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Analysis and Comment (50)

Boeing’s X-51A Waverider (artist’s impression). Boeing’s X-51A Waverider (artist’s impression). US Air Force

Future of air travel: dinner in Sydney, London in time for The X-Factor?

When in 1873 Jules Verne published his novel of planet-trotting high adventure, the world was on the verge of an explosion in global travel. New trans-continental railways and the Suez canal promised an…
SpaceX’s Dragon capsule docked with the ISS in 2012, the first commercial flight to do so. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule docked with the ISS in 2012, the first commercial flight to do so. SpaceX

If space race is to return, we must ensure conflicts on Earth do not continue in space

It is three years since the final flight of the US space shuttle programme, during which time NASA has had to rely on the Russians, its allies, in space at least, to ferry astronauts and supplies between…
Boeing’s CST-100 selected as a passenger spacecraft. Boeing’s CST-100 selected as a passenger spacecraft. Boeing

Boeing and SpaceX are building new ‘space taxis’ for NASA

After a four-year competition, NASA has announced it has selected Boeing and SpaceX to take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The contract - worth US$6.8 billion - was announced as part…
The origin of today’s burst of energy has astronomers puzzled. The origin of today’s burst of energy has astronomers puzzled. AP Photographie /Flickr

Heavens above! What made the cosmic flash that lit Earth today?

A titanic eruption in our neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda, has sent shockwaves through the astronomical community here on Earth. NASA’s Swift satellite detected a flood of gamma rays at 21:15 UTC yesterday…
Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex has played a major role in exploring space. Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex has played a major role in exploring space. CSIRO/NASA

Australia’s part in 50 years of space exploration with NASA

Who can forget the hit movie The Dish and Australia’s role in beaming the first live television pictures of man’s first landing on the moon? Well, the filmmakers did play with the truth a bit but it did…
Maybe pink planets have life too. Maybe pink planets have life too. gsfc

Explainer: how do you find exoplanets?

Astronomers didn’t know, 20 years ago, whether planets existed around any stars other than the Sun. All that changed in 1995 with the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting the star 51 Pegasi. And by the beginning…
Lava-flooded craters and large expanses of smooth volcanic plains on Mercury’s surface. Lava-flooded craters and large expanses of smooth volcanic plains on Mercury’s surface. NASA

Explosive volcanoes light up Mercury’s deep past

Mercury has long been a mystery to scientists. Until recently, knowledge of the planet was limited to the grey, patchy landscape revealed by the Mariner 10 probe, NASA’s first mission to Mercury in the…
Is China our only hope? Is China our only hope? Alexander F. Yuan/AP

For our future in space, China must aim further than the Moon

A famous picture in the English edition of Newton’s “Principia” shows cannon balls being fired from the top of a mountain. If they go fast enough, their trajectory curves downward no more steeply than…
NASA has built up a strong network of science enthusiasts who can step in when the agency shuts down. NASA has built up a strong network of science enthusiasts who can step in when the agency shuts down. NASA HQ PHOTO

How Twitter fans kept NASA alive during the US shutdown

Now that the US government is back in business, all “non-essential” services will resume. For 15 days we went without NASA’s full operation, US Antarctic research and federally-funded clinical studies…
Two of Kepler’s four reaction wheels have stopped working, which may mean the end for the spacecraft. Two of Kepler’s four reaction wheels have stopped working, which may mean the end for the spacecraft. NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel

The end of Kepler? That would be universally bad

As I write this, engineers at NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technologies have their fingers crossed they’ll be able to restart the stricken Kepler space observatory, which has been in hibernation mode…
Plants located in your home or office are beneficial to your health in more ways than you might think. Plants located in your home or office are beneficial to your health in more ways than you might think. Miss Monk

Clearing the air: the hidden wonders of indoor plants

It may come as a surprise but air pollution levels indoors are almost always higher than outside, even in busy city centres. Even more surprising is that indoor plants have the ability to mitigate high…
The International Space Station after undocking from the now-retired Endeavour space shuttle. The International Space Station after undocking from the now-retired Endeavour space shuttle. NASA

Explainer: the International Space Station

As the most visible man-made object in the night sky the International Space Station (ISS) is of significance to humankind. It takes humans from being explorers of space to being residents of space. The…
Hands up if you want to be a citizen scientist. Hands up if you want to be a citizen scientist. __Jens__

