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NASA Created a Dazzling Artificial Cloud Display Last Night

Image: NASA

In news that is sure to vindicate chemtrail truthers, NASA has finally delivered on its
longstanding promise
to produce a
dazzling display
of artificial clouds. And dang, was it cool.

On
Thursday, June 29th
, at 4:25 am Eastern time, a two stage Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket blasted skyward from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. During its eight-minute flight, the sounding rocket deployed 10 canisters beyond the edge of space, where they released blue-green and red vapor tracers to form artificial clouds. The purpose of this admittedly suspicious-sounding activity was not to deliver mind-control agents into our air supply, but rather, to track the motions of particles in the electrically-charged portion of our atmosphere called the ionosphere.

It’s in this same part of our atmosphere that collisions with charged particles from the Sun energize atoms, causing them to light up and produce the brilliant aurora displays seen over our planet’s poles.

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A secondary purpose, of course, was to wow Earthlings with the sort of pre-July 4th fireworks display only a space agency could pull off. (Obviously, delaying the mission over half a dozen times was all part of the plan.) To that end, NASA was successful: According to a press release, Wallops received roughly 2,000 reports and photos of cloud signings, from New York to North Carolina.

Here’s what some of the pro-active folks who stepped outside last night to catch the light show saw.











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Now watch historic NASA flight videos on YouTube

If you are a space buff get ready to watch videos of rare historic test flight, launch and landing footages on YouTube, media reports said.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre in California was currently in the process of uploading hundreds of archival videos, including those of hypersonic jet takeoffs and shuttle landings, the Verge reported on Wednesday.

The project is part of the space agency’s continued effort to better open access to its archives, as well as help inform the public about the types of research and record-setting milestones the agency achieves each year across various fields of aerospace engineering.

Out of a total 500 clips, nearly 300 have been uploaded to YouTube thus far, with some footage going back many decades, the report added.

The clips include everything from the assembly of the D-558 Skystreak aircraft back in 1947 to a 1991 takeoff of a Lockheed Martin SR-71 stealth jet to hypersonic test flights of the unmanned NASA X-43A in 2004.

Previously, the AFRC’s video library was available only through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection on the website of the Dryden Flight Research Centre, which was the name of the Armstrong facility before a 2014 change.

Now that it’s all on YouTube, it will be indexed by Google and more easily available through the company’s search engine.

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Gecko-inspired robot gripper may help clean space waste

Researchers have designed a new kind of robotic gripper, inspired by the grasping ability of a gecko, to grab and dispose of human-made debris in space that can pose a threat to satellites and space vehicles.

According to the study, nearly 500,000 pieces of human-made debris are whizzing around space, orbiting the Earth at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour.

“What we’ve developed is a gripper that uses gecko-inspired adhesives,” said Mark Cutkosky, Professor at the Stanford University in California.

Previously proposed methods such as the use of suction cups or traditional sticky substances have proved unsuccessful to collect and dispose of space waste under the harsh conditions of space while magnets only work on magnetic objects.

The gripper’s design was inspired by geckos, which can climb walls because their feet have microscopic flaps that, when in full contact with a surface, create a Van der Waals force between the feet and the surface.

The gripper has a grid of adhesive squares on the front and arms with thin adhesive strips that can fold out and move toward the middle of the robot from either side, as if it were offering a hug, the researchers said, in the paper published in the journal Science Robotics.

The grid can stick to flat objects, like a solar panel, and the arms can grab curved objects, like a rocket body.

The group tested their gripper in their lab and in multiple zero gravity experimental spaces, including the International Space Station and saw promising results.

“There are many missions that would benefit from this, like rendezvous and docking and orbital debris mitigation,” explained Aaron Parness, group leader of the Extreme Environment Robotics Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

“We could also eventually develop a climbing robot assistant that could crawl around on the spacecraft, doing repairs, filming and checking for defects,” Parness added.

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NASA Astronaut Explains How to Drink Space Coffee: ‘Suck the Balls’

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In space, it is crucial for even the most basic of human tasks to be carried out with a high degree of skill and for astronauts to remain alert. That is why Air Force Colonel and ISS crewmember Jack Fischer sucks the balls.

“I love coffee on Earth, it’s pretty much my favorite thing,” explained Fischer in a video NASAshared on social media
this morning. “But in space, I get to make balls out of it-so check this out-and then suck the balls.”

Aspiring NASA astronauts have
about a 0.6 percent chance
of becoming candidates, and being considered usually requires an advanced degree in math, science, or engineering. But even among his select 14-person astronaut class, Colonel Fischer, who holds a Masters in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, is the only one we can currently confirm sucks the balls.

