US Astronaut Casts His Ballot From Space

Election Day 2016: US Astronaut Casts His Ballot From Space
Astronaut Shane Kimbrough, the only US citizen in space on Election Day, cast his vote from the International Space Station (ISS), NASA said Tuesday.

Kimbrough, 45, who arrived on board the ISS in mid-October, exercised his right to vote from the space platform orbiting the Earth at 27,000kms (17,780 miles) per hour.

“An electronic and secure ballot is sent to the member of the ISS crew from the clerk in his county. (The astronaut) fills in the form and returns it electronically. It’s all secure. It is all private,” Efe news agency cited a NASA statement.

A 1997 Texas law allows astronauts away from Earth to vote on Election Day provided, they request their ballots one year before launch.

Before launching on a four-month mission, Kimbrough said it was going to be special, being able to say ‘I voted from space’, Daily Mail reported.
Astronauts are ‘pretty much apolitical,’ he told reporters last month adding that he will be glad to welcome the new president, whoever it may be.
Previous US crewmember on board the ISS, astronaut Kate Rubins, also voted from space before returning to Earth last week.

Scientists Create Detailed Map of the Milky Way

Scientists Create Detailed Map of the Milky Way

Scientists have created a detailed map of the Milky Way using two large fully steerable radio telescopes in Germany and Australia.

The study reveals fine details of structures between stars in the Milky Way for the first time, said Professor Lister Staveley-Smith from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia.The research looked at neutral atomic hydrogen – the most abundant element in space and the main component of stars and galaxies – across the whole sky in a survey known as HI4PI.

The project required more than a million individual observations and about ten billion individual data points. Although neutral hydrogen is fairly easy to detect with modern radio telescopes, mapping the whole sky is a significant achievement, Juergen Kerp from University of Bonn in Germany.

“Radio ‘noise’ caused by mobile phones and broadcast stations pollute the faint emissions coming from stars and galaxies in the Universe,” he said. “So sophisticated computer algorithms have to be developed to clean each individual data point of this unwanted human interference. Next to the thousands of observing hours an even larger amount of time has been spent creating the final scientific data product released today,” Kerp explained.

The survey used Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research¬†Organisation’s Parkes Observatory in Australia and the Effelsberg 100m Radio Telescope operated by the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

It improves the previous neutral hydrogen study, the Leiden-Argentine-Bonn (LAB) survey, by a factor of two in sensitivity and a factor of four in angular resolution, said the study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Having a clearer picture of the hydrogen in the Milky Way would also help astronomers to explore galaxies even at cosmological distances, Benjamin Winkel from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy said.


China Launches Its Second Space Lab

China Launches Its Second Space Lab

China launched its second space lab Thursday, official media said, as the country works towards setting up its own manned space station by 2022.

The Tiangong-2 blasted off just after 10:00 pm (1400 GMT) “in a cloud of smoke” from the Gobi desert, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

State television CCTV broadcast images of the Long March-2F rocket’s engines igniting in tandem before slowly lifting into the air and exiting the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, leaving a long trail of flames in its wake.

The 8.6 tonne Tinagong-2 – or Heavenly Palace-2 – will initially orbit at a height of around 380 kilometres (240 miles) above earth, Xinhua cited Wu Ping, deputy director of China’s manned space engineering office, as saying.

It will then move slightly higher to allow the Shenzhou-11 mission to transport two astronauts to the facility, where they will stay for 30 days.

Once inside Tiangong-2, the two astronauts will carry out research projects related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, atomic space clocks and solar storm research.

Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China’s manned space program, said Tiangong-2 also aimed to verify technology involved in the construction of the space station.

“It has the basic technological capacity of a space station,” Zhou said.

“Once the space lab mission comes to an end, China will start building our own space station,” he said, adding this could start in as early as 2017.

In April 2017, China’s first space cargo ship Tianzhou-1 will be sent towards the space lab, providing fuel and other supplies.

China is pouring billions into its space programme and working to catch up with the US and Europe.

It hopes to have a crewed outpost by 2022.

China’s first space lab, Tiangong-1, was launched in September 2011 and ended transmissions in March this year. It is expected to fall back to Earth in the second half of 2017.

Beijing sees its military-run space programme as symbolising the country’s progress and a marker of its rising global stature.

The nation’s first lunar rover was launched in late 2013, and while it was beset by mechanical troubles it far outlived its expected lifespan, finally shutting down only last month.

But for the most part China has so far replicated activities that the US and Soviet Union pioneered decades ago.

As well as building a Chinese space station, it intends to eventually put one of its citizens on the surface of the moon.

It announced in April it aims to send a spacecraft “around 2020” to orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover to explore the surface.


New Method to 3D Print Customised Medical Devices Developed

Researchers have developed a 3D printing technology that creates medical devices such as catheters for premature newborns and surgical implants customised according to individual patients.

The biomedical devices they are developing will be both stronger and lighter than current models and, with their customised design, ensure an appropriate fit.

One specific application of this new technology is developing patient-specific catheters, especially for premature newborns.

