Biggest Known Black Hole in the Universe!


Astronomers have identified the biggest known black hole in the universe. It is 6.4 billion times more massive than the Sun and lurking 60 million light-years away at the centre of a giant galaxy. The galaxy, called Messier 87 or M87, is a popular target for backyard stargazers in the constellation of Virgo and was suspected to contain a supermassive black hole. Now one of the world's most powerful computers has worked out that the cosmic cannibal is up to three times more massive than thought.

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Anyone want to go skiing on the moon?



A True Image from False Kiva

Today's picture is why you should never miss APOD!

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Cocktail Party Physics: to mars!

to mars!: "Say this to a physicist, you'll get one of two reactions: 'Yeah, go for it!' or 'Utter waste of perfectly good research funds.'"

Why hand wringing won't get us into space and inspiration is the best reason to go...



Living Universe Foundation WebRing

"The Living Universe Foundation is a grass roots movement for the development of ecologically sound technologies for healing the Earth and colonizing the oceans and space. This ring is open to all members of the foundation, or any website dedicated to science, technologies, projects, or societies interested in ocean and space colonization."

I started the LUF (Back then, the FMF) Ring around 1997. It's still live and kicking. You can use it to explore other sites (next | prev | random | hub) or add your site and join in!

Living Universe Foundation WebRing
Living Universe Foundation WebRing
[ Join Now | Ring Hub | Random | << Prev | Next >> ]

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Who's Afraid of a Solar Flare?

NASA - Who's Afraid of a Solar Flare?: "During the storms, something strange happened onboard the International Space Station (ISS): radiation levels dropped."

I found this interesting. During solar storms, the sun sends out corona mass ejections (CME). These produce deadly levels of radiation. However, they also deflect galactic cosmic radiation. Since we can shield against CMEs and not cosmic rays, it may actually be safer to travel during solar storms. Good times to visit the Moon and Mars may be around 2011 and 2022.

As an interesting aside, the solar storms of the coming solar maximum (2010-2012) may be the largest we've seen since 1958. During that maximum, people spotted the northern lights as far south as Mexico!.

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About Big Numbers


About Big Numbers:
"Explore the world of big numbers.
Discover how big and how small our world is.
How big is a zillion?
How small is a quadrillion?
Numbers and science.
From the atom to the universe.
Sun and sand and water and air.
And more."

This is a neat little site describing "big numbers." It traces powers of a thousand from ONE (100 = 10000) to a NOVEMVIGINTILLION (1090 or 100030) and finally it skips to a GOOGOL (10100).

Since it focuses on material numbers (like atoms in a cup of water or the volume of the galaxy in cubic inches) it kind of loses steam near the end. It doesn't go into numbers that can only be approached mathmatically like the GOOGLE PLEX (1010100) or even larger numbers that can't be written in scientific notation. I suppose that would be another story.



Greetings, Earthlings! -- from Google Mars

CNN.com - Greetings, Earthlings! -- from Google Mars - Mar 14, 2006

"First there was Google Earth, then Google Moon. On Monday, Google Inc. expanded its galactic reach by launching Google Mars."

I'll have to get me one of those!

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NASA - Mars Odyssey Imagery

NASA - Mars Odyssey Imagery: "A 'Grand Canyon of Mars' slices across the Red Planet near its equator. This canyon -- Valles Marineris, or the Mariner Valley -- is 10 times longer and deeper than Arizona's Grand Canyon, and 20 times wider. As the picture shows, you could drop the whole Los Angeles basin into a small part of Valles Marineris and leave plenty of room to spare. In length, the canyon extends far enough that it could reach across the United States from East Coast to West Coast, while its rim stands more than 25,000 feet high, nearly as tall as Earth's Mount Everest."

Several years worth of imagery and altimeter measurements have been combined into a 3D representation of Valles Marineris. This has produced the latest flythrough of the canyon.



Private Rocket Set for Late March

SPACE.com -- Flight of the Falcon: Private Rocket Set for Late March: "Another spot on the calendar has been targeted for the maiden takeoff of the privately built Falcon 1 launch vehicle, designed and constructed by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of El Segundo, California.
“Looks like we are on for a March 20-25 launch window,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX chairman and chief executive officer. “We are also going to do another static fire to check out the system about four days before launch,” he told SPACE.com.
Next month’s projected liftoff will take place from an equatorial launch site built by SpaceX at Kwajalein Atoll on the Pacific Ocean."

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Remembering Challenger 20 years later

Space History - MSNBC.com: "Remembering Challenger 20 years later
Twenty years ago, space shuttle Challenger blew apart into jets of fire and plumes of smoke, a terrifying sight witnessed by the families of the seven astronauts and onlookers who came to watch the historic launch of the first teacher in space."

I remember being told in high school by our home room teacher about the accident. I remember little else from home room, but I do remember that.

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Houses Woven Out of Trees Proposed

Discovery Channel :: News :: Houses Woven Out of Trees Proposed: "Growing a home from living trees instead of building a home from felled timber is the goal of an architect from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mitchell Joachim, part of the MIT Media Lab's Smart Cities Group, along with ecological engineer Lara Greden and architect Javier Arbona, propose a home that is actually an ecosystem.
The Fab Tree Hab goes beyond sustainable housing and so-called green design — building with materials that have a low impact on the environment and human health."

This could be more than the ultimate tree house experience. I could see this used in a science fiction context where a group of people and/or aliens use nature to fabricate their village. Architecture and family planning go hand in hand. If children are coming, plant trees for the extension. By the time they need their own rooms, the walls have been woven into place.

This could be used as a naturalistic interior of a space settlement. The hollow interior of the sphere, torus, or cylinder can be terraformed as a natural environment. Any structures needed can then be woven in place from trees and bushes. If the settlements have a relatively small population, they could live above ground in these houses. Otherwise they can live "below" in the shell, close to nature. Beyond the residential shell, are the hidden industrial and protective shells.

These ideas apply to terraformed domes, asteroids,and planets as well.

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Space Settlement - Colonizing the Cosmos!

Space Settlement - Colonizing the Cosmos!: "Today space is mostly rock and radiation. We can change that. In the 1970's Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill showed that we can build giant orbiting spaceships and live in them. These orbital space colonies could be wonderful places to live; about the size of a California beach town and endowed with weightless recreation, fantastic views, freedom, elbow-room in spades, and great wealth. In time, we may see hundreds of thousands of orbital space colonies in our solar system alone. Unlike earlier colonization events, no people need be oppressed and no ecosystems destroyed for the simple reason that there aren't any out there. If we do it, space colonization will be so important that only the origins of life itself is comparable. Even ocean-based Life's colonization of land half a billion years ago pales by comparison."


Press Release: Partial Ingredients for DNA and Protein Found Around Star

Press Release: Partial Ingredients for DNA and Protein Found Around Star: "NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered some of life's most basic ingredients in the dust swirling around a young star. The ingredients -- gaseous precursors to DNA and protein -- were detected in the star's terrestrial planet zone, a region where rocky planets such as Earth are thought to be born.
The findings represent the first time that these gases, called acetylene and hydrogen cyanide, have been found in a terrestrial planet zone outside of our own."

Artist concept of a young star system.
Credit: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Firefly lyrics

Firefly lyrics:
Firefly is one of my all time favorite TV series which was mercillessly slayed before it's prime. Here are the lyrics from a neat site Blackcatter's World of TV Theme Song Lyrics.

"Take my love. Take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care, I'm still free.
You can't take the sky from me.

Take me out to the black.
Tell 'em I ain't comin' back.
Burn the land And boil the sea.
You can't take the sky from me.

Have no place I can be since I found Serenity.
But you can't take the sky from me. "

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Thanksgiving in Space Could Look Different - Yahoo! News

Thanksgiving in Space Could Look Different - Yahoo! News: "During the six- to eight-month trip to Mars, space travelers will grow lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, green onions, radishes, bell peppers, strawberries, herbs and cabbage aboard their spacecraft.
And when they arrive at the Red Planet for a stay of about a year and a half, they will cultivate potatoes, soybeans, wheat, rice, peanuts and beans in soil-less hydroponic chambers, according to NASA's food scientists."

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CNN.com - Astronomers may have detected first starlight - Nov 2, 2005

CNN.com - Astronomers may have detected first starlight - Nov 2, 2005: "Researchers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland believe they have captured traces of radiation from long-extinguished stars that were 'born' during the universe's infancy.
The research represents the first tangible -- but not conclusive evidence of these earliest stars, which are thought to have produced the raw materials from which future stars, including our sun, were created.
The Big Bang, the explosion believed to have created the universe, is thought to have occurred 13.7 billion years ago. About 100 million years later, hydrogen atoms began to merge and ignite, creating brightly burning stars. Just what these stars were like wasn't clear."

