Double whammy: 2 meteors hit ancient Earth at the same time

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An artist’s depiction of the dual meteor strike. (Don Dixon/Erik Sturkell/University of Gothenburg)

It’s not altogether uncommon to hear about double rainbows, but what about a double meteor strike? It’s a rare event, but researchers in Sweden recently found evidence that two meteors smacked into Earth at the same time, about 458 million years ago.

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg uncovered two craters in the county of Jämtland in central Sweden. The meteors that formed the craterslanded just a few miles from each other at the same moment, according to Erik Sturkell, a professor of geophysics at the University of Gothenburg and one of the scientists who is studying the newfound craters.

When the meteors slammed into Earth, Jämtland was just a seafloor, about 1,600 feet below the surface of the water. One of the craters left by the meteors is huge, measuring 4.7 miles across. The other, smaller crater — which is only about 2,300 feet across — is located just 10 miles  from its larger neighbor. [Meteor Crater: Experience an Ancient Impact]

After analyzing information collected from a drilling operation, the researchers determined that the impact craters were formed at the same time. The information revealed identical geological sequences, or layers of rock, inside each crater. The sediment that accumulated inside the craters over the subsequent millennia also dates back to the same time, according to Sturkell.

“In other words, these are simultaneous impacts,” Sturkell said in a statement. The meteors likely crashed to Earth following the collision of two large asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter some 470 million years ago, he added.

When the meteors crashed into Earth, they displaced the water underneath them, leaving two huge, dry pits in the seabed for about 100 seconds, the researchers said.

“The water then rushed back in, bringing with it fragments from the meteorites mixed with material that had been ejected during the explosion and with the gigantic wave that tore away parts of the seabed,” Sturkell said.

This isn’t the first time that scientists in the area have found evidence of ancient meteor impacts in what is now Sweden, though it is the first time they’ve found evidence of two meteors striking the planet at the same moment.

In the 1940s, quarry workers found an unusual red slab of limestone on Kinnekulle, a large hill in the county of Västergötland in southern Sweden. Researchers later identified the red rock as a meteorite. While large meteorites typically “explode and disintegrate” upon impact with the ground, small meteors fall to Earth as rocks, like the one embedded in the limestone slab, Sturkell said.

About 90 meteorites in total have been found on Kinnekulle in the past 15 years alone. But in Jämtland, where the dual meteor strikes occurred, researchers have only found small grains of chromite, a remnant of large, exploded meteors.

 

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GoPro camera launched, lost in 2013 returns to reveal Grand Canyon from space

It took five friends a couple months of planning to record the perfect GoPro shot. It took two years to get the footage back.

Members of the group recounted the amazing journey that took a GoPro camera from the terrain of Tuba City, Ariz., to the edge of space and back in posts onYouTube and Reddit. The June 2013 expedition was designed to capture breathtaking aerial views of the Grand Canyon and its surrounding area via a GoPro, camcorder and Galaxy Note II launched on a weather balloon.

After reaching a maximum altitude of about 18 miles, during a flight time of slightly more than 90 minutes, the payload fell to the desert floor – where it remained for about two years. The team was using the GPS on the smartphone to track the package, but they encountered a problem during the descent.

“The problem was that the coverage map we were relying on (looking at you, AT&T) was not accurate, so the phone never got signal as it came back to Earth, and we never heard from it,” the user trexarmsss wrote in a Reddit post.

The phone landed about 50 miles from the original launch point, nestled in an anonymous patch of sand.

“TWO YEARS LATER, in a twist of ironic fate, a woman who works at AT&T was on a hike one day and spotted our phone in the barren desert,” trexarmsss wrote. “She brings it to an AT&T store, and they identify my friend’s SIM card. We got the footage and data a few weeks later!”

A video posted on YouTube, shows the ascent and descent. On the way up, the camera gradually changes from a ground view, to a bird’s view, to a plane’s and then finally to an astronaut’s perspective – presenting a beautiful glimpse of a huge stretch of Earth from the blackness of space itself. It takes just a half hour for the payload to tumble from the heavens, through wind currents and back to Earth.

