Science VIDEO

Ride a rocket: from launch to landing on a sounding rocket.

NASA’s latest SDO (Solar Dynamics Observation) video is fun! While most of us have seen lots of Shuttle launches and even the occasional iPhone-equipped weather balloon launch, its somewhat rare to see the first-person launch of a more conventional rocket. This one appears to be just about man-sized, based on the end of the video where one of the operators retrieves the rocket from its landing position among what looks like saw grass.

Unlike the relatively straight-forward flight pattern of the shuttle or other manned space craft, for a small rocket, the ability to spin on launch helps it maintain a straight flight path, in the same way that rifled bullets fly straighter, farther than non-rifled bullets. The graph at the side of the video does a good job of explaining where in the launch the rocket is as it goes, and as always, the view of the Earth below is just intoxicating:

History Science VIDEO

From Tahiti to the ISS, Venus’ transit, exploration and the passage of history

At this point, photos coming from the International Space Station on a daily basis has become routine. You do realize, dear reader, how truly amazing that is all by itself?

But for us science bloggers who weren’t able to view the Venus transit across the sun, the ISS is once again going to deliver an incredible consolation prize in the form of photos taken by astronaut Don Pettit from the Space Station’s cupola. As common as photos are from ISS, this set will still be significant in that they represent only the third set of photos taken from the cupola, which features exceptionally-clear glass windows for perfect photography.

And of course, this will be the first set of photos of Venus’ transit from space. As the video below does a great job explaining, the cultural significance of this moment is not without precedent, as Captain James Cook observed the last Venus transit from the recently-discovered island of Tahiti.

It was originally though that Pettit would be able to release photos in real-time, but that doesn’t appear to have happened, based on his Twitter and Facebook profiles. Hopefully, we don’t have long to wait!

Rochester Technology VIDEO

C-3PO’s three foot high grandfather may be built at RIT

The school semester is winding down at local colleges and summer vacation is upon is, making this blogger’s life a whole lot harder. But before they locked up at RIT, they gave us one last nugget of awesomeness: that a new project aimed at creating an autonomous humanoid robot (automaton, if you like. Or android) will be housed on the RIT campus.

TigerBot is a 31″ high automaton built to scale of a human model. Its original intent was to design for robot-wonky things like collision-avoidance, wireless and voice control and interactivity, but the lead professor says it’s usefulness has gone well beyond that. In fact, the plan is to have TigerBot – or some derivation of – guide students through tours of the campus in years to come.

They consider TigerBot to be a “platform,” meaning that successive RIT robotics students will continue to expand on the original idea. Professor Sahin plans to have the robot completed in three years.

Space Porn VIDEO

Take a virtual flight into the dawn sky on asteroid Vesta

Miss the sunrise this morning? No worries. @NASAJPL (the Jet Propulsion Labs at NASA) gives you a virtual fly-over of the asteroid Vesta, composited from the many topographical photos taken by the Dawn mission. The video below shows the craters, mountains and other features of this 330 mile wide satellite that orbits our sun in the asteroid belt.

And Vesta is big: it comprises an estimated 9% of the total mass of the asteroid belt – which is the ring of asteroids and debris that orbits between Mars and Jupiter. It is considered the most geologically-diverse of the asteroids studied so far, containing huge features including a crater 285 miles across – nearly the whole diameter! – that is evidence of an impact with another object.

In fact, Vesta just behind to the dwarf planet Ceres in size, making it nearly big enough to sit in the same pantheon of semi-planets as the former planet Pluto.


Space Porn VIDEO

The NASA JPL NuStar telescope is a black hole hunter

How many black holes are in the observable universe? How fast do they spin?

These are just a few of the questions the @NASAJPL NuStar space telescope is set to answer soon. The NuStar space telescope is an x-ray telescope, which gives it the ability, just like medical telescopes, to peer beyond the things we cannot see with conventional light. And in addition to the free-floating black holes that exist, science now knows that the heart of every galaxy including the Milky Way is a black hole. So, getting past all the star-dust, suns and planets is key to understanding these ubiquitous mysteries of the universe.

For example, understanding how fast black holes spin is a key task for NuStar. As matter orbits any object in space, it generally falls in a circular pattern around the object. This is called an orbit. And orbits generally are not static: they either decay, eventually leaving the satellite to fall into its gravitational focus, or else the satellite may have too much mass or speed, in which case, it may fly free of its gravitational focus.

But with black holes, things work a little differently. As matter gets closer to a black hole, the black hole warps space and time, accelerating the matter. This in turn allows much more matter to orbit the black hole without actually falling in. If that sounds counterintuitive for black holes, which we think of as space dustbusters, it is. Yet more mystery.