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Update April 2018


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April 21, 2018 - April 27, 2018

Young John Glenn’s pillowcase featured planets, stars

Adam Sackowitz holds up an embroidered pillowcase with celestial bodies on it that belonged to the late John Glenn (Courtesy of Adam Sackowitz via AP)

Julie Carr Smyth

Columbus, Ohio (AP) - When future astronaut John Glenn nestled in his bed, it may not have been sugar plums that danced in his head, but celestial bodies.

A recently discovered child’s pillowcase that belonged to the late U.S. senator and space hero depicts revolving planets, stars and a view to outer space. At the center, a koala bear clings to some sort of spacecraft, labeled “John” in blue embroidered cursive.

Glenn grew up to become the first American to orbit the Earth.

Adam Sackowitz, a graduate student from Queens, New York, purchased the pillowcase March 8 for $2,500 at an estate sale of Glenn’s possessions. An authentication certificate says it belonged to Glenn during his childhood, which was in the 1920s and early 1930s. The Ohio native died in 2016 at age 95.

Sackowitz joined the crowds of people who lined up for the estate sale in Potomac, Maryland, for the chance to buy mementos from Glenn’s life. Karen Jones, of Greater Washington Estate Services, which organized the sale, said the pillowcase was among a roomful of items Glenn’s children identified as belonging to their father.

Sackowitz said he stretched his budget to buy the pillowcase because the embroidered image seemed to predict Glenn’s future career.

“This pillowcase seemed to foretell John Glenn’s future as an astronaut,” Sackowitz said. “I really wanted to buy it and see it preserved for history.”

He hopes to donate the item for display in Glenn’s birthplace of Cambridge, Ohio, which got its first-ever historic marker commemorating its famous son in November. Glenn’s celestial bedding could also go to the John & Annie Glenn Museum in New Concord, Ohio, Sackowitz said. That’s where Glenn and his widow spent their childhoods.


The center of the Milky Way is teeming with black holes

 

This illustration provided by Columbia University shows the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A, located at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, surrounded by a cloud of dust and gas within which are 12 smaller black holes, and a closeup of one of the systems. The enlarged section illustrates how the 12 black holes are each accompanied by a star in a binary orbit. Gasses from the partner star are pulled into a disk around the black hole. (Columbia University via AP)

Seth Borenstein

Washington (AP) - The center of our galaxy is teeming with black holes, sort of like a Times Square for strange super gravity objects, astronomers discovered.

For decades, scientists theorized that circling in the center of galaxies, including ours, were lots of stellar black holes, collapsed giant stars where the gravity is so strong even light doesn’t get out. But they hadn’t seen evidence of them in the Milky Way core until now.

Astronomers poring over old x-ray observations have found signs of a dozen black holes in the inner circle of the Milky Way. And since most black holes can’t even be spotted that way, they calculate that there are likely thousands of them there. They estimate it could be about 10,000, maybe more, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Nature.

“There’s lots of action going on there,” said study lead author Chuck Hailey, a Columbia University astrophysicist. “The galactic center is a strange place. That’s why people like to study it.”

The stellar black holes are in addition to - and essentially circling - the already known supermassive black hole, called Sagittarius A, that’s parked at the center of the Milky Way.

In the rest of the massive Milky Way, scientists have only spotted about five dozen black holes so far, Hailey said.

The newly discovered black holes are within about 19.2 trillion miles (30.9 trillion kilometers) of the supermassive black hole at the center. So there’s still a lot of empty space and gas amid all those black holes. But if you took the equivalent space around Earth there would be zero black holes, not thousands, Hailey said.

Earth is in spiral arm estimated to be around 24,000 to 30,000 light years away from the center of the galaxy. (A light year is 5.9 trillion miles, or 9.5 trillion kilometers.)

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who wasn’t part of the study, praised the finding as exciting but confirming what scientists had long expected.

The newly confirmed black holes are about 10 times the mass of our sun, as opposed to the central supermassive black hole, which has the mass of 4 million suns. Also the ones spotted are only the type that are binary, where a black hole has partnered with another star and together they emit large amount of x-rays as the star’s outer layer is sucked into the black hole. Those x-rays are what astronomers observe.

When astronomers look at closer binary black hole systems they could then see the ratio between what’s visible and what’s too faint to be observed from far away. Using that ratio, Hailey figures that even though they only spotted a dozen there must be 300 to 500 binary black hole systems.

