NASA going to Europa to look for life?

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Photo by: NASA Goddard Photo and Video’s photostream

According to recent reports, NASA is considering a mission to Europa. No, not that Europa. Or for that reason (yes, I’m Danish) to Lars von Trier’s movie.

No, the American space agency is considering sending two robotic landers to the Europa that orbits Jupiter.

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL are working on a plan that might launch the landers in 2020 and see them land of the moon six years later. The chief goal would be to investigate whether life could ever have existed there.

“Europa, I think, is the premier place to go for extant life,” Kevin Han, the JPL scientist who presented the basics of the mission at a meeting of the America Geophysical Union, said.

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NASA might have found smallest black hole yet

Image converted using ifftoany

According to media reports, a NASA satellite might have found the smallest black hole to date. Using the Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer, astronomers from NASA have identified a specific X-ray pattern known to indicate a black hole.

The new finding is supposed to be located between 16,000 and 56,000 light years away. At the present time, it hasn’t been possible to determine a more precise distance.

The black hole is thought to have a mass that is only three times that of our Sun.

Goodbye, Christopher

Polemicist is defined as a skilled debater in speech or writing. Christopher Hitchens was that and so much more.

Ever controversial and never afraid to go his own way, Hitchens, at various times, laid into people like Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa with his razor sharp tongue and pen, challenging both them and the way we, the rest of the world, viewed them.

He is now no more, having died of cancer. He was 62.

““In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist,” he wrote in one of his final pieces.

Goodbye, Christopher. We who remain will miss you.

Iran want to build the same drone that got shot down?

Recently, reports emerged that Iran had downed a US RQ-170 Sentinel Drone.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the Iranians are now saying that they are in the final stages of extracting data from the drone. The Iranian government said that it planned to use the data to sue the US for infringing on its airspace.

Interestingly enough, the Iranians claimed that they are also planning to replicate the drone aircraft through a process of reverse engineering.

Now several things strike me in this context.

One is the fact that there might be a couple of serious faults with the design of the RQ-170.

One is, of course, tied to the that the Iranians were apparently able to hit it. The RQ-170 is built by Lockheed Martin and most experts agree that it is a stealth drone, built for reconnaissance. In other words, it’s a spy that isn’t supposed to show up on the enemy’s radar.

And it obviously did.

The second problem is the fact that the Iranians are apparently able to extract data from the downed drone. You’d expect that the data in question would be heavily encrypted. making it hard for them to decipher it. You would probably also expect the drone to be fitted with some sort of kill switch, that would try to erase the data, if the craft was damaged. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

Now, perhaps the data the drone in question wasn’t thought to be valuable enough to engage such a kill switch, or perhaps such a device isn’t fitted to the RQ-170. In not, then recent event seem to indicate that it probably be in the future.

All of this does, in some ways, make it less likely for the Iranians to actually be advancing in leaps and bounds as they claim to be. Because if they’re having so few difficulties getting the data and were able to actually hit the RQ-170, then why would they want to build more of them?

It would be like witnessing the first incarnation of the famous/infamous Mercedes A-class failing the security tests and then proceeding to build thousands of them.

California going to build a bullet?

Photo by: Gene Hunt

520 miles of tracks from San Francisco to Los Angeles traversed in exactly two hours and 38 minutes, cutting three hours and 22 minutes of the current time it takes a train to travel between the two metropolitan areas.

That, in short, is the plan Californian legislators are hoping make come true. A plan they’re willing to spend a two figured number of billions of dollars on.

However, it’s a plan that many people in the US aren’t too pleased about.

Question of need aside, the project isn’t likely to be finished before some time during the 2030’s. And who knows what we’ll be driving by then?

Plus, the project isn’t anywhere near fully funded in a state that will need to cut their public spending next year by up to two billion dollars.

The idea still sounds fun, though. Who wouldn’t want to see the wine country whisking by at 200mph?

Science: Who’s working with who

Humans have been said to be visually orientated creatures. But, looking at row after row of numbers can make your head spin and make it impossible to make meaning of statistics.

Research analyst Olivier Beauchesne at Science-Metrix found a rather stunning and beautiful way around that, when trying to describe the way scientist collaborate on articles.

He produced a series of maps, each based bibliometric data from 2005 – 2009, that visualise the collaborations and makes sense of an enormous amount of data. The data does not cover all journals, but gives an indication of how scientists collaborate on articles.

You can see a number of high-resolution images of the results and learn more about the process by visiting his website here.

And here is a link to a zoomable version of the world map.

Fracking to blame for Ohio quakes

Must….not….must….resist..mmwweraughh….can’t….The people of Ohio might be shocked to hear (sorry for that, the pun just had to come out) that recent earth quakes that have hits parts of the Buckeye State might have been man-made. That is to say that the cause of the quakes might have been fracking.

Now state leaders have ordered four fluid-injection wells in the eastern area of the state to remain closed until further notice.

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