Image Courtesy of NASA
Image Courtesy of NASA

The Underwater Cemetery Where Spaceships Go to Die

Image Courtesy of NASA
Image Courtesy of NASA

For centuries, burial at sea has been a common practice across cultural lines. It can be done out of necessity, for religious reasons, or because humans feel that the best way to get rid of something is by dumping it in the ocean. And this isn’t just true for organic matter; we’ve been known to do it with 143-ton hunks of space junk as well.

In the South Pacific, 2500 miles off the New Zealand coast, lies a patch of sea that is home to decades worth of space history. The South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area, playfully known as the "Spacecraft Cemetery,” has become a favorite place for space programs to crash land their defunct satellites. Thousands of miles of open ocean separate the spot from any islands or human life. Its neighbor is the lonely Point Nemo—named for the Jules Verne character—that's farther from land than any other spot on Earth. 

There are 161 spacecrafts that have made this stretch of sea their final resting place. Among them are several resupply vehicles that serviced the International Space Station, four of Japan’s HTV cargo crafts, and Russia’s massive Mir space station. You may suspect the area’s ocean floor to look like an otherworldly Air & Space museum, but the spacecraft there are all but unrecognizable. The majority of a spacecraft's mass will burn up during reentry, meaning that all that’s left when it hits the ocean are some charred pieces of scrap metal.

In addition to the Spacecraft Cemetery, there’s an alternate destination for unwanted vehicles that’s even further removed from life on earth. By blasting a satellite away from the planet and into a more remote orbit, it becomes part of what’s called a “graveyard orbit.” This is often preferable as it requires less fuel than bringing it back to earth, but it's a temporary solution that adds to a growing problem. 

The space junk orbiting Earth accumulates with each passing year. And while dumping spacecraft in the ocean may not seem environmentally friendly, the atmosphere significantly reduces the junk matter before it ever reaches the ocean. So may the Spacecraft Cemetery live on, both in reality and in our cosmic nightmares.

[h/t: Gizmodo]

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Stephen Hawking’s Memorial Will Beam His Words Toward the Nearest Black Hole
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

An upcoming memorial for Stephen Hawking is going to be out of this world. The late physicist’s words, set to music, will be broadcast by satellite toward the nearest black hole during a June 15 service in the UK, the BBC reports.

During his lifetime, Hawking signed up to travel to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, but he died before he ever got the chance. (He passed away in March.) Hawking’s daughter Lucy told the BBC that the memorial's musical tribute is a “beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father's presence on this planet, his wish to go into space, and his explorations of the universe in his mind.” She described it as "a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet."

Titled “The Stephen Hawking Tribute,” the music was written by Greek composer Vangelis, who created the scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. It will play while Hawking’s ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, near where Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried, according to Cambridge News. After the service, the piece will be beamed into space from the European Space Agency’s Cebreros Station in Spain. The target is a black hole called 1A 0620-00, “which lives in a binary system with a fairly ordinary orange dwarf star,” according to Lucy Hawking.

Hawking wasn't the first person to predict the existence of black holes (Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity accounted for them back in the early 1900s), but he spoke at length about them throughout his career and devised mathematical theorems that gave credence to their existence in the universe.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a friend of the Hawking family who portrayed the late scientist in the BBC film Hawking, will speak at the service. In addition to Hawking's close friends and family, British astronaut Tim Peake and several local students with disabilities have also been invited to attend.

[h/t BBC]

IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars

Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.


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