Space Race Part II: Russia Returns

The space shuttle program, set for retirement next year, appears to be limping to its death. First, the shuttle Discovery's mission to the International Space Station was delayed this week—again.

Discovery had been set to launch on Saturday, but this delay, its fourth overall, has delayed the mission indefinitely. Meanwhile, the May shuttle launch to service the Hubble Space Telescope is now in doubt. NASA will decide next month whether the debris from this month's satellite crash poses too much of a risk for the shuttle to launch.

The pending shuttle retirement raised all kinds of consternation because it leaves a five-year gap between the end of shuttle flights and the anticipated ready date of its successor, the Orion capsule. As of now, hitching a ride on a Russian Soyuz looks like the only way for NASA to reach the space station during that window, giving Russia political leverage over the U.S. While that's an unfortunate political reality, the alternative—prolonging shuttle flights—seems like a poorer and poorer idea with every mechanical malady and delayed launch.  

While America's space agency hurries to develop its newest spacecraft, perhaps its leaders will have the chance to follow the advice astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson gave when he visited Big Think: NASA should be dreaming big, and by doing so, inspiring the next generation to become America's next great scientists.

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
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China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
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