TIME space

NASA’s Antares Explosion: What it Means

An unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket explodes shortly after takeoff at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. on Oct. 28, 2014.
An unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket explodes shortly after takeoff at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. on Oct. 28, 2014. Jay Diem—AP

The rocket's fortunately fatality-free failure to launch spells trouble for one of NASA's major contractors

The good news—the very, very good news—is that no one was aboard Orbital Sciences’ Antares booster when it exploded just six seconds after leaving the launch pad on Wallops Island, Va. at 6:30 PM EDT on Oct. 28. It was the fifth launch of the Antares and the fourth that was headed for the International Space Station (ISS) on a resupply mission. The booster made it barely 200 feet off the ground.

The bad news—the very, very bad news—is what this means for Orbital as a continued player in the competition to supply the ISS. It was in 2008 that Orbital (which has a long history in the space biz) and Elon Musk’s SpaceX (which had none at all) won a $3.5 billion NASA contract, with Orbital taking $1.9 billion of that for eight flights. Halfway through the contract, the company was looking to re-up, and this will not reflect well on them at the bargaining table.

Orbital was never a serious part of the even more furious competition to take over the manned portion of NASA’s low Earth orbit portfolio. The winners of that battle, named Sept. 16, were SpaceX again, and Boeing—a venerable part of the NASA family and prime contractor of the ISS. Tonight’s explosion would be a lot more worrisome if one of those two—already gearing up to carry people—had been responsible. But for Orbital, it will be bad enough.

Worse for the company is CEO David Thompson’s admission on Oct. 29 that part of the problem could be the AJ-26 engines used in the deceased booster’s first stage. Originally designed by the Soviet Union (that’s not a typo—we’re talking about Russia long before the fall of communism) the engines were later updated and retrofitted for the Antares booster.

It is too early to say if the AJ-26’s were indeed responsible for the explosion, but old hardware is old hardware and in an era in which the likes of Musk are starting with a blank page when they design their engines, taking outdated stuff off the shelf is not the way to inspire confidence. In 2012, a catty Musk made that point, telling Wired magazine:

One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s—I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.

Musk being Musk, that’s more than a little hyperbolic, but the snark still stung Orbital. It is an especially bad time for any aerospace company to have to be defending the use of Russian-made engines, ever since spring when U.S. sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Crimea led Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin to mock America’s dependence on Russia’s Soyuz rockets to reach the International Space Station. “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry,” Rogozin said, “I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

More worrisome was Rogozin’s threat to limit sales to the U.S. the RD-180 engines that are used in America’s workhorse Atlas V rocket. That bit of bluster soured politicians on continuing to do space business with Russia at all and kick-started efforts to develop a domestic alternative to the RD-180. Now comes Orbital with an older, far worse Russian engine that just may have caused an entire rocket and its cargo to go up in flames.

A reputation-saving case the company could plausibly make—though it would be suicide to try—is the “stuff blows up” argument. Space travel is notoriously hard and rockets are notoriously ill-tempered. They are, after all, little more than massive canisters of exploding gasses and liquids, with the weight of the fuel often much greater than the weight of the rocket itself. This is not remotely the first time launch controllers have witnessed such a fiery spectacle on the pad and it won’t be the last. Realistically, there will never be a last.

But Orbital is supposed to be a senior member of the space community, not one of the freshmen like SpaceX or Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. No exploding rocket is good—especially when contracts are ending and NASA is again looking for free agents. It’s much worse for an outfit that’s been in the game for a while. Final determination of how bad the damage is will await the investigation into the cause of the explosion. But one thing’s certain: you wouldn’t want to be on the company’s Vienna, Va. campus tonight—on what is surely going to be the first of a lot of very long nights to come.

TIME space travel

NASA’s Antares Rocket Explodes During Take-Off

The cargo delivery rocket was unmanned

NASA’s unmanned Antares rocket exploded unexpectedly Tuesday seconds after it took off in an attempt to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

A fireball filled the night sky after the explosion, which destroyed the rocket supplied by Orbital Sciences Corp., at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

NASA officials said on the broadcast of the launch that no personnel appear to be in danger, and the damage to the facility appears to be limited after the burning rocket crashed to the ground. The agency will begin an investigation into the rocket’s failure that includes officials from NASA, Antares’ developer Orbital Sciences Corporation and launch site Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops, Va.

The Antares rocket had been scheduled to launch on Monday to deliver over 5,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS, but was postponed because a boat was too close to the launch area.

NASA had awarded to Orbital Sciences in 2008 a contract for the rocket company to demonstrate successful cargo delivery to the ISS. The explosion was the rocket’s first unsuccessful launch out of its five launches to date.

