Nothing to See Here, Just NASA Doing What it Does

Yes, that NASA:

NASA logoNASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) has made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 239,000 miles between the moon and Earth at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps).

LLCD is NASA’s first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves. It also has demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft currently orbiting the moon.

“LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation (SCaN) in Washington. “We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon.”

Since NASA first ventured into space, it has relied on radio frequency (RF) communication. However, RF is reaching its limit as demand for more data capacity continues to increase. The development and deployment of laser communications will enable NASA to extend communication capabilities such as increased image resolution and 3-D video transmission from deep space.

“The goal of LLCD is to validate and build confidence in this technology so that future missions will consider using it,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “This unique ability developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory has incredible application possibilities.”

LLCD is a short-duration experiment and the precursor to NASA’s long-duration demonstration, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). LCRD is a part of the agency’s Technology Demonstration Missions Program, which is working to develop crosscutting technology capable of operating in the rigors of space. It is scheduled to launch in 2017.

Detail of Jeff Berkes via APoDHeh. And here you thought the cool part of LADEE was the launch.

Reminder: When juxtaposing the insanely cool stuff NASA pulls off as a matter of routine in the course of being a public agency that regularly does its job just fine against the proposition of showing up to work in the morning and not making a special effort to completely botch the job, the notion arises that perhaps we should put the agency eggheads on the task of building a Congress that actually functions properly.

I mean, you know ….

They will get to that, I’m certain, right after they achieve faster-than-light travel while accidentally proving that God is a Buddhist hedgehog running a pâtisserie in Ballard.

In exchange for which … well, right. Congress will just … er … cut their budget.

Because, you know.


Cosmic Harmony (Kitchen Mix)

In case you were wondering:

Ross Henrywood, Anurag Agarwal, and Cambridge UniversityThe high-pitched note emitted by hot kettles has puzzled scientists for more than a century, but thanks to two steamed-up researchers at Cambridge University, the exact physics of a whistling kettle have been worked out ….

…. Steam produced by the kettle first meets a hole in the kettle’s spout, which is significantly narrower than the spout itself. As steam is forced through the narrow opening, it creates a “naturally unstable” jet, according to a written statement released by the university, “like the jet of water from a garden hose that starts to break into droplets after it has travelled a certain distance.”

When the now-imperfect jet of steam reaches the second opening, it “cannot escape perfectly . . . and as [it hits] the second whistle wall, [it forms] a small pressure pulse. This pulse causes the steam to form vortices as it exits the whistle. These vortices produce sound waves, creating the comforting noise that heralds a forthcoming cup of tea.”

Whistling kettles have been a puzzlement since at least the late 19th Century, when John William Strutt, Third Baron Rayleigh, published The Theory of Sound. Despite Strutt’s theories about the kettle whistle, he concluded that “much remains obscure” about the sound.


I had actually just figured the physics were well understood, since you can get some pretty cool kettle whistles out there. That is to say, if one can tune a kettle to play a D minor with a suspended seventh, it would seem fair to simply presume scientists actually knew what they were doing.

Let that be a lesson.

In a way, that makes it like saying, “I think”, when one can look it up on a smartphone. Even Rand Paul knows how to use Wikipedia … er … um … right. Never mind.

Plagiarism is bad, m’kay?

Anyway, yeah. Kettle whistle. Oh, right: Never presume; always find out.

Grenoble, Ryan. “Why Do Kettles Whistle? Science Has An Answer”. The Huffington Post. October 27, 2013.

Kaczynski, Andrew. “Rand Paul Has Given Speeches Plagiarized From Wikipedia Before”. BuzzFeed. October 29, 2013.

Big Bang B-mode

Big Bang Mosaic
Via Megan Gannon:

Researchers had already detected this polarized light in one pattern, known as “electric” or E-mode polarization. But using the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica and the European Space Agency’s Herschel space observatory, researchers for the first time detected polarized light from the cosmic microwave background in the “magnetic” or B-mode.

The observed B-mode pattern arose from gravitational lensing, in which light gets bent and deflected by massive cosmic objects such as galaxy clusters and lumps of mysterious dark matter, researchers said. But there is another way to produce B-modes: primordial gravitational waves produced during the earliest moments of the universe, when it was in its rapid “inflation” phase, mere trillionths of a second after the big bang.

During inflation, the idea goes, the universe expanded faster than the speed of light, doubling in size 100 times or more in just a few tiny fractions of a second. (Einstein’s theory of special relativity holds that no information or matter can travel faster than light through space, but this rule does not apply to inflation, which was an expansion of space itself.)

The new detection should provide a baseline to aid future efforts to measure B-modes produced by gravitational waves, which in turn could reveal a great deal about how our universe grew in its earliest moments, researchers said.

“This measurement was made possible by a clever and unique combination of ground-based observations from the South Pole Telescope — which measured the light from the big bang — with space-based observations from Herschel, which is sensitive to the galaxies that trace the dark matter which caused the gravitational lensing,” Herschel researcher Joaquin Vieira, of the California Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explained in a statement.

And there you go. If you’re really into the technical papers, a preprint version is available from ArXiv.