Light Friday: NASA Names New Class of Deep Space Astronauts

Plus:
Why Is It Dark at Night?
Making Batteries Out of Wood
A Playground Inspired by Space


NASA has revealed eight new astronaut candidates who will train for a variety of space missions, including stints on the International Space Station (ISS) and trips deeper into space than humans have ever ventured. Although U.S. astronauts now must rely on Russian spacecraft to launch into space, these astronauts will help train and work on American spacecraft yet to be built.

Astronaut Class 2013

NASA chose this crop of astronauts after an extensive year-and-a-half search that included 6,100 applicants. Notably, the chosen eight include four women and a diverse array of ethnic backgrounds, including candidates from military service, private business, and academia.

“This year we have selected eight highly qualified individuals who have demonstrated impressive strengths academically, operationally, and physically,” Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center, said in a statement. “They have diverse backgrounds and skill sets that will contribute greatly to the existing astronaut corps. Based on their incredible experiences to date, I have every confidence that they will apply their combined expertise and talents to achieve great things for NASA and this country in the pursuit of human exploration.”

Added NASA Administrator Charles Bolden: “They’re excited about the science we’re doing on the International Space Station and our plan to launch from U.S. soil to there on spacecraft built by American companies. And they’re ready to help lead the first human mission to an asteroid and then on to Mars.”

And now, The 2013 Astronaut Candidate Class:

Why Is It Dark at Night?

Most would assume this is a fairly simple question to answer. However, as the team at Minute Physics proves, not only is the question not easy to answer, but the question itself may be inherently flawed.

For example, one might think that it’s dark at night because that’s when the earth is facing away from the sun. However, on the moon, even when facing the sun, the sky is dark. As such, one must ask why the sky is bright during the day on earth.

But, as it turns out, that’s not really part of the answer to the original question. The real answer has much more to do with the age of the universe and how it is expanding. If you’re not already exhausted, check out the video below for a full explanation.

Making Batteries Out of Wood

One of the biggest limitations to lithium-ion batteries is the supply of lithium on earth. Sodium, which has similar chemical properties, is far more abundant. However, the size of sodium ions has proven challenging for most battery anodes.

But researchers at the University of Maryland have come up with a design for a sodium-ion battery that uses wood pulp to transfer the ions. According to New Scientist, wood pulp fibers “include hollow elongated cells called tracheids, which have walls made of a tough material called lignin and which transport water and mineral salts.”

The pulp is laid over a tin anode — something that normally couldn’t be used with sodium. Normally, tin and sodium ions combine to form a sodium-tin alloy that would cause the battery to swell and ultimately break down. But by depositing a 50-nm thick layer of tin on a 2,500-nm thick layer of wood fibers, the anode can be charged and discharged up to 400 times.

The researchers believe that this could lead the creation of low-cost but highly effective batteries in the future. But first, the team plans to scale up and build batteries that can be used in renewable energy applications.

A Playground Inspired by Space

In Orbit, an interactive art exhibit which took three years to build, has opened in Germany. Visitors can climb, explore, or just lounge on three layers of suspended webbing, along with inflated spheres.

The artist and designer, Tomas Saraceno, says the work was inspired by concepts from particle physics and astronomy, including String theory, Planck scales, and space-time continuums.

Saraceno told Art Daily, “When I look at the multilayered levels of diaphanous lines and spheres, I am reminded of models of the universe that depict the forces of gravity and planetary bodies. For me, the work visualizes the space-time continuum, the three-dimensional web of a spider, the ramifications of tissue in the brain, dark matter, or the structure of the universe. With ‘in orbit,’ proportions enter into new relationships; human bodies become planets, molecules, or social black holes.”

The exhibit, which debuted earlier this week at the K21 Staendehaus museum in Duesseldorf, also drew inspiration from another area of nature: spiders.  In fact, This Is Colossal reports that Saraceno studied with arachnologists — true experts in all things spider — to develop the final design.

inorbit

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