Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Planetary Collision Detected

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has uncovered evidence of two planets (or similar-sized celestial bodies) colliding in the recent past, i.e. within the last few thousand years. Spitzer sees infrared light and so was able to detect the signatures of molten rock and debris from the collision. The two planets appear to be smaller than Earth, about the size of our moon and Mercury. I'm a big fan of CGI animations showing physically accurate mayhem in space so I quite like this video that depicts the collision. The animation is somewhat slower than real-time but probably not a great deal - it's pretty close to how you'd see it from a spaceship. Notice how the outer layer of the larger planet is blasted away and the smaller body merges with the larger one, creating a new hot planet.

It's thought that at least two similar collisions happened in the early days of our solar system. One collision stripped Mercury of its mantle, and another collision created a ring of debris around the Earth which eventually became our Moon.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Send a Message to ET

From today until August 24th 2009, you can send a message (up to 160 characters) to the nearest known Earth-like planet outside our own solar system. Gliese 581 d is a potentially habitable planet in the "goldilocks zone" (not too hot, not too cold) about 20 light years from Earth. Naturally this means that any reply will be at least 40 years away but that's a very short time compared to most interstellar conversations. To participate visit

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Space Underpants

The list of commercial spin-offs from spaceflight is set to include a new development in advanced underpants. As reported by various media over the past few months, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata has been trying out new space-undies that kill bacteria, eliminate odour, absorb water, insulate the body and dry quickly. Like any good action undergarment they are anti-static and flame-resistant, but now you can enjoy these safety benefits for a full week without the inconvenience of changing underwear. Best of all they won't freak out your girlfriend - according to the pics they're stylish enough for the most sophisticated space cadet.

It's interesting which space news items get picked up by mainstream media. Missions come and go with barely a mention, but if you invent some futuristic underpants you'll make the front page. Although I find this a little frustrating at times, I don't mind too much because it does generate interest and provides some much-needed lightheartedness in space-related news. And I suppose the ever-worrying issue of smelly undies is something the public can relate to.

Anyway I'm still wondering... assuming these things do make it to shop shelves, who exactly will be the target market?