But binary black hole systems are likely only 5 percent of all black holes, so that means there are really thousands of them, Hailey said.

There are good reasons the Milky Way’s black holes tend to be in the center of the galaxy, Hailey said.

First, their mass tends to pull them to the center. But mostly the center of the galaxy is the perfect “hot house” for black hole formation, with lots of dust and gas.

Hailey said it is “sort of like a little farm where you have all the right conditions to produce and hold on to a large number of black holes.”


April 7, 2018 - April 13, 2018

Self-taught rocket scientist blasts off into California sky

In this March 6, 2018, file photo, “Mad” Mike Hughes begins work on repairing a steam leak after he scrubbed his launch attempt of his steam-powered rocket near Amboy, Calif. The self-taught rocket scientist who believes the Earth is flat propelled himself about 1,000 feet into the air before a hard-landing in the Mojave Desert that left him injured Saturday, March 24, 2018. Hughes tells The Associated Press that he injured his back but is otherwise fine after Saturday’s launch near Amboy, Calif. (James Quigg/Daily Press via AP, File)

Pat Graham & Michael Balsamo

Los Angeles (AP) - He finally went up - just like the self-taught rocket scientist always pledged he would.

He came back down in one piece, too - a little dinged up and his steam-powered vessel a little cracked up.

Still, mission accomplished for a guy more daredevil than engineer, who drew more comparisons to the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote from his critics than he did to iconic stunt man Evel Knievel.

“Mad” Mike Hughes, the rocket man who believes the Earth is flat, propelled himself about 1,875 feet into the air Saturday before a hard landing in the Mojave Desert. He told The Associated Press that outside of an aching back he’s fine after the launch near Amboy, California.

“Relieved,” he said after being checked out by paramedics. “I’m tired of people saying I chickened out and didn’t build a rocket. I’m tired of that stuff. I manned up and did it.”

The launch in the desert town - about 200 miles (321.85 kilometers) east of Los Angeles - was originally scheduled in November. It was scrubbed several times due to logistical issues with the Bureau of Land Management and mechanical problems that kept popping up.

The 61-year-old limo driver converted a mobile home into a ramp and modified it to launch from a vertical angle so he wouldn’t fall back to the ground on public land. For months he’s been working on overhauling his rocket in his garage.

It looked like Saturday might be another in a string of cancellations, given that the wind was blowing and his rocket was losing steam. Ideally, they wanted it at 350 psi for maximum thrust, but it was dropping to 340.

“I told Mike we could try to keep charging it up and get it hotter,” said Waldo Stakes, who’s been helping Hughes with his endeavor. “He said, ‘No.’”

Sometime after 3 p.m. PDT, and without a countdown, Hughes’ rocket soared into the sky.

Hughes reached a speed that Stakes estimated to be around 350 mph before pulling his parachute. Hughes was dropping too fast, though, and he had to deploy a second one. He landed with a thud and the rocket’s nose broke in two places like it was designed to do.

“This thing wants to kill you 10 different ways,” said Hughes, who had an altimeter in his cockpit to measure his altitude. “This thing will kill you in a heartbeat.

“Am I glad I did it? Yeah. I guess. I’ll feel it in the morning. I won’t be able to get out of bed. At least I can go home and have dinner and see my cats tonight.”

He got permission to launch on the land owned by Albert Okura, who bought Amboy in 2005 for $435,000. Okura was in attendance and said the event lasted about three to four minutes. The rocket landed about 1,500 feet from the launch ramp, Stakes said.

“Mike branded us as ‘Rocket Town,’” Okura said. “It was amazing.”

This has been quite an undertaking for Hughes, who lives in Apple Valley, California. He’s seen a flurry of reaction to his plans, with detractors labeling him a crackpot for planning the launch in a homemade contraption and his belief that the world is flat.

Some naysayers have posted things like “He’ll be fine” with a picture of Wile E. Coyote strapped to a rocket.

“I hope he doesn’t blow something up,” retired NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger said as Hughes’ plans captured widespread attention. Linenger orbited the globe more than 2,000 times during four months in 1997. “Rocketry, as our private space companies found out, isn’t as easy as it looks.”

Hughes often sparred with his critics on social media leading up to the launch, through Facebook comments and a 12-minute video addressed to his doubters. He’s always maintained that his mission isn’t to prove the Earth is flat.

“Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is,” he said. “Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up in space.”

