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Kickstarter // The Planetary Society
Kickstarter // The Planetary Society

Bill Nye Launches Kickstarter for Solar Sailing Spacecraft

Kickstarter // The Planetary Society
Kickstarter // The Planetary Society

Bill Nye the Science Guy is counting down to a launch almost 40 years in the making.

In 1976, Carl Sagan went on The Tonight Show to talk to Johnny Carson about a new technology he and his Planetary Society cofounders, Louis Friedman and Bruce Murray, were hoping to put to work: solar sailing. Their dream is finally about to become a reality. This week, Nye—who is the current CEO of The Planetary Society—launched a Kickstarter devoted to raising money for LightSail, the world’s first solar-sailing spacecraft.

“LightSail is a huge contribution to space science and exploration,” Nye explains on the campaign’s page. “Through this proof-concept mission, we will … open new paths beyond Earth, and, one day, potentially to other planets with an inexpensive, inexhaustible means of propulsion: photons, solar energy in its purest form.”

How, exactly, does solar sailing work? The sun emits light, which is comprised of units of energy called photons. When these traveling photons come into contact with the LightSail’s mirrored surfaces—its sails—their momentum is transferred to the spacecraft, which pushes each sail. Because these tiny accelerations are continuous, the craft is able to reach greater speeds than fuel-powered vehicles, which are driven by short bursts.

The spacecraft itself is tiny—“no bigger than a breadbox,” Nye notes—but its success would pave the way for future voyages to further locations using bigger spacecraft. 

The LightSail is scheduled for a test flight on May 20 so its creators can check its sail deployment. If all goes well, it will take part in a 30-day, low-orbit test flight in 2016. That's where the Kickstarter comes in.

Though The Planetary Society was able to raise most of the $5.45 million required for the 2016 flight, the group still needs an additional $1.2 million. The Kickstarter has already surpassed its initial $200,000 goal and is now in “stretch goal” territory, having brought in nearly $335,000 to date.

For updates on the LightSail project, check out the group’s Kickstarter page, or visit sail.planetary.org.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Scientists Discover a Mysterious Void in the Great Pyramid of Giza
iStock
iStock

The Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest in all of Egypt, was built more than 4500 years ago as the final resting place of the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops), who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BCE. Modern Egyptologists have been excavating and studying it for more than a century, but it's still full of mysteries that have yet to be fully solved. The latest discovery, detailed in a new paper in the journal Nature, reveals a hidden void located with the help of particle physics. This is the first time a new inner structure has been located in the pyramid since the 19th century.

The ScanPyramids project, an international endeavor launched in 2015, has been using noninvasive scanning technology like laser imaging to understand Egypt's Old Kingdom pyramids. This discovery was made using muon tomography, a technique that generates 3D images from muons, a by-product of cosmic rays that can pass through stone better than similar technology based on x-rays, like CT scans. (Muon tomography is currently used to scan shipping containers for smuggled goods and image nuclear reactor cores.)

The ScanPyramids team works inside Khufu's Pyramid
ScanPyramids

The newly discovered void is at least 100 feet long and bears a structural resemblance to the section directly below it: the pyramid's Grand Gallery, a long, 26-foot-high inner area of the pyramid that feels like a "very big cathedral at the center of the monument," as engineer and ScanPyramids co-founder Mehdi Tayoubi said in a press briefing. Its size and shape were confirmed by three different muon tomography techniques.

They aren't sure what it would have been used for yet or why it exists, or even if it's one structure or multiple structures together. It could be a horizontal structure, or it could have an incline. In short, there's a lot more to learn about it.

In the past few years, technology has allowed researchers to access parts of the Great Pyramid never seen before. Several robots sent into the tunnels since the '90s have brought back images of previously unseen areas. Almost immediately after starting to examine the Great Pyramid with thermal imaging in 2015, the researchers discovered that some of the limestone structure was hotter than other parts, indicating internal air currents moving through hidden chambers. In 2016, muon imaging indicated that there was at least one previously unknown void near the north face of Khufu's pyramid, though the researchers couldn't identify where exactly it was or what it looked like. Now, we know its basic structure.

A rendering shows internal chambers within the Great Pyramid and the approximate structure of the newly discovered void.
ScanPyramids

"These results constitute a breakthrough for the understanding of Khufu's Pyramid and its internal structure," the ScanPyramids team writes in Nature. "While there is currently no information about the role of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world's archaeological heritage."

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History
Einstein's Handwritten Note on Happiness Just Sold for $1.3 Million
Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images
Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images

Albert Einstein was on his way to becoming a household name when he took a trip to Japan in 1922. The scientist had just learned that he would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, and word of his accomplishments was spreading beyond his home country of Germany. In light of his rising stardom, he gave an unconventional tip to his bellboy after checking into his Tokyo hotel: He jotted down a note on a piece of paper in place of giving him cash, saying it "will probably be worth more than a regular tip" in the future. Nearly a century later, NBC News reports, the same note has sold at auction for $1.3 million.

The message, which has come to be referred to as “Einstein’s Theory of Happiness,” looks much different from the ideas about time and space the theoretical physicist is known for. It reads: "A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Einstein's "Theory of Happiness" letter.
Menahem Kahana, Getty Images

On Tuesday, October 24, the item went to auction in Jerusalem along with a second note reading "Where there's a will there's a way" that Einstein wrote for the bellboy on the same occasion. The first message was scribbled on official Imperial Hotel paper and the second on a blank sheet of scrap paper. Both were signed and dated 1922.

Following a 25-minute bidding war, Einstein’s theory of happiness was claimed by an anonymous buyer for $1.3 million, making it the highest-priced document ever sold at auction in Israel. The second artifact sold for more than $200,000, according to the auction house. It may have taken a while to pay off, but Einstein's gift turned out to be one of the most generous tips in history. Whether it's going to a relative or descendent of the bellboy is unclear; both seller and buyer are unidentified.   

The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which Einstein helped found, was bequeathed his literary estate and personal papers upon his death. Earlier this year, letters on God, Israel, and physics brought in $210,000 at an auction in the Israeli capital.

[h/t NBC News]

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