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Rocket Equations

Rocket Equations: "Equations for model rocketeers - how to accurately predict speed and altitude for your rocket from weight, diameter, motor thrust and impulse."


Basics of Space Flight

Basics of Space Flight: "The people of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) create, manage and operate NASA projects of exploration throughout our solar system and beyond.
Basics of Space Flight is a training module designed primarily to help JPL operations people identify the range of concepts associated with deep space missions, and grasp the relationships these concepts exhibit. It also enjoys popularity among high school and college students, as well as faculty, and people everywhere who are interested in interplanetary space flight.
This website attempts to offer a broad scope, but limited depth, as a background for further investigation; many other resources are available, of course, for delving into each of the topics related here. Indeed, any one of these topics can involve a lifelong career of specialization. This module's purpose is met if the participant learns the scope of concepts that apply to interplanetary space exploration, and the relationships among them.
Basics of Space Flight is intended to be used online via the worldwide web (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/basics). Links to external sites provide further depth to many topics. There are interactive quizzes to let you check your own progress (no records are kept). No academic credit is offered for completion.
Interplanetary exploration begins . . . "

I keep intending to get around to reading this. Now it's right here for my convenience.



World's First Operational ''Spaceport'' for Private Space Launches

World's First Operational ''Spaceport'' for Private Space Launches to be Announced by New Mexico's Governor, Bill Richardson | SpaceRef - Your Space Reference: "On March 27, 2006, UP Aerospace, Inc. (www.upaerospace.com) -- heralding 'Unlimited Possibilities' for business and education -- will launch its SpaceLoft rocket on a sub-orbital flight from the New Mexico Spaceport. The flight will carry seven experimental and commercial payloads for a variety of scholastic and business entities. After traveling into space, the rocket and its payloads will land in the downrange area of the Spaceport.
The inaugural space launch will be announced tomorrow, September 7th, at 2:00 PM MT on the steps of New Mexico's State Capitol Building in Santa Fe. The announcement will take place in a combined press conference with Governor Richardson, New Mexico's government leadership, and the principals of UP Aerospace. "

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CNN.com - Solar spacecraft blasts off - Jun 21, 2005

CNN.com - Solar spacecraft blasts off - Jun 21, 2005: "A privately funded and experimental spacecraft blasted off on Tuesday from a Russian submarine in a venture funded by space enthusiasts who see their solar-driven orbiter as a way to reinvigorate a race to the stars.
Cosmos 1, the world's first solar sail spacecraft, launched in the tip of a converted Russian intercontinental ballistic missile from the Barents Sea for the start of a mission that cost just $4 million."

Up, up, and away....

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ON JUNE 21, 2005, THE WORLD'S FIRST SOLAR SAIL SPACECRAFT WILL BE LAUNCHED BY OUR PLANETARY SOCIETY LED TEAM - "Cosmos 1 is part of a grand new age of exploration that is unfurling about us. This is not a government funded mission -- nor do we expect a huge cash prize at the end. This is a mission of true exploration, sponsored by Cosmos Studios, and supported by Members of The Planetary Society from all over the world.

What do we expect? We expect to test a truly new type of technology – a Solar Sail Spacecraft. A technology that could some day take us to the stars."

In less than seven minutes from the time of this posting, COSMOS 1 is scheduled to launch...

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Wired News: Race for Next Space Prize Ignites

Wired News: Race for Next Space Prize Ignites: "Five to orbit is a significant number; it's the number required to win the next big space prize. America's Space Prize is a $50 million purse established last year by Las Vegas hotelier and, yes, space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow. Bigelow will award the money to the first U.S. company to build, without government funding, a spaceship that can send five people into orbit twice within 60 days. Bigelow has more than an academic interest in commercial spaceflight; through his Bigelow Aerospace, he's expanding his real estate empire off-planet with the first commercial space stations. While he can launch his stations on existing unmanned commercial rockets, he needs an orbital passenger vehicle to succeed in his venture."

It looks like people and companies are getting into position for the next big economic bang. This time it will be space ventures competing to get off the ground. A number of successful billionaires are running this space rush to orbit. It shouldn't be too much longer for the Moon, Near Earth Objects, and Mars to be within reach.

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When Fox canceled 'Firefly,' it ignited an Internet fan base whose burning desire for more led to 'Serenity'

When Fox canceled 'Firefly,' it ignited an Internet fan base whose burning desire for more led to 'Serenity': "When 'Firefly' was canceled, fans -- dubbed Browncoats in honor of the doomed-but-noble Independents -- campaigned to have it moved to another network. True to Browncoat tradition, they failed -- but their efforts convinced Fox to release the show as a DVD set that included three unaired episodes and behind-the-scenes extras. The DVD quickly sold more than 200,000 copies. Impressed, Universal Pictures climbed onboard, enabling Whedon to make 'Serenity' (due out Sept. 30), which picks up where the series left off."

Here are some links from the article for "Firefly" and "Serenity" Online:

And a couple more links:

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Space Settlements

Spreading life throughout the solar system: "Humanity has the power to fill outer space with life. Today our solar system is filled with plasma, gas, dust, rock, and radiation -- but very little life; just a thin film around the third rock from the Sun. We can change that. In the 1970's Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill with the help of NASA Ames Research Center and Stanford University showed that we can build giant orbiting spaceships and live in them. These orbital space colonies could be wonderful places to live; about the size of a California beach town and endowed with weightless recreation, fantastic views, freedom, elbow-room in spades, and great wealth. In time, we may see hundreds of thousands of orbital space settlement in our solar system alone. Building these settlements will be an evolutionary event of a magnitude similar to, if not greater than, ocean-based Life's colonization of land half a billion years ago."

This gives a detailed look at the process of colonizing the solar system through orbital space settlements. Although I believe a complete ecological model of space colonization will involve colonizing all bodies of the solar system in addition to orbital space settlements, I agree that the most important form will be the orbital colonies. This is the most universal and portable model here as well as in other star systems.


Earth as Seen from Mars

Earth as Seen from Mars | SpaceRef - Your Space Reference: "On its 449th martian day, or sol (April 29, 2005), NASA's Mars rover Opportunity woke up approximately an hour after sunset and took this picture of the fading twilight as the stars began to come out. Set against the fading red glow of the sky, the pale dot near the center of the picture is not a star, but a planet -- Earth. "

One day, this view will be taken in by human eyes...

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How to destroy the Earth

Sam's Archive - How to destroy the Earth "Destroying the Earth is harder than you may have been led to believe.

You've seen the action movies where the bad guy threatens to destroy the Earth. You've heard people on the news claiming that the next nuclear war or cutting down rainforests or persisting in releasing hideous quantities of pollution into the atmosphere threatens to end the world.


The Earth was built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you've had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy."

An entertaining look at the science of the "end of the world"--not "as we know it"--period!



FAQ: Bush's New Space Vision

FAQ: Bush's New Space Vision: "President Bush's Jan. 14 speech painted broad brushstrokes of his plan to put humans back on the Moon and send them to Mars. He will depend on NASA and a new commission to sketch in the details.
The information below includes the opinions of scientists and space analysts inside and outside NASA. Details attributed to the White House are drawn from internal position papers obtained by Space News and SPACE.com."

Here's a FAQ with details on Bush's vision for NASA. Considering the mothballing of NASA's shuttle fleet and the potential rise in commercial space access. NASA astronauts could be destined to take commercial flights to the ISS within the next 20 years or so.

With frequent commercial trips to Earth orbit, lunar, near Earth asteroids, and Mars will be much easier to reach. Perhaps this could accelerate NASA's goals over the next few decades. NASA would be working less on the infrastructure of space travel and focus more on the medical, industrial, exploratory, and astronomical sciences.

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Private Moon Trips Forecast

Private Moon Trips Forecast: "The personal spaceflight revolution now underway is spawning a suborbital travel market that will lead to passenger traffic headed into Earth orbit, Diamandis said. “In the next five to eight years we will have the first private orbital flights occurring,” he predicted.

Diamandis added that something very natural will happen when private orbital flights arise. “When you’re in orbit you are two-thirds of the way to anywhere,” he said.

“I predict that within about three years of private human orbital flights…you’ll have the first private teams of people stockpiling fuel on orbit and making a bee-line for the Moon,” Diamandis said."

Looks like commercial space flight might be taking off in a big way. Right now the US and China are planning to go back to the Moon and head for Mars. Could it be, that private space programs are getting ready to join the race?

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Virgin Galactic and the Future of Commercial Spaceflight

Virgin Galactic and the Future of Commercial Spaceflight: "The one space tourism venture that has garnered the most interest in recent months, however, has been Virgin Galactic. Days before the first Ansari X Prize flight, Virgin announced it was partnering with Scaled Composites and Mojave Aerospace Ventures—the joint venture of Scaled and financier Paul Allen—to create a suborbital space tourism business flying vehicles based upon SpaceShipOne."

Virgin Galactic plans to offer space tourism at prices starting at $200,000 a pop that may eventually fall to $25,000 a ride. The space travel adventure trip include several days training and a preview flight aboard the launch plane. With flights starting in 2008, they hope to reach profitability at around five years and to forge ahead with the commercialization of orbital flight.

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NASA Challenge: Pull Oxygen from Moon Dirt, Win $250,000

NASA Challenge: Pull Oxygen from Moon Dirt, Win $250,000: "The cash prize is the reward for winners of the agency’s Moon Regolith Oxygen (MoonROx) challenge, the third contest set by NASA to encourage commercial space industry.
In the MoonROx contest, NASA and the Florida Space Research Institute (FSRI) challenge inventors to pull at least 11 pounds (five kilograms) of breathable oxygen from a volcanic ash-derived lunar soil substitute called JSC-1.
But it doesn’t end there. Participants not only have to extract the oxygen, but must accomplish the feat within eight hours. The competition expires June 1, 2008."

Hey, I wouldn't mind trying out for this one! My wife is a chemist too. I think I'll start thumbing through her books when I get home...


Planet hunters lose out to Hubble rescue

Planet hunters lose out to Hubble rescue : Nature: "Astronomers' elation at the prospect of a rescue for the Hubble Space Telescope is turning to dismay as the price of saving the venerable observatory becomes clear."

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Tech Firms Owe Debt to 'Star Wars' Creator

Tech Firms Owe Debt to 'Star Wars' Creator: "In fact, dozens of groundbreaking technologies were initially developed at Lucasfilm Ltd.'s San Rafael headquarters, known as Skywalker Ranch.
“Half the technology companies here are spinoffs'' of a Lucas' company, said Robert Huebener, a former LucasArts videogame developer who in 1998 founded a competing firm in nearby Redwood City.
Perhaps not half, but the list of companies that in one way or another got their start at Skywalker Ranch is long."

The impact Lucas has had outside the movie industry is even more astounding that within it.

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Not So Picture Perfect: Proposed Lunar Landing Site Has Drawbacks

Not So Picture Perfect: Proposed Lunar Landing Site Has Drawbacks: "This euphoric “eternal light bandwagon” gripping perhaps most lunar enthusiasts and supporters seems all very much like the momentary delight and anticipation of the moth that sees a bright porch light or street light, and is drawn instinctively, unsuspectingly, to its certain doom. Yes, we need water. But we need more iron and other materials. So is it better to ship X tons of water to sites away from the poles, or 10X (to grab a figure) tons of other materials to the poles? The answer to that question seems to me to be a “no-brainer”."

For those interested in going to the moon as a next step toward colonization, the use of polar craters as base sites could hinder lunar development. The easy access to water and solar power is only available in sparse areas at the poles. Developing a moon base could be cheaper at thes locations. However, the necessity of the ability to collect and store power over the 14 day luner days and nights might be delayed leaving much of the moon uninhabitable. The author suggests tackling these problems upfront will lead to cheaper and faster access to the moon.

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Star Wars Special Feature

ROTTEN TOMATOES: Star Wars Special Feature: "The year was 1976, and a young filmmaker named George Lucas was coming off of the critical and box office success of a nostalgic ensemble comedy called 'American Graffiti.' George's current project was an outer space adventure called 'Star Wars,' and little did the filmmaker know what he was building at the time. Immediately upon its release in July of 1977, 'Star Wars' became a bona-fide cultural phenomenon. And now, 28 years later, Mr. Lucas is about to unleash the sixth and final entry in the 'Star Wars' saga, 'Revenge of the Sith,' to a planet full of devoted fans, unhappy skeptics, and young newcomers who've yet to experience what the excitement's all about.

In an effort to help those neophytes get up to speed, and maybe remind casual fans of the various plot divergences, we present a 'surface overview' of the story so far. "

(That could have used a vertical crawl animation...)

Finally, the circle is complete. The final story is revealed, and Vader is masked. I can't wait much longer.... Here's a guide to the movies from my favorite aggregate movie critic site: ROTTEN TOMATOES.