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We thank him for his dedication to humanity’s scientific endeavors.

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Can Gecko Feet Help Us Clean Up Space Junk?

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Video: NASA/H. Jiang et al (Science Robotics (2017))

There’s a crapload of debris orbiting our planet and potentially posing a hazard to our astronauts and our satellites. One estimate says there are 21,000 pieces of space junk
larger than 10
centimeters, that could collide with other objects at velocities ten times faster than a bullet. How do we get it down? You can’t just grab any old space debris with claws, and even if you could, grippers can be unwieldily. So a team of scientists thought, what about sticky stuff?

But even sticky stuff can pose a problem, since chemical adhesives might not work in the vacuum and temperature of space, according to a
paper
published yesterday in
Science Robotics.
A team of Stanford and NASA researchers think they’ve solved the problem with just the right sticking agent, and it’s based on gecko feet.



Scientists aren’t strangers to the gecko’s sticky foot. We’ve written about how gecko feet could help
clean your apartment
,
climb walls
, or even serve as a
strapless bra
. The secret is in the van der Waals forces between atoms. Atoms are positively-charged cores with negative electrons orbiting them, but the random motion could leave an uneven distribution of the negative charge. Areas of extra negative charge can temporarily attract to areas of exposed positive charge on other atoms, leading to adhesion. The key is then to use these forces to make stickies.

Sticking in space has a few added challenges, though. Any extra force might send an object floating away. And certain properties of adhesive devices make them difficult to scale-simply making their area bigger means they’re more likely to unstick due to individual failures, according to the paper.

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That lead the researchers to come up with their sticky gripper devices.

Essentially, the gripper divides a gecko-inspired adhesive into smaller gripping tiles, so if one of the tiles fail the whole piece of debris doesn’t unstick. It attaches softly with springs and pulleys, conforming to the shape of the debris to stick without delivering too much of a push. And when the researchers tested their adhesive in a zero-gravity plane on things as big as 370 kilograms (around 815 pounds) it seemed to work quite well. They even tested it on board the International Space Station.

Testing the gripper on the ISS (H. Jiang et al, Science Robotics (2017)

The sticker is mainly for large, smooth pieces debris, according to the paper-it could have trouble sticking to rough surfaces, and in some cases it’s not as strong as mechanical grippers, making these the big challenges to overcome. And there’s no word as to how this would actually be deployed on a debris-gathering mission.

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One researcher, Emre Kizilkan from the Zoological Institute at Kiel University in Germany who produced another gecko-inspired adhesive, commented that these adhesives can be quite expensive, and this gripper uses a lot of it-which actually makes it a good choice for space. “For space applications, the production cost of such dry adhesive surfaces can be tolerated,” he told an email.

But as far as weird NASA tools that look like they belong in science fiction movies, handheld giant gripper machines for space debris made from gecko foot-inspired sticky tiles is about as futuristic as it gets.

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Science Robotics
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NASA: You Could Probably Make Wine In Space

As humanity expands to become a multi-planetary species, some important questions must be considered: Can we bring cats? What about dogs? Also, can we make wine in space?

Thankfully, some scientists are hard at work answering
the first two
-now, a scientist from
NASA’s Vegetable Production System called “Veggie”
says space viticulture might be possible with the right technology and a lot of patience. Veggie grows a
variety of salad-type crops
aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for astronauts to enjoy.

Humans have been crafting wine on Earth for
thousands of years
, and it’s unlikely we’re going to want to kick the habit once we move into space. Just last fall,
China
sent cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir vines into space to see how they fared in microgravity, the results of which are still pending. While the harsh conditions of the final frontier and lack of space (no pun intended) would complicate wine production, Veggie principal investigator Gioia Massa says growing vines on a spacecraft would not be impossible.

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“Wine grapes would be an interesting challenge,” she told Gadgetlayout. “We have been working with some dwarf fruit trees that the USDA developed, and I have heard that they also have some dwarf grape vines, so if the plants were small enough or could be trained around, for example, lights, it would certainly be possible to grow them.”

Mizuna lettuce growing on board the ISS. (Image: NASA)

NASA is not currently working on growing wine vines in space, though they definitely should be. That said, the agency has
some experience
growing plants in small chambers aboard the International Space Station (ISS), so the Veggie team knows about growing things in tight areas.

