TIME space travel

Neil Armstrong’s Widow Discovers Bag of Lunar Landing Souvenirs

30th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Mission
NASA/Getty Images Astronaut Neil Armstrong smiles inside the Lunar Module on July 20, 1969.

One giant leap for the National Air and Space Museum's collection

Neil Armstrong’s widow recently discovered a white purse in the closet of her Cincinnati home, specially designed for space flight and packed with souvenirs from Armstrong’s moon landing in 1969.

Carol Armstrong reported the historic find to the National Air and Space Museum, which unveiled new details about the bag’s contents in a blog post this week. Among the 20 items Armstrong stowed in the bag was the original 16 mm movie camera he used to record the first steps on the moon, an emergency wrench, a power cable and a helmet strap.

“Odds and ends,” he called them in a transmission to mission control, but for a curator at Air and Space Museum, the items took on a more significant meaning decades later. “It is hard to imagine anything more exciting,” wrote Allan Needell of the museum’s Space History Department.

Read next: Hubble Telescope Spots an Emoticon in Outer Space

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TIME Environment

The U.S. Government Is Spending $3.2 Million to Save This Butterfly

One of the 185 Monarch butterflies symbo
Marty Melville—AFP/Getty Images One of the 185 Monarch butterflies symbolizing the 185 people who lost their lives in the Feb. 22 earthquake is seen after its release by Christchurch youths at a remembrance service in Hagley Park in Christchurch on Feb. 22, 2012, one year after a 6.3 quake hit New Zealand's second largest city

The monarch butterfly's breeding grounds have been threatened in recent years

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has pledged $3.2 million to protect the iconic monarch butterfly, which has seen a 90% drop in its population in recent years.

Of that money, $2 million will go to restoring 200,000 acres of the butterfly’s natural habitat between California and the Midwest, PBS reports. The rest will establish a conservation fund that will award grants to landowners who will work toward conserving areas home to the milkweed plant, on which monarchs exclusively lay their eggs.

“It is weed control that is driving eradication of the milkweed plant,” FWS director Dan Ashe said at a press conference Monday. Conservation efforts will focus on a part of the U.S. between Texas and Minnesota, through which the butterflies migrate annually.

The federal government is currently in the middle of a one-year review of whether the monarch butterfly deserves to be classified under the Endangered Species Act, which would grant it further protections.

[PBS]

TIME space

Hubble Telescope Spots an Emoticon in Outer Space

A smiling lens
Hubble/ESA/NASA Galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849

It's actually a cluster of galaxies

In the center of this Hubble Telescope image is the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 — and it appears to be smiling back at you.

The two orange eyes of the grinning face are actually two distant galaxies, and the peculiar smile was caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing.

Galaxy clusters are so large that they can create a strong gravitational pull that warps the time and space surrounding them. From afar this creates a distorted view of reality, known as a ‘cosmic lens.’

There are thousands of images within the Hubble database that have only been viewed by a few scientists. However, Hubble opens up its massive database to the public to search through. A version of this particular image was brought to attention by a contestant, Judy Smith, through the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition.

Read next: In Praise of Emoticons

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME space

See the Dark Side of the Moon With This Incredible NASA Animation

It's just become the not-so dark side

NASA has released an incredibly detailed animated clip of what the moon looks on the side that is never visible from earth.

In the video, we see the far side going through a cycle of phases, much like what is visible from our planet. But the other side of the moon has different terrain, with fewer of the big dark basalt plains known as maria.

Instead, craters of all sizes cover the entire area.

In 1959, the Soviet Luna 3 probe sent back the first grainy images of the moon’s dark side. Fifty years later, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was launched and, since 2009, has been relaying hundreds of terabytes of data, allowing scientists to create detailed maps of the moon’s surface.

For the first time, these animations, created by NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio, allow people on Earth to see a completely different side of our nearest heavenly neighbor.