Across the Zooniverse – keeping an eye on citizen astronomy

Amateur astronomers in Russia made a discovery last week any professional would envy - it seems they may have identified the remnants of the ill-fated Soviet Mars 3 lander, 30 years after it lost contact…
The commercialisation of space is already underway. The commercialisation of space is already underway. Rick Sternbach/Keck Institute for Space Studies

Buy, sell, lift-off: the global economy is going interplanetary

Harvesting space resources will raise living standards worldwide, without further damaging Earth. So how can those resources be tapped in a way that will produce a return on investment? That question may…
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has produced results consistent with the presence of dark matter. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has produced results consistent with the presence of dark matter. NASA

New light on dark matter: space station magnet attracts praise

Nobel prizewinner Samuel Ting, early this morning (AEDT), announced the first results from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) search for dark matter. The findings, published in Physical Review Letters…
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and his colleagues on the Apollo 11 mission inspired generations to be interested in lunar exploration. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and his colleagues on the Apollo 11 mission inspired generations to be interested in lunar exploration. EPA/NASA

Satellite of love: our on-off relationship with the moon

Like all relationships, our association with the moon has had its ups and downs. In this series we’ve talked about the nature of the satellite and how we think it was formed - in a giant collision that…
What do we know about how the moon was created? What do we know about how the moon was created? EPA/Ali Ali

Crash – a-ah! Our moon has a history of violence

The more we learn about the formation and evolution of our solar system, the more we realise it was far from a sedate, gentle process. Everywhere we look we find evidence the final stages of planetary…
The moon in total lunar eclipse as seen over Sydney in 2011. The moon in total lunar eclipse as seen over Sydney in 2011. AAP/Sydney Observatory

I see the moon: introducing our nearest neighbour

The moon. Our nearest neighbour. The main source of the ocean’s tides, and a beacon that drives the lives of animals across the globe. And also, to date, the only object beyond Earth on which humans have…
Observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes have revealed that a third radiation belt can sometimes appear above Earth. Observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes have revealed that a third radiation belt can sometimes appear above Earth. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA discovers a new radiation belt around Earth

NASA revealed this morning (AEST) that its Van Allen Probes have discovered a third, previously unknown, radiation belt around Earth. The belt appears to be transient, depending strongly on solar activity…
NASA’s RASSOR will be able to climb hills and, more importantly, extract water, ice and fuel from lunar soil. NASA’s RASSOR will be able to climb hills and, more importantly, extract water, ice and fuel from lunar soil. NASA

Space robots – coming soon to a planet near you

Earlier this week, NASA announced the development of a mining robot called RASSOR: the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot. RASSOR has been designed to assist in extracting water, ice and…
The red planet’s McLaughlin Crater may have contained water sourced from within the ground. The red planet’s McLaughlin Crater may have contained water sourced from within the ground. NASA

Hope springs: signs of life could be waiting for us on Mars

A recent article in Nature Geoscience suggests that at least one large, deep crater on Mars may once have supported an alkaline lake that was fed by water from kilometres below the planet’s surface. This…
Voyager 1 has come across an unexpected region of the solar system - a “magnetic superhighway”. Voyager 1 has come across an unexpected region of the solar system - a “magnetic superhighway”. NASA

Voyager 1 is leaving the solar system, but the journey continues

At 18.5 billion kilometres from Earth, the Voyager 1 space probe is the most distant human-made object ever to leave our planet. And now the spacecraft, which was launched in September 1977, has discovered…
The “Rocknest” site has been Curiosity’s laboratory for the past few months. The “Rocknest” site has been Curiosity’s laboratory for the past few months. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

NASA’s Curiosity shows there’s more to life than life

The Curiosity rover has landed on Mars, driven around, started its scientific mission and, as of 4am today (AEDT), started reporting integrated science results. In a news conference at the American Geophysical…
Meteorites from Mars may have seeded life on Earth – or not. Meteorites from Mars may have seeded life on Earth – or not. NASA

Just out of Curiosity, did life on Earth come from Mars?