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Message from Wayne Hale

Message from Wayne Hale | SpaceRef - Your Space Reference: "It is no fun to come close to success just to find that more work is required. As a matter of fact, it is very difficult. Rather than complain that life unfair and we deserve better, it is time to be mature, to accept setback with a modicum of grace, and to pick up the shovel and start again to dig ourselves out of the hole."

I'd like to wish the new and improved NASA effort for safety. Hopefully, once these bitter trials are completed, the Shuttle will be retired (in 2010) without another tragedy. I do hope it returns to operation soon, but I certainly understand the need for caution.

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The Top 10 Space Imaginations at Work

The Top 10 Space Imaginations at Work: "The Top 10 Space Imaginations at Work
Space.com examines the top 10 imaginations at work in a swiftly changing space industry. They are the entrepreneurs, policy makers, and visionaries helping to push innovation and technology to new heights, as well as the scientists who remind us of the hopes, dreams and ambitions that the cosmos could fulfill. "

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Shuttle's Retirement May Affect ISS Construction

Shuttle's Retirement May Affect ISS Construction, NASA Chief Says

The shuttle is due to retire in 2010 and its replacement isn't due until 2014. And with the shuttle out of commission for two years, the space station's completion may be in jeopardy.

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Space venture of Amazon.com founder has West Texas county abuzz

Blue Origin

This looks really cool. An internet billionaire is running his own space program. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is using his money to get into the space tourism biz. His small space technology company has been working with space missions since 2003. He just bought some land in Texas for a space port for space tourism. His ultimate aim is space colonization. This looks like a company to watch.

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Pluto is a Planet

Pluto is a planet! At least, for now...

I'm a little torn on this issue. Pluto has always been a planet to me and I wouldn't want to see it go. Regardless of all the new minor planetary bodies out there that approach its size, I would prefer to see it stay one of the major planets.

I guess that's why this poll included the option of voting other major bodies into the fold. Some very large bodies like Sedna, Quaoar, and 2004DW approach Pluto's size. This makes the border between planet and non-planet seem arbitrary. But, in a sense it is. Like the border between planet an brown dwarf, there is plenty of gray area. The distinction between brown dwarf and star is obvious; is nuclear fusion going on? If yes, then it's a star, if no then it is a planet. Brown dwarfs fill this upper niche of planetary objects. But the distinction between brown dwarf and ordinary gas giant planet is less clear.

The other end isn't so clear. The we have Pluto and the other wannabes in close proximity of size shape and other properties. This makes the decision seem arbitrary and non-scientific. Much like the border between Europe and Aisa. It's just a line drawn in the sand. So clearly, without well defined criteria, the distinction between the two groups would be mere convention.

This convention began, I suspect, when Gallileo first turned a telescope to the skies. First moons were discovered orbiting Jupiter, then later other moving bodies were found in the skies. Originally, there were 7 "planets:" the moon, the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Basically anything that moved in the sky was a planet. Hence the meaning of the name: "wanderer." Then other bodies were found. Comets were discovered to be icy bodies that grew tails when close to the sun. Asterioids were rocky/metalic bodies with any volatiles boiled away long ago. An moons were easily catagorized as large rocky bodies orbiting a planet. For a long time, comets and asteroids were designated "minor planets" or sometimes "planetoids." However, that terminology faded away.

When the new planets Uranus and Neptune were discovered, they fit the planetary mold nicely. Nice, nearly circular orbits that fit snugly within the plane of the other planets. Easily visible disks as seen through the larger telescopes. And even moons circling each planet. They were found by tracing gravitational anomolies to their source. Then observing photographic plates for changes. When one of the "star" moved, it was determined to be the planet.

Pluto was a little different. It was discovered by tracing gravitational anomolies like Uranus and Neptune. Only, it turned out not to have the mass required to cause the effects they were looking for. It also had a much more elliptical orbit than the other planets and its orbit was tilted by a noticable angle. As a matter of fact, it even passes within Neptune's orbit for part of its orbit. And it is so small that for a very long time, we could resolve no more than a bright point.

Regardless, according to the Planet Society's poll, a slim majority would like Pluto to stay a planet. Though, there is a significant minority who thinks it should be downgraded.



New Worlds Atlas

Planet Quest: New Worlds Atlas "The New Worlds Atlas is a continuously updated database of all planets that have been discovered around stars other than the Sun. Begin exploring our extrasolar neighborhood in 3D by clicking the image at right (Shockwave required). You can also obtain profiles of each planetary system using the search engine..."