 

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NASA releases stunning new Pluto images

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This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles above Pluto’s equatorial area. The images were taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

NASA has released the latest images from New Horizons’ historic Pluto flyby, which reveal the dwarf planet’s stunning range of surface features.

Related: New Horizons spacecraft makes historic Pluto flyby

“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), in astatement released by NASA. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”

The images, released on Thursday, show the most heavily cratered (and therefore oldest) terrain yet captured by New Horizons, as well as icy plains.

Images downlinked in recent days have more than doubled the amount of Pluto’s surface seen at resolutions up to 440 yards per pixel, according to NASA. “They reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows that apparently oozed out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys that may have been carved by material flowing over Pluto’s surface,” the agency said, in its statement. “They also show large regions that display chaotically jumbled mountains reminiscent of disrupted terrains on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.”

NASA released the first images from New Horizons’ Pluto flyby in July. The spacecraft began its yearlong download of new images and other data over the Labor Day weekend.

“The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in the statement. “The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum.”

Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain) is an icy area within a heart-shaped region on the dwarf planet’s surface dubbed “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) by scientists. In July NASA released images of mountain ranges within Tombaugh Regio.

Related: NASA releases first Pluto flyby images

Launched in 2006, New Horizons passed by Jupiter in 2007 on its journey to Pluto. The fastest spacecraft ever, the probe traveled at 30,000 mph on its epic trip.

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NASA taps hoverboard company Arx Pax to build space ‘tractor beam’

The company that made Marty McFly’s hoverboard a reality is reaching for the stars, or more precisely, satellites.

Los Gatos, Calif.-based Arx Pax has entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA, the company announced Wednesday. The partnership involves Arx Pax’s Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA) technology, which will be used to build micro-satellite capture devices that can manipulate and couple satellites from a distance.

Related: Marty McFly’s hoverboard is finally real, and it’s on Kickstarter right now

The technology inevitably conjures up images of the tractor beam used on “Star Trek.”

“Likely uses for this technology include manipulating various types of objects at a distance without touching them or colliding with them,” explained Arx Pax CEO Greg Henderson, in an email to FoxNews.com. “One example could be moving an object, like a satellite, or holding it stationary without physical contact.”

However, specific details of the technology’s roadmap have not yet been revealed. “The collaboration is evolving and the project is a work in process,” explained Henderson, in the email. “We will share more information as we hit specific joint development milestones.”

Related: California company wants to ‘hover’ buildings, protecting against earthquakes

“We continue to place a firm emphasis on innovation and collaboration” said Luke Murchison, On-Orbit Autonomous Assembly from Nanosatellites Project Manager at NASA Langley Research Center, in a statement. “We’re confident and excited about the possibilities this agreement proposes.”

The partnership’s focus on micro-satellites may reflect the growing role played bycubesats in the space industry. NASA, for example, recently announced its plan to offer more rocket rides for cubesats, which are tiny, box-shaped satellites.

Arx Pax’s MFA technology, which provides magnetic elevation, has certainly been generating plenty of buzz. In addition to the hoverboard developed by its Hendo Hover subsidiary, Arx Pax has been touting MFA as a way to protect people and structures in natural disasters such as earthquakes. The company has been testing what it describes as “isolation of structures from unwanted movement” and has patented a three-part foundation system, which it says will “decouple” an object or building from the earth before disaster strikes.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

 

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NASA mulling life-hunting mission to Saturn moon Enceladus

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This image of the geyser-spewing Saturn moon Enceladus was taken on Oct. 5, 2008 by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

A decade from now, NASA probes could be on their way to explore two potentially life-supporting alien worlds.

The agency already plans to launch a spacecraft toward the Jupiter moon Europa in the early to mid-2020s, and it’s mulling a mission to the Saturn satelliteEnceladus that would lift off by the end of 2021. Many astrobiologists regard Europa and Enceladus, which are both thought to harbor oceans of liquid water beneath their icy shells, as the solar system’s two best bets to host alien life.

