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NASA

22 Jun

Hydrogen Fuel Provides Clean Energy Promise

The use of hydrogen as a clean energy source for the future is the subject of much R&D these days. We’ve long since figured out that hydrogen is an element that produces a lot of energy – the key is finding out how to harness it and store it in an efficient fashion so we can use if for everyday purposes like powering our cars or items in the home.

One of the cleanest ways to harness hydrogen is to separate it from a hydrogen heavy resource like water. In a process called electrolysis, an electrical current separates the hydrogen from the oxygen molecules in water. Our colleagues over at TestTube have created this awesome video explaining the process in detail.

 

So it’s relatively easy to harvest the hydrogen, the problem is how do you store it? The reason hydrogen holds so much hope as a fuel source is that it has a high mass energy density – that means it is powerful stuff compared to other fuels. The problem is hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density, which means it generally takes up a LOT of space to store.

In the past we’ve been able to deal with that given it’s large-scale industrial applications. In fact, NASA used it in the Space Shuttle programs. They used liquid hydrogen (produced when the hydrogen is super cooled) to power those massive rockets to get the Shuttle into space. In that case size wasn’t a barrier.

The key to using hydrogen for slightly less dramatic uses than launching rockets is finding that way to store it in fuel cells. NASA used early versions of hydrogen fuel cells on the Shuttle to power their electrical systems. The only by-product is water, which conveniently the astronauts used to drink.

The system has been improved upon so much over time that NASA is researching how to use it to power spacecraft to explore our solar system. On the smaller, more personal scale we now have cars like the Toyota Mirai that efficiently and cleanly use hydrogen fuel cells. The cars  fill up with water, and utilize it's own air in-take to power the process of electrolysis. The hydrogen is stored in carbon fiber fuel cells and the only footprint it leaves behind is more water.

The Mirai is even more efficient because it combines existing electric car technology where electricity created by the braking mechanism is used to power the electrolysis process that creates the hydrogen.

As this car hits the market, the research on creating the next generation of hydrogen fuel use is underway. Creating new efficiencies in the fuel cells is one area of focus, looking both at what substances can most efficiently aid in the electrolysis process and help store them without corrosion.

One new study from McGill University in Montreal has demonstrated how existing technology of storing hydrogen atoms as hydrocarbons can be driven by ambient solar energy. Going a step further than electrolysis, some current storage applications create hydrocarbons by adding a catalyst chemical that bond with multiple hydrogen molecules. The trick is generating enough energy to “dehydrogenize” the hydrocarbon back into hydrogen to store in the fuel cells that make things go. It’s a process that can take a lot of energy and may be impractical on smaller scales, than say needing to power a rocket.

The researchers have found that plain old sunlight can drive dehydrogenization by using platinum based nanoparticles as the catalyst to pull the hydrocarbons apart without using high energy temperatures.

Some day soon things could be powered on a large scale by the very water and air around us, leaving nothing behind to corrupt the planet. We now have cars that can efficiently create and store hydrogen for clean transportation, and someday soon, huge solar farms could transform and store these high-energy molecules on a large scale to power entire city grids.

That’s a clean energy future we look forward to!

For more information please see our resources:

Alternative Fuels Data Center

Renewable Energy World

Phys.org

Toyota Mirai

 

 

19 Apr

The Best Investment

Guest post by: Max Erik Tegmark

At a cost of about $30 per American, the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the best investments humanity has ever made. Its spectacular images have shed light on our cosmic origins and destiny and they have inspired us all, showing us that we’d underestimated the beauty and diversity of our cosmos.

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Max Erik Tegmark is a Swedish-American cosmologist. Tegmark is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is the scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute. He is also a co-founder of the Future of Life Institute.

Below: PIA08097

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.49.51 PM

Credit: NASA.gov

19 Apr

The Space Telescope That Transformed How We Do Science

Guest post by David Spergel

I got my PhD just before the Hubble Telescope launched so have followed its trajectory from disappointment to scientific triumph. I have been most impressed by how clever astronomers have used the telescope in ways that were not anticipated by its builders.Astronomers have used HST to discover stars stripping the atmospheres off of their planetary companions and to use supernova to trace the deceleration of the universe.   

While future space telescopes  will look even further back in time (James Webb Space Telescope, will survey much larger volumes of our universe  and begin the detailed study of exoplanets (Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope), Hubble will always be the space telescope that transformed how we do science.

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David Nathaniel Spergel, is an American theoretical astrophysicist and Princeton University professor known for his work on the WMAP mission. Professor Spergel is a MacArthur Fellow

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.34.42 PM

Credit: NASA.gov

19 Apr

The End of the Hubble Era?

