Monday, January 24, 2011

NASA's Solar Sail Makes Saving Throw, Orbits Earth

NASA had some amazingly good luck recently as its NanoSail-D spacecraft spontaneously came unstuck from its mother satellite and unfurled its solar sail. It has since been orbiting Earth. For the full story, go HERE to read the full article on NASA's science page.

Earlier in January, a defective spring aboard the FASTSAT mothership had prevented the NanoSail-D from separating from it. For reasons still unknown, however, it spontaneously launched itself free on January 17th. On January 20th, the spacecraft unfurled its solar sail, only the second such to be deployed in space after Japan's IKAROS probe last year, and the mission is now proceeding as scientists had hoped.

NASA has often caught a lot of bad luck in the past on too many missions, so its nice to see them catch some good luck for a change, especially in testing a technology that could be very vital to a number of future space efforts.

(Plus for those who didn't spend (mis-spend?) many hours of their youth playing tabletop RPGs, a 'saving throw' refers to a D&D trope where a character has to avoid a bad outcome by a literal roll of the dice.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Exoplanet Atlas

Wired recently put out THIS great graphic that illustrates in a layman-friendly way a lot of facts about the most interesting known exoplanets. Relatively sizes, distances, and temperatures, plus a quick primer on how exoplanets are discovered.

Exoplanets is one of the most exciting fields of astronomical study, and the one that may have the most long-range benefits. In terms of not only possibly finding other Earth-like worlds and alien life, but in more fully understanding the genesis and development of our own solar system. Plus of course there's the possibility, many centuries from now, our descendants may be visiting or perhaps even living on or around these far-off planets.

Anyway, check out the graphic!