NASA’s Attaching an Expandable Space House to the ISS

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NASA’s Attaching an Expandable Space House to the ISS

NASA's Attaching an Expandable Space House to the ISS
BEAM concept art via NASA (arrows added by Gizmodo)

The ISS has gotten quite a few improvements lately, but the latest addition is unusually impressive: a 12-foot long expandable room that astronauts will attach to the space station’s back and inflate to twice its original size.

NASA today revealed that the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will make the trip up on the next resupply mission. Once there, it will be attached to the space station’s rear port using the ISS’s robotic arm, where it will inflate at the touch of a button from its compact size of just over five-and-a-half feet long to its full size. From trigger to full expansion, the process takes only 45 minutes.

You can watch a full artist’s conception of the process here:

The astronauts will make a total of four trips into BEAM, the longest of which will go for only three hours. It’s not BEAM that’s forcing the shortened timeframe, however. NASA’s manager for the project Rajib Dasgupta told Gizmodo that the astronauts could easily stay much, much longer if they desired. But with their already busy schedules it’s unlikely that they’ll have time to visit any longer than the already scheduled testing of the unit’s radiation protection, temperature, and general operation.

When they astronauts do visit BEAM, they should find it quite similar to the existing ISS. “The difference between the two is very, very minimal,” Dasgupta said, noting that impact durability of the attachable is the same as the existing metallic ISS. The only differences an astronaut might notice, beyond the appearance, would be slightly cooler temperatures and a bit of condensation when it first expands.

BEAM will remain attached to the ISS for two years, when the ISS team will jettison it into space—although, BEAM researchers did leave the possibility for an extension open, saying that they had rated it safe for up to five years.

The most exciting possibilities for the module extend well beyond the ISS mission. There’s a chance that similar structures could be used for future lunar or martian colonization.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” Dasgupta said. “Success on the ISS would go a long way towards proving expandables [can work].”

Even with a successful ISS run, however, there would still be a long way to go towards modifying expandable houses for deep space life and the additional trials, including tougher potential impacts, dust barriers, and other challenged they’d face on a planetary or lunar surface. Even still, this new technology is another exciting step closer towards sustaining life on Mars.


Something Just Slammed Into Jupiter

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Something Just Slammed Into Jupiter

Something Just Slammed Into Jupiter

Astronomers have captured video evidence of a collision between Jupiter and a small celestial object, likely a comet or asteroid. Though it looks like a small blip of light, the resulting explosion was unusually powerful.

As Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy reports, the collision occurred on March 17, but confirmation of the event only emerged this week. An amateur Austrian astronomer used a 20-centimeter telescope to chronicle the unexpected event, but it could’ve been some kind of visual artifact.

A second video taken at the same time with a 28 cm telescope in Ireland has now confirmed it as an actual impact.

Plait says that the asteroid or comet wasn’t very large, probably measuring only a few hundred feet in diameter. But when it comes to celestial collisions, it’s not the size of the impactor that counts. Owing to Jupiter’s huge mass, the object must’ve have been accelerating rapidly, releasing a tremendous amount of kinetic energy on impact. Plait explains:

On average (and ignoring orbital velocity), an object will hit Jupiter with roughly five times the velocity it hits Earth, so the impact energy is 25 times as high. The asteroid that burned up over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was 19 meters across, and it exploded with the energy of 500,000 tons of TNT.

Now multiply that by 25, and you can see how it doesn’t take all that big a rock to hit Jupiter for us to be able to see it from Earth.

Incidentally, at these huge speeds, hitting the atmosphere is like slamming into a wall. A lot of people get understandably confused how an asteroid can explode due to air, but the pressures involved as it rams through the atmosphere at these speeds are ridiculously huge. The air and rock heat up, the rock starts to fall apart, and each chunk then gets hot, and so on, creating a very rapid cascade that releases the energy of motion in just a second or two.

The result, says Plait, was a “very, very big bang.”

This is not the first time we’ve seen Jupiter get struck by an object. Back in 1994 it was hit by cometary fragments from Shoemaker-Levy 9, and again in 2010 and 2012. Plait says the gas giant gets hit by something big enough to see from Earth about once a year.


George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.

Facts About Adders

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Facts About Adders

Common adder
The common adder or black adder (Vipera berus) is the only venomous snake native to Britain.
Credit: taviphoto | Shutterstock

Adder is a word derived from an Old English term meaning serpent, and it can refer to several types of snakes, including some species that are only distantly related. Some adders are in the viper family, but they are in different genera, such as the common adder or black adder of Europe (Vipera berus) and the puff adder of Africa (Bitis arietans). The death adders of Australia and Oceania (genus Acanthophis) are in the Elapid family, along with cobras, coral snakes, mambas and many others