Guest post by David Brin

The Hubble space telescope achieved genuine wonders, that others have certainly noted.  Among my many favorites were the arrival of space images -- such as the famous Eagle Nebula -- that gave us all a truly three-dimensional feel. You could clearly see and envision that this column of brilliantly illuminated gas and dust stands glowing in front of that proto- planetary system being-born... and then somehow you would manage to wrap your mind around the multi-parsec scale of it all.

Helping to determine the age and destiny of the universe, that's a lot to get for our tax dollars. But again, others will talk about that.

What I find almost equally fascinating is the back story of this prodigious scientific instrument, revealed when the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) suddenly handed over to NASA two more Hubbles!  Well, two space-ready telescopes with identical structure and mirrors, but lacking many components and any scientific instruments.  The surprise gift revealed to us taxpayers an interesting truth -- that Hubble was based on U.S. spy satellites. Should we be surprised, then, that a mirror originally designed to look downward at Earth suffered some problems, when it was repurposed to stare into deep space?

What kinds of synergies and conflicts are thus revealed? Was Hubble meant, all the time, to serve as a cover story for intelligence R&D?  Did this design overlap serve to reduce Hubble's original cost, in economies of scale? Or was NASA, instead, subsidizing the NRO?  I don't expect to ever learn the answer. But it does suggest that we keep our eyes open for other coincidences, in the future.

NASA officials view these "added Hubbles" as mixed blessings. They fret that these telescopes might draw vigor away from the next great leap -- the James Webb Space Telescope.  While the new pair are worth hundreds and millions of dollars and will let us expand astronomy, properly equipping them and launching them will cost hundreds more. And of course, there are tussles over what kinds of science they should be applied-to. Such as, for example, keeping one in reserve, in case the Webb fails?

Bottom line, this "problem" is our fault, for allowing science to be "warred-upon," instead of shrugging off the dismal cynics... and electing Congresses that see value in the future.

No, we aren't leaving the Hubble Era. Even after the original is allowed to plummet Earthward -- (I'd rather use electrodynamic tethers to send it outward, in a parking orbit, for late-21st Century hobbyists to refurbish) -- it seems that Hubble's sisters will still be working for us. Obsolete? Never heard of the word. We can move forward on many fronts, at the same time. We can be larger than we are. That was the dream... and it will be, again.

==
David Brin is an astrophysicist whose international best-selling novels include The Postman, Earth, and recently Existence. His nonfiction book about the information age - The Transparent Society - won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.  (http://www.davidbrin.com)

#hubble25

Below: Pillars of Creation, part of the Eagle Nebula

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.22.53 PM
NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

19 Apr

Exoplanets!

Guest post by Sara Seager

Happy 25th! The “first ever” exoplanet atmosphere discovery in 2002 is your legacy for all time #HappyBirthdayHubble #ScienceChannel

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Sara Seager
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor of Planetary Science

Below: Formalhaut A and Formalhaut B

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 8.15.21 PM

Credit: NASA.gov

19 Apr

Pluto's Demotion

Happy Birthday Hubble Telescope! It’s been an amazing 25 years of breakthroughs in understanding our galaxy and how the universe works. For me, the most memorable discovery from your journey came when you detected Pluto’s two moons, and other objects in the Kuiper Belt found to have more mass than little Pluto.

That meant these moons could classify as planets, and as a result this discovery demoted Pluto to a “dwarf planet.”

That Pluto was removed it from the line up of planets I had memorized so carefully for my fifth grade science class, shocked me. Hubble’s images are so clear and provide scientists a look at objects we had never seen before in deep space, leading to radical changes and new theories about the makeup of our universe. Hubble quite literally opened my eyes to the idea there was something beyond Pluto - our solar system is a big concept to grasp but what lies beyond became something more than just what I had imagined when I watched Star Trek or Star Wars.

For the first time I understood the universe is not a static thing. Its planets, exoplanets, comets, galaxies, and more are changing all the time. It fills me with excitement and wonder as we look to solve the mysteries behind how and why that happens. Thanks for the inspiration Hubble! 

Look for more posts from scientists, astrophysicists, and space experts on their Hubble moments.

Eileen Marable, Science Channel Digital Producer (Who still feels bad about Pluto)

Below: My favorite image, the Cat's Eye Nebula

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 6.47.06 PM

8 Apr

Finding Alien Life by 2025

Watereventfeature20150407_mainNASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks so. "I think  within a decade, we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years," she said Tuesday during a panel event on water in the universe.

That’s a thought provoking statement! Why would she make this announcement during a panel on water? NASA has long been searching for the evidence of water in the universe and is announcing new missions to discover and understand how water is distributed in the universe. With this announcement, it is no surprise the topic turns to finding life beyond Earth. The discovery of water on other planets and exoplanets is one strong indicator that alien life could be found there, as in many cases it is a building block for known life forms.

Stofan isn’t the only one who believes the pace at which we are unlocking new understanding about the universe will reveal alien life.

"It's definitely not an if, it's a when," said Jeffery Newmark, NASA's interim director of heliophysics.

Information coming back from NASA missions has shown the atmospheres and interiors of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are thought to contain enormous quantities of water. Even the five icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn show evidence of there may be oceans beneath their icy surfaces. As we probe further in the universe we are finding more evidence of the water and the elements of water, hydrogen and oxygen everywhere and in many forms.

Scientists are quick to point out that finding alien life doesn’t necessarily mean meeting little green men, or the kind of semi-human sentient beings we think of from Star Trek or Star Wars. The likelihood is our first encounter may be microbes, perhaps similar to those that evolve and change on our own Earth over time.

More: Will Aliens Have Bodies?

As much as the headline of yesterday’s panel focused on water as a barometer of finding alien life, the study of water and how it behaves in the universe is also helpful in understanding how our own solar system evolved and why some planets have water and why some who may have had water have dried up.

By being able to observe other planetary systems as they form helps paint the picture of how our own solar system developed, and water is a big part of that story. NASA reports the Spitzer Space Telescope has observed signs of a hail of water-rich comets raining down on a young solar system, much like the kind of bombardment planets in our solar system would have endured in their youth. This could very well be how our own Earth became populated with water.

Many of NASA’s existing missions like Kepler and its successor K2 are laying the groundwork now. NASA is also launching the TESS mission will search nearby, bright stars in the solar neighborhood for Earth sized exoplanets in conjunction with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

More: The Quest For Life: Water

Watching another distant solar system that could be like ours is a powerful concept to wrap one’s head around. The oceans we swim and sail in, the rivers we see, and the water we drink may well have come from a cosmic event that is just in the offing for other planets in other solar systems.

With that in mind, when we look to the skies, and consider the idea of alien life forms being found it’s hard not to wonder if there are other life forms on distant planets who are going through the process of developing into life forms we might recognize.

With its targeted missions to understand deeper space better in the pipeline, NASA is in the unique position to be able to make that bold prediction that we may find some form of life within the next 20 – 30 years.

 All we can say is wow!  For more of where water has been discovered, explore NASA's infographic below.

Oceanworlds_infographic_full

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources: NASA, Huffington Post

27 Mar

Astronaut Leland Melvin On The #YearInSpace

We are fortunate here at the Science Channel to have Astronaut Leland Melvin as a friend and adviser. As we contemplated the enormity of Expedition #43 and the #YearInSpace mission we turned to Leland to give us a reality check.

What does it feel like to be launched into space? As we watched the crew in the capsule during the various stages of launch they had nothing but the "RIght Stuff." Calm, composed, and punching their checklists. That doesn't mean they aren't feeling and noticing every change as the stages fall away, they get lighter and faster and feel those g's.

Leland tells us what it feels like to launch into space and what it's like to live and work in the ISS. Did you know that the ISS is about the size of a 747? It's that kind of perspective only an Astronaut would have and Leland shares that fact - and many more insights on the incredible opportunity of having traveled in space. Be sure to watch all three videos to get the scoop.

We are thrilled to share and promote his passion for space, exploration, curiosity, as humankind taking steps together to explore deeper into space.

 

27 Mar

What Will Happen In The #YearInSpace?

Astronauts have been noting the effects of space on the human body since the very first launch. We've come a long way from the first orbits to the six month stays. We now know there are changes that happen over time - things like bone density loss, vision changes and more. So if that happens in a six month period, what will happen if we plan to colonize and explore deep space - missions that will take years to complete?

The #YearInSpace mission is going to study the Astronauts closely to see what will happen. Here's a video from #NASA featuring NASA Commentator Pat Ryan interviewing Dr. John Charles of NASA’s Human Research Program about just what is planned for their extended stay.

 

27 Mar

The Crew Is Getting Ready!

Check out this great Vine video of Astronaut Scott Kelly and Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka on their way to "suit up." For Scott and Mikhail it will be a year before they face the space paparazzi again. #SCISpaceLive #YearInSpace

 

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