Jul 29, 2011

This Week In Outer Space

The space shuttle program may be dead and buried, but there's still plenty of activity beyond Earth's atmosphere!

We've heard plenty of talk from NASA folks about how private spaceflight would help bridge the gap in America's ability to travel off world.  Lest you think they were kidding, this past week NASA and SpaceX came to an tentative agreement to allow SpaceX's Dragon capsule to dock with the International Space Station this coming November, which would make it the first privately owned craft to do so.  Initially SpaceX wasn't scheduled to dock with the station until later next year, but they've stepped up their timetable and are looking to combine the objectives of their next two scheduled test flights into a single mission.  Here's hoping.  (HT to @erchristensen for the heads up.)

Astronomers recently discovered the largest known source of water in the universe.  How much water you ask?  Try 140 trillion times the mass of all the oceans on Earth.  How did they find this massive cloud of vapor?  Seems we're currently seeing it get sucked through a quasar.  Not only that, but the quasar is 12 billion light years away, meaning that the water we're seeing was present only about a billion and a half years after the formation of the universe itself.  That makes this misty discovery not only the largest source of water in the universe, but also the oldest.

Swedish researcher Peter Lindberg was conducting sonar sweeps of the ocean floor near Finland in search of a 100 year old shipwreck carrying crates of extremely rare champagne.  Instead they found this mysterious circular object, complete with scoring and streaks across the ocean floor that imply the object was moving before it settled in its final location.  Immediately people jumped to the "flying saucer" conclusion.  I'm waiting to hear that it's actually some kind of viral marketing campaign for the upcoming prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing.

And finally, while all the popular kids want to go to Mars, the folks at NASA know that Jupiter's the place to be.  Next week they'll be launching the Mission Juno satellite, whose mission will bring it in orbit of the gas giant in order to take detailed scans below the atmosphere.  NASA hopes to learn more about the formation of our solar system by studying the planet that we believe was formed first after the sun itself.  I'm hoping they discover that Jupiter's infamous "red eye" is actually a ginormous reservoir of tomato soup.  Yum.

Stay tuned for more updates from beyond the stars...

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