New Horizons Spacecraft Reveals New Details About Pluto

This week has been a remarkable time for astronomy after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reached Pluto.

The spacecraft traveled 3 billion miles in order to capture high-definition photos of the former last planet in our solar system and its moons. These photos provided new insights into the mysterious Pluto that NASA scientists have long wondered about.

Possible water mountains on the dwarf planet's surface.
Possible water mountains on the dwarf planet’s surface.

According to Alan Stern, principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, “the steep topography means that the bedrock that makes those mountains must be made of H2O — of water ice,” said Stern. “We can be very sure that the water is there in great abundance.”

Where are the craters?

The photos also revealed that the dwarf planet did not have any craters even though it is in close proximity to the Kuiper Belt. This belt has many icy bodies that could have crashed into Pluto at some time or another.

“That lack of craters means the surface of Pluto is young, less than 100 million years old, the researchers said. That’s a small fraction of the age of the solar system — 4.5 billion years, ” reports Amanda Barnett for CNN.

As New Horizons flew by Pluto, it also captured images of Charon (Pluto’s largest moon) and four other smaller ones. The spacecraft is estimated to have about 20 years of power left, so there is more information to come.

Amazingly, the information gathered from the Pluto flyby will take 16 months to download by NASA.


8 Examples of Possible Life on Other Planets and Moons in Our Solar System


Saturn’s largest moon has hydrocarbon lakes that could support life. Out of all the celestial bodies in our solar system, Titan has a makeup that could give potential alien life a chance at existence.


Europa is one of Jupiter’s many moons and has enough water to support life. Underneath an icy surface is an extreme cold reservoir of water that may contain a variety of bacteria. As of this year, the Obama administration has provided $15 million in funding for an expedition to the moon. There is also a probe called the Europa Clipper in the works.

Secret Drone Will Test Materials for Future Spacecraft

A secret drone, a Boeing-built X37B, has a mission to deliver materials to the International Space Station.

The drone first launched in 2010. It has no pilot, crew or any onboard person monitoring the ship’s control. This is a drone by the purest definition. The “secret” drone launches May 20, making it the fourth time it’s launched. reporter Mariella Moon writes, “it won’t only be testing a new type of Hall effect thruster for the Air Force, it will also be carrying a collection of 100 different materials that can potentially be used for future spacecraft, rovers, rockets and other space hardware.” Hall Effect thrusters use electricity as an energy rather than chemical combustion. This makes them more efficient for small velocity changes during lengthy missions.

Project METIS stands for Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space. Goals for the drone and the project is are to gather data, incorporate new materials and possibly deliver samples for on-board missions.

“Lips were sealed for the previous X-37B missions, and there is a simple and plausible explanation for this. The Hall Effect thruster was not carried on these flights. The other payloads were more secretive, and were probably not connected to any U.S. Air Force program,” according to Morris Jones for

Only time will tell if NASA discloses more information.


MESSENGER Spacecraft Uncovers New Information About Mercury

The planet Mercury has been a mystery to astronomers for a long time. NASA spacecraft MESSENGER has revealed new information that will help future generations understand the planet.

The closest planet to the sun may have a liquid core and ancient magnetic field that is an estimated 4 billion years old. That means that the magnetic field is older than the Earth itself.

“MESSENGER was launched in 2004 and spent a decade in space, orbiting Mercury for a total of four years. It has provided more data about the planet than any other mission to date, sending vast quantities of data back to Earth until it ran out of fuel. The mission had only been meant to last a year,” explains Dan Taylor for the National Monitor.

The planet does not change as much as others in the solar system. The elevation relatively goes unchanged for long periods of time. This contrasts with the landscape of Mars.

According to Tony D. Booth for Market Business, “The planet’s crust is large relative to the planet, comprising 85 percent of the planet’s radius, much more than Earth. The findings suggest that a layer of liquid iron sulfide lies beneath Mercury’s crust, which would make the planet much different from the other terrestrial planets.”

It is quite possible that what we know about Mercury will change in the very near future. Its behavior requires much more attention and observation.


NASA Tests 10 Engine Plane That’s Half Copter and All Awesome

NASA revealed a new prototype drone with the capabilities of a helicopter and airplane. The Greased Lightning or GL-10 is a concept for a future aircraft with the goal to make drones and unmanned planes more efficient in the years to come. It uses 10 engines to maximize speed and mobility.

The prototype was developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Aerospace engineers Bill Fredericks, David North and Zack Johns are some of the members of the team that developed the drone. As they worked on the project, they had many different ideas about how it could be utilized.

“It could be used for small package delivery or vertical take-off and landing, long endurance surveillance for agriculture, mapping and other applications. A scaled-up version — much larger than what we are testing now — would make also a great one- to four-person-size personal air vehicle,” Fredericks said.

With news of Amazon starting a drone delivery service (Amazon Prime Air) to its customers, The Greased Lightning’s innovation may make attract other companies to join the drone delivery service.

According to Kathy Barnstorff for the NASA Langley Research Center, “The GL-10 is currently in the design and testing phase. The initial thought was to develop a 20-foot wingspan (6.1 meters) aircraft powered by hybrid diesel/electric engines, but the team started with smaller versions for testing, built by rapid prototyping.”

The plane is also very quiet even though there are 10 engines at work. Fredericks goes on to say that the plane is quieter than a lawn mower.

The Greased Lightning prototype will be the main attraction at the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International 2015 conference in Atlanta through Thursday.

International Space Apps Challenge Puts ‘Citizen Scientists’ to the Test

When a group of people come together to contemplate how to use certain data from space to benefit people here on Earth, it’s easy to assume that this crowd would consist of veteran scientists or elite researchers.

From April 10 to 12, however, anyone from the general public will have the chance to take part in the 2015 International Space Apps Challenge.

The challenge calls for “citizen scientists” all over the world to use those three days to come up with creative ways to use data from space in order to solve modern-day issues.

These people will be provided with a plethora of information collected by space probes and other high-end space-agency instruments to help them “develop mobile applications, software, hardware, data visualization tools and platforms” that could revolutionize the way people function and operate across the globe, NBC News reports.

While the participants themselves may not be STEM elite, there will be experts on hand at the annual code-a-thon.

Astronaut Cade Coleman and NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan will be present at the event in New York City, but it isn’t clear just how much help they will be able to provide to the contestants.

So what kind of development platform will be used to host the massive crowd of innovators?

Thanks to IBM, the participants will have access to state-of-the-art resources in every way possible, even when it comes to the very platform they are building their apps on.

IBM is granting the crowd of developers free access to its Bluemix cloud-development platform, according to NBC News.

This means, in addition to the resources provided by NASA, they will also be able to draw their apps using IBM’s ever-expanding collection of cloud-based development tools.

Among these tools are IBM’s famed Watson Analytics.

Outside of the bare foundation of the annual challenge, the rules allow the public to have quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to how they want to work and what exactly they want to accomplish with their app.

NASA provides the group with over 30 different suggested challenges that fall into four main categories including human health research and robotics.

Participants are welcome to kick off their own challenge and are not obligated to stick to NASA’s suggestions.

It’s also up to each individual to decide if they would like to work in a team with other people or take on the coding challenge by themselves.

Coolest Astronaut in Cyberspace: Viral Sensation Leland Melvin Lists Embracing Failure and Erasing Boundaries as the Keys to Success

Leland Melvin and dogs

Leland Melvin spent many years as a NASA astronaut, and he has recently added viral sensation to his already lengthy list of accomplishments, but the road wasn’t easy for the lovable space explorer and host of Lifetime’s new Child Genius competition. As his official NASA photo featuring two face-licking, squirrel-chasing and undeniably loyal members of his family continues to circulate the Web, Melvin has also been sure to share a message about the true keys to success.

The 50-year-old space explorer captured the hearts and retweets of many when one reporter shared his official NASA portrait toward the end of January.

The photo not only shows Melvin sporting what he has deemed a “big cheeseburger smile,” but it also features his two rescue dogs happily jumping into his lap.

Adam Aton, the reporter who discovered the photo while researching the Challenger explosion, posted the image on Twitter and said he was in “awe.”

The picture was enough to solidify Melvin as one of the coolest astronauts in the world. His Twitter handle, however, is what sealed the deal for Aton.

“Also, his handle is @Astro_Flow,” Aton wrote under the picture.

The image garnered thousands of retweets in a matter of minutes, but for Melvin the photo didn’t seem that out of the ordinary.

“When you take your picture, you take your family,” he told The Huffington Post.

Melvin explained that since he wasn’t married and his family lived all the way in Virginia, his two canine pals came along instead.

After years with NASA and exploring uncharted territories that doctors believed he would never be able to see, Melvin eventually retired just in time to accept his new gig with Lifetime.

His chipper spirit is apparent and that “cheeseburger smile” is hard to deny, but for a man who exudes joy, his journey was filled with major obstacles.

In fact, there was a time when doctors warned him that it was time to turn his back on any dreams of going into space.

After being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys back in 1986, a hamstring injury caused Melvin to switch his focus to his education and eventually working for NASA.

His sports dreams faltered, but his aspirations in the STEM field lived on as he underwent years of intensive training.

Unfortunately, history seemed to repeat itself when Melvin was critically injured during his final days of training.

At NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, which is a giant pool used to train the astronauts for space walking, one of the technicians forgot to place a pad in Melvin’s helmet.

This pad was essential to letting him clear his ears after he was submerged in the water.

“When I came out of the water, I was completely deaf,” Melvin said. “Blood was coming out of one ear; the doctor was talking to me, and I couldn’t hear anything.”

He eventually started to get his hearing back after spending three weeks in the hospital, but the doctors told him he’d never fly in space.

So Melvin decided to go to Washington, D.C., to work in NASA’s education programs, but that’s when tragedy struck again in 2003.

“That when we lost the space shuttle Columbia and all my friends,” Melvin said.

It also proved to be a turning point for Melvin, who would receive special recognition for his work inspiring the youth.

“As we went around the country for the different memorial services, the chief flight surgeon said, ‘I’m watching you clear your ears, and I see the good work you’re doing for this country trying to inspire kids and teachers,’ ” Melvin said.

It inspired the doctor so much that he decided to sign a waiver for Melvin to fly into space, The Huffington Post reported.

“You have to have grit,” Melvin said. “What was that thing that got you over the edge? Grit comes from failure.”

It’s one of the many messages Melvin reminds people of now that he has a major platform to reach the masses.

The key to success is to turn those struggles into passion.

Another key, he says, is to erase all barriers. Not just the barriers to enter a field or personal barriers, he says, but to lose the idea that there are barriers between people.

Melvin recalled his experience looking back on the Earth from outer space and said it changed his perspective on things.

“Then I looked back on the planet from the space station — there are no borders,” he told The Huffington Post. “It’s one blue marble spinning below you. And here I am working with people from around the world we used to fight against: the Russians, the Germans. We were breaking bread and working in harmony at 17,500 miles per hour.”

Melvin believes that sharing that perspective of the world as a borderless, blue marble could “shift” the way people see others and make people “want to do more good to save our civilization.”

During his interview, he also opened up about the importance of art even in the midst of STEM careers and how he, like many others in the STEM field, was inspired by Star Trek.

10 Cool and Futuristic Sci-Fi Technologies Invading Our Reality

car accident pics (13)

Doctor in the Car

Researchers at the University of Michigan International Center for Automotive Medicine have created the technology to determine likely injuries in an accident before help arrives. Predictive models were made by cross-referencing crash data from sensors on cars. The speed and location of impact, along with 3-D scans of accident victims, will be available for doctors.


