This week Science Saturday reports how Einstein was right, again. In addition this week brought the first hint that the US is considering teaming up with China to go to Mars, DARPA began looking for input on man’s first interstellar starship, and a common ancestor to humans and Neanderthals has been identified. All that plus a $25 computer, a cool nebula image and the VSS Enterprise took another step to space.
Probe proves Einstein’s theory of warped space-time
This week a team from Stanford University announced what they are calling an "epic result," having confirmed Albert Einstein’s theory that space is warped. NASA’s Gravity Probe B mission detected "a slight sag and an even slighter twist in space-time. This finding confirms aspects of Einstein’s general theory of gravity and relativity and predictions including black holes and an expanding universe. "Imagine the Earth as if it were immersed in honey. As the planet rotates, the honey around it would swirl, and it’s the same with space and time," explained Stanford’s Francis Everitt. The discovery is said to have long-term impact on the work of theoretical physics (and maybe creating Star Trek’s warp drive?). The NASA animation below shows how Gravity Probe B and its onboard gyroscope were used to prove Einstein’s theory.
NASA to partner with China for Mars mission?
Sending humans to Mars has been a dream for decades, but the resources required never seem to be there. The Obama administration recently re-prioritized NASA’s budget to skip the moon and focus on technology for faster vehicles to take us to Mars, but the goal is still a long way off. But what if we had some help? Testifying before congress this week, White House science advisor John Holdren said:
(What) the president has deemed worth discussing with the Chinese and others is that when the time comes for humans to visit Mars, it’s going to be an extremely expensive proposition and the question is whether it will really make sense — at the time that we’re ready to do that — to do it as one nation rather than to do it in concert.
No discussions regarding a possible US/China Mars mission have started by Holden noted:
…many of us, including the president, including myself, including (NASA Administrator Charles) Bolden, believe that it’s not too soon to have preliminary conversations about what involving China in that sort of cooperation might entail. If China is going to be, by 2030, the biggest economy in the world … it could certainly be to our benefit to share the costs of such an expensive venture with them and with others.
That makes sense. And of course why not also bring in Europe’s ESA and the Russians. Then we might truly be headed to Star Trek’s envisioned United Earth Space Probe Agency.
Will mans first trip to Mars include the Chinese? – Bringing a new meaning to "red planet"
DARPA seeking starship ideas
Earlier in the year we reported that The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had launched the 100 Year Starship Study program, which is too look develop ideas "to make interstellar space travel practicable and feasible." And this week DARPA issued a "Request For Information" (RFI) to solicit ideas from the private sector, noting:
This RFI seeks to solicit ideas for an organization, business model and approach appropriate for a self-sustaining investment vehicle. The focus should be on flexible yet robust mechanisms by which an endowment can be created and sustained. The mechanism would be wholly devoid of government subsidy or control, and could address issues in the sciences, engineering, humanities, or the arts that may be encountered in the pursuit of achieving interstellar flight. Several attributes are of interest, specifically:
* Long-term survivability over a century-long time horizon
* Self-governance, independent of government participation or oversight
* Self-sustainment, independent of government funding
* Relevance for moving humanity toward the goal of interstellar travel, including related technological, biological, social, economic and other issues
Seems pretty straight forward. I wonder how many of the ideas will include something that looks like this…
DARPA is looking for input on a Starship
Common ancestor to Humans and Neanderthals identified
Ever been called a Neanderthal? Well maybe you were related to "Heidelberg Man," the fossil that scientists say was the last common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals. Previously the 400,000 year-old fossil was thought to represent a new species of human (Homo Cepanensis). However, scientists still aren’t sure when humans and Neanderthals split.
Heidelberg Man skull – a distant cousin of ours and Neanderthals
Image of the week: Lagoon nebula
The Lagoon nebula is a favorite of star watchers as it is visible with small telescopes and even binoculars. This week the Gemini Observatory shows off a spectacular image of this local stellar nursery.
Video of the week: Alan Shepard Tribute
This week NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of Mercury 7 and the first American in space, Alan Shepard.
Gadget of the week: $25 Raspberry Pi Computer
UK non-profit Raspberry Pi is trying to create a computer on a USB stick that costs under $25 and can be plugged into any LCD screen with an HDMI port. Add a keyboard and mouse and you have a functioning computer. The idea is to give the devices away to kids from lower-income homes who don’t have access to computers. Here is a video showing off the prototype.
Robot of the Week: OptoFidelity Angry Birds Bot
In another sign that it is time to welcome our robot overlords, Finnish tech company OptoFidelity shows off their Angry Birds playing robot and how it excels in a time-wasting activity which was previously the sole domain of humans.
- Shuttle Endeavour’s rescheduled final launch will be no earlier than May 16
- NASA narrows down 2016 planetary mission choice to a Mars interior, Saturn moon or a comet
- 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite yields new mineral (krotite).
- On Wednesday Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise (SpaceShip Two) successfully conducted a test of it’s first "feathered" flight.