Lunar Probe Prepares to Get Smashed
NASA proved it can still reach the moon with its latest pair of
probes, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)
and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). After separating shortly
after take-off, the two probes prepared for very different futures.
LCROSS is currently in an elongated polar Earth orbit, taking pictures
of the surface and beaming them back home. But on October 9, it
will smash head-first into the moon.
This is no idle whim. NASA plans to analyze the debris plumes kicked
up by LCROSS for the presence of water, water vapor, and other materials.
The information will be useful for any future missions to the moon,
especially manned ones. Discovering water on or near the moon's
surface, preferably in large quantities, would potentially make
it easier to set up a permanent manned base on the moon, or perhaps
even a lunar colony.
Meanwhile, what is the fate of LRO? It is currently orbiting the
moon with an eye to finding potential landing sites, “potential
resources,” study the radiation in the lunar environment, and test
out some of the advanced scientific instruments that have been created
since NASA's last unmanned visit to the moon over a decade ago.
As the Internet has also advanced considerably in that time, you
can also check out a Twitter feed from NASA covering the probes'
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Kodak Takes Our Kodachrome Away
Blame it on digital cameras if you must, but it had to happen sooner
or later. Just in time for summer vacations, Kodak announced that
it is discontinuing its Kodachrome color film, beloved of professional
photographers since 1935. The film produced images so vivid that
Paul Simon famously sang about them in one of his songs.
As such, it was the film used by National Geographic photographers,
and millions who grew up reading that magazine thrilled to the vivid
way it brought the exotic closer to home. Writing about it for Wired,
Jim Merithew observed that “Kodachrome's red was the hue that photographers
using other films could only dream of.”
Kodachrome could only be processed by a special Kodak lab; there
is only one of these left, and it will accept rolls up until the
end of next year. Kodak estimates that stores have enough supplies
on their shelves to last until fall 2009 before they run out. While
the basic laws of supply and demand have killed Kodachrome - Kodak
said declining demand basically made it not worth their while to
keep producing the film - there are now other films made by the
same company that “offer features that current Kodachrome users
would appreciate,” according to Kodak's press release.
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Deep Lab for Dark Matter
How do you find the most elusive substance in the universe? With
a lab burrowed 4,850 feet deep into the earth. At least, that's
what scientist hoped as they gathered at the Black Hills of South
Dakota near an old gold mine for a groundbreaking of sorts. They're
also hoping that lightning strikes twice: a portion of the gold
mine named the Davis Cavern hosted Nobel Prize-winning physics research
that demonstrated the existence of solar neutrinos.
But the research scientists hope to do in these caverns will be
even more difficult; they hope to prove the existence of dark matter.
Many scientists believe that the galaxies could not have formed
without dark matter, but very little is known about it. It is believed
that most of it contains no atoms and does not interact with ordinary
matter through electromagnetic forces.
So how will scientists detect it? They're building a 300-kilogram
tank of liquid xenon to capture the detection-defying particles.
Xenon is three times as heavy as water, and must be isolated underground
for the sake of the signal-to-noise ratio; such a tank placed above
ground would be bombarded by cosmic radiation, causing the detector
to record thousands of false positives. By detecting and studying
dark matter, scientists believe we will gain greater insight into
the Big Bang.
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