Exercise Underpants

The Finnish company Myontec has begun marketing underpants embedded with electromyographic sensors that tell you how hard you’re working your quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles when working out. This technology could help with weight loss and diets.

NASA’s Plans For A Cloud City Above Venus Could Have People Living Like the Jetsons

Nasa Plans for Cloud City

After years of exploration efforts focused on getting human life on Mars, NASA is ready to bring Venus back into the conversation with a permanent city floating high above Earth’s closest neighbor.

NASA has unveiled the concept for the floating city, deemed Cloud City, that would allow humans to live above Venus since it is impossible for them to live on the planet’s surface.

The average person discussing the possibilities of life on another planet tend to set their sights on Mars, despite the fact that it’s actually not the closest planet to Earth.

Venus is closer to Earth but the surface conditions on the planet make it inhabitable for human life.

Venus has an atmospheric pressure more than 90 times greater than that of Earth and temperatures that soar to more than 860 degrees Fahrenheit.

It also has a atmosphere composed mostly of carbon dioxide, a very small amount of nitrogen and a cloud layer composed of sulphuric acid.

All these things mean humans can’t live on the planet’s surface—but NASA believes people could live comfortably floating above the planet instead.

Cloud City would be floating about 30 miles above the planet and people would be living on a High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) spacecraft.

Functional plans for a permanent Cloud City are still in the works but for now humans would be able to live above Venus for about 30 days before returning to Earth.

The idea, for now, also open to the average person looking for a literal out-of-this-world vacation destination.

Astronauts would be the only ones welcome in Cloud City for the purpose of collecting data about the planet.

The temperatures and pressure on-board the HAVOC spacecraft would allow astronauts to stay above the planet while being subjected to conditions similar to what they would face on Earth.

The atmosphere at that altitude will also offer protections from solar radiation comparable to living in Canada.

After the initial round of probing for 30 days, NASA hopes to send teams of astronauts up to Cloud City to live for at least an entire year.

NASA has already made plans for transportation in Cloud City as well with a design that will essentially have people living like the famous cartoon family of the future – The Jetsons.

The design would allow astronauts to leave the main HAVOC spacecraft and further explore in Venus’s atmosphere.

Cloud City itself would be a fixed city but solar-powered Zeppelins would be used for further exploration.

NASA tells IEEE Spectrum that it could be another decade or two before Cloud City actually comes to fruition but experts believe further exploration of Venus could help advance efforts to get life on Mars.

“Venus has value as a destination in and of itself for exploration and colonization, but it’s also complementary to current Mars plans,” said Chris Jones of the Langley Research Center, according to CNET. “If you did Venus first, you could get a leg up on advancing those technologies and those capabilities ahead of doing a human-scale Mars mission. It’s a chance to do a practice run, if you will, of going to Mars.”


More Than Neil deGrasse Tyson: 10 Equally Awesome Black Astrophysicists You Should Know

Neil deGrasse Tyson has brought Black scientists of all fields to the forefront. Many young people interested in science can learn from his example and he should get credit for that. However, there are many people working and researching that are not in the spotlight. Here are just a few:


Dr. Beth A. Brown

She holds a B.S. degree in Astrophysics obtained in 1991 from Howard University, a M.S. in Astronomy obtained in 1994 from the University of Michigan. She obtained her Ph. D. in Astronomy in 1998 from the University of Michigan as well.

Most of her work is currently in the area of the hot interstellar medium in elliptical galaxies, and the mechanisms for X-ray emission from faint elliptical galaxies. Other interests include galaxy observations in multi-wavelengths.

She was an astrophysicist working for the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC), NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and Astrophysics Data Facility of NSSDC. Sadly, she died in 2008.


Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

She received her B.S. in Physics in 1987 at the California Institute of Technology and her M.S. in Astronomy in 1992 from San Diego State University.

She obtained her Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics in 1997 from University of California, Santa Cruz.

She has been an Assistant Research Scientist at The Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology at The University of Arizona. Now she works in South Africa.