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  • richardmitnick 6:37 am on January 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Huff Post: “Scientists Find Spooky Link Between Solar Activity & Life Span” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    01/09/2015
    Jacqueline Howard

    The sun sustains life on Earth, and maybe that’s not all it does. Provocative new research by scientists in Norway suggests there may be a link between solar activity at the time of your birth and how long you’re likely to live.

    Specifically, the scientists found that the life spans of people born during a so-called “solar maximum” period–when the sun displays the greatest number of sunspots and solar flares in any given solar cycle–are about five years shorter than those of people born in a solar minimum period, when the sun is less active.

    For their research, scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim looked at the age of death of individuals born in Norway between 1676 and 1878 and compared the data to solar activity data. In addition to showing that individuals born during a solar max tended to die younger, the comparison showed that fertility was reduced in certain women born in years with high solar activity.

    “We were surprised of the effect on lifetime number of offspring, although only detectable in the low-[economic] status women group,” study co-author Dr. Frode Fossøy, a researcher at the university, told The Huffington Post in an email.

    What explains the weird connection between solar activity and human fertility and longevity?

    It seems that ultraviolet light from the sun–especially at times of high activity–can suppress certain molecular and cellular mechanisms in the body, Gine Roll Skjærvø, a senior engineer at the university and the lead author of a paper describing the research, told The Telegraph.

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    Infographic by Jan Diehm for The Huffington Post.

    The new research stands in contrast to a 2009 study showing that solar activity does not affect human life spans. But that study relied on population-based data rather than on data from specific individuals.

    “Moreover, their populations were located further south than our study populations,” Fossøy said in the email. “These differences could explain the discrepancy between the two studies.”

    Dr. Mark Lucock, a nutritional geneticist at the University of Newcastle in Australia, who was not involved in either study, called the new research “a fascinating piece of work that provides further supporting evidence that early-life environmental factors help shape [human traits] in ways that have long-term consequences,” Live Science reported.

    The new research was published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on January 7, 2015.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:24 am on January 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Huffington Post, NSA   

    From Huff Post: “Leaked NSA Documents Reveal How To Hide From The NSA” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    12/31/2014
    Damon Beres

    If you want a truly anonymous life, then maybe it’s time you learned about Tor, CSpace and ZRTP.

    nsa

    These three technologies could help people hide their activities from the National Security Agency, according to NSA documents newly obtained from the archive of former contractor Edward Snowden by the German magazine Der Spiegel.

    The combination of Tor, CSpace and ZRTP (plus another anonymizing technology for good measure) results in levels of protection that the NSA deems “catastrophic” — meaning the organization has “near-total loss/lack of insight to target communications,” according to Der Spiegel.

    “Although the documents are around two years old, experts consider it unlikely the agency’s digital spies have made much progress in cracking these technologies,” Spiegel’s staff wrote.

    In comparison, accessing somebody’s Facebook messages is considered a “minor” task for the agency. Similarly, virtual private networks (or VPNs), which are widely used by companies, are easily accessed by the NSA, according to Der Spiegel’s report, as are so-called “HTTPS” connections.

    So, what are these services and what do you actually have to do to use them?

    Tor is basically a network that offers an easy way for people to mask their location when communicating online. Anyone can download Tor’s web browser — it’s available on Mac, Windows, Linux, and smartphones. It’s not foolproof: When using Tor, you’re advised to sacrifice the convenience of browser plugins, torrent downloads, and websites that don’t use “HTTPS encryption” if you truly want to stay off the grid.

    And that’s just if you want to mask your online habits — messaging and phone calls require more steps still, meaning you also have to add CSpace and ZRTP if you want to hide those from the NSA, according to Der Spiegel.

    CSpace is a program that lets people text chat and transfer files, while ZRTP is a form of encryption that protects mobile phone calls and texting — it’s used in apps like RedPhone and Signal.

    If that all sounds a bit daunting, anonymous living may not be for you. There are plenty of ways to stay relatively private online. But true anonymity is harder to achieve, and so coveted that some people will pay $629 for a special phone that purports to keep a user’s information more secure.