“With neonatal care, each baby is a different size, each baby has a different set of problems,” said lead researcher Randall Erb, assistant professor at Northeastern University in US.

“If you can print a catheter whose geometry is specific to the individual patient, you can insert it up to a certain critical spot, you can avoid puncturing veins, and you can expedite delivery of the contents,” said Erb.

The new technology enables researchers to control how the ceramic fibres are arranged – and hence control the mechanical properties of the material itself, the researchers said.

That control is critical if you are crafting devices with complex architectures, such as customised miniature biomedical devices.

Within a single patient-specific device, the corners, the curves, and the holes must all be reinforced by ceramic fibres arranged in just the right configuration to make the device durable.

This is the strategy taken by many natural composites from bones to trees.

“We are following nature’s lead by taking really simple building blocks but organising them in a fashion that results in really impressive mechanical properties,” said Joshua Martin, a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University.

Using magnets, Erb and Martin’s 3D printing method aligns each minuscule fibre in the direction that conforms precisely to the geometry of the item being printed.

The magnets are the defining ingredient in their 3D printing technology.

First the researchers “magnetise” the ceramic fibres by dusting them very lightly with iron oxide, which, Martin notes, has already been approved by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for drug-delivery applications.

They then apply ultralow magnetic fields to individual sections of the composite material – the ceramic fibres immersed in liquid plastic – to align the fibres according to the exacting specifications dictated by the product they are printing.

Finally, in a process called “stereolithography,” they build the product, layer by layer, using a computer-controlled laser beam that hardens the plastic. Each six-by-six inch layer takes a mere minute to complete.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Massive Galaxy Cluster Spotted 8.5 Billion Light-Years Away

Astronomers have discovered a giant cluster of galaxies in a very remote part of the universe that is touted as the most massive structure yet found at such great distance.

The galaxy cluster, located 8.5 billion light-years away, was spotted with Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

Galaxy clusters are gravitationally bound groups of thousands of galaxies, which contain hundreds of billions of stars.

The clusters grow bigger and bigger over time as they acquire new members.

“Based on our understanding of how galaxy clusters grow from the very beginning of our universe, this cluster should be one of the five most massive in existence at that time,” said study co-author Peter Eisenhardt, project scientist for WISE at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The galaxy cluster — called Massive Overdense Object (MOO) J1142+1527 — existed 8.5 billion years ago, long before Earth was formed.

In coming years, the team plans to sift through more than 1,700 additional galaxy cluster candidates with Spitzer, looking for the biggest of the bunch.

“Once we find the most massive clusters, we can start to investigate how galaxies evolved in these extreme environments,” the authors noted in a Nasa statement.

Drones to Help Create Self-Repairing Cities of the Future

An army of drones could soon keep a watchful eye over streets in the UK, repairing things like potholes and busted street lamps, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Leeds in UK are leading a pioneering GBP 4.2 million national infrastructure research project with the vision of creating self-repairing cities.

The project could soon see an army of drones that detect problems with infrastructure as soon as they pop up, to prevent them developing into inconvenient roadworks or other larger repair projects,’Gizmag’ reported.

“We want to make Leeds the first city in the world to have zero disruption from street works,” said Phil Purnell, professor at the university’s School of Civil Engineering.

“We can support infrastructure which can be entirely maintained by robots and make the disruption caused by the constant digging up the road in our cities a thing of the past,” Purnell said.

The researchers will initially develop new robot designs and technologies in three areas – “Perch and Repair”, “Perceive and Patch” and “Fire and forget”.

“Perch and Repair” aims to develop drones that can perch on structures like birds at height and perform repair tasks, such as repairing street lights.

The second, “Perceive and Patch” will develop drones able to autonomously inspect, diagnose, repair and prevent potholes in roads.

“Fire and forget” aims to develop robots which will operate indefinitely within live utility pipes performing inspection, repair, metering and reporting tasks. “Detecting faults and weaknesses early and then quickly performing smart repairs is the key,” said Rob Richardson, director of the National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems at the university.

“Our robots will undertake precision repairs and avoid the need for large construction vehicles in the heart of our cities. We will use the unique capabilities of our robotic facility to make new, more capable robots,” Richardson said.

“The critical part of this project is being proactive rather than reactive,” said Raul Fuentes, from the School of Civil Engineering at the university. “This is crucial to ensuring we have sustainable and resilient infrastructure. We will target our interventions so that they are invisible to the human eye, before they become a real problem,” he said.

Nasa’s New Horizons Probe Reveals Last of Pluto’s Moons

Interplanetary space probe New Horizons has sent the images of Pluto’s moon Kerberos, which appears to be smaller than scientists expected and has a highly-reflective surface.

Kerberos appears to have a double-lobed shape, around 12 km in its long dimension and 4.5 km in its shortest dimension, US space agency Nasa said in a statement.

“Once again, the Pluto system has surprised us,” said New Horizons project scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

An image of Kerberos was created by combining four Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) pictures taken on July 14. The new data was downlinked from the New Horizons spacecraft on October 20.

Scientists speculate from its unusual shape that Kerberos could have been formed by the merger of two smaller objects.