The possible Encelacus project, known as the Enceladus Life Finder (ELF), is one of two dozen or so concepts submitted earlier this year for consideration by NASA’s Discovery Program, which launches highly focused, relatively low-cost missions to various solar system destinations. [Inside Enceladus, Icy Moon of Saturn (Infographic)]

NASA is expected to cull the original Discovery applicant pool to a handful of finalists next month, then select the overall winner around September 2016. The people behind ELF — which, as its name suggests, would search for signs of biological activity on Enceladus — believe they’ve put forward a strong contender.

“We think we have the highest chance of success of getting an indicator of [alien] life for really any mission at this point,” ELF concept principal investigator Jonathan Lunine, of Cornell University, told Space.com.

 

Going to Enceladus?

In 2005, NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft spotted geysers of water ice, salts, carbon-containing organics and other molecules erupting from the south polar region of the 310-mile-wide (500 kilometers) Enceladus.

These jets, which are powered by Saturn’s intense gravitational pull, merge to form a plume that reaches far out into space. Indeed, Enceladus supplies the bulk of the material making up Saturn’s wide E-ring.

Scientists think the icy jets are in contact with Enceladus’ underground ocean, which offers a rare and tantalizing opportunity — gathering samples from a potentially habitable alien environment without even touching down. (Furthermore, the oceans of Europa and Enceladus lie beneath miles of ice, which could make sampling by a landed mission tough.)

That’s just what ELF intends to do.

“It’s free samples,” Lunine said of the plume. “We don’t need to land, drill, melt or do anything like that.” [Enceladus’ Surprising Geysers (Video)]

Cassini has flown through the plume multiple times, but that spacecraft isn’t equipped to search for life. ELF, on the other hand, would probe the habitability of Enceladus’ ocean and hunt for evidence of biological activity.

ELF would carry two mass spectrometers; one would be optimized to study gaseous plume molecules, whereas the other would focus on solid grains, Lunine said. These instruments would study amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), fatty acids, methane and other molecules, allowing mission scientists to perform three separate tests for life.

“Positive results for all three would strongly argue for life within Enceladus,” the ELF team wrote in a paper presented at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, which was held in March in The Woodlands, Texas.

“ELF brings the most compelling question in all of space science within reach of NASA’s Discovery Program, providing an extraordinary opportunity to discover life elsewhere in the solar system in a low-cost program,” they added. (Whichever mission is selected for this Discovery round will have a cost cap of $450 million, excluding post-lauch operations.)

A fourth life test should also be possible, Lunine said. Current ELF plans call for including a technology-demonstration instrument designed to determine the chirality, or “handedness,” of amino acids. All Earth life uses left-handed amino acids rather than right-handed ones; a similar preference found in an extraterrestrial sample would be a strong indication of alien life, astrobiologists say.

Solar-powered probe

If NASA chooses ELF, the mission will by ready by 2020 and could launch that year or in 2021, Lunine said. The baseline concept calls for ELF to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and endure a 9.5-year-long journey to Saturn (though the trip would be much shorter if NASA’s Space Launch System megarocket, which is currently in development, were used).

ELF would enter orbit around Saturn, then fly through Enceladus’ plume eight to 10 times over the course of three years. These sampling sojourns would bring the robotic probe within about 31 miles of Enceladus’ surface, Lunine said.

ELF is a logical follow-on from Cassini and leverages much of the older mission’s heritage, he added. But the two are far from carbon copies. The school-bus-size Cassini, for example, cost $3.2 billion and features 12 onboard instruments.

Cassini is also powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), which convert the heat of plutonium-238’s radioactive decay into electricity. But ELF would be solar-powered, because NASA, concerned about its dwindling stockpile of plutonium-238, prohibited the use of nuclear fuel for this Discovery mission.

No solar-powered spacecraft has ever operated as far away as Saturn, where sunlight is considerably weaker than it is here on Earth. NASA’s Juno probe, in fact, will make history as the first solar-powered Jupiter spacecraft when it reaches the solar system’s largest planet next July.

