Jumbled Thoughts - 7 April 2013

Jumbled Thoughts covers all the little stuff which doesn't merit its own post. Anything goes!

It's looking increasingly likely that NASA will have the chance to try and capture an asteroid for study.  Rumors revolving around the current budget proposals suggest that about $100 million will be earmarked for the asteroid capture project.  The idea is to grab a small (10-20 meter) asteroid and place it in orbit around either the Earth or Moon by the end of the decade.  The rock would then be well-situated for manned trips to study it in the following years.  Flying to an asteroid is easier and cheaper than landing on the Moon because you don't have to deal with overcoming the gravity of the much-larger Moon.  A scientific study of an asteroid would not only help astronomers understand the origin of solar system bodies, but also answer questions about whether space rocks could be lucrative targets for next-generation mining.

NASA is teaming up with MIT and Google to undertake another space-based exoplanet search.  Called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, this $200 million telescope will search the entire sky for nearby planets.  While it won't be able to see as deep as the Kepler Space Telescope, it will cover a whole lot more sky.  This is an exciting project because it will give us our first glimpse at the larger population of planets.  Do we see the same numbers of planets in all directions and, if not, why?  It's also an exciting partnership between a private company and the space agency.  Look for it launching in 2017.

Check out this awesome simulation of the stars in our neighborhood.  The 100,000 closest stars to us are represented and you can even get detailed information about some of the closest.  Zoom in and out, pan around, and just take in the spectacle!  You'll need a modern web browser to try this out.  Firefox or Chrome should work great.