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For the first time, we see 'dark' side of the moon

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the Moon for over four years, gathering data and measurements as well as photos of the lunar landscape.

The space agency has now put together those images to create a video that presents a first-ever look at the rotating Moon.

Although it doesn't look like it from Earth, the Moon actually does rotate, but we don't see it because it always has the same face pointed towards us.

The time it takes for the Moon to rotate once is 27 days, the same as the time it takes to go around the Earth.

Other than in photos -- and now this video -- the only people who've ever seen the far side of the Moon are the Apollo mission astronauts.

Science blogger Eric Berger recently wrote about how the term "dark side of the moon" is an innacurate way to think about moon, because, according to Earth & Sky, the far side, is in fact lighter than the near side.

Berger writes: The reason why has to do with volcanism — in its distant past the moon had volcano action. These dark areas, “maria,” are solidified remnants of ancient areas of magma. The lighter areas are lunar highlands. However, as it turns out, such maria cover about 30 percent of the near side but only 2 percent of the far side. Which means that when you look at a comparable image of the far side of the moon you’ll see ... that the “dark side” of the moon is in fact much lighter.

-  Joe Kelley is the morning news host for WDBO News 965 in Orlando

NASA plans to grow lettuce in international space station

Living off of freeze-dried, tightly packed food for months and even years is definitely not one of the perks of being an astronaut. But NASA is now making headway to help get astronauts freshly grown food.

The program is called Vegetable Production System, or Veggie for short. Its goal is to provide a sustainable method of growing safe and nutritious food in space. (Via NASA)

Here it is: the vegginator, our title, not theirs. It’s actually called Veggie. Requiring about 115 watts of power, it uses a bright pink LED light to help plants to grow up to 45 centimeters high. (Via NASA)

In December, Veggie will hit the International Space Station equipped with functioning planters filled with six romaine lettuce plants. Under the lights, the plants will be harvested in just 28 days. (Via Gizmodo)

Oh, and Veggie isn’t the first to test out space gardening. The possibility of growing zero-gravity lettuce actually started with this blog, Diary of a Space Zucchini, written by Don Pettit, and yep, you guessed it — that is a little baby zucchini sprout.(Via NASA)

This type of sustainability is not only important for the health of men and woman out in the great unknown, but possibly for humankind.

Modern Farmer writes: “That little plant could be the key to our future. If — as some doomsday scientists predict — we eventually exhaust the Earth’s livability, space farming will prove vital to the survival of our species.”

Not only that, but astronaut food can be pricey, costing about $10,000 per pound to send to the ISS.

NASA’s not the only organization working on growing food outside of Earth. The Mars Society is testing greenhouses in the Utah desert, which is similar terrain to Mars.

If Veggie is successful, tomatoes, radishes and snap peas might be up next on the menu. (Via Wikimedia Commons / tooony / Daderot / Brianga)

One more added benefit to space gardening: maintaining sanity, minimizing boredom among astronauts. Because floating around for months at a time has got to get boring.

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New spacecraft to investigate moon mystery

More than 40 years after the last Apollo astronauts left the moon, NASA is preparing to launch a small robotic spacecraft to investigate one of their most bizarre discoveries.

Crews reported seeing an odd glow on the lunar horizon just before sunrise. The phenomenon, which prompted a notebook sketch by Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan, was unexpected because the airless moon lacked atmosphere for reflecting sunlight.

Scientists began to suspect that dust from the lunar surface was being electrically charged and somehow lofted off the ground, a theory that will be tested by the U.S. space agency's upcoming Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Experiment.

The spacecraft, known as LADEE, is scheduled to be launched at 11:27 p.m. EDT on Friday from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

"Terrestrial dust is like talcum powder. On the moon, it's very rough. It's kind of evil. It follows electric field lines, it works its way in equipment. ... It's a very difficult environment to deal with," said LADEE project manager Butler Hine of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

In addition to studying fly-away lunar dust, LADEE will probe the tenuous envelope of gases that surrounds the moon, a veneer so thin it stretches the meaning of the word "atmosphere."

Instead, scientists refer to these environments as exospheres and hope that understanding the moon's gaseous shell will shed light on similar pockets around Mercury, asteroids and other airless bodies.

"LADEE is part of a much broader scientific exploration of the solar system," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science.

The $280 million mission also includes an experimental laser optical communications system that NASA hopes to incorporate into future planetary probes, including a Mars rover scheduled for launch in 2020.

The prototype is based on technology used in terrestrial fiber-optic communications systems, such as Verizon's FiOS. NASA says the system should be at least six times faster than conventional radio communications. Also, its transmitters and receivers weigh half as much as similar radio communications equipment and use 25 percent less power.

"On the Earth, we've been using laser communication and fiber optics to power our Internet and everything else for the last couple of decades," Grunsfeld said. "NASA has really been wanting to make that same technological leap and put it into space. This is our chance to do that."

LADEE's optical communications system, which includes three ground stations in addition to LADEE, will be tested before the probe drops into a low lunar orbit to begin its science mission about 60 days after launch.

Just getting to the moon will take LADEE 30 days - 10 times longer than the Apollo missions due to the probe's relatively low-powered Minotaur 5 launcher.

The rocket is comprised of three refurbished intercontinental ballistic missile motors and two commercially provided boosters. The Minotaur 5 configuration will be flying for the first time with LADEE.

The use of decommissioned missile components drove the decision to fly from NASA's Wallops Island facility, one of only a few launch sites permitted to fly refurbished ICBMs under U.S.-Russian arms control agreements.

Did life on Earth really come from Mars?

A new scientific theory made headlines Thursday — and they’re some headlines.

“Earth life ‘may have come from Mars’” (Via BBC)

“Life On Earth, From Mars? Why We Might All Be Alien Invaders” (Via International Business Times)

And “All humans may be ‘Martians’?” (Via National Post)

The story comes from biochemist Dr. Steven Benner, who gave a talk Thursday at the Goldschmidt Conference in Florence, Italy. (Via Foundation for Applied Molecular EvolutionGeochemical Society)

Benner argues several materials necessary for life to form wouldn’t have been available on Earth 3 billion years ago when life first arose — but there would have been plenty of them on Mars.

But is this just another wild theory meant to generate publicity? Well, that depends on who you ask. (Via Vanity Fair)

Benner has his supporters, such as prominent biologist Richard Dawkins, who said the idea is “not totally silly.” That’s some high praise.

And NBC science writer Alan Boyle said: “One thing’s for sure: Benner is not a kook. He was one of the first chemists to voice skepticism about the claims for arsenic-based life, which stirred up such a fuss in 2010.”

Even Benner’s critics say he does great work and that his ideas are plausible.

More than 100 meteorites found on Earth have been traced to Mars, most likely thrown into space by an asteroid strike. (Via NASA)

 And it’s long been thought certain hardy microbes could actually survive for a while in the vacuum of space. (Via National Science Foundation)

 So the critics admit much of what Benner says is possible, but they do take issue with the sensationalist press release.

 Scientific American’s Caleb Scharf points out Benner’s explanation for how life arose is just one of many possible theories — and most others don’t require material from Mars.

 Astrobiologist David Grinspoon says so much about the origin of life is still up in the air, it’s just as likely Earth was seeded by life from Venus as from Mars.

 So at this point, the answer to the question “Are we all Martians?” is a not-so-sensational “maybe” — although it does make for a good headline.

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Shuttle crosses Los Angeles streets

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