This week in space: celestial smiles and more

By admin Feb 18, 2015

Amelia Smith, Staff Writer

With NASA’s budget up for 2015, the news about space exploration and research could be pretty grim. Recent years have not been kind to NASA’s budget, and for those of us who yearn for new heights of science, disappointment may be around the corner.

Lest we be too distraught, here’s a couple of recent space stories from our little planet and beyond.

Something to smile about:

A recent image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has caught people’s attention with a wide grin. The picture shows the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 (in the constellation Ursa Major, if you were wondering).

With a name like that, you’d be wondering what it has to be so happy about. The grin of the image is actually the result of the alignment of the galaxy cluster and the telescope, aided by the structure’s gravity field.

Galaxy clusters are massive, perhaps even the most massive structure of the universe, and they have such a strong gravitational pull that they warp the space-time around them, says the Space Agency. This warping bends, distorts and magnifies the light behind it. These gravitational lenses are referred to as Einstein Rings, as they can be explained by Einstein’s theory of relativity. At least we know that even if we’re alone in the universe, galaxy clusters will still be happy to see us.

SpaceX blasts off in round two:

About a month ago, SpaceX, the private spaceflight company headed by CEO and entrepreneur billionaire Elon Musk, attempted to land one of their rockets on a barge floating in the Atlantic ocean. Not everything went as planned, as the rocket exploded after hitting the barge at an angle.

The identified failure was due to the rocket running out of hydraulic fluid (Elon Musk didn’t seem too concerned, tweeting: “Next rocket landing on drone ship in 2 to 3 weeks w way more hydraulic fluid. At least it shd explode for a diff reason”).

The launch of the 14-story Falcon-9 rocket was supposed to take place on Sunday, but after a series of delays, was rescheduled for Wednesday. The ship took flight successfully, carrying with it the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a satellite project of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Air Force.

The satellite will monitor solar wind in real time. Weather events in space can have effects on earth, some of which could be fairly devastating.

Geomagnetic storms, which are caused by changes in solar wind, can lead to problems on Earth with the power grid and telecommunication. DSCOVR will increase the accuracy of NASA’s forecasts regarding space weather.

Unfortunately, due to extreme weather, there will not be a chance to test to see if the 50 percent extra hydraulic fluid would have resulted in a successful landing of the rocket’s initial stage.

Reliably recovering the first stage of a rocket like the Falcon-9 could revolutionize space flight because it means the possibility of re-using the nine engines. This would cut the cost of launch by a significant degree.

Musk also plans to improve “drone ship,” what he calls the automated barge the stage is supposed to land on, to be able to better handle adverse weather.

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