In an announcement today, NASA poured cold water on rumours that its Curiosity rover had found life on Mars. Curiosity found evidence that it had landed on an ancient riverbed, and it identified some interesting…
It’s not everyday you get to chat with a spacecraft that’s nearing the edge of the solar system. It’s not everyday you get to chat with a spacecraft that’s nearing the edge of the solar system. NASA

An interview with Voyager 2 … at the edge of the solar system

Interviewing a spacecraft isn’t something one does every day. It certainly wasn’t an option back in the late 1970s, when Voyager 1 and 2 set off on a mission like no other before or since: to visit some…
NASA’s latest rover has touched down successfully on the red planet. NASA’s latest rover has touched down successfully on the red planet. NASA/JPL

NASA’s Curiosity is on Mars safely – so now what?

At 3.31pm today (AEST) the NASA control room in Pasadena, California erupted after people heard these three simple words: “touchdown signal detected”. This diminutive sentence signalled that the Curiosity…
The first pictures taken by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover after its successful landing on Mars. The first pictures taken by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover after its successful landing on Mars. Michael Nelson/EPA

Curiosity rover has landed on Mars … let the science begin

The Mars Science Laboratory, otherwise known as the Curiosity rover, has safely landed on the red planet. While NASA engineers can now breath a sigh of relief, for a small army of people, the work on Mars…
When Curiosity lands on Mars next Monday, expect the social media buzz to be out of this world. When Curiosity lands on Mars next Monday, expect the social media buzz to be out of this world. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Houston, we have check-in: Space 2.0 and the Curiosity landing

Social media is the new frontier for space exploration, shaping an age of innovative public participation in space missions. While online communities are a-Twitter about NBC’s poor Olympic coverage, there’s…
What surprises are beyond the horizon for NASA’s spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon, Charon? What surprises are beyond the horizon for NASA’s spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon, Charon? NASA

New Horizons: Pluto’s latest moon sets the stage for NASA’s mission

Last week, scientists using one of the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Cameras announced the discovery of a small moon orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto - the fifth satellite discovered in orbit around…
Asteroid impacts make for impressive images and movies, but how realistic is the threat? Asteroid impacts make for impressive images and movies, but how realistic is the threat? NASA

How to avoid an asteroid impact (without calling in Bruce Willis)

How many times have you read a headline about our impending doom due to a “Deep Impact”-style annihilation? In a way it’s not surprising – we have an insatiable appetite for disaster stories, a hunger…
There’ll be a human colony on the red planet by 2023 if Mars One has its way. There’ll be a human colony on the red planet by 2023 if Mars One has its way. Mars One

Big Brother on Mars: reality TV that’s out of this world?

Private space venture company Mars One announced earlier this month that it intends to send people on a one-way colonisation mission to Mars in 2023, largely funded by sales of the mission’s media rights…
The 8km-high volcano, Maat Mons, is only one of the reasons to head back to Venus. The 8km-high volcano, Maat Mons, is only one of the reasons to head back to Venus. NASA/JPL

Venus calling – let’s return to the planet of love

Last week the world stopped to watch as the black disc of Venus inched its way across the face of the sun. But beyond the transits that capture our attention roughly twice per century, Venus has always…
We’re a long way off finding little green men, but we might find evidence of life on Mars within a year. We’re a long way off finding little green men, but we might find evidence of life on Mars within a year.

Life on Mars: just add carbon and stir

The building blocks of life have been discovered on Mars … in Martian meteorites that fell to Earth. Let me rephrase that: according to a paper by published in Science Express on Friday, meteorites from…
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stands in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX’s launch site in Florida. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stands in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX’s launch site in Florida. SpaceX

SpaceX launch: the age of commercial spaceflight is here

Late tomorrow evening (AEST), all going well, a Falcon 9 rocket will lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. A few days after launch the craft will rendezvous in low-Earth orbit with the International Space…
You know how it is: you open the envelope, you’ve got the job, you’re walking on air. You know how it is: you open the envelope, you’ve got the job, you’re walking on air. NASA

Career high: what NASA is looking for in its new astronauts

NASA is currently poring over more than 6,000 applications for the next intake in its astronaut program - from which nine to 15 candidates will be successful. And while the Space Shuttle program is a thing…
Many exoplanets have been found, but there’s plenty left to uncover. Many exoplanets have been found, but there’s plenty left to uncover. Dallas1200am

