April 07, 2013

Carnival of Space 296

Welcome to the Carnival of Space 296. This week there is coverage of astronomy of Galaxies, trips to Mars, space technology and more.

1. Andrew Fraknoi highlights a remarkable image by Robert Gendler, a physician and amateur astronomer, assembled from Hubble and other data, that shows a galaxy like our own, but 50 million lightyears away.

NGC 7731

2. In the wake of Dennis Tito's Inspiration Mars announcement, Cheap Astronomy delivers a podcast on some of the practicalities of really doing a manned Mars mission.

3. NExtbigfuture covered the work of John Slough and his team who have calculating the potential for 30- and 90-day expeditions to Mars using a rocket powered by fusion, which would make the trip more practical and less costly. Is this really feasible? Slough and his colleagues at MSNW have demonstrated successful lab tests of all portions of the process. Now, the key will be combining each isolated test into a final experiment that produces fusion using this technology. The research team has developed a type of plasma that is encased in its own magnetic field. Nuclear fusion occurs when this plasma is compressed to high pressure with a magnetic field. The team has successfully tested this technique in the lab. The team is working to bring it all together by using the technology to compress the plasma and create nuclear fusion. Slough hopes to have everything ready for a first full fusion tests at the end of the summer, where they expect to achieve net gain (more energy out than they put in).

Looking for a good "coffee table" space book? Ray Sanders at has a review of "Your Ticket To The Universe" by Kimberly K Arcand, and Megan Watzke.

5. Taken Under The "Wing" Of The Small Magellanic Cloud with observations of the Chandra Xray space telescope.

The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbors. Even though it is a small, or so-called dwarf galaxy, the SMC is so bright that it is visible to the unaided eye from the Southern Hemisphere and near the equator. Modern astronomers are also interested in studying the SMC (and its cousin, the Large Magellanic Cloud), but for very different reasons. Because the SMC is so close and bright, it offers an opportunity to study phenomena that are difficult to examine in more distant galaxies.

New Chandra data of the SMC have provided one such discovery: the first detection of X-ray emission from young stars with masses similar to our Sun outside our Milky Way galaxy. The new Chandra observations of these low-mass stars were made of the region known as the "Wing" of the SMC. In this composite image of the Wing the Chandra data is shown in purple, optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope is shown in red, green and blue and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope is shown in red.

Wing of the Small Magellanic Cloud

6. TheSpaceWriter - Take up the cause of dark skies by crowdfunding translations of "Losing the Dark", a video about light pollution, and participating in International Dark Sky Week.

7. A reader asks Urban Astronomer how we're able to measure the mass of distant planets. Here are a few ideas as to how to go about it.

8. Follow the water? No, follow the Martian salt

9. Tranquility Base Blog - What happens if there's a crime committed aboard the International Space Station?

10. My Dark Sky covers the comet PanSTARRS

11. Astroblogger - While all eyes were on comet PanSTARRS, a kreutz comet made a final sundive

12. Astroblogger - The International Spacestation glides through Orion's Belt, with animation.

13. Nextbigfuture Alexander Bolonkin proposes a hypersonic ground based electric engine that is several times more efficient than railguns and more economical than maglev rail.

The main idea of the offered ground hypersonic electric engine is segmentation of the acceleration track on small special closed-loop sections (12.5 – 100 meters) and a system of special switches which allow return of the magnetic energy to the system transferring it to apparatus movement. This increases the efficiency of hypersonic engine up 90% (instead of 20-40% for a railgun). It avoids the burning of rails when using the engine for long periods of time. The same idea may be used in a conventional Rail Gun.

The feasibility and practicality of this invention was designed for the purpose of using it as a space launcher for astronauts and space load, as method for hypersonic long distance aviation and as method for supersonic passenger ground rail transportation. The offered system will be significantly cheaper than the currently used MagLev (Magnetic Levitation) systems, because the vehicle employs conventional wings for levitation and the hypersonic engine is very simple. The offered system may be also used for mass launch of projectiles as a weapon.

The suggested launcher is
* very simple
* uses conventional iron rails
* does not generate high heating
* can be produced with present technology.
* A large conventional power plant is enough for launching over ten tons into orbit.

Short Active Segments and feasibility of Hypersonic contact sections

Working hypersonic sliding contacts have been done but I am sure shoe life is short. Below is proof it can be done— this is the fastest pair of rocket sled records --about Mach 10 (2.5 km/s +) in 2003.

Note that lunar escape velocity is on the order of 2.38 km/s (5324 MPH) so even the 1982 test could have done that. I have not seen anyone mention in an an article about using a rocket sled for export of passive payloads from Moon to Earth—so consider this a first!

Wikipedia has land speed records for railed rocket sleds

A section of the system is presented in a schematic above.

It has two rails 1, 2, sliding jumper 3 and an electric current source 11. That part is same as conventional railguns. But unlike the railgun the path is divided into small sections which are only activated when the apparatus moves along in that section. In this design, the rails contain two special motionless jumpers 14, 15 and special three position electric switches 8. Every part of the railway contains two sections 17 and 16. In the first 5 section 17 the apparatus is accelerated by the outer electric source 11. And in the second section 16 the apparatus is accelerated by the internal inductive electric energy of that part. This operation significantly increases the efficiency coefficient, saves energy and saves the rails from thermal distraction which allows acceleration over any length which can therefore reach a very high speed.

Another cost saving feature is that in this design, the railway can be conventional iron rails (not from expensive copper) and small cross-section area which allows using the conventional high voltage electric line for delivering electric energy along the long acceleration distance.

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