by  
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President Donald Trump’s administration has made overtures about sending American astronauts back to the Moon . Yesterday, he signed Space Policy Directive 1, calling for a United States-led program with private sector partners to do just that, and then send humans to Mars . Harrison Schmitt, the most recent living human to walk on Earth’s satellite, was present at the signing, which happened 45 years to the minute after he landed on the Moon. Space Policy Directive 1 says the NASA administrator should “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.” The policy halts NASA’s current work to send astronauts to an asteroid . Related: Mike Pence says America will send humans back to the moon Trump said, “The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery. It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972…This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints – we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.” In their statement on the directive, the White House said Trump is refocusing the space program on feasible goals. They also said the country isn’t the accepted leader in human space exploration any longer, but “should be a leader in space.” The White House aims to send astronauts to space aboard American-made rockets in upcoming years, and said American companies will provide rockets and engines to the Pentagon for national security payloads. The policy was inspired by a unanimous recommendation from the National Space Council , which the White House says Trump revived after 24 years. Vice President Mike Pence chairs the council. Via NASA and The White House Images via NASA/Aubrey Gemignani and NASA HQ PHOTO on Flickr

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Vast Ice Age cave system discovered underneath Montreal

December 7, 2017 by  
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Walking the streets of Montreal , Canada, you’d probably never guess a cave system lurked 10 meters below. But that’s exactly what two speleologists, or cave experts, recently discovered. Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc found a 15,000-year-old network of caverns that might have formed as glaciers receded during Earth’s last Ice Age . They think it’s possible that no person had ever set foot inside these caves until now. Back in 1812, the Saint Léonard cave beneath Pie-XII Park was discovered. But cave experts wondered if there was more. Caron and Le Blanc, both amateur explorers, found a vast network in October after drilling through the limestone walls of the existing cave to expose a spacious chamber which branches off into several passages winding beneath the Saint-Leonard borough. Related: Magical New Zealand cave is illuminated by luminescent glowworms The cave system could have formed as pressure from colossal glaciers split the rock . The explorers uncovered between 250 and 500 meters (820 to 1,640 feet) of caves, according to The Canadian Press , although they think the actual dimensions are even longer. The furthest reaches extend to the Montreal water table, Caron said. Rock climbing equipment is necessary to explore some passages, and some may need more rock-breaking for a team to go inside. The team was stopped by water and could only partially explore one of the passages via an inflatable raft, but they aim to explore more in the dry season when the water level hopefully lowers. As the explorers only reached the system by drilling, they think it’s likely no other human beings have ever walked inside these caves. Caron said every caver’s dream is to find a place no one’s been before. He told The Canadian Press, “Normally you have to go to the moon to find that kind of thing.” Via National Geographic and The Canadian Press

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Vast Ice Age cave system discovered underneath Montreal

NASA’s new airless titanium tires are almost indestructible

November 27, 2017 by  
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Flat tires and AAA roadside assistance may soon be past memories. NASA Glenn Research engineers have just unveiled a new super-elastic tire constructed from nickel titanium, a shape memory alloy able to flex, conform, and then return to its original shape even after traversing the most punishing of terrains. While this latest invention is part of a larger, half-century-long effort to build a better tire for extra-planetary exploration, NASA engineers and materials scientists note they’ve already been testing a spinoff version for cars and trucks on Earth. The design of NASA’s new tire takes cues from those used for the 1971 Lunar Rover, which was brought to the moon by Apollo 15. Unlike the common pneumatic tire propping up our electric cars , the Lunar Rover’s wheels used flexible wire mesh. Like rubber tires, the wheels could absorb shocks, but the mesh allowed them to “float” over the soft lunar soil (rather than sink into) and it also prevented over-deflection. Related: NASA confirms asteroid came from another solar system – and it’s incredibly bizarre The Lunar Rover design was considered a major success and engineers used it as a model for future wheels that would later carry heavier loads. The tire is actually the basis for the award-winning Spring Tire , “an airless compliant tire that consists of several hundred coiled steel wires woven into a flexible mesh, giving the tires the ability to support high loads while also conforming to the terrain,” writes NASA. Notably, the headline-making Mars Curiosity Rover , which touched down in 2012, uses aluminum wheels. The choice to use aluminum wheels was based on previous missions which forwent mesh tires without much issue. However, given the size and weight of the Curiosity (roughly that of a 4×4) mixed with the rough terrain, the soft metal alloy wheels began showing loose treads and holes after just a year. Not ideal for a vehicle that cost $2.5 billion USD to build. In anticipation of the Mars 2020 launch, engineers and researchers are revisiting the Spring tire, but juicing it up for the red planet. The new tire improves on traction in soft sand, durability, and a reduced overall weight through the use of nickel titanium. The nickel titanium also gives the tires elasticity, as the metal’s shape memory alloys can rearrange at an atomic level to mold to rocks and bumps and then effortlessly snap its original shape. Indeed, tests conducted on simulated Martian terrain showed that the tires returned to form even when warped to the axle. The original Spring tire made of steel wire mesh stretched and deformed under the same conditions over time. The hope is that the new tires will allow rovers to explore greater regions of Mars or the moon for longer periods, carry heavier payloads, and eventually be used on manned exploration vehicles that would move at much higher speeds. On Earth, the tires would mean far less maintenance, no more flats, and a lot less landfill waste. Rubber tires deemed irreparable are ecologically problematic as they are durable, non-biodegradables that contain high levels of heavy metals and other pollutants. Via Gizmodo Images via NASA

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NASA’s new airless titanium tires are almost indestructible

