Physics Today Daily Edition
BBC: On 11 October CNN published an opinion piece written by President Obama in which he expanded on his previously stated goal of sending crewed missions to Mars by the 2030s. To achieve that goal, Obama wants to continue the partnership between NASA and private spaceflight companies in developing rockets and other technology. NASA already has a close relationship with companies such as SpaceX, which has been resupplying the International Space Station. Just a few weeks ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed his own ambitious plan to establish a permanent settlement on Mars.
New York Times: On 11 October a consortium of nonprofits announced a plan to build a half-meter space telescope to look for potentially habitable planets in the Alpha Centauri system. The data from the telescope would allow astronomers to closely analyze any planets found and potentially determine atmospheric composition. Alpha Centauri is a binary system that is located just 4.37 light-years away. Only the star Proxima Centauri, which is now known to host an Earth-sized planet in its habitable zone, is closer. However, the Alpha Centauri stars are much more Sun-like than Proxima Centauri. Jon Morse of the BoldlyGo Institute, one of the organizations leading the consortium, says that the telescope would likely cost between $25 million and $50 million, about one-third the price of a comparable NASA project. The plan is to raise funds through major donations, though the group may also turn to crowdsourcing.
IEEE Spectrum: Current state-of-the-art commercially available silicon transistors have 20 nm gates; the theoretical minimum for silicon transistors is 5 nm. Some researchers view that 5 nm threshold as the point at which Moore's law, which describes the doubling of the density of transistors on computer chips, will break down. Using molybdenum disulfide and carbon nanotubes, Ali Javey of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and his colleagues have now created a transistor with a gate that is just 1 nm across. Javey is quick to caution that their transistor is far from being commercializable. But simply showing that it is possible for transistors to have gates below the 5 nm mark leaves the door open for the continuation of Moore's law.
Nature: As more countries and commercial companies plan missions to Mars, NASA has begun to rethink its approach to studying the Red Planet. In the past, individual teams of scientists have proposed, built, and operated the scientific instruments that NASA launches into space. However, NASA's current Mars spacecraft are aging and it has just one new one scheduled to launch in 2020. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency, China, and the United Arab Emirates each plan to launch a rover or orbiter to Mars by 2020. And SpaceX could start sending its Red Dragon landers as early as 2018. As NASA's influence in space wanes, researchers may need to start applying for time to use scientific instruments already in place, much as astronomers do to use large telescopes. “The era that we all know and love and embrace is really coming to an end,” said Jim Watzin, head of NASA’s Mars exploration program, at a recent Mars advisory group meeting.
The Verge: When Hurricane Matthew first became a tropical storm on 28 September, it was not expected to become a major hurricane. However, it quickly turned into one, and by the time it hit several Caribbean islands, it had become a category 4 storm, the second-highest hurricane classification category. Hurricanes in the Atlantic are driven by warm winds traveling west from Africa and passing over warm ocean. The air lifts water vapor into the atmosphere, which lowers air pressure and creates more winds that feed into the cycle until a large storm gathers. Hurricane Matthew formed in an area where high-altitude winds were expected to prevent the storm from exceeding a category 3. Also, the storm did not lose as much energy as expected as it passed over islands in the Caribbean, which is why it remained a category 4 storm as it approached the US coast yesterday.
Los Angeles Times: On 5 October Blue Origin launched its New Shepard suborbital rocket for the fifth time. Instead of carrying its payload capsule into space, the spacecraft activated its in-flight escape system at an altitude of nearly 5 km. The ability to separate the capsule from its launch vehicle in the event of booster failure is a requirement for any spacecraft designed to carry passengers, and Blue Origin plans to use New Shepard for space tourism. The capsule successfully separated and deployed its parachutes, while the booster continued to its maximum altitude before safely returning to the launch site.