CLOSE
Original image

The Last Mission To Save Hubble

Original image

Today, seven astronauts left Earth in one last attempt to save the Hubble Space Telescope. At nineteen years old, Hubble is aging and in need of major repairs. It's also dying a slow death -- at some point around 2015, Hubble's electrical system will fail for good, and then we'll finally have to let go. Today the New York Times has an article about the mission, and the various contingency plans that have been laid in case of (another) space shuttle disaster. The article explains the poignant reality of repairing the Hubble -- we need the space shuttle to get there, and the shuttles are all themselves reaching the end of their useful lives. Here's a snippet:

So if it is the beginning of the last act for the Hubble, the flight Monday also marks the beginning of the end for the space shuttle, whose greatest legacy might very well be the role it played in the repair and maintenance of the Hubble, what Commander Altman recently called "an incredible example of how humans and machines can work together."

Dr. Grunsfeld, who has earned the sobriquet of "Hubble repairman" for his previous exploits in space with the telescope, said: "The only reason Hubble works is because we have a space shuttle. And of all things we do, I think Hubble is probably the best thing we use it for."

As Mario Livio, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, put it, "It's not just a telescope, it's the people's telescope."

For lots of great Hubble photos, check out Boston's Big Picture blog from December: Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar 2008. For more on the telescope's history, see Wikipedia's excellent Hubble Space Telescope article.

Original image
iStock
arrow
science
Why a Howling Wind Sounds So Spooky, According to Science
Original image
iStock

Halloween is swiftly approaching, meaning you'll likely soon hear creepy soundtracks—replete with screams, clanking chains, and howling winds—blaring from haunted houses and home displays. While the sound of human suffering is frightful for obvious reasons, what is it, exactly, about a brisk fall gust that sends shivers up our spines? In horror movie scenes and ghost stories, these spooky gales are always presented as blowing through dead trees. Do bare branches actually make the natural wailing noises louder, or is this detail added simply for atmospheric purposes?

As the SciShow's Hank Green explains in the video below, wind howls because it curves around obstacles like trees or buildings. When fast-moving air goes around, say, a tree, it splits up as it whips past, before coming back together on the other side. Due to factors such as natural randomness, air speed, and the tree's surface, one side's wind is going to be slightly stronger when the two currents rejoin, pushing the other side's gust out of the way. The two continue to interact back-and-forth in what could be likened to an invisible wrestling match, as high-pressure airwaves and whirlpools mix together and vibrate the air. If the wind is fast enough, this phenomenon will produce the eerie noise we've all come to recognize in horror films.

Leafy trees "will absorb some of the vibrations in the air and dull the sound, but without leaves—like if it's the middle of the winter or the entire forest is dead—the howling will travel a lot farther," Green explains. That's why a dead forest on a windy night sounds so much like the undead.

Learn more by watching SciShow's video below.

Original image
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
arrow
Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
Original image
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios