November 7th, 2014

Sy Liebergot

Space Updates

First, the bad...

Antares Explosion Investigation

Preliminary investigation points to the old Soviet rocket engines used by the vehicle. Specifically, the current theory is that the "failure likely originated in, or directly affected, the turbopump machinery", which then blew out (or as they put it "disassemble") the fuel feed system. (Hey, I just about called it!)

Loss of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic's vehicle SpaceShipTwo suffered a catastrophic failure on it's test flight. At around 50K feet and just above mach one the vehicle disintegrated. One of the pilots survived (miraculously!) but the other was lost.

Preliminary investigation points to pilot error, with one of them unlocking the feathering mechanism for the tail vanes before it was safe to do so. This likely led to the vehicle tumbling and coming apart at speed.

...and the good

Chang'e Returns from the Moon

The unmanned Chinese spacecraft Chang'e orbited the moon and took that absolutely fantastic image above. What a terrific photo!

The craft circled around the moon (it was a free-return trajectory so it didn't actually enter lunar orbit) and made its way back to Earth. Then it separated a capsule that returned safely to Earth and landed safely in Inner Mongolia. A real triumph for their space program!

Extrasolar Planetary Formation Disc

This beautiful photo was taken by the the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. It's a view of HL Tau, a star located approximately 450 light years from us. The photo shows a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust. The gaps in the disk indicate that emerging planets orbit around the star and are sweeping clear paths the same way that shepherd moons are observed to do in the rings of Saturn.

It's mind boggling to me that we're now able to get these images (and with terrestrial telescopes!) of the details of other solar systems. While the large disc is easier to image than small rocky planets, it's remarkable that we've been able to capture this and that it matches much about our theories of planetary system formation.