Today’s Tidbits: October 3, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: October 3, 2017

Here are our tidbits for today, October 3, 2017:  gravitational waves bring Nobel Prizes for three U.S. physicists; Pete Knight’s X-15 speed record unbroken 50 years later; send your name to Mars; and eat fresh lettuce in space.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Gravitational Waves Yield Nobel Prizes

Three U.S. physicists — Rainier Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish — will receive the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics for the detection of gravitational waves using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). They confirmed Einstein’s theory that gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of spacetime — were formed by collisions in the early universe and eventually would reach Earth. The scientists detected waves emitted 1.3 billion years ago when two black holes collided.  The “chirp” can be heard in this YouTube video.


Scientists want to use a space-based observatory to search for gravitational waves, too.  Three spacecraft in a triangle formation connected by laser beams each a million or more kilometers long would listen for the waves.  NASA had hoped to lead such a project, called the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA agreed to build and launch a technology demonstrator, LISA Pathfinder, which was launched in 2015.  NASA, however, conceded in 2011 that it could not fund LISA itself.  ESA is moving ahead and this summer selected LISA as its next large (“L-class”) mission. Launch is expected in 2034.  NASA will support ESA.  Details are being discussed.

By the by, 11 years ago today, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s John Mather won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with George Smoot of the University of California for mapping the primordial hot and cold spots in the cosmic microwave background using NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). The spots are related to the gravitational field in the early universe [].

X-15 Speed Record Still Holds 50 Years Later

Today is the 50th anniversary of X-15 pilot Maj. William “Pete” Knight setting the speed record for the highest speed ever attained in a piloted aircraft: 4,520 miles per hour.

Knight’s son, Steve, is now a Congressman from California’s 25th district and a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. He was born at Edwards Air Force Base, home to the X-15.

Sign Up by November 1 to Send Your Name to Mars

A couple of years ago, NASA invited people to send in their names to be embedded on a microchip aboard its Mars InSight spacecraft, which will land on Mars.  InSight was scheduled for launch in 2016, but technical problems delayed it to 2018.  Nearly 827,000 people signed up for the one silicon microchip available at the time, but the good news is that NASA is adding a second microchip so the rest of us have another chance. The cutoff date is November 1, 2017.

MmmmMmmm Good, Fresh Lettuce!

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are growing not one or two but three different types of lettuce.  Hope they’ve got a good selection of salad dressings to go with them!

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