TIME space

A New View of Jupiter Reveals ‘Eye’ of its Storm

A close-up view of Jupiter reveals a creepy 'eye.'
A close-up view of Jupiter reveals a creepy 'eye.' A. Simon—Goddard Space Flight Center/ESA/NASA

Jupiter is keeping an eye on the other planets in the solar system

Earlier this year the Hubble Telescope made this eerie image of what appears to be a hole in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, commonly referred to as GRS, which almost resembles an eye.

The ‘hole,’ it turns out, was actually just a well-timed shadow, captured by one of Hubble’s cameras as Jupiter’s moon Ganymede passed by.

GRS is a massive, ongoing storm within Jupiter’s atmosphere that would be similar to a hurricane on earth. The red spot may appear relatively small from our vantage point, but is so large that three earths could fit within its boundaries.

However, the Great Red Spot may not be so fearsome in years to come, as scientists have observed the spot’s decline in size since the 1930’s.

Read next: 20 Breathtaking Images Of The Earth As Seen From Space

TIME animals

African Lions Are Facing Extinction

A lions yawns at Nairobi's National Park
A lions yawns at Nairobi's National Park on March 11, 2013 Marko Djurica—Reuters

The U.S. moves to list them as “threatened”

African lions are headed toward extinction and may be wiped out soon, according to an analysis from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that on Monday proposed categorizing them as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

A statement from the service listed the main threats to the big cats as loss of habitat, a diminishing availability of prey and increased conflict with humans. It noted that around 70% of Africa’s lion population is concentrated in just 10 areas on the continent.

By listing a species as endangered, the service said it could offer benefits “primarily by prohibiting certain activities including import, export, commercial activity, interstate commerce and foreign commerce.” This, it said, would ensure “that people under the jurisdiction of the United States do not contribute to the further decline of listed species.”

Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe said that “the full protection of U.S. law” would be brought to the endangered animals. “It is up to all of us, not just the people of Africa, to ensure that healthy, wild populations continue to roam the savannah for generations to come,” he said.

TIME Paleontology

Possible Complete Mammoth Skeleton Found in Idaho

Mammoth Bones Found
Idaho State University geology students Casey Dooms, left, and Jeff Castro brush and clean a mammoth skull discovered near American Falls Reservoir near American Falls, Idaho, on Oct. 16, 2014 Dave Walsh—AP

Experts estimate the mammoth was about 16 years old and lived about 70,000 to 120,000 years ago

(AMERICAN FALLS, IDAHO) — A portion of a an mammoth skull and tusks have been uncovered in southeastern Idaho, and experts say a rare entire skeleton might be buried there.

Experts estimate the mammoth was about 16 years old and lived about 70,000 to 120,000 years ago in what was a savanna-like country populated with large plant-eaters and predators.

The skeleton was spotted earlier this month by a fossil hunter working as a volunteer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation near American Falls Reservoir. It was partially excavated by students and instructors from Idaho State University.

But the team had to postpone their work Oct. 18 as the reservoir’s water level rose, completing some of their tasks while standing in water. They plan to return next summer when the reservoir drops.

“It gives us a little more time to prepare if this is a complete mammoth, to get the funds together,” said Mary Thompson, Idaho Museum of Natural History collections manager and a university instructor. “This is going to be substantial to go out and excavate a complete mammoth.”

She said more bones and tusks remained in the bank that couldn’t immediately be removed.

“There may be a whole mammoth there, so that is rare,” she said.

Workers built a barrier to keep the fossil in place while underwater.

The area, Thompson said, has produced fossils of various extinct species over the decades, ranging from saber-toothed cats, short-nosed bears that were larger than grizzlies, and giant sloths. One of the most often found fossils are from bison latifrons, somewhat similar to modern bison but larger and with giant horns. Their image is part of the museum’s logo.

“It’s a very important North American Pleistocene site,” Thompson said, naming a time period that runs from 1.8 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. “We have researchers from all over the world coming here to study the fossils from American Falls.”

Besides fossils, there are also tracks of mammoths, large cats, canines and other animals where they crossed then muddy areas eons ago.

Thompson said she hopes to have the portions of the mammoth the team managed to get out put on display early next year.

“My crew is mainly students,” she said. “These are things I can’t teach in the classroom or in the lab. It’s a very unusual opportunity.”

TIME space

Stunning Images Of Galaxy Clusters Teach Scientists About Star Birth

Chandra observations of the Perseus and Virgo galaxy clusters suggest turbulence may be preventing hot gas there from cooling
Chandra observations of the Perseus and Virgo galaxy clusters suggest turbulence may be preventing hot gas from cooling. CXC/Stanford/NASA

Turbulence is preventing star formation

It seems that the stars have aligned in the world of astronomy.

In a new study, researchers found that galactic turbulence may prevent the formation of new stars in outer galaxy clusters, which are the largest objects in the universe held together by gravity, existing at temperatures upwards of a million degrees.