But Lunine is confident that solar energy will do the job for ELF.

“We found that this was a very feasible way to conduct the mission,” he said, declining to provide technical details because the Discovery competition is ongoing.

Demonstrating the utility of solar power at Saturn is an important goal in itself, Lunine added, because nuclear fuel will always be in relatively short supply and therefore reserved for future missions that cannot do without it. Examples of plutonium-dependent missions include efforts to explore the surface or atmosphere of Saturn’s huge, haze-shrouded moon Titan or probes that journey to extremely faraway destinations such as Neptune.

“We want to push the boundaries for solar power so that, for missions in orbit around Saturn, we don’t need to use that valuable inventory of radioisotopic fuel that’s going to be needed for these other missions,” Lunine said.

NASA’s upcoming Europa mission, which does not have an official name at the moment, will also make use of solar power. The roughly $2 billion mission will be based in orbit around Jupiter but will make 45 flybys of the 1,900-mile-wide Europa over the course of two and a half years or so.

The Europa probe will carry cameras, a heat detector, ice-penetrating radar and a variety of other instruments to gauge the habitability of the Jovian moon. But it’s not designed to search for signs of life; NASA officials have expressed hope that the Europa flyby mission could help pave the way for a future landed effort that would get beneath the moon’s ice shell. [Europa: Jupiter’s Icy Moon and Its Underground Ocean (Video)]

Other Enceladus efforts

Lunine and his group aren’t the only scientists interested in exploring Enceladus.

For example, another team has been working on a idea called Journey to Enceladus and Titan (JET), which would assess the life-supporting potential of both moons. And another research group is developing a mission concept called Life Investigation for Enceladus (LIFE), which would return samples from the icy satellite’s plume back to Earth for analysis.

Neither JET nor LIFE was proposed as part of the most recent Discovery call. The LIFE team dropped out of the running primarily because it viewed nuclear power as more or less a necessity for a Saturn mission, leader Peter Tsou told Space.com.

But Tsou and his colleagues continue to work on LIFE and hope to submit the concept during a future NASA call for proposals.

Enceladus is more than worthy of the attention it’s currently getting, said Tsou, who’s based at Sample Exploration Systems in La Canada, California. A life-hunting mission to the geyser-spewing moon would deliver impressive “bang for the buck” astrobiologically, allowing humanity to take a solid crack at perhaps the biggest mystery facing humanity, he said.

“This ‘are we alone’ question — potentially we can shed tremendous light on it in a single mission,” Tsou said.

 

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These 10 things cost much, much more than a trip to Pluto

These 10 things cost much, much more than a trip to Pluto

This July 13, 2015 image provided by NASA shows Pluto, seen from the New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA via AP)

Pluto and the New Horizons probe have been the stars of the week, and an odd sidebar from CBS Minnesota on the voyage has been going viral.

Reporter Pat Kessler observed that the 9-plus-year voyage cost $720 million—which just so happens to be a good deal less than what was spent to build the new Vikings stadium: $1 billion.

And that $720 million got us more than just the time in space. NASA itselfexplains that the funds were and will be spent over the period from 2001 to 2016 on everything from spacecraft development to data analysis to public outreach.

Here are nine more things that cost more:

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean movies, $1.04 billion: We’ve spent a lot to get Captain Jack Sparrow on the screen: It cost $140 million to make The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), $225 million to make Dead Man’s Chest (2006),$300 million to make At World’s End (2007), and $378.5 million for On Stranger Tides (2011).A fifth is coming in 2017.
  2. Cassini-Huygens mission, $3.68 billion: When it comes to space, New Horizons is a long way from the priciest. That honor goes to the Cassini-Huygens mission, per Forbes, which puts the cost of exploring the Saturn system at about five times that of the Pluto excursion.The European and Italian Space Agencies picked up some of the tab.
  3. Spam emails, $21.58 billion: InformationWeek shared the toll that spam took on America in 2004.The National Technology Readiness Survey estimated that the roughly 170 million adults who were online that year spent three minutes a day deleting spam, for a lost productivity cost in the tens of billions.
  4. Trump Taj Mahal, $1.1 billion: Upon the casino’s April 1990 opening, theNew York Times reported the Taj was the “most expensive casino ever built—a roll of the financial dice on a grand scale.” Indeed.Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and again in 2014, the Washington Post reported. Carl Ichan last month got the OK to acquire the Taj from bankruptcy court.
  5. Hangovers, $160 billion-ish: The CDC in 2011 published a study (based on 2006 data) that put the cost of excessive alcohol consumption that year at $223.5 billion.Some 72% of that, or about $160 billion, “largely resulted from losses in workplace productivity.” That Atlantic’s take: that “suggests that the economic drag from hangovers is about $160 billion.”
  6. Prescription drug ads, $4.7 billion: The Things That Cost More Than Space Exploration Tumblr points to a 2009 Congressional Budget Office report that found that during the year prior, drug manufacturers spent $20.5 billion on “promotional activities”; of that $4.7 billion was spent on direct-to-consumer ads.
  7. Super Bowl Monday, $820 million: The Orlando Sentinel in 2012 cited two figures relating to the money-suck that is the day after the Super Bowl, reporting that about 1.5 million call in sick and about three times that many show up late to work.That adds up to an estimated $820 million to $850 million in lost productivity.
  8. ATM fees, $8 billion: According to 2010 data, Americans completed about 2.1 billion fee-carrying ATM transactions that year, at an average cost of about $3.85, which totals just over $8 billion.
  9. U2 tickets, $736 million: Not bad for two years’ work.The band kicked off its 360 world tour on June 30, 2009, and finished 110 shows later on July 30, 2011. Billboard reports that some 7,268,430 people attended, and the recorded gross was $736,137,344.

Bonus No. 11: We spent $1.2 billion on a supplement that may do no good; that story here.

This article originally appeared on Newser: 10 Things That Cost Much More Than Our Trip To Pluto

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The ‘Great American Eclipse’ is coming

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File photo. (REUTERS/Jon Olav Nesvold/NTB scanpix)

Ever dreamed of seeing the sky darken and the stars twinkle in the middle of a summer’s day? Then mark your calendar for Aug. 21, 2017, because if you’re in the US the chances are good that you’ll be among the 200 million or so people within a day’s drive of the country’s first total eclipse of the sun since 1979, reports Space.com.

While total solar eclipses are more common than many realize, with 68 this century, this eclipse will be the first since 1918 where the moon’s shadow—the so-called “path of totality”—will sweep across the US from coast to coast.

It’s being called the Great American Eclipse because it will be visible from no other country on the planet. Total eclipses are technically “a fluke of celestial mechanics and time,” adds Space.com, because right now the moon, which is gradually moving away from Earth, happens to be the perfect distance to appear equal in size to the sun.

The moon’s shadow will totally block the sun for the longest duration, two minutes and 40 seconds, just outside of Hopkinsville, Ky., and is being hailed as the largest event to ever hit the town of 32,000 people, reports UPI.

But the best bet for clear viewing is said to be in Oregon, where totality will only last 2 minutes but there’s a 70% chance of clear skies, as opposed to just 50% from Kentucky east through South Carolina.

The path of totality will average 67 miles in width, with a few notable cities in its path, including Lincoln, Neb., Columbia, Mo., and Nashville, Tenn.

To those outside the path of totality but in the continental US, a partial eclipse should still be visible, though the sky will be considerably less dark.

(The last total solar eclipse was in March.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Total Eclipse of the Sun Coming to a Yard Near You

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Alien oceans’ glint could reveal habitable water worlds

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    This artist’s concept shows Kepler-62f, an exoplanet in the habitable zone of its host star, which is located about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. Researchers think Kepler-62f may be a “water world.” (NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

The bright glint of alien oceans may be visible from afar, allowing astronomers to flag potentially habitable exoplanets.

As Earth travels around the sun, it moves through phases much like the moonwhen seen from afar. The planet’s oceans reflect a great deal of light, especially during the crescent phase. The same principle should apply to exoplanets, researchers say.

