The Countdown, a collaboration between Scientific American and YouTube's Spacelab, is a biweekly video show highlighting the best stuff happening in space, astronomy and physics. The companion Countdown blog features links to all of the stories mentioned in the show and more. Science journalist Sophie Bushwick is the show's host.
Golden Spike, a private spaceflight company, announced that by 2020, it will be ready to take tourists to the moon. The company is proposing to take two-person teams and banking on already existing rockets and capsules to do the task. Even though no existing space vehicles are currently capable of a lunar landing, Space X’s soon-to-be-launched Falcon rocket might fit the bill.
Currently, the company is targeting foreign countries who could send a team of two representatives, either for research or national pride.
On December 5th, NASA released a cloud-free animation ofthe Earth at night. It was created by stitching together two months worth of data from VIIRS, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite satellite.
For the GRAIL mission, twin probes dubbed Ebb and Flow flew over the moon’s surface in formation, measuring how mountains and craters changed the distance between them. The satellites even detected changes in the lunar soil density. In addition to producing a colorful gravity map, GRAIL’s findings reveal the moon’s crust is thin and porous, probably due to being pulverized by many ancient impacts.
As for solar flares, they are part of the sun’s normal activity and get stronger over an 11-year cycle. Fortunately, we’re protected from them by the Earth’s magnetosphere, although they can cause problems for satellites.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since the beginning of time there have been literally hundreds of thousands of predictions for the end of the world, and we’re still here.”
Astronomers have discovered a new kind of galaxy that glows bright green. In many galaxies, the energy from a central black hole makes the gas around it glow. But in the adorably named “green bean galaxies,” the black hole is in the process of switching off. As it dims, the black hole’s energy disperses, lighting up gas throughout the galaxy. It’s a radioactive echo that will eventually fade as the radiation passes out into space.
When scientists first glimpsed an entirely glowing galaxy through the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, they were floored. They had to travel to the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to find out more about this object, named J2240. Then, they had to go to a third telescope, Gemini South, to confirm the existence of more green beans. It turns out that these new galaxy types are incredibly rare. If you drew a cube with sides 1.3 billion light-years long, it would contain only a single green bean galaxy.
- Portions of the script above written by Sophie Bushwick, Eric R. Olson & Isha Soni
About the Author: Eric Olson is the resident video editor and producer for Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @EricROlson.