That’s his project for down the road. He wants to build a “Rockoon,” a rocket that is carried into the atmosphere by a gas-filled balloon, then separated from the balloon and lit. This rocket would take Hughes about 68 miles up.

He has a documentary crew following him around to record his ambition, with a planned release in August.

This was actually the second time he’s constructed and launched a rocket. He said he jumped on a private property in Winkelman, Arizona, on Jan. 30, 2014, and traveled 1,374 feet. He collapsed after that landing and needed three days to recover.

But there wasn’t any footage of him climbing into the craft, leading some to question whether he even took off.

This one was going to be shown online through Noize TV.

“My story really is incredible,” Hughes said. “It’s got a bunch of story lines - the garage-built thing. I’m an older guy. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, plus the Flat Earth. The problem is it brings out all the nuts also, people questioning everything. It’s the downside of all this.”

His future plans are simple: Fill out the paperwork to run for governor.

“This is no joke,” Hughes said. “I want to do it.”


March 31, 2018 - April 6, 2018

John Sulston, who decoded the human genome, dies at 75

John Sulston, a Nobel Prize-winning British scientist who helped decode the human genome, has died. He was 75. (AP Photo/Adam Butler, File)

London (AP) - John Sulston, a Nobel Prize-winning British scientist who helped decode the human genome, has died. He was 75.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute, the successor to the cutting-edge genomic research center he once founded and directed, confirmed Friday that Sulston had died but did not say when or give the cause of death.

Sulston shared the prize in 2002 for his contribution to work unraveling how genes control cell division. He traced the adult nematode worm, C. elegans, to decipher how cells divide and create something new - findings the Sanger Institute said were key to understanding how cancers develop.

“He had a burning and unrelenting commitment to making genome data open to all without restriction and his leadership in this regard is in large part responsible for the free access now enjoyed,” Mike Stratton, the institute’s director, said.

“We all feel the loss today of a great scientific visionary and leader who made historic, landmark contributions to knowledge of the living world, and established a mission and agenda that defines 21st century science,” Stratton added.

Sulston was fascinated from an early age with the mechanical workings of organisms.

He graduated from Cambridge University in 1963, and did postdoctoral research in California before joining Sydney Brenner’s group at the Cambridge University molecular biology lab, where the structure of DNA was first identified. They published the gene map of the nematode worm in 1990.

In 1992, Sulston was appointed director of the Sanger Center, established at Cambridge to spearhead the British contribution to the international Human Genome Project.

He shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for medicine with Brenner and Robert Horvitz for their work.


China to recruit civilian astronauts, boost crewed missions

In this Oct. 31, 2003, file photo, school children wave Chinese and Hong Kong flags as they welcome China’s first astronaut Yang Liwei, center. China says it plans to begin recruiting civilian astronauts for its military-backed space program. (AP Photo/Anat Givon, File)

Beijing (AP) - China will begin recruiting civilian astronauts for its military-backed space program and plans to increase the number of crewed missions to around two a year, a top official with the country’s space program said.

China’s third batch of astronaut trainees will include recruits from industry, research institutions and universities who will help build and crew China’s independent space station, Yang Liwei, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, told reporters on the sidelines of the annual session of China’s ceremonial parliament.

New astronauts will include maintenance engineers and payload specialists as well as pilots, Yang, who became China’s first man in space in 2003, said Saturday.

China selected 14 astronauts, or yuhangyuan in Chinese, in the late 1990s and another seven in 2010, including two women. A total of 11 have been sent on six missions.

China now operates the Tiangong 2 precursor space station facility, while the permanent station’s 20-ton core module will be launched this year. The completed 60-ton station is set to come into full service in 2022 and operate for at least a decade.

China was excluded from the 420-ton International Space Station mainly due to U.S. legislation barring such cooperation and concerns over the Chinese space program’s strong military connections.

Since China conducted its first crewed missions - becoming only the third country after Russia and the U.S. to do so - it has staged a spacewalk and landed its Jade Rabbit rover on the moon. A mission to land another rover on Mars and bring back samples is set to launch in 2020. China also plans to become the first country to soft-land a probe on the far side of the moon.


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Young John Glenn’s pillowcase featured planets, stars

The center of the Milky Way is teeming with black holes


Self-taught rocket scientist blasts off into California sky


John Sulston, who decoded the human genome, dies at 75

China to recruit civilian astronauts, boost crewed missions

 



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