“Seeing excessive brightness at the crescent phases could be a telltale signal of ocean planets,” Tyler Robinson, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said at the Astrobiology Science Conference in Chicago in June. [10 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]

Although a host of satellites monitor Earth, few eye the planet as a whole. As a result, many exoplanet scientists turn to models to understand how Earth might appear if it were a distant alien world. However, the accuracy of these models can be difficult to gauge without observations to verify them.

Scientists have made a few attempts to address this issue. In 1993, for example,Carl Sagan and other researchers used observations made by NASA’s Jupiter-studying Galileo spacecraft during a 1990 flyby of Earth to search for signs of life on our planet.

And in 2009, NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite(LCROSS) moon mission observed Earth at several phases, including near-full and crescent, in order to calibrate its instruments. Robinson and his colleagues analyzed these data, and found that the near-infrared and ultraviolet/visible light observations provided an approximation of how Earth might appear through extreme phases across various spectrums. Their study was published in 2014 inThe Astrophysical Journal.

“LCROSS looked at Earth for calibration, but its measurements were good for science,” Robinson said.

The results showed that, although less of Earth’s surface was visible during its crescent phase, the brightness of the planet increased due to the light reflecting off its oceans. In visible light, the glint increased the planet’s brightness by as much as 40 percent; in the near-infrared, Earth shone nearly 80 percent more brightly, Robinson said.

Robinson was also a co-author on a different paper that examined similar, though less detailed, observations of Earth using NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft (which performed up-close examinations of two different comets, in 2005 and 2010).

The observations performed by LCROSS — the first high-spectral-resolution observations of Earth in its crescent phases — lined up well with predictions based on existing models, Robinson said.

However, similar results gained from observations of an exoplanet would not automatically be signs of an ocean, he cautioned; clouds and ice could also affect the brightness of a planet. Follow-up studies of the exoplanet’s atmospherecould reveal more about the world’s potential habitability.

Still, an apparent glint from an exoplanet ocean would be an exciting find, Robinson said.

“We conclude that the detection of such a feature would be intriguing, and would certainly indicate that a more detailed observational follow-up of the planet was warranted,” he and his colleagues wrote in their 2014 LCROSS paper.

 

 

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A day in space? For Scott Kelly, it’s work, TV (but no laundry!)

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Astronaut Scott Kelly enjoys fresh fruit on Day 100 of his one-year trip aboard the International Space Station. This week Kelly talked with reporters about what life is like in orbit. (NASA)

What’s it like to live in space? It’s a question that never seems to get old, as demonstrated in a series of interviews this week with astronaut Scott Kelly, who is spending a year aboard the International Space Station.

TV interviewers Larry King, host of the show “Larry King Now,” and Katie Couric, a global news anchor for Yahoo, both spoke with Kelly last week, and both wanted to know the same thing: What’s a normal day like in space? For people on the ground, there seems to be a persistent fascination with the mundane details of space life, such as how astronauts wash their clothes (they don’t), what they do for fun (watch TV and read books), and how well they get along with the other crewmembers (very well). The full interviews can be seen in the video above.

Kelly is one of two participants in NASA’s One-Year Mission, the first instance of American astronauts spending almost an entire calendar year in orbit. The mission, which is nearing its midpoint, is meant to test the effects of long-term spaceflight on the human body — information that will prove crucial if humanity ever wants to make the journey to Mars. [The Human Body in Space: 6 Weird Facts]

“What do you do all day long, Scott? Can you give us sort of the typical ‘Day in the Life’ on the International Space Station?” Couric asked Kelly when they spoke via satellite yesterday (Aug. 19).

“All the days are different, which makes it pretty interesting,” Kelly replied. Some days are entirely dedicated to science experiments, he said. During his time on the orbiting laboratory, he and his crewmates will conduct more than 400 science experiments.

