It’s the first Science Friday of 2009, and we’re already falling behind. Have yourself a happy new year with the gift of 2009’s first meteor shower (today!), pretty pictures from the moon, advances in commercial space flight, and a modern space race to the moon. All this plus and more plus our gadget of the week: Crayon Physics for the iPhone!
First Meteor Shower of 2009: The Quadrantids
The annual Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on Jan. 3rd when Earth enters a stream of debris from shattered comet 2003 EH1. The timing of the encounter favors observers in western North America who could see dozens to hundreds of meteors during the dark hours before dawn on Saturday morning. The Quadrantid meteors appear to radiate from a region of the sky once marked by the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis from which the shower takes its name and now near the more familiar Ursa Major. Quadrantid meteors can be fairly slow and bright and sometimes show strong blue or green colors and under a clear, dark sky, the shower should be easily visible to the unaided eye. Check out a sky map.
A research plane flies above the arctic circle to capture last year’s show
NASA’s 3D Moon-mapper Takes Pretty Pictures
NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, a guest instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, is the first instrument to provide highly uniform imaging of the lunar surface. Composite data from 28 separate wavelengths of reflected light from the Moon’s surface can decipher various mineral compositions of the lunar surface. Check out the latest image below of Orientale Basin.
Left image: Color composite of all wavelengths Right image: Visible light
Commercial Spaceflight in 2009?
2008 ended with seemingly hopeful signs for the future of commercial spaceflight which is markedly different from NASA’s government mandated approach. For one, Virgin Galactic’s twin-fuselage WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane, mothership for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane, took to the air for the first time on Dec. 21, 2008, after weeks of taxi tests. Will we get to vacation into space in 2009? Not likely. With the struggling economy, this year is not likely to harbor major breakthroughs in the “NewSpace” field. Jeff Foust, an aerospace analyst explains, “I think commercial space will continue to have strong long-term prospects, but that 2009 will present its share of challenges for the industry to overcome in order to realize those prospects.”
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo
Obama To Combine Space Programs to Compete in Moon Race
With a new administration comes a new space race to the moon, this time with China. President-elect Obama has announced plans to tear down long-standing barriers between military and civilian space programs to speed up the mission and beat the Chinese to the punch. The potential change comes as Pentagon concerns are rising over China’s space ambitions because of what is perceived as an eventual threat to U.S. defense satellites. Obama has said the Pentagon’s space program — which spent about $22 billion in fiscal year 2008, almost a third more than NASA’s budget — could be tapped to speed the civilian agency toward its goals as the recession pressures federal spending. To boost cooperation between NASA and the Pentagon, Obama has promised to revive the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which oversaw the entire space arena for four presidents, most actively from 1958 to 1973. Read More…
Race to the moon! (Cardow, The Ottawa Citizen)
Video of the Week: Asteroid Impact HD
Check out this high definition animation of a rather large asteroid hitting the Earth, accompanied by some sweet Pink Floyd music. And guys, let’s not be nit-picky here. Sure we could talk about where the science could be wrong in this, but let’s just enjoy the beautifully rendered video, shall we?
Gadget of the Week: Crayon Physics for iPhone
Crayon Physics, the astounding 2008 Independent Games Festival Grand Prize Winner, is coming to the iPhone very soon. You can see why it’s perfect for the iPhone. The touch interface game uses revolutionary 2D physics which allows the user to interact with various objects, pulleys, ropes, and other contraptions. So simple and so intuitive, this game which was originally made to be played with a tablet PC will transition perfectly to the iPhone or iPod touch.
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.
- Diamonds linked to killer cold spell
- Newly released NASA report details last moments of Columbia crew
- How can laser beams improve sprinklers?
- Cassini presents: A Year of Splendor at Saturn!