R2-D2 On The Moon? Why Not!

"R2, where are you?" On the moon... Credit: NASA/Corbis/Ian O'Neill/Discovery News

“R2, where are you?” On the moon… Credit: NASA/Corbis/Ian O’Neill/Discovery News

Sometimes, all it takes is the slightest of hints before I start Photoshopping stuff on the Moon that shouldn’t be there.

We’ve seen the Banff crasher squirrel steal Buzz Aldrin’s thunder.

We’ve seen the Sarlacc monster gobble up the LCROSS booster.

(Meanwhile, on Mars, something odd happened to rover Spirit.)

And now! We have R2-D2 trundling across the lunar surface as the perfect Moon rover design for dodging levitating Moon dust. Don’t ask me, it’s SCIENCE!

(Note: The inspiration for R2-D2 was not my idea, blame Astronomy Now’s Keith Cooper for that stroke of genius. But the ‘shopping is totally my doing. I have a lot of time on my hands, apparently.)

Read more: Why R2-D2 Would be the PERFECT Moon Rover

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Vote Discovery News for a Shorty Award…

…otherwise some Twilight fan site might win. And that would be bad.

I don’t really get the whole smoldering vampire craze that’s going on at the moment, but the movies New Moon and Twilight certainly have fans going nutty about fangs and moody teenagers. I actually saw Twilight the other day, and it was the first film I’ve ever seen acted through… awkward glances. I felt embarrassed watching it. Not because it was bad; it’s that you really feel the teenage angst ooze from the DVD. For that reason alone it was certainly well acted. Will I watch the sequel New Moon? Probably, if I tripped, fell and found myself in a theater with a jumbo bag of popcorn. Of course not! (Might do.)

Anyhow, this Twilight thing has gotten out of hand, and in the “Oscars of Twitter” (the Shorty Awards), a Twilight fan club is powering up the charts in the #news category. Yes, that’s #news (note the bold hashtag there).

As none of the mainstream news heavyweights appear to be in contention for the #news title, Team Discovery News has decided to dominate this category, aiming to at least catch up with the teeny vampire fan club. But it’s not going to be easy, they have 450 votes. We have… 16. But from small acorns, a Discovery News Shorty Award may grow! Plus we only started campaigning today, so anything could happen.

So, if you’re a fan of the sci-tech news we produce at Discovery News, and you’ve been following our informative, witty, awesome tweets, please consider voting for us by tweeting:

I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because [insert reason here]

For example: “I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because their science news rocks my cosmos,” or “I nominate @Discovery_News for a Shorty Award in #news because vampires suck cheese.” You get the picture.

Alternatively you can place your vote on the Shorty Awards page and keep track on how @Discovery_News is doing.

As always you can also follow my awesome tweeting action on @Discovery_Space and @astroengine. My pet rabbit has also taken to microblogging, so you might want to get the inside scoop from him too: @Barney_Bunny.

Thanks to our Discovery News sustainable tech writer Alyssa Danigelis for the tip-off!

Chandrayaan-1 is Lost, Astroengine Appears on Al Jazeera

As far as blogging about space news goes, this is most definitely the pinnacle of my writing career. After hearing the frustrating news that the Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO) had lost touch with their Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission, I, of course, felt compelled to blog about it.

Not 24 hours later, I receive an email from the producer of an Al Jazeera news show called Inside Story asking me if I’d be interested in sharing my views about Chandrayaan-1 on the show early Monday morning. Hell yes!

So I spent the rest of Sunday cramming the (very interesting) history of the Indian space program, along with some of the specifics of Chandrayaan-1. By Monday, I was ready to go.

The filming for the show started at 7:05am in a studio in Culver City and lasted about 25 minutes. And it was a lot of fun! Check out the video above, I think the Inside Story production is highly professional, with a very BBC feel to it. I’m very happy to have been asked for my opinion live on air, on the international stage.

Although my brain wasn’t functioning particularly fast at such an early hour, I think it went well, and I eventually got my points across…

Let The Planet Seeding Begin! Comets Have Amino Acids Too…

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Yesterday, NASA announced exciting news about a discovery made by a NASA mission that did a cosmic dance with comet Wild 2 back in 2004. The Stardust mission managed to scoop an amino acid called glycine from the comets dusty tail, thereby proving it’s not just asteroids that contain this critical ingredient for life.

It’s not a particularly unexpected discovery that glycine is in a comet — we’ve found amino acids in meteorites before — but it does show that comets are another way that amino acids could have come to Earth,” lead researcher Jamie Elsila, with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told Irene Klotz from Discovery News.

Elsila and colleagues are responsible for developing a technique to extract and study the deposits of glycine from the aluminium foil that lined the probe’s collection plates. They confirmed the glycine was in fact of extraterrestrial origin (rather than contamination here on Earth), as the carbon atoms in the glycine molecules had an extra neutron in the nucleus. This means the glycine was formed in space.

We see in this comet that amino acids were forming at the earliest time in our solar system,” Mike Zolensky, a comet dust researcher from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said.

Zolensky suspects that heat from the radioactive decay of short-lived particles melted a piece of comet ice laced with organic compounds and water. This may have allowed the cosmic amino acid to form.

Now that an amino acid has been scraped off the collection plate of the Stardust mission, it would appear the building blocks for life are widely available throughout the Solar System (assuming comet Wild 2 isn’t a special case). Asteroids contain amino acids, as do meteorites, now it looks as if comets carry the building blocks for life too. This means early-Earth certainly had plenty of opportunities to acquire extra-terrestrial sources of amino acids…

Source: Irene Klotz, Discovery News Space Correspondent

Celebrating Apollo 11

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We’re currently having loads of fun over at Discovery Space, celebrating mankind’s biggest space achievement: when Apollo 11 landed on the moon 40 years ago. On July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history while Michael Collins orbited overhead. This was a key moment in space exploration that was followed by another 5 lunar landings until 1972. Unfortunately, that was it and the Apollo Program was gradually wound down…

However, the current plan is to get astronauts back to the moon by 2020, but how are we going to do it? Actually, the answer is far from clear-cut, and although NASA is pushing ahead with the development of Constellation, outspoken space advocates, such as Buzz Aldrin, are presenting some alternatives.

But in an interesting twist, after carrying out a two-week poll on Space Disco, I found that general opinion is stacked firmly in favour of a NASA return mission to the moon…

To find out more, dive right into the Discovery Space Wide Angle: The Moon Landings:

  • Interview with Buzz Aldrin: Should We Return To The Moon?
    Irene Klotz discusses the Apollo 11 landing with the second man on the moon. What are his opinions about NASA’s plans for a return trip?
  • Opinion: One Small Step: Why Step Back?
    We did it 40 years ago, what’s the point in retracing our steps when we could just mount a manned mission to Mars? Ian O’Neill discusses the pros and cons about NASA’s future exploration plans. Including results from the Discovery Space reader poll.

  • NEWS

  • Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11
    On July 20, it’s the 40th anniversary of first manned moon landing.
  • NASA Has Plan B to Launch U.S. to Moon
    NASA has a backup plan to launch crew and cargo to the moon, reduce the gap between shuttle retirement and a replacement ship’s debut, and save taxpayers billions of dollars.
  • Flying to the Moon: A Dead End?
    NASA will offer reporters an unprecedented chance to conduct interviews with scientists inside the lab that stores moon rocks Apollo astronauts collected during their six missions on July 2.
  • SLIDE SHOWS

  • Things You Didn’t Know About Apollo (HowStuffWorks)
    Did you know the Apollo 17 astronauts had to fix their lunar buggy with duct tape? Or that the Saturn V carrying Apollo 12 was struck by lightning 37 seconds after lift off? We investigate the little-known facts about the Apollo missions.
  • Top Ten Moon Mysteries (HowStuffWorks)
    It may be our natural satellite, easily observable in the night sky, but the moon still hides many secrets. Explore the lunar surface with us as we investigate some of the moon’s best kept secrets.

  • VIDEOS

  • Moon Missions 40th Anniversary
    The highlights from Apollo 11 archive footage and some of our favorite moments of astronauts exploring the moon.

  • FEATURE ARTICLES

  • Mining the Moon (IEEE Spectrum)
    We are told that one of the key reasons to set up a lunar base is to mine the moon for its abundance of natural resources, but is this realistic? In some ways yes, but there’s a lot of economics and politics to wade through first.

  • The End Of The Cult Of The Astronaut (IEEE Spectrum)
    Many in-space activities could be automated, negating the need for a human presence. However, taking astronauts out of the space exploration loop is as attractive as it is unpalatable. Is the astronaut surplus to requirements?

Discovery Space Quiz: Dalek Mothership?

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For my first Discovery Space Quiz, I was sent a selection of images from the Lowell Observatory StarTales Archive. On looking through the selection this week, one image grabbed my attention and I decided to use it in the monthly “What Is That?” quiz.

So what is it? The insides of a Dalek spaceship? A new hi-tech observatory? A washing machine drum?

Check out my space photo quiz on Discovery Space… you might be surprised by the answer…