    As noted, the Snowden documents are a couple of years old; it’s possible the NSA has found ways around these tools by now. But for the privacy-conscious, they are certain to work better than a tinfoil hat.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 11:25 am on January 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Huff Post: “Belize’s ‘Blue Hole’ May Help Solve Mystery Of Maya Downfall” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    01/01/2015
    Macrina Cooper-White

    Scientists know all about the sophisticated calendars and writing system of the Maya, as well as their ritual sacrifices. But as for exactly what caused the the ancient civilization to collapse around 900 A.D., that’s long been a bit of a mystery.

    Now a team of researchers from Rice University and Louisiana State University think they may be one step closer to cracking the mystery, thanks in part to evidence from the “Great Blue Hole.” The massive sinkhole located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Belize was made popular by pioneering conservationist Jacques Cousteau, who visited it in 1971 and declared it one of the world’s best scuba diving sites.

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    Great Blue Hole, Coast of Belize

    The researchers analyzed sediment samples from the Blue Hole, looking specifically at variations in color, grain size, and layer thickness. They also examined samples from the Belize Central Shelf Lagoon, a body of water attached to the mainland, noting differences in the samples’ ratio of titanium to aluminum, which helps provide an estimate for rainfall levels.

    The analyses revealed low levels of precipitation and a drop in the frequency of tropical cyclones from 800 to 900 A.D. in the Yucatan peninsula–which suggests the region was hit by a major drought at the time, the researchers told The Huffington Post in an email.

    The research also suggested that another major drought hit the region between 1000 and 1100 A.D., around when the Maya city of Chichen Itza is believed to have fallen.

    “When you have major droughts, you start to get famines and unrest,” study co-author Dr. André Droxler, an earth scientist at Rice, told Live Science.

    The research on the lagoon was presented on Dec. 16 at the American Geophysical Union’s 2014 Fall Meeting in San Francisco, and the study on the Blue Hole samples was published Jan. 2014 in the journal Scientific Reports.

    The research builds upon previous studies suggesting climate change precipitated the Mayas’ downfall. A 2012 study of a stalagmite from a cave in Belize linked the region’s population collapse to a “drying trend” between 600 and 1000 A.D.

    The first Maya settlements were established in 1800 B.C. The civilization hit its peak around 250 A.D., reaching a population of about 2,000,000.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:42 pm on December 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Huff Post: “Lonely Dwarf Galaxy Spotted 7 Million Light-Years From The Milky Way” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    12/22/2014
    David Freeman

    The Milky Way’s neighborhood is a bit more crowded than we thought.

    Using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, a Russian-American team of astronomers has discovered an isolated dwarf galaxy about 7 million light-years away from our galaxy.

    Dubbed KKs3, the “dwarf spheroidal” galaxy is located in the southern sky in the direction of the constellation Hydrus. It’s the most recently discovered member of the so-called Local Group of galaxies, which includes the Milky Way as well as the Andromeda Galaxy and dozens of other galaxies.

    k
    A negative image of KKs 3 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The core of the galaxy is the right-hand dark object at top center, with its stars spreading out around it. (The left-hand of the two dark objects is a nearer globular star cluster.)

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    The Local Group of galaxies. The Milky Way and Andromeda are the most massive galaxies by far.

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    The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. The image also shows Messier Objects 32 and 110, as well as NGC 206 (a bright star cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy) and the star Nu Andromedae. This image was taken using a hydrogen-alpha filter.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA Hubble schematic
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    As galaxies go, KKs3 is pretty small. It’s total mass is about one ten-thousandth the mass of the Milky Way, according to the astronomers. And it’s only the second isolated dwarf spheroidal galaxy ever observed in the Local Group. (The first, known as KKR25, was discovered by the same astronomers in 1999.)

    “Finding objects like KKs3 is painstaking work, even with observatories like the Hubble Space Telescope,” Prof. Dimitry Makarov, of the Special Astrophysical Observatory in Karachai-Cherkessia, Russia, and one of the members of the team, said in a written statement. “But with persistence, we’re slowly building up a map of our local neighborhood, which turns out to be less empty than we thought. It may be that are a huge number of dwarf spheroidal galaxies out there, something that would have profound consequences for our ideas about the evolution of the cosmos.”

    The discovery was described in Monthly Notices of The Royal Astronomical Society.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 5:50 am on December 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Huff Post: “New Stonehenge Discovery Hailed As ‘Most Important In 60 Years'” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    Archaeologists studying Stonehenge and its environs say they’ve unearthed the remnants of an untouched, ancient encampment that dates back 6,000 years–a find that could rewrite British prehistory.