[NASA]

TIME space

SpaceX Calls Off Launch of Space Weather Satellite

SpaceX plans to launch rocket
Orlando Sentinel—Getty Images A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket poised on Launch Pad 40 in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on, Jan. 5, 2014,

Former Vice President Al Gore was on hand for the attempt

(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) — SpaceX called off Sunday’s planned launch of a deep-space observatory — and a revolutionary rocket-landing attempt — after a critical radar-tracking system failed.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who first envisioned the observatory two decades ago, was on hand for the attempt.

The SpaceX company halted the countdown at the 2½-minute mark following the loss of the Air Force radar system for tracking the rocket in flight. Chief executive officer Elon Musk said via Twitter that the company would try again Monday and that the delay probably was for the best.

“Will give us time to replace 1st stage video transmitter,” the company’s billionaire founder wrote, adding that it was not needed for launch, “but nice to have.”

Besides launching its first deep space mission — an observatory that will shoot to a spot 1 million miles from Earth to monitor solar outbursts — SpaceX will attempt its second landing of a leftover booster on an ocean platform. It’s part of the company’s plan to eventually reuse rockets.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory is refashioned from the Earth-observing satellite conceived in the late 1990s by Gore when he was vice president. It was canceled before ever flying and packed away until several years ago, when NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Air Force decided to resurrect it as a space weather sentinel.

Gore arrived at Cape Canaveral well in advance of the sunset liftoff, eager to see his brainchild finally soar. He told reporters an hour before the planned launch time that he was grateful to the scientists and others who kept his dream alive. The measurements will help measure global warming, he noted, and the steady stream of pictures of Earth may help mobilize the public to put pressure on the world’s government leaders “to take action to save the future of human civilization.”

“The constant ability to see the Earth whole, fully sunlit, every single day … can add to our way of thinking about our relationship to the Earth,” said Gore. He was accompanied by Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who flew on the space shuttle as a congressman in 1986.

The $340 million mission is meant to provide a heads-up on intense solar activity that can disrupt communications, power and air travel. That’s why the spacecraft is to be stationed 1 million miles from Earth and 92 million miles from the sun, the so-called Lagrange point where the gravity fields are neutralized.

NOAA’s director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, Tom Berger, likened it to a “tsunami buoy.”

The observatory originally was called Triana, after the sailor who first spotted land on Christopher Columbus’ historic voyage. Now it’s dubbed DSCOVR, short for Deep Space Climate Observatory.

Gore’s presence added to the excitement at the launch site.

Also contributing to the buzz, though, was the experimental landing planned by SpaceX. Musk wants to eventually reuse his rockets to cut down costs and speed up flights.

It will be the second such landing test for SpaceX. Last month’s effort ended in flames.

SpaceX loaded more hydraulic fluid into the first-stage booster this time for the guidance fins; the fluid ran out too soon on Jan. 10, and the booster landed hard and tumbled over. But the path of the unmanned Falcon 9 rocket this time will see the booster descending faster than before, making it harder to nail the vertical landing.

SpaceX officials repeatedly stressed that the landing test is a secondary objective, and that the main job is to make sure the observatory gets a good ride to space.

“Launching our 1st deep space mission today,” Musk wrote via Twitter. He noted that the observatory will end up “4X further than moon.”

“Rocket reentry will be much tougher this time around due to deep space mission,” he added. “Almost 2X force and 4X heat. Plenty of hydraulic fluid tho.”

The modified barge that will serve as the landing zone nearly 400 miles off the Florida coast is almost as big as a football field, but that’s small against the backdrop of the Atlantic. The 14-story booster will descend from an altitude of about 80 miles, with touchdown expected nine to 10 minutes after liftoff.

Last month’s effort resulted in minor damage to the platform.

SpaceX not only patched everything up, but added a name to the platform, painted in large white letters on deck: “Just Read the Instructions.” That’s the name of a ship from the Culture science fiction series written by the late Scottish author Iain M. Banks.

Musk, a Banks fan, already has his company delivering cargo to the International Space Station for NASA and working on a capsule to fly American astronauts there.

TIME Environment

Mysterious Ash Covers Parts of Washington and Oregon

It could be from a Russian volcano

A strange ashy substance is falling from the sky in parts of Washington state and Oregon, but no one knows where it came from.

“While the substance is likely ash is from Volcano Shiveluch, they are a number of volcanoes that are currently active. The source of the material has not been scientifically confirmed,” energy officials said.

Volcano Shiveluch is on the Kamchatka peninsula in extreme northeast Russia and spewed a 20,000 foot ash plume in January. But officials say the substance could be coming from an entirely different part of the globe.

Other theories include dust picked up by wind or leftover ash from last year’s wildfires in Oregon in Idaho. But the substance will have to be scientifically tested to definitively determine what it is.

TIME climate change

Undersea Volcanoes May Be Impacting Climate Change

An underwater volcanic erupts in the Pacific Ocean
Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science—AP An underwater volcanic erupts in the Pacific Ocean

Does the global warming process actually begin under the sea?

A new study claims that volcanic eruptions along the ocean floor may impact earth’s climate cycle and that predictive models, including those that analyze humanity’s impact on climate change, may need to be modified.

“People have ignored seafloor volcanoes on the idea that their influence is small—but that’s because they are assumed to be in a steady state, which they’re not,” said Maya Tolstoy, a geophysicist and author of the study that appeared in Geophysical Research Letters and was also reported on in Science Daily.

Until now, scientists presumed that seafloor volcanoes exuded lava at a slow and steady pace, but Tolstoy thinks that not only do the volcanoes erupt in bursts, they follow remarkably consistent patterns that range anywhere from two weeks to 100,000 years.

The reason why the study is important is because it offers up the idea that undersea volcanoes may contribute to the beginning of a global warming cycle.

Here’s how:

Scientists believe as the Earth warms and ice melts, pressure is released which causes more land volcanoes to erupt. More eruptions means more CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere, causing the Earth to warm further and creating a cycle.

But undersea volcanoes erupt for the opposite reason. When more ice is created on a cooling Earth, that lowers sea levels and relieves pressure on undersea volcanoes, bringing about more eruptions.

So that begs the question, could the undersea volcanoes be releasing enough CO2 to affect the warming process on land?

Read more at Science Daily.

TIME astronomy

See New, Close-Up Images of Pluto Taken by NASA Probe New Horizons

The probe is scheduled to fly past the dwarf planet on July 14 this year

NASA’s space probe New Horizons has sent back its first images of Pluto and its moon Charon during the probe’s final approach towards the dwarf planet, which the agency released Wednesday.

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The publishing of the images coincides with the birth anniversary of Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto’s discoverer, who died in 1997.

“This is our birthday tribute to Professor Tombaugh and the Tombaugh family, in honor of his discovery and life achievements,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.

The spacecraft, which has traveled 3 billion miles across the solar system for over nine years, is currently scheduled to fly past Pluto and its moons on July 14. (It took the above grainy but exciting images from about 126 million miles away.)

“Pluto is finally becoming more than a pinpoint of light,” said the mission’s project scientist Hal Weaver.

TIME Research

See the Human Body Under a Microscope

Closer than you thought possible

'Science is Beautiful'
‘Science is Beautiful’

The new book ‘Science is Beautiful’ shows how the human body can be alluring even in minutia.

TIME vaccines

Watch the Science Cop Take on Chris Christie’s Vaccine Talk

Christie isn't a doctor, so why is he dishing out advice on vaccines?

Chris Christie called for “balance” this week between public health and parents’ right to choose when it comes to vaccinating their children, going against the prevailing science.

Christie’s office was quick to walk back his comments and say “with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.” But TIME’s Science Cop Jeffrey Kluger explains why statements like this, and the ongoing decision by many to forego vaccinations, are harming America’s children.

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