The Week in Space: The Universe Does Not Care About Your Puny Holidays

Planets of the Solar System

 

Just when you think you’re going to have trouble finding blog topics during a sleepy holiday week, stuff starts happening in the cosmos. One natural occurrence, but two events related to human exploration. Let’s review:

 

Comet ISON (mostly) melts down

 

Since its discovery in September 2012, Comet ISON was shaping up to be one of the brightest objects we’ve ever seen flying through the night sky. Astronomers always tempered their descriptions of what was going to happen with this clause “IF it survives its solar flyby.” This proved to be a wise disclaimer. At first, it appeared as if the whole 2-kilometer wide dirty snowball had completely melted while passing just a million miles away from the incredibly hot surface of the sun. Yet this morning, other spacecraft could still see a trail of something along the presumed ISON trail.

 

This small remainder of the comet could still break apart by the time you read this, but there’s a small hope it could still brighten before it flies back by Earth. The good news is that more comets will be in the vicinity soon. The BBC reports:

 

In 11 months’ time, Comet Siding Spring will breeze past Mars at a distance of little more than 100,000km. And then in November 2014, Esa’s (the European Space Agency) Rosetta mission will attempt to place a probe on the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

 

 

SpaceX misses its launch date

 

Private launch company SpaceX failed twice to launch a TV satellite on Thursday. Both launches counted down to under a minute before an engine malfunction prevented launch. They may try again on Saturday. Best wishes!

 

Falcon rocket on the pad, Space Exploration Te...

Falcon rocket on the pad, Space Exploration Technologies, (SpaceX) Space Launch Complex – Three West (SLC-3W), Vandenberg Airforce Base Image (See talk page for GFDL permission notes and SpaceX contact information) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Chinese prepare for moon lander launch, and otherwise think big about space

 

After reading the BBC story on Comet ISON, this story caught my eye: Why China is Fixated on the Moon. Besides reporting on the upcoming Chang’e 3 mission that may launch this weekend, there was an interview with a “top Chinese scientist,” Ouyang Ziyuan of the department of lunar and deep space exploration.

 

Chang’e 3’s mission is to land on the moon and use a rover to explore its geology, the first time any craft from Earth has done that since the Soviets did in 1976. The Chinese hope to put a human on the moon in the near future.

 

Ouyang suggested that the moon could solve many, if not all, Earth’s energy problems. He envisions concentrating the energy from an array of solar panels on the moon and getting that energy back here. Similarly,

 

The Moon is also “so rich” in helium-3, which is a possible fuel for nuclear fusion, that this could “solve human beings’ energy demand for around 10,000 years at least”.

 

Cool, huh? If only a nation with a few more resources could envision using something so hot that it can destroy a 4.5-billion-year-old iceball in minutes to power generators on this planet. Hmmm….

 

 

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