The reflectivity of Kerberos’ surface is similar to that of Pluto’s other small moons (approximately 50 percent) and strongly suggests Kerberos, like the others, is coated with relatively clean water ice.

Earlier, scientists theorised Kerberos was relatively large and massive, appearing faint only because its surface was covered in dark material.

But the small, bright-surfaced Kerberos now revealed in new images shows that the idea was incorrect, for reasons that are not yet understood.

“Our predictions were nearly spot-on for other small moons, but not for Kerberos,” said New Horizons co-investigator Mark Showalter, of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

The new results are expected to lead to a better understanding of Pluto’s fascinating satellite system.

The images of Kerberos taken by Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft complete the family portrait of Pluto’s moons – Styx, Nix, Kerberos, Hydra and Charon.

Ozone Depletion by Refrigerators, Automobile ACs Small but Measurable

A class of chemical coolants used in refrigerators and in home and automobile air conditioners contributes to ozone depletion by a small but measurable amount, says a new Nasa study.

The ozone layer comprises a belt of ozone molecules located primarily in the lower stratosphere. It is responsible for absorbing most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation before it reaches Earth’s surface.

The researchers estimated that the common chemical coolants known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) will cause a 0.035 percent decrease in ozone by 2050.

“We are not suggesting HFCs are an existential threat to the ozone layer or to ozone hole recovery, but the impact is not zero as has been claimed,” said lead study author Margaret Hurwitz, atmospheric scientist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The study, which focused on the five types of HFCs expected to contribute the most to global warming in 2050, found that the gases indirectly contribute to ozone depletion.

HFC emissions cause increased warming of the stratosphere, speeding up the chemical reactions that destroy ozone molecules, and they also decrease ozone levels in the tropics by accelerating the upward movement of ozone-poor air, the findings showed.

HFCs have been adopted as replacements for chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) in refrigerators and in home and automobile air conditioners.

CFCs were largely responsible for the ozone depletion first observed by scientists in the 1980s, most notably the ozone hole above Antarctica, which continues today.

“HFCs are, in fact, weak ozone-depleting substances,” Hurwitz noted.

But the scientists also found that HFCs have a nearly linear impact on stratospheric temperature and ozone change.

For example, reducing HFC emissions by 50 percent would decrease the ozone change by a comparable amount.

Such a direct relationship will prove useful for evaluating the impacts of emerging HFCs, Hurwitz said.

“We can provide policy makers with an estimate of the stratospheric impacts of new HFC gases,” Hurwitz noted.

While HFCs are only weak ozone-depleting substances, they are, like CFCs and HCFCs, strong greenhouse gases. If production trends continue, projections show that, by 2050, the amount of global warming by all HFCs could be as large as 20 percent that of carbon dioxide, the study pointed out.

The findings appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Nasa’s Space Launch System Clears Critical Design

For the first time in almost 40 years, Nasa has completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review (CDR) for the most powerful rocket ever built that will take humans to deeper space missions, including Mars.

The agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) is the first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars and the first exploration class rocket since the Saturn V.

SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit.

“We have successfully completed the first round of testing of the rocket’s engines and boosters and all the major components for the first flight are now in production,” explained Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of Nasa’s Exploration Systems Development Division.

“This review gives us confidence that we are on the right track for the first flight of SLS and using it to extend permanent human presence into deep space,” he added.

This review is the last of four reviews that examine concepts and designs.

The next step for the programme is design certification, which will take place in 2017 after manufacturing, integration and testing is complete.

The design certification will compare the actual final product to the rocket’s design.

The final review, the flight readiness review, will take place just prior to the 2018 flight readiness date.

“This is a major step in the design and readiness of SLS,” added John Honeycutt, SLS programme manager.

The core stage of SLS, towering more than 200 feet tall and with a diameter of 27.6 feet, will carry cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel for the rocket’s four RS-25 engines.

Nasa recently completed the first developmental test series on the RS-25 engines.

Astronomers Compile Largest Ever Photo of the Milky Way

Astronomers at a German university have compiled a picture of the Milky Way that contains 46 billion pixels the largest astronomical image to date.

The image containing data gathered in astronomical observations over a period of five years was compiled by the astronomers at the Ruhr-University Bochum. It can be seen by an online tool, according to the university.

“For five years, the astronomers from Bochum have been monitoring our Galaxy in the search of objects with variable brightness. Those objects may, for example, include stars in front of which a planet is passing, or multiple systems where stars orbit each other and which obscure each other every now and then,” the university said in a statement on Wednesday.

The team, headed by professor Rolf Chini from the Chair of Astrophysics, has assembled the individual images of the 268 sections into one comprehensive image. Following a calculation period of several weeks, they created a 194 Gigabyte file, into which images taken with different filters have been entered.

“Using the online tool, any interested person can view the complete ribbon of the Milky Way at a glance, or zoom in and inspect specific areas,” the university statement said.

An input window, which provides the position of the displayed image section, can be used to search for specific objects, it added.

The astronomers used the telescopes at Bochum university’s observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile to gather data for over five years to compile the picture.

The online tool to view the Milky Way photo can be accessed at