SpaceX, LADEE done, Israel to the moon, Vesta and Ceres together, almost the perfect exoplanet

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lots of things to mention today that have happened or been announced in the past few days.

Starting with SpaceX today which has done two noteworthy things today: first we have their first launch F9R which is the successor to Grasshopper, and one step closer to a reusable rocket. This first flight went off without a hitch, which is what we are coming to expect from them.

The second is their third flight to the ISS, which is another success. This flight was delayed a few times.

LADEE is done: it impacted the moon today. This was on purpose:

LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue science operations and was intentionally sent into the lunar surface. The spacecraft's orbit naturally decayed following the mission's final low-altitude science phase.

Israel to the moon: you may remember the name Sheldon Adelson, who donated a huge amount of money to the unsuccessful Romney campaign back in 2012. He is now going to donate $16 million to a much easier program, SpaceIL, which is one of the competitors for the Google Lunar X Prize. The beauty about this competition is that it has attracted competitors from nations that otherwise wouldn't be aiming at such a lofty target. Since SpaceIL has a budget of $36 million and the prize itself is $20 million, I assume this $16 million donation is a symbolic covering of the program cost on the assumption they will get the prize (20 + 16 = 36).

Vesta and Ceres are converging in the sky as viewed from Earth. If we look at Dawn's current position we can see why that is the case:

Current distance from Dawn to Ceres is now just 16.65 million km, which is three times closer than Venus ever gets to us, and 43 times the distance from us to the moon. Ceres is still just a bright star at this distance, of course.

Last but not least, we have the discovery of an exoplanet that is: 1) just about the same size as Earth, 2) within the habitable zone of its star. However, it is 3) 500 light years away. Were that number to be around 30 or so (and hopefully well under) it would be the perfect exoplanet discovery. At a distance of say 10 light years that gives us the possibility of sending a signal and having a possible response one decade later, but at 500 light years we would have to wait ten centuries. So it's not quite the discovery that we need to capture the attention of humanity as a whole.


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