TIME space

Names for Parts of Pluto’s Moon Could Be Drawn From Star Wars and Star Trek

NASA

"It is an honor," says iconic Star Trek actor William Shatner

NASA’s scientists have decided to fly their geek flag high, and will be naming craters and peaks on Charon, Pluto’s moon, after places mentioned in science fiction.

According to the rules of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Pluto’s craters have to have names drawn from underwater mythology. But, Mashable reports, NASA has more free reign to propose names for Charon’s craters and peaks — and in doing so its scientists will be referencing the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly and Dr. Who.

To date, names like Vader, Skywalker and Leia Organa have been proposed for craters, and Mordor, from Lord of the Rings, for a huge dark spot on the north side of Pluto’s moon. There’s even a Serenity chasm, named after the beloved ship on the short-lived Joss Whedon show, Firefly.

The new monikers do still have to be approved by the IAU, but scientists are hopeful that the names have enough of a cultural legacy to receive the stamp of approval. (The IAU has already approved the names “Frodo” and “Bilbo” for features on Saturn’s moon.)

Stars of the aforementioned shows and series have already expressed their support. “It is an honor to have a character you helped create be given such an esteemed recognition,” William Shatner, who starred as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, told Mashable.

[Mashable]

TIME Amazon

Amazon Wants a Special Air Zone For Its Fancy Delivery Drones

The Internet retailer wants a 200-foot space of air

Online retailer Amazon wants to someday deliver your order via drone — a high-speed one, at that — and it wants a special piece of the sky to shuttle those drones, according to a proposal the company unveiled on Tuesday at a NASA convention in California.

As part of its plan, Amazon suggests a 200-foot space of air — between 200 and 400 feet from the ground — be reserved for state-of-the-art drones flying at speeds of 60 knots or more. To keep things safe, it also proposes that a 100-foot cushion just above that airspace be made a no-fly zone to act as a buffer between drones and other aircraft, such as planes, according to The Guardian.

“The way we guarantee the greatest safety is by requiring that as the level of complexity of the airspace increases, so does the level of sophistication of the vehicle,” said Gur Kimchi, VP and co-founder of Amazon’s delivery-by-drone project, Prime Air, at the NASA event, according to The Guardian. “Under our proposal everybody has to be collaborative – vehicles must be able to talk to each other and avoid each other as the airspace gets denser at low altitudes.”

In Amazon’s world, the drones it and others use will be highly sophisticated, safe, and autonomous. The company has outlined five capabilities drones in the special zones must have. They include: sophisticated GPS that tracks the location of other drones in real-time; a reliable Internet connection; online flight planning to communicate the drone’s path; communications equipment; and sensor-based sense-and-avoid equipment to fly around other drones and obstacles.

Amazon’s proposal would also set some limits on drone hobbyists. Their aircraft would be confined to small pockets outside of these new flight areas unless they meet the criteria to fly among Amazon’s drones. Currently, they are permitted to fly up to the 400-foot mark.

But even if Amazon’s proposal becomes reality, it will likely be a while from now before drones flying in a special zone to drop off packages are an everyday thing. Only recently did a company complete the first successful drone delivery — and it wasn’t Amazon. The company is unfortunately still butting heads with the Federal Aviation Administration over how strict its regulations should be.

TIME India

How India’s Late President Learned About Rocket Science With NASA

Before he became India’s head of state, Dr. Kalam, who died on Monday aged 83, was one of the country’s most distinguished scientists. Here, a former colleague and friend recalls his time training with a young Kalam in the U.S. in the early 1960s

Back in the 1960s, we were both rookie engineers working for government organizations in India with just a few years of experience behind us—I worked in electronics and he specialized in aeronautics. Both of us had passed out from the Madras Institute of Technology in southern India, although he was older than me and graduated a few years ahead.

But the first time I met A.P.J. Abdul Kalam—or Kalam, as I always knew him—was in a foreign country: the U.S. I’d gone there in December, 1962, and he followed in March, 1963. We were part of a seven-member team dispatched by Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program, to train with NASA and learn the art of assembling and launching small rockets for collecting scientific data.

I’d already spent a few months training at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, when Kalam arrived from India. Soon, we were working side by side at NASA’s launch facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. Our lodgings were called the B.O.Q., or the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters, and we’d lunch together at the cafeteria where, because we were both vegetarians, we survived mainly on mashed potatoes, boiled beans, peas, bread and milk. Weekends in Wallops Island were lonely affairs, as the nearest town of Pocomoke City was an hour’s drive away. Thankfully for us, NASA put on a free flight to Washington D.C. for its recruits, so we would head up the to American capital on Friday nights and return to Wallops on the Monday morning shuttle.

It was a memorable experience. I remember one training session where Kalam had to fire a dummy rocket when the countdown hit zero. It was only after half a dozen attempts when he kept firing the rocket either a few seconds too early or too late that the man who went on to become one of India’s best known rocket scientists managed to get it right.

Our American sojourn ended in December, 1963, when we returned to India to help set up a domestic rocket launching facility on the outskirts of Trivandrum, the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala. It was very different world from NASA. India’s space program was still in its early years and we had to swap our weekend shuttles to Washington for bicycles, our sole mode of transportation in those days.

Quite apart from the change, this presented a practical problem for Kalam: he didn’t know how to ride a bike! He was forced to depend on me or one of the other engineers to ferry him to and from work. When it came to food, if we’d lacked options at the canteen in Wallops Island, in Kerala we had to fend entirely for ourselves: there was no canteen at the nascent launch facility, and we had purchase our lunch at the Trivandrum railway station on the way to work.