“Sometimes you’re fixing things,” Kelly said. “The carbon-dioxide removal system was a piece of hardware we had worked on a few months ago that was pretty extensive. On Monday, we have a Japanese cargo ship coming, so we’ll be grabbing that.  So it’s a combination of science, maintenance and general housekeeping. And then occasionally robotics activities or a spacewalk you might get to do.”

Both Couric and King asked Kelly about how he unwinds from all that work. Kelly said he and the other five crewmembers typically get together and watch a movie on the weekends. Meanwhile, Kelly said he and NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren are re-watching the TV series “Breaking Bad,” and have introduced Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui to the show as well.

Couric also mentioned that the actress, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, tweeted at Kelly and asked if he was watching her show, “Veep,” on HBO. Kelly said he liked the show very much, but was not watching it on the station. However, the station is apparently carrying every season of “Seinfeld,” (in which Dreyfus was a main character), which Kelly said he has watched.

And what about even more mundane activities, like doing laundry?

“So, we don’t do laundry because that requires a lot of water and water’s at a premium up here. Plus, it’d be pretty complicated, I think, to make a space washer, although I guess you could do it,” Kelly replied. “So we generally throw our clothes out. I think I’ve been wearing this pair of pants for about two months. I won’t tell you how long I’ve been wearing the other things,” he joked, to which Couric laughed and replied, “Thank you.”

Kelly also told Couric that he seems to dream more while he’s in orbit. He’d been asked about space dreaming while on previous missions, and at the beginning of the current mission he started writing his dreams down, but stopped because it took too much time, he said.

“It seems like in the beginning of my flight the space dreams were rare. And now, almost 150 days into it, the Earth dreams are more of the rare ones,” he said.

Astronauts have embarked on incredible adventures, like walking on the moon or repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, but even the mundane details of life in space prove captivating  to people on the ground, who can only dream about what it’s like up there.

 

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NASA releases incredible closeup images of Saturn’s moon Dione

 

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This view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft looks toward Saturn’s icy moon Dione, with giant Saturn and its rings in the background, just prior to the mission’s final close approach to the moon on August 17, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

NASA has released a series of stunning images taken during the Cassini spacecraft’s last close flyby of Saturn’s moon Dione.

Related: Space Station astronaut takes stunning aurora photo

The images show a pockmarked landscape looming below the spacecraft.  Cassini passed 295 miles above Dione’s surface at 2:33 p.m. ET on Aug. 17, its fifth close encounter with Saturn’s icy moon. The spacecraft, which has been exploring Saturn and its moons since 2004, made its closest-ever Dione flyby in Dec. 2011 when it passed within 60 miles of the moon’s surface.

“I am moved, as I know everyone else is, looking at these exquisite images of Dione’s surface and crescent, and knowing that they are the last we will see of this far-off world for a very long time to come,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado, in a statement on the NASA website. “Right down to the last, Cassini has faithfully delivered another extraordinary set of riches. How lucky we have been.”

Only a handful of close flybys of Saturn’s large, icy moons remain for the spacecraft, according to NASA. Cassini is scheduled to make three approaches to the geologically active moon Enceladus on Oct. 14 and 28, and Dec. 19, passing just 30 miles from its surface on Oct. 28. “Cassini will make its deepest-ever dive through the moon’s plume of icy spray at this time, collecting valuable data about what’s going on beneath the surface,” explained NASA.

Related: Can tech turn the moon into the world’s biggest billboard?

After December there are a handful of distant flybys planned for Saturn’s large, icy moons at ranges of less than about 30,000 miles, the space agency said. “Cassini will, however, make nearly two dozen passes by a menagerie of Saturn’s small, irregularly shaped moons — including Daphnis, Telesto, Epimetheus and Aegaeon — at similar distances during this time,” it added. “These passes will provide some of Cassini’s best-ever views of the little moons.”

The Dione pictures are the latest in a series of a stunning space images. One-year astronaut Scott Kelly took an incredible aurora picture from the International Space Station last week and India’s Mars orbiter recently captured beautiful 3D images of the red planet.

The Cassini-Huygens mission concludes in late 2017, with the spacecraft repeatedly diving through the space between Saturn and its rings during its final year.

 

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