Scientists have long wondered why these massive clusters have not begun to cool and form stars.

“We knew that somehow the gas in clusters is being heated to prevent it cooling and forming stars. The question was exactly how,” said lead researcher Irina Zhuravleva, of Stanford University.

According to Zhuravleva, the heat is being “channeled” through turbulence within the cluster. This movement is what maintains the cluster’s high temperature, preventing star formation.

TIME animals

See the Most Amazing Biology Photos of the Year

The Society of Biology, a British group dedicated to the life sciences, holds an annual amateur photography competition. The theme this year was home, habitat and shelter

TIME Volcano

Lava Flow in Hawaii Gains Speed, Triggers Methane Explosions

The lava flow from the Kalauea Volcano is seen crossing a road near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii
The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano is seen crossing Apa'a Street/Cemetery Road in this U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) image taken near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii Oct. 25, 2014. USGS/Reuters

An active lava flow on Hawaii’s Big Island gained speed as it spread toward a residential neighborhood late Sunday, prompting authorities to warn that evacuations could begin within hours. Civil Defense personnel and emergency response teams were starting a door-to-door sweep of homes near the village of Pahoa, officials said, to inform residents of the progress of the molten rock. Others were warned to stay indoors to avoid smoke.

The lava — at a temperature of around 2,000 degrees — Fahrenheit oozed across a road Sunday and pushed through a mostly Buddhist cemetery on the edge the town in the…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME global health

Watch TIME’s Jeffrey Kluger Discuss How to Eradicate Polio

People in three countries still suffer from the disease

Since the development of the first polio vaccine in the 1950s, the number of cases of the devastating disease has been reduced by 99 percent. But despite that extraordinary progress, people in three countries still suffer from polio. Now, Rotary International, along with the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF have brought the world tantalizingly close to eradicating the virus for good.

In recognition of World Polio Day, watch as TIME editor-at-large Jeffrey Kluger moderates Rotary’s live-streamed event in Chicago, on Friday at 7:30 PM, EDT.

TIME Sex/Relationships

Manly Men Are Not Always the Best Choice, Study Says

Man with weights
Getty Images

It’s a Hollywood stereotype: Men prefer to partner up with feminine-looking women, and women favor masculine men. But even when you allow for same-gender couples and variations in personal preference, plenty of research suggests that the proposition is generally true. “It’s been replicated many times across different cultures,” says Isabel Scott, a psychologist at Brunel University in Uxbridge, on the outskirts of London, “so people tend to assume it’s universal.” A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences challenges that thinking, however.

Historically, human studies have shown that women with more feminine faces tend to have higher estrogen levels, which are in turn associated with reproductive health. In men, the argument is that masculine-looking faces are associated with stronger immune systems—always a good thing in a mate, especially if that trait is passed on to the kids. Masculine appearance may also a sign of a dominant and aggressive personality, but our distant female ancestors might plausibly have gravitated toward these men anyway, for the sake of their children’s health.

These theories fall under the rubric of evolutionary psychology—the idea that many of our fundamental behaviors have evolved, just as our bodies did, to maximize reproductive success. But as in many cases with evolutionary psychology, it’s easier to come up with a plausible explanation than to demonstrate that it’s correct. In this case, says Scott, “the assumptions people were making weren’t crazy. They just weren’t fully tested.”

To correct that, Scott and the 21 colleagues who put together the new study used computer simulations to merge photos of men’s and women’s faces into composite, “average” faces of five different ethnicities. Then they twirled some virtual dials to make more and less masculine-looking male faces and more or less feminine female versions. (“More masculine” in this case means that they calculated the specific differences between the average man’s face and the average woman’s for each ethnicity, then exaggerated the differences. “Less masculine” means they minimized the differences. Same goes, in reverse, for the women’s faces.)

Then they showed the images to city-dwellers in several countries and also to rural populations in Malaysia, Fiji, Ecuador, Central America, Central Asia and more—a total of 962 subjects. “We asked, ‘What face is the most attractive’ and ‘What face is the most aggressive looking,'” says Scott.

The answers from urban subjects more or less confirmed the scientists’ expectations, but the others were all over the place. “This came as a big surprise to us,” Scott says. “In South America,” for example, “women preferred feminine-looking men. It was quite unexpected.”

If these preferences had an evolutionary basis, you’d expect them to be strongest in societies most similar to the ones early humans lived in. “These are clearly modern preferences, though,” Scott says, which raises the question of why they arose.

One idea, which she calls “extremely speculative at this point,” is that when you pack lots of people together, as you do in a city, stereotyping of facial characteristics might be a way of making snap judgements. “In urban settings,” she says, “you encounter far more strangers, so you have a stronger motive to figure out their personalities on zero acquaintance.”

Read next: Wide-Faced Men: Good Guys or Bad?

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser