NASA Embarks on Asteroid Capture Mission

NASA Orion Space Craft Capturing Device, Photo Courtesy of NASA

NASA Orion Space Craft Capturing Device, Photo Courtesy of NASA

NASA is developing a mission that will "identify, capture, and redirect" a chosen asteroid and set it in orbit around the moon, according to their website.

Two designs are being considered: one is a large inflatable bag-like system, the other is a robotic arm that would snag a sizable chunk off of a larger asteroid.  Later this year, NASA will decide which approach to start with.

Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will visit the captured asteroid in 2020 and will return with samples in order to study the asteroid's composition.  As well as knowledge for knowledge's sake, this will provide NASA with an opportunity to test out equipment that can be used for a possible mars landing and will also prevent any asteroid/earth collisions, such as the one that killed the dinosaurs or the one featured in Michael Bay's movie Armageddon.

Asteroids are chunks of matter left over from the formation of the solar system, and studying them can lead to new insights on the formation of Earth. As well as looking back, asteroid study can also help us move forward. They can be literal stepping stones for space pioneers set to explore deeper into the solar system and also contain resources such as water that can be of use to astronauts traveling through space.

Since 2010, NASA has been keeping an eye on objects close to our planet via their Near Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study, and last year the Asteroid Initiative was launched which narrowed the focus specifically to asteroids. Since then, they've found about 1,217 Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), ranging from the size of a car to larger ones the size of a small moon. Of those identified, six are seen as good candidates for the relocation project.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski

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NASA's Lunar Orbiter Scheduled for Crash-Landing


Around Easter, NASA's lunar orbiter is scheduled to complete its eight-month-long mission and crash on the moon. LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) finished both of its objectives -- to gather information on the moon's atmosphere and to shed light on the lunar glow seen in Apollo pictures -- in March. Since then, it's been doing a few victory laps to gather some bonus data.

LADEE spent most of its orbit 12.5 - 31 miles above the moon, but in the final stages has gradually lowered to only one to two miles above the surface. The hope is the craft can be navigated around the moon's craggy terrain until scheduled crash on April 21st. However, even the slightest error at this altitude can result in a premature demise.

LADEE is a combined effort of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, the Ames Research Center, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Marshall Space Flight Center. Its aim is to study the moon's environment in order to help understand it and other celestial bodies. The moon's thin atmosphere, known as the surface boundary exosphere, is common throughout the universe.  However, we don't know very much about it because Earth's own atmosphere is much denser.

LADEE is also studying moon dust in order to better understand the glow seen around pictures taken on Apollo missions. It's theorized that solar radiation electrically charges particles, which makes them rise and fall.  This would explain why photos of the moon show a hazy blur around it. A second theory says the glow is caused by ionized sodium gas atoms. The moon naturally releases sodium gas, and solar radiation accelerates the atoms away from the sun, which would form a tail of gas. LADEE will help clear up this mystery.

So far, LADEE has measured variations in Sodium gas and patterns of dust particles and observed Helium and Argon in a lunar context. In the last few weeks of the mission, NASA plans to add much more to this store of data. Next step: Interpreting the findings.

A lunar eclipse on Tuesday will complicate the already tricky final maneuvers of the craft. Earth will block sunlight from reaching the moon, resulting in cooling temperatures and an inability for the craft to rely on solar power. According to NASA, this would expose the craft to "conditions just on the edge of what it was designed to survive." However, experts remain in good spirits. After all, LADEE's gone above and beyond the call of duty by providing data that will shed light on current questions and expanding our pool of knowledge about Earth's closest neighbor. Regardless of what happens next, the mission's been a success.

In fact, NASA is even featuring an online contest requesting participants to guess the date and time of impact. You can participate in the online contest at this link: Guess the LADEE Impact.

Higgs Boson Discovered by CERN


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 01:12 AM EDT, 5 July 2012

Higgs Boson, God Particle, Photo by Lucas Taylor - CERNAbrahamic religious traditions believe that God created matter itself; through the creation of atoms, molecules, heat, and stars and that He ordered this matter into a multidimensional space-time continuum.

Non-orthodox religious individuals and people in the scientific community ascribe to the Big Bang theory, which posits that the Universe originated approximately 13.75 billion years ago from a hot, dense singularity which has continuously cooled and expanded since the bang.

However, this theory did not explain accretion, the process by which particles clumped together to form stars, planets, or life itself.

The Higgs boson, named in honor of Albert Einstein's Indian collaborator Satyendra Nath Bose, forms a bridge between these two systems of belief. The existence of this particle, which is in the same class of particles as the photon, was first postulated in 1964 by Professor Peter Higgs.  Now 83, he developed his hypothesis while at Edinburgh University, and was among six theorists who proposed that an unseen force made up of particles governed the mechanism by which matter in the universe gained mass.

Though the journey began nearly a half century ago, the existence of the Higgs boson subatomic particle was finally confirmed on Wednesday, 4 July 2012, by scientist at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) based in Geneva, Switzerland. CERN's Large Hadron Collider is the world's biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, and was used to create the conditions that enabled the euphemistic ‘God particle’ to be seen.

Two beams of protons are fired in opposite directions around the 27-km (17-mile) looped pipe built under the Swiss-French border before smashing into each other. The collisions, which mimic the moments just after the Big Bang, throw off debris. Two independent studies of data produced by smashing proton particles together produced a convergent near-certainty on the existence of the new particle.”  (Source: CERN

For decades scientists argued about the existence of such a particle, with proponents of the theory hypothesizing that this subatomic particle acts as the glue that holds all the parts of an atom together, and thus gives everything in the universe its size and shape. To scoffers who believed the idea was fallacious, and even if such a particle existed it would be too small to measure or decay so fast that it would be nearly impossible to verify.

Rolf Heuer, CERN director general made the announcement confirming the discovery:

"We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature. The discovery of the existence of the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle's properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe. (Source: Reuters)

This news was greeted with awe by Higgs who didn’t think that he would live to see his mathematical theorem proven through the hard work of thousands of men and women who tireless devoted time to the practical experiments required to prove his hypothesis.

Scientist and laymen alike rejoiced at the discovery of the Higgs boson which opens the door to the possibility of understanding other baffling components of the universe, like multiple dimensions, string-theory, and ‘dark matter,’ which makes up 70% of the universe. (Source: NASA)

A new day has dawned for humanity’s understanding of the wonderful universe we inhabit. The Higgs boson discovery highlights the best qualities of our species - ingenuity, cooperation, persistence, and achievement as we continue to push beyond ‘flat world’ thinking.

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias

UFOs in China | Stephen Hawking

UFOs in China | Stephen Hawking

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." ~ Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167 Popular American culture is replete with UFO sightings and conspiracy theories. Now it would appear that the phenomenon has spread to China. Just a week after an unidentified flying object (UFO) shut down the Xiashan Airport in Hangzhou, China, another one was spotted Thursday in the city of Chongqing.

As a fan of astrophysics, astronomy and the universe, I often ponder the possibility of extraterrestrial life, if not in a humanoid form, then at least primitive oceanic life forms. I eagerly await the new mission to Jupiter's icy moons, the Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM), is proposed for a launch in 2020. Who knows what more we will learn?

"To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational," Hawking says in a new Discovery Channel series called Stephen Hawking's Universe. "The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

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