“Most plants for space are super compact, but if you had vines that you could coil or clip a larger plant might be an option,” Massa explained. “Getting light to a sprawling vine is definitely a challenge…you would want very compact varieties.”

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Though cramped quarters would make wine production difficult, vines are like weeds in that they’re unbelievably resilient.

“If you can grow or acquire wine grapes, you can make wine anywhere,”
Amy Ovecka
, a sommelier at Lelabar in New York City told Gadgetlayout. “We made some in our apartment last year with grapes we bought from somewhere upstate just for fun. It was pretty terrible wine, but it was still technically wine, and I got to watch the actual process as a microcosm which was cool.”

Even with the space situation squared away, there’s still the question of how anything could pollinate wine grapes on a spacecraft. Massa said that next year, astronauts will try and pollinate dwarf tomatoes by hand aboard the ISS. The same practice could possibly be applied to hypothetical space vines.

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“For the actual process of wine making I am really not sure but I would suspect a microbial bioreactor could be developed which would allow the fermentation and other processes to occur in microgravity,” she said. “Fermentation is an anaerobic process so the fact that fluids and gasses don’t mix well in space might not be a problem for that process. You might have to inoculate with the right types of microorganisms but I think it would definitely be possible.”

There might even be advantages to growing wine in space. According to Chris Gerling, an enology extension associate at Cornell University, the upside of space vines is that they wouldn’t be exposed to grapevine diseases or
bugs like phylloxera
, which almost decimated France’s wine industry 150 years ago.

“If [NASA] is sustaining human life and plants are surviving, the wine should be okay,” he told Gadgetlayout. “[Astronauts] would have to bring pre-dried yeast, but I think it would all work. Since NASA can control humidity and temperature and light access to a certain extent, it would probably be great! They’re not going to have issues of weather or disease, so they could probably get those grapes as ripe as they want.”

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Hopefully, viticulturists of the future will find the right technology for space wine. I’d like to sip rose on my trip to Mars, please and thank you.

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An Imaginative Aerospace Engineer Turned This Classic Lego Space Shuttle Into a Flying Toy

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As a follow-up to turning the classic
Lego Solo Trainer set into a fully-functional RC plane
, aerospace engineer
Adam Woodworth
is back with an even more impressive build: he somehow made this tiny
27-year-old Lego Space Shuttle actually fly
.

Many of us probably remember set #1682,
Space Shuttle Launch
, released way back in 1990. After all, it carried so many of our Lego minifigures into imaginary orbit.



Adam rebuilds the entire set from scratch, but alas-he leaves out the details where he somehow managed to make the shuttle itself fly. Looking at
his Instagram account
, however, reveals that he most likely built a duplicate of the shuttle out of paper so that it was light enough to take off with just three tiny propellers on the underside.

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Is About to Reveal Its Mysteries 

Image: NASA

Jupiter is the biggest, angriest cup of coffee in the solar system. In snapshots from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, Jupiter’s swirling clouds look
divinely creamy
-but the planet is anything but placid. Jovian storms, chaotic and spectacular as they are, offer a stark reminder of how awesome and terrifying the universe really is. Goddamn are they both.

While there’s a lot to gape at when it comes to Ol’ Jupe, its crown jewel is undoubtedly the
Great Red Spot
-the largest storm in the solar system. The tempest
stretches
10,000 miles wide (16,000 kilometers) and howls with winds of up to
400 miles an hour
at its most extreme. Despite monitoring it for about 150 years, we can only guess as to what the storm looks like up close-but finally, that’s about to change.

On July 10th, Juno will get closer to the Great Red Spot than ever before, giving us our
very best view
of the cloudy abyss. According to NASA, the spacecraft’s sixth science flyby will bring it about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the GRS’ clouds. Of course, Juno will be flying with its
famous JunoCam
on, so that raw images can be later turned into gorgeous works of art.

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Not even seasoned astronomers know what they’ll find beneath Jupiter’s cloud tops. Juno’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton, told Gadgetlayout he’s excited to see the Great Red Spot up close and personal-but has no idea what it’ll look like.

“When you get close to Jupiter, it’s pretty stunning,” he said. “You see all these features and it looks like a piece of art. So I have some expectation that the Red Spot’s gonna be like that, but I don’t know what it will look like. I don’t know if it’ll look kind of simple, or have this incredible complexity even up close, [like] these swirls of different colors moving around.”

Image: NASA

Juno will use its infrared imager to look at specific molecules and their temperatures within the storm, Bolton added. The spacecraft’s
microwave radiometer (MWR)
will help Juno peer beneath the GRS’ cloud tops for clues about its past. Though the storm has been observed for over a century, it’s believed the GRS might be
more than 350 years old
.

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“One of the key questions here is how deep are the roots to this storm?” Bolton said. “Some scientists believe it must be very deep which is why it’s lasted so long. But we don’t really know that-we’ve never actually scratched the surface.”

No matter what mysteries Juno unravels, we’re sure they’ll be nice to look at. Jupiter’s good at being pretty-and terrifying.

“I’m hoping it’s just as beautiful as anything else,” Bolton said. “I don’t have any reason not to believe that.”

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NASA announces over 200 new planet candidates

US space agency NASA announced that its Kepler space telescope has discovered 219 new planet candidates outside our Solar System.

“Of those, 10 are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star’s habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet to support life,” Xinhua news cited a NASA statement on Monday.

With the latest release, Kepler has detected a total of 4,034 planet candidates, of which 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets.

Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified.

“This is the most comprehensive and detailed catalog release of candidate exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, from Kepler’s first four years of data,” NASA said in a statement.

“It’s also the final catalog from the spacecraft’s view of the patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation,” it said.

The Kepler spacecraft was launched in 2009. Its mission is to search the nearby region of our galaxy for exoplanets by detecting a transit, or the miniscule drop in a star’s brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it.

Another study using Kepler data suggested two distinct size groupings of small planets: rocky Earth-like bodies and gaseous planets smaller than Jupiter. Few planets were found between those groupings.

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Why We Still Don’t Know How Long a Day is on Saturn

Image: NASA

The ending of NASA’s Cassini mission is a truly intoxicating cocktail of emotions; on one hand, the data from this 20-year-long mission will fuel scientific research for years to come. On the other hand, where are we going to get our regular updates on everyone’s favorite gas giant? What about the photos? Seriously, our Saturn-induced FOMO is about to skyrocket.

This week, the intrepid spacecraft completed the
15th of its 22 Grand Finale dives
between the gas giant and its rings. As the spacecraft’s adventure draws closer to its final coda, many questions remain, including one that seems like it’d have an obvious to answer: How long is a day on Saturn?

Saturn, taken by Cassini in 2012. (Image: NASA)

According to Cassini scientist Jo Pitesky, we’re still not sure after all these years. When Voyager 2
visited Saturn back in 1981
, it recorded the planet’s rotational period as 10 hours, 39 minutes. But when Cassini visited the gas giant, it measured the day as 10 hours, 47 minutes. Each time Cassini has tried to pin down the exact length of a Saturnian day, the numbers change.

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“It’s very easy to find the length of a day on a terrestrial-type planet, because you can just watch features on the surface over the course of a day and say ‘ah-ha, that’s the length of a day,'” Pitesky told Gadgetlayout. “With gas giants-or ice giants as we now call Uranus and Neptune-it’s harder because the speed at which the clouds are making their way around the planet has absolutely nothing to do with the actual rotation rate of the planet.”

Earth from within Saturn’s rings, taken by Cassini. (Image: NASA)

So, when it comes to determining the length of day on gaseous planets, scientists typically look at a planet’s magnetic field. The planet’s magnetic poles are typically tilted with respect to a planet’s spin axis, which usually helps astronomers figure it all out. However, “Saturn has made this extraordinarily difficult,” Pitesky noted.

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“Over the last three months, we’ve moved Cassini as close as we can go in between the upper layers of atmosphere and innermost parts of its rings,” she explained. “And we’re finding that the
[axial] tilt
is much smaller than scientists even thought of.” Saturn’s magnetic field is unusually well-aligned with its rotation axis-in fact, Cassini estimates the tilt is much less than 0.06 degrees,
according to NASA
.

This observation has thrown off astronomers, because tilt is generally thought to sustain magnetic field-generating currents,
called a dynamo
, within a planet’s core. Those currents, if they exist, could in theory be used to determine the true length of a Saturnian day. At this point, there are still so many more questions than answers.

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“It must be that theres a dynamo in there somewhere,” Pitesky said. “There’s something going on within the innards of Saturn itself.” Gathering more precise measurements in the coming weeks might help scientists get a better estimate of Saturn’s day.

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And, of course, the Cassini team will continue to gather all of the other science (and fantastic photos) it can before the end of the mission. There are still several more ring dives leading up to the finale on September 15th, in which the orbiter will send back updates until its very last moment.

Until then, we’ll be watching, waiting, and savoring every minute we have left with our favorite orbiter.