You can rent this cylindrical log cabin on Denmark’s Island of Mn

November 27, 2017 by  
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For those really looking to go off-the-beaten-path without forsaking comfort, the Birkedal home located on the Danish island of Møn is a nature-engulfed paradise. Designed by Copenhagen-based architect Jan Henrik Jansen , the rustic, but sophisticated cabin – made out of nine interconnecting cylinders – is completely clad in thin natural pine logs, creating a seamless connection with the thick forest and meadow that surround the home. Jansen says that the rounded stout design was inspired by the birch tree forests found on the island. He wanted to create a sanctuary in the meadow that would mimic small spruce stumps and blend in with the majestic trees that surround the home. The resulting 990-square-foot house and separate sauna are entirely clad with thin natural pine logs , which contrast nicely with the extra large corten steel window frames that jut out from the exterior. Related: Live in Harmony with Nature in These Super Sexy Tree House Cabins Making up the unique design is nine interconnecting cylindrical volumes that give the home its unique circular shape, inside and out. The interior walls of the home are clad rough-sawn wooden strips and planks, all painted a stark white, giving the home a very contemporary feel. However, the mosaic flooring made up of beach pebbles provides a touch of rustic, earthiness to the design. The curved shapes continue through the interior, where the living area and bedrooms were conceived as cozy cocoon-like individual spaces. Birkedal is one of three island homes designed by Jansen and can be rented through the local site, Urlaubsarchitektur . + Jan Henrik Jansen Via Dwell

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New discovery suggests large quantities of water hidden inside the Moon

July 24, 2017 by  
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For years, scientists have assumed that the interior of the Moon is dry. However, a new study of satellite data has located numerous volcanic deposits around the moon – which could indicate large quantities of water trapped beneath its surface. The study, published in Nature Geoscience , explains that the ancient deposits are believed to be glass beads formed by the explosive eruption of magma from the deep lunar interior. As a result of this discovery, scientists are formulating a new opinion that the lunar mantle is actually water-rich. The study was led by Ralph Milliken, an associate professor in Brown University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences . He said of the findings, “The key question is whether those Apollo samples represent the bulk conditions of the lunar interior or instead represent unusual or perhaps anomalous water-rich regions within an otherwise ‘dry’ mantle. By looking at the orbital data, we can examine the large pyroclastic deposits on the Moon that were never sampled by the Apollo or Luna missions. The fact that nearly all of them exhibit signatures of water suggests that the Apollo samples are not anomalous, so it may be that the bulk interior of the Moon is wet.” To detect the water content of the lunar volcanic deposits , scientists used orbital spectrometers to measure the light that bounces off a planetary surface. After collecting that data, they took into account the wavelengths of light which are absorbed or reflected by the surface to get an idea of which minerals and other compounds may be found in the rock’s interior. One challenge was taking into account the rising surface temperatures over the course of a day. Using the new thermal correction, the scientists were able to find evidence of water in almost all of the pyroclastic deposits that had been previously mapped across the Moon’s surface. Such deposits include the Apollo 15 and 17 landing sites. “The distribution of these water-rich deposits is the key thing,” said Milliken. “They’re spread across the surface, which tells us that the water found in the Apollo samples isn’t a one-off. Lunar pyroclastics seem to be universally water-rich, which suggests the same may be true of the mantle .” Now that evidence has been obtained suggesting that the interior of the Moon is water-rich, theories about its formation are evolving. Scientists presently believe the moon formed from debris left behind after an object about the size of Mars slammed into the Earth early in the solar system’s history. However, the original theory assumes that the Moon’s interior was dry. “The growing evidence for water inside the Moon suggest that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the Moon had completely solidified,” said co-author Shuai Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii and a recent Brown Ph.D. graduate. “The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question.” The finding has huge implications for future lunar exploration . The volcanic beads don’t contain a lot of water, but the deposits are large, meaning the H2O could be extracted. Said Li, “Anything that helps save future lunar explorers from having to bring lots of water from home is a big step forward, and our results suggest a new alternative.” + Nature Geoscience Via Phys Images via Depositphotos , Wikimedia , Pixabay

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New discovery suggests large quantities of water hidden inside the Moon

Saturn’s biggest moon has enough energy to power a US-sized space colony

July 13, 2017 by  
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Feeling like you’ve had enough of this planet? Saturn’s biggest moon , Titan, is an attractive option for a space colony, according to new research. Amanda Hendrix of the Planetary Science Institute and Yuk Yung of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) say the moon has enough energy sources to power a settlement the size of the United States. Saturn is home to 53 moons. But Titan, the largest, possesses its own atmosphere , which according to NASA is rare for a moon. It turns out Titan could also have an abundance of energy sources, according to Hendrix and Yung. They say there are options for solar power , wind power , hydropower , and nuclear power on the moon. They drew on the information we know about Titan and mathematics based on technologies we currently have on Earth. Related: Scientists Discover an Ocean of Water and Potential for Life on Saturn’s Moon The scientists said, “Once propulsion challenges are overcome, allowing humans to travel great distances quickly without incurring significant radiation damage, Saturn’s moon Titan is the optimal location in the solar system for an off-Earth human settlement.” Researchers know there are oceans of methane on Titan, which could offer a source of power or rocket fuel. Tidal power could also potentially energize some of the colony as experts have observed strong tides on the moon. In particular, an area called the Throat of Kraken, which John Hopkins University planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz likened to the Strait of Gibraltar, could be the perfect location for a settlement. Lorenz, who was not involved with the research, told New Scientist, “We’re pretty sure there’s a very strong flow of liquid back and forth every Titan day. If you want reliable power that you know is going to be accessible, that’s where I would go.” Hendrix and Yung did say they overlooked some details, because there’s still a lot we don’t know about Titan, but view their research as a first step. Their study was published in the Journal of Astrobiology and Outreach this week. Via ScienceAlert Images via Wikimedia Commons and NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS

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