Kepler’s findings are out of this world (and the best is yet to come)

Over the past few months, NASA’s Kepler mission has repeatedly made headlines with announcements of new and unusual planetary systems around other stars. To name a few, we’ve had the most densely packed…
Does the US suffer from its desire to go it alone in space? Does the US suffer from its desire to go it alone in space? NASA

NASA, we have a problem: why America is lost in space

In its newly released budget request to Congress, the Obama Administration is seeking to reduce NASA’s funding by US$59m to US$17.7 billion – a reduction of just 0.03%, not that you would know that from…
The Apollo missions yielded more than just great views of our home planet. The Apollo missions yielded more than just great views of our home planet. NASA

‘Moon rocks’ made here: tranquillityite discovered in Western Australia

By the time the Apollo Program ended in 1972 it had cost NASA roughly US$170 billion dollars (in today’s terms). It was seen as a waste of money by some, but almost 40 years since the launch of Apollo…
An ice-free world isn’t impossible – even though it seems the stuff of science fiction. An ice-free world isn’t impossible – even though it seems the stuff of science fiction. Alistair Knock

As emissions rise, we may be heading for an ice-free planet

Last December’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union featured three of the world’s leading climate scientists: James Hansen (NASA’s chief climate scientist), Elco Rohling (National Oceanography Centre…
Look on the bright side, earthlings: it’ll probably never happen. Look on the bright side, earthlings: it’ll probably never happen. Shanon Wise

Incoming! What are the odds you’ll get hit by NASA’s falling satellite?

You might want to look up. Or maybe not. At some point between now and Saturday, a 6.5 tonne, bus-sized NASA satellite will burst through Earth’s atmosphere, breaking into fiery chunks that could land…
Could Stanley Kubrick’s classic offer direction for the future of space travel? Could Stanley Kubrick’s classic offer direction for the future of space travel? slagheap

2011, a space odyssey – what comes after the Shuttle program?

Tomorrow morning (AEST), weather depending, the Space Shuttle Atlantis will blast off from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, marking the end of NASA’s 30-year-old Space Transportation System. But as the…
When a black hole devours a nearby star, bright gamma-ray flashes can result. When a black hole devours a nearby star, bright gamma-ray flashes can result. Mark Garlick (University of Warwick)

Death of a star: how radio waves can capture a cosmic obituary

Some 3.8 billion years ago a star in the constellation of Draco wandered a little too close to a nearby black hole. The star was violently torn apart by the black hole’s tidal forces, creating two massive…
Keeping the space shuttle together is a tremendous feat of engineering. Keeping the space shuttle together is a tremendous feat of engineering. Stan Honda/AFP

The shuttle launch: delayed (but still worth the Endeavour)

The Space Shuttle Endeavour, one of the most complex machines ever created, is about to take its last trip into space. But not just yet. The countdown to Endeavour’s final flight began a few days ago…
Scientists believe dark matter makes up 23% of the universe. Scientists believe dark matter makes up 23% of the universe. NASA

New chatter on dark matter

Dark matter has worked its way back into the news in the last few days with the completion of a detection experiment in a tunnel deep under the Italian Alps. Researchers from Columbia University used a…
Hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered, but are we any closer to finding life? Hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered, but are we any closer to finding life? AAP

Exoplanets: how the search for life became sexy

In the late 1980s, when I was a young whipper-snapper just starting out as an astronomer, it was quite obvious some fields had an incredibly high profile and others were outré. The sexy ideas at the time…

Research and News (5)

Research Briefs (11)

Looking for planets just like Earth

University of Auckland scientists have proposed a new way to find planets like Earth. The research strategy includes the…

Mars sand dunes on the move

New technology has allowed researchers to track the movements of sand dunes on Mars. Data captured from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance…

Vesta asteroid shown in new light

Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have revealed unusual geological features on the surface of the asteroid Vesta, one of…

Dark matter core challenges theories

The collision of several, massive galaxy clusters has left behind a clump of dark matter, potentially challenging existing…

Moon younger than previously thought

Analysis of a piece of lunar rock brought back to Earth by the 1972 Apollo 16 mission has shown that the moon may be much…