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Felix Baumgartner Makes Record-Breaking Jump From The Edge Of Space

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Felix Baumgartner prepares to make a 96,000 foot test jump. Photo:

After 5 years of preparation, a lawsuit, a 96,000-foot test jump, and wind that twice delayed his attempt, Felix Baumgartner finally made the highest and fastest jump in history yesterday. “I know the whole world is watching, and I wish the whole world could see what I see,” he said as he stood 128,100 feet above the Earth. “Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.” Then he jumped.

Baumgartner, 43, was delivered to those great heights by 40-acre, ultrathin plastic balloon—the largest ever made for a manned flight—attached to a bell-shaped, pressurized capsule that contained 10 hours of oxygen in the event that he had to ride it back down. The previous record holder, Joe Kittinger (who jumped from 102,800 feet as part of Project Manhigh in 1960) served as CAPCOM, or capsule communicator, and guided Baumgartner through the mission.

When he leapt, Baumgartner—who was already an accomplished BASE jumper—plummeted in a free fall for 4 minutes and 20 seconds. He fell 119,846 feet, reaching 833.9mph (Mach 1.24) and breaking the speed of sound, before deploying his parachute.

Though the jump was a success, it was by no means picture perfect: On the ascent, Baumgartner reported a problem with the device that heated his faceplate, which caused it to fog up. During the freefall, his faceplate fogged, his leg swelled up, and he went into a flat spin and barrel roll. “There was a period of time I thought I was in real trouble,” he said at the press conference after the jump. He had the option to use his emergency drogue chute, which would have stabilized him. “I knew if I pushed that button I would not go supersonic. I somehow have to make that call: Do I push that button and stay alive, or do I push through and break the speed of sound?" The drogue would have deployed automatically if the sensors on his suit registered over 3.5 Gs for more than 6 seconds, but Baumgartner was able to quickly stablize himself and maneuver into position to break the speed of sound.

Baumgartner broke three records on the Red Bull-sponsored mission: fastest free fall, highest manned balloon flight, and highest freefall (Kittinger’s record for longest freefall—4 minutes, 36 seconds—still stands). Scientists will use the data to help future pilots, astronauts and space travelers survive. But Baumgartner said that as he stood on top of the world, he wasn't thinking about any of that. “You become so humble," he said. "You do not think about breaking records anymore. You do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is you want to come back alive.”

UPDATE: Now you can see part of Baumgartner's jump from his point of view—check out the video from the headcam he wore during the jump:

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Gregory H. Revera, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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Space
Study Suggests There's Water Beneath the Moon's Surface
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Gregory H. Revera, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Astronauts may not need to go far to find water outside Earth. As CNN reports, Brown University scientists Ralph E. Milliken and Shuai Li suspect there are significant amounts of water churning within the Moon’s interior.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, lean on the discovery of glass beads encased in the Moon’s volcanic rock deposits. As recently as 100 million years ago, the Earth’s moon was a hotbed of volcanic activity. Evidence of that volatile time can still be found in the ancient ash and volcanic rock that’s scattered across the surface.

Using satellite imagery, the researchers identified tiny water droplets preserved inside glass beads that formed in the volcanic deposits. While water makes up a small fraction of each bead, its presence suggests there’s significantly more of it making up the Moon’s mantle.

Milliken and Li aren't the first scientists to notice water in lunar rocks. In 2008, volcanic materials collected from the Moon during the Apollo missions of 1971 and 1972 were revealed to contain the same water-flecked glass beads that the Brown scientists made the basis of their recent study. They took their research further by analyzing images captured across the face of the Moon and quickly saw the Apollo rocks represented a larger trend. "The distribution of these water-rich deposits is the key thing," Milliken said in a press statement. "They're spread across the surface, which tells us that the water found in the Apollo samples isn't a one-off. Lunar pyroclastics seem to be universally water-rich, which suggests the same may be true of the mantle."

The study challenges what we know about the Moon's formation, which scientists think occurred when a planet-sized object slammed into the Earth 4.5 billion years ago. "The growing evidence for water inside the Moon suggests that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the Moon had completely solidified," Li said. "The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question."

The findings also hold exciting possibilities for the future of space travel. NASA scientists have already considered turning the Moon into a water station for astronauts on their way to Mars. If water on the celestial body is really as abundant as the evidence may suggest, figuring out how to access that resource will definitely be on NASA's agenda.

[h/t CNN]

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