Over the next decade and a half, Kalam and I worked closely on building India’s space program. Kalam eventually became the director of the project to develop the country’s first satellite launch vehicle, a task he pursued with single-minded devotion. He made his team work hard and set the benchmark for them by working twice as hard himself. He had a knack for getting things done and did not let initial failures deter his team. He pushed and pushed until eventually, in 1980, he succeeded with the launch of SLV3, India’s first experimental satellite vehicle which took off from Sriharikota on the country’s southeastern coast.

The same year, Kalam moved to India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and took on the task of building the country’s missiles. He injected a new sense of urgency and energy in the organization, and in 1998, led the team behind the country’s nuclear tests at Pokhran in northwestern India.

His unexpected election in 2002 as India’s President took him to a different plane, transforming him into a statesman and, rightly, a national legend. But he never forgot his early friendships. In 2007, when he was about step down from the presidency, he invited my wife Gita and me to stay with him at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the grand presidential residence in New Delhi.

He never allowed his high office to come in the way of his natural informality, a quality that so endeared to so many across India and the world. One evening during our stay, he invited me and my wife to attend a national awards ceremony that he was hosting in his capacity as President. The ceremony was followed by a reception for the guests, among whom were many dignitaries. Suddenly, Gita and I found that our host had disappeared. I was looking around trying to find him when an aide came up to me and whispered a message from India’s head of state: the President wanted us to leave the other guests behind and join him in the building’s magnificent gardens. It turned out that the great man needed a break from the formality of the awards function and wanted to get some fresh air. For more than an hour, we walked up and down the beautiful gardens, reminiscing about the old days in Trivandrum and the badminton games we used to play at the Rocket Recreation Club.

He returned to his Presidential duties quite recharged.

Aravamudan is a former Director of the Indian Space Research Organization’s Satellite Centre in Bengaluru, India

TIME Innovation

A Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Does the Supreme Court need a code of conduct?

By Lincoln Caplan in the New Yorker

2. Could the genes of real-life superheroes help find new pain drugs?

By Caroline Chen in Bloomberg Business

3. Here’s how scientists made solar power 30 percent more efficient.

By Iqbal Pittalwala at University of California Riverside

4. With privatized space travel, returning to the moon just got a lot cheaper.

By Elizabeth Howell in Space.com

5. Micropayments for news stories might be making a comeback.

By Matt Carroll in MediaShift

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

How Using Data Could Stop Deadly Police Encounters

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Can police use data to prevent deadly encounters?

By Larry Greenemeier in Scientific American

2. Malaria kills half a million people every year. A first-ever vaccine is one step closer to reality.

By Alexandra Sifferlin in Time

3. NASA has discovered an older Earth-like planet. Can it tell us our future?

By Sarah Fecht in Popular Science

4. You can help verify the code that runs our nation’s defense — by playing these browser games.

By Paul Rubens at the BBC

5. Is it time to say goodbye to tipping?

By Twilight Greenaway in Civil Eats

 

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

NASA Discovers New Earth-Like Planet

It's a "bigger, older cousin to Earth"

NASA has discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting around a star, which a NASA researcher called a “bigger, older cousin to Earth.”

Kepler 452b was discovered on NASA’s Kepler mission orbiting in the habitable zone around a sun-like star, or the zone in which liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet, according to a NASA statement.

About 12 planets had previously been discovered in habitable zones that had similarities to earth, but, “Kepler-452b fires the planet hunter’s imagination because it is the most similar to the Earth-sun system found yet,” NASA’s statement says. “A planet at the right temperature within the habitable zone, and only about one-and-a-half times the diameter of Earth, circling a star very much like our own sun.”

Along with Kepler 452b, this mission also found 11 other small habitable zone planets. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Read next: See the Evolution of the Iconic Blue Marble Photo

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME space

New Horizons Finds Second Mountain Range in Pluto’s Heart

New Horizons Pluto Heart Mountain Range
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain.

The newly discovered peaks are as high as the Appalachian Mountains

Pluto’s heart continues to divulge its secrets as NASA announced the discovery of a new mountain range on the lower-left edge of the planet’s heart-shaped region.

These frozen peaks are estimated to be one-half mile to one mile high, which is about the same height as the Appalachian Mountains, NASA has revealed in a new image.

The newly discovered peaks, which have yet to be named, are located about 68 miles northwest of the Norgay Montes, the frozen mountains that were discovered on July 15 in the first series of photographs that New Horizons beamed back to Earth.

“There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”

NASA believes that Sputnik Planum, the left lobe of Pluto’s heart-shaped region, was formed less than 100 million years ago while the darker region, seen on the newly-released image, is probably older by billions of years.

TIME space

NASA Releases New Image of Earth

Earth Blue Marble DISCOVR Nasa
NASA Earth seen from a distance of one million miles captured by a NASA scientific camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecarft on July 6, 2015.

Check out the latest photo of planet Earth

NASA released the first image of Earth from its Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite on Monday.

The image shows a sunlit Earth from one million miles away. NASA says the photo was snapped with a Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera, and a telescope.

Soon, EPIC will be taking daily photos of Earth, which will be uploaded to a website 12 to 36 hours later so people can view them by September. This is the first time researchers will be able to study the daily variations of the globe.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson took to his Facebook page “at the request of the White House” to comment on the new photo:

Earth. Not mounted on a stand, with color-coded state and national boundaries, as schoolroom globes are prone to display. Instead, we see our world as only a cosmic perspective can provide: Blue Oceans — Dry Land — White Clouds — Polar Ice. A Sun-lit planet, teeming with life, framed in darkness …

Occasions such as this offer renewed confidence that we may ultimately become responsible shepherds of our own fate, and the fate of that fragile home we call Earth.

Read Next: Home, Sweet Home: In Praise of Apollo 17’s ‘Blue Marble’

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