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    Stonehenge

    “This is the most important discovery at Stonehenge in over 60 years,” Professor Tim Darvill, a Bournemouth University archaeologist and a Stonehenge expert who was not involved in the new discovery, told the Telegraph. And as he told The Huffington Post in an email, the discovery overturns previous theories that “Stonehenge was built in a landscape that was not heavily used before about 3000 B.C.”

    But if scientists are buzzing about the discovery, they’re also bummed about a new government plan calling for the construction of a new tunnel underneath Stonehenge.

    The discovery was made during a dig at Blick Mead, a site about 1.5 miles from Stonehenge. Researchers found charcoal dating back to 4,000 B.C. and evidence of “possible structures,” according to a statement released by the university. They also unearthed burnt flint and tools, as well as the remains of aurochs–ancient cattle that served as food for ancient hunter-gatherers.

    The researchers plan further analysis on the artifacts but say they’re worried the tunnel construction could damage the site and get in the way of their work.

    “Blick Mead could explain what archaeologists have been searching for for centuries–an answer to the story of Stonehenge’s past,” David Jaques, the University of Buckingham archaeologist who discovered the encampment, told The Guardian. “But our only chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain’s history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead.”

    Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument consisting of a ring of standing stones, is located eight miles north of Salisbury, England in Wiltshire. It has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1986.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:22 pm on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Huff Post: “Old Sarum, Medieval City Near Stonehenge, Revealed By New Scans” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    12/11/2014
    Ed Mazza

    Thanks to new technology, archaeologists are getting their first glimpse into life in Old Sarum, a once-thriving medieval city not far from Stonehenge, and the ruins hidden beneath include what may have been one of the largest palaces of the period.

    Located near the modern city of Salisbury, the English Heritage site resembles two raised grassy rings, with the inner ring once home to a castle.

    A few stone walls and some ruins are all that remain. But by using techniques such as ground-penetrating radar, researchers from the University of Southampton have found a series of massive structures in the outer ring, or bailey, that may have been part of the city’s defenses, as well as a number of homes from the settlement’s heyday some 700 to 900 years ago.

    “Archaeologists and historians have known for centuries that there was a medieval city at Old Sarum, but until now there has been no proper plan of the site,” Kristian Strutt, experimental officer and director of archaeological prospection services at the University of Southampton, said in a news release. “Our survey shows where individual buildings are located and from this we can piece together a detailed picture of the urban plan within the city walls.”

    The scans also turned up a large open area, more than 550 feet long, which one expert believes may have been part of a royal complex.

    “The location, design and size of the courtyarded complex strongly suggests that it was a palace, probably a royal one,” Dr. Edward Impey, director-general of the Royal Armouries and a leading expert on high status medieval buildings told the Independent. “The prime candidate for constructing it is perhaps Henry I sometime in the early 12th century.”

    In addition, the research team found kilns or furnaces and evidence of quarrying that took place after the city had fallen out of favor.

    Along with radar, the researchers used magnetometry, earth resistance and electric resistivity tomography to discover what sits beneath the bailey.

    “The plan shows for the first time just how much other activity there was around the castle and cathedral which have long been known,” Neil Holbrook from Cotswold Archaeology told the BBC. “It sets those monuments within the context of a bustling, vibrant town established shortly after the Norman conquest.”

    Old Sarum’s history goes back some 5,000 years. By 400 BC, during the Iron Age, a fort had been built on the site. Later, it was occupied by the Romans.

    The castle was built in the 11th century, and some believe it may have been a place for nobles to come and pledge allegiance to the conquerers.

    “This castle wouldn’t have just dominated the site of Old Sarum itself, but the surrounding countryside as well,” aerial archaeologist Ben Robinson said when describing the site on a recent episode of iTV’s “Secrets From The Sky.”

    A cathedral was built in Old Sarum in 1092. But the city’s decline began in the 13th century, when a new cathedral was constructed in what is now the modern city of Salisbury, according to background information provided by the University of Southampton. Salisbury Cathedral remains in operation today.

    The research team hopes to return in the spring to continue their work.

    See the full article, with video, here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:06 pm on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Huff Post: “These Hot Blue Stars Will Fuse To Form One ‘Supermassive’ Star 60 Times The Size Of The Sun” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    12/11/2014
    David Freeman

    Twins can be close, and that goes for stars as well as people. In some cases, stars get so close that they merge–and new research by astronomers in Spain suggests that’s just what’s happening with the binary star system known as MY Camelopardalis.

    Located in a small star cluster about 13,000 light-years from Earth, MY Cam is one of the biggest binary systems out there. One of its hot blue stars is 32 times more massive than the sun, the other 38 times more massive.

    s

    But a new analysis of observations made using Spain’s Calar Alto Observatory shows that the stars are so close that the material in their outer layers is mixing (see illustration above), according to a written statement released by the University of Alicante. Ultimately, the research suggests, the stars–now orbiting each other at high speed–will merge to form a single star of stupendous size.

    Calar Alto Observatory
    Calar Alto Observatory Interior
    1m Calar Alto Schmidt Telescope

    It’s not clear how long the merger will take, or what will happen when it does. One possibility is that the merged star will explosively release a vast quantity of energy. Whatever happens, astronomers expect the merged star to be a giant with roughly 60 times the mass of the sun. And that’s a very big deal.

    A paper describing the research was published online Dec. 4 in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 5:54 pm on December 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Huff Post: “These 6 Countries Produce Nearly 60 Percent Of Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    12/05/2014
    DINA CAPPIELLO

    Six countries produce nearly 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. China and the United States combine for more than two-fifths. The planet’s future will be shaped by what these top carbon polluters do about the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming.

    How they rank, what they’re doing:

    CHINA

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    A general view shows residential and commercial buildings on a hazy day in Shanghai on November 21, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE

    It emits nearly twice the amount of greenhouse gases as the United States, which it surpassed in 2006 as the top emitter of carbon dioxide. China accounts for about 30 percent of global emissions. U.S. government estimates show China doubling its emissions by 2040, barring major changes. Hugely reliant on fossil fuels for electricity and steel production, China until recently was reluctant to set firm targets for emissions, which continue to rise, although at a slower rate. That changed when Beijing announced last month in a deal with Washington that it would stem greenhouse gas emission growth by 2030. About a week later, China’s Cabinet announced a coal consumption cap by 2020 at about 62 percent of the energy mix. While politically significant, the U.S.-China deal alone is expected to have little effect on the global thermostat.

    2013 CO2 emissions: 11 billion tons

    2013 Population: 1.36 billion

    UNITED STATES

    2
    In this March 8, 2014 photo, steam from the Jeffrey Energy Center coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the setting sun near St. Mary’s, Kansas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

    It has never entered into a binding treaty to curb greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, it has cut more carbon pollution than any other nation. It is on pace to meet a 2009 Obama administration pledge to reduce emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Carbon emissions are up, though, as the U.S. rebounds from recession. President Barack Obama has largely leaned on existing laws, not Congress, to make progress — boosting automobile fuel economy and proposing to reduce carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. The White House vowed in the China deal to double the pace of emissions reductions, lowering carbon pollution 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Expect resistance when Republicans control Congress in January.

    2013 CO2 emissions: 5.8 billion tons

    2013 Population: 316 million

    INDIA

    3
    In this Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 photo, smoke rises from chimneys of brick kilns on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri, File)

    The U.S.-China agreement puts pressure on the Indian government, which could announce new targets during a planned Obama visit in January. Meantime, India plans to double coal production to feed a power grid still suffering blackouts. Its challenge: to curb greenhouse gases as its population and economy grow. In 2010, India voluntarily committed to a 20 percent to 25 percent cut in carbon emissions relative to economic output by 2020 against 2005 levels. It has made recent strides installing solar power, which it is expected to increase fivefold to 100 gigawatts by 2030. Under current policies, its carbon dioxide emissions will double by then, according to the International Energy Agency.

    2013 CO2 emissions: 2.6 billion tons

    2013 population: 1.2 billion

    RUSSIA

    4
    Electrical light illuminates a petroleum cracking tower at the Lukoil-Nizhegorodnefteorgsintez oil refinery, operated by OAO Lukoil, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

    It never faced mandatory cuts under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol because its emissions fell so much after the Soviet Union collapsed. A major oil and gas producer, Russia in 2013 adopted a domestic greenhouse gas target that would trim emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Russia’s carbon dioxide emissions today average 35 percent lower than 1990 levels. To meet its goal, Russia has set a goal for 2020 of boosting energy efficiency 40 percent and expanding renewable energy 4.5 percent. The state-owned gas company Gazprom has energy conservation plans, as has the federal housing program. But in 2006, Russia announced a move to more coal- and nuclear-fired electricity to export more oil and natural gas.

    2013 CO2 emissions: 2 billion tons

    2013 population: 143.5 million

    JAPAN

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    A passenger jet flies over factory facilities in the Keihin Industrial Zone in Kawasaki City, near Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008. (Toshiyuki Aizawa/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

    The shuttering of its nuclear power plants after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster forced a drastic change in plans to curb carbon pollution. In November, Japanese officials said they would now reduce greenhouse gases 3.8 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. With more fossil fuels in the mix, Japan’s emissions will be up 3 percent from 1990 levels, its benchmark for its pledge at a 2009 United Nations summit in Copenhagen to reduce emissions 25 percent. Beginning in 2012, Japan placed a carbon tax based on emissions of fossil fuels, with the proceeds going to renewable energy and energy-saving projects.

    2013 CO2 emissions: 1.4 billion tons

    2013 population: 127 million

    GERMANY

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    In this picture taken Thursday, April 3, 2014, giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler near the city of Grevenbroich, western Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

    It has outperformed the 21 percent reduction in greenhouse gases it agreed to in 1997. Emissions are down 25 percent against 1990 levels. To comply with 2020 European Union-set goals, Germany must reduce greenhouse gases 40 percent by 2020. On Wednesday, it boosted subsidies for energy efficiency to help it get there. Germany has in recent years seen back-to-back emissions increases due to higher demand for electricity and a switch to coal after Fukushima, which prompted a nuclear power phase-out. Coal use is down this year and renewables continue to gain electricity market share. Renewables already account for a quarter of Germany’s electrical production. The country plans to boost that share to 80 percent by 2050 — and put a million electric cars on the road by 2020.

    2013 CO2 emissions: 836 million tons

    2013 population: 80.6 million

    ___

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  • richardmitnick 1:11 pm on December 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Huffington Post, Van Allen radiation belt   

    From Huff Post: “Earth’s Invisible ‘Star Trek’ Force Field Protects You From Killer Electrons” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    12/01/2014
    Ed Mazza

    The Earth is surrounded by “killer electrons,” and it turns out one of the only things protecting us from them is an invisible force field of the type usually seen in sci-fi flicks.

    These electrons, part of the two Van Allen radiation belts that surround the planet, can knock satellites out of commission and threaten astronauts. But in a new study in the journal Nature, scientists say they’ve discovered that these electrons suddenly stop at about 7,200 miles above the surface of the Earth.

    vb
    Van Allen radiation belts (cross section)

    s

    “It’s almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space,” professor Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and lead author of the study, said in a news release. “Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on ‘Star Trek’ that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon.”

    While it had been speculated that Earth’s magnetic fields or even radio signals from human transmitters were blocking the electrons, Baker and his team say neither possibility explains the sudden wall the electrons appear to be hitting.

    “When you look at really energetic electrons, they can only come to within a certain distance from Earth,” Shri Kanekal, deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a co-author on the paper said. “This is completely new. We certainly didn’t expect that.”

    One possibility is the noisy hiss emerging from the planet’s plasmasphere. This hiss, which sounds like white noise, is caused by low-frequency electromagnetic waves, and those waves could be scattering the electrons, which travel at speeds of 100,000 miles per second.

    p
    http://plasmasphere.nasa.gov

    But Baker believes that’s not the only reason for the “force field” effect.

    “I think the key here is to keep observing the region in exquisite detail, which we can do because of the powerful instruments on the Van Allen probes,” Baker was quoted as saying. “If the sun really blasts the Earth’s magnetosphere with a coronal mass ejection, I suspect it will breach the shield for a period of time.”

    Baker and his fellow scientists have been using data from NASA’s two Van Allen Probes for their research. Beyond knowing that there’s a pretty cool force field above the planet, learning about it and how it functions can help protect spacecraft

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:32 am on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Huff Post: “NASA Is Building a Sustainable ‘Highway’ for Unprecedented Deep Space Exploration” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    11/20/2014
    Dan Dumbacher

    In early December, NASA will take an important step into the future with the first flight test of the Orion spacecraft — the first vehicle in history capable of taking humans to multiple destinations in deep space. And while this launch is an un-crewed test, it will be the first peek at how NASA has revamped itself since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

    NASA Orion Spacecraft
    NASA/Orion

    While the space shuttle achieved many ground-breaking accomplishments, it was limited to flights in low-Earth orbit (approx. 250 miles high). Its major goal, over the program’s last 10 years, was to launch and assemble the International Space Station, where the risks and challenges of long duration human space flight can be addressed and retired. With the ISS construction complete, NASA is in the process of handing over supply and crew transportation missions to private industry, so NASA can focus on what’s next – deep space exploration. And this first flight test of Orion is a significant milestone on the path to get us there.

    The flight itself will be challenging. Orion will fly 3,600 miles above Earth on a 4.5-hour mission to test many of the systems necessary for future human missions into deep space. After two orbits, Orion will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at almost 20,000 miles per hour, reaching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, before its parachute system deploys to slow the spacecraft for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

    While this launch is an important step to taking humans farther than we’ve ever gone before, it is important to note that it also reflects the fact that, after 30 years of space shuttle missions dominating its human spaceflight activities, NASA has reevaluated everything – from its rockets and launch facilities to how it designs and manages its programs. NASA has now infused innovation and flexibility into everything it does.

    With the Orion spacecraft, NASA wanted to develop a vehicle that could fly for decades with the flexibility to visit different destinations and safely return astronauts to Earth as the nation’s exploration goals evolve. As capable as the Apollo capsule was, the longest round trip mission to the Moon took 12 days. Orion is designed as a long-duration spacecraft that will allow us to undertake human missions to Mars – a two year round trip. In addition, NASA built enough capability into Orion so there is no need for redesign, or to start up a new program, as new destinations are identified.

    Innovation and flexibility are also evident with the ground infrastructure. At Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, NASA has eliminated the ground systems and launch pads that were built specifically for the space shuttle. They have developed a “clean pad” approach that can be used by a variety of launch vehicles. The new streamlined infrastructure will be much more cost-efficient, reducing the time for on-the-pad processing from 30 days, the space shuttle’s timeline, to just five to six days.

    The key to launching Orion on deep space exploration missions is NASA’s new “super rocket.” Known as the Space Launch System (SLS), it will be the most powerful rocket in history. The enormous power of the SLS will provide the capability to go farther into our solar system than humans have ever gone before. It will enable launches to other planets in less than half the time of any existing rocket. And, like Orion and the new ground systems at KSC, it is designed to be flexible and evolvable to meet a wide variety of crew and cargo mission requirements.

    The SLS is an absolute game-changer for ambitious robotic missions to the outer planets and large unprecedented astronomical observatories. Those missions will build on the discoveries of Curiosity on Mars, the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, and multiple robotic missions in the years ahead.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    Curiosity

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Webb Telescope
    NASA/Webb

    Through the development of the SLS and Orion, NASA has learned many lessons on how to streamline the design to make it more affordable than past systems. For the early missions, SLS will use heritage space shuttle hardware for the liquid engines and solid rocket boosters. Also, instead of initially building the “full-up” SLS, NASA has designed it to evolve by planning upgraded upper stages and boosters that future missions will require in the 2020’s and 2030’s. These innovations have allowed SLS to stay on a relatively flat budget throughout its design phase.

    Even the way NASA manages its programs has been revamped. The Agency’s management structure for systems engineering and integration has been streamlined to increase communication and enhance decision-making. Strong communication has led to increased precision, and the potential cost avoidance is close to $100 million per year. Evidence of these savings can be seen in the successful completions of Preliminary Design Reviews for Orion, SLS and KSC ground systems.

    As a nation, the U.S. has not sent crews beyond low Earth orbit since the last Apollo crew walked on the Moon in 1972. With Orion and SLS, America will have the fundamental capabilities to support missions taking the next steps into deep space, and with innovation and flexibility at the foundation of these programs, NASA is literally building a “Highway” for deep space exploration that will be sustainable for decades to come.

    See the full article here.

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    • jasper2489 11:19 am on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Reblogged this on On The First Page and commented:
      This is exciting. I hope this project actually does what NASA says it will. It means we may be finally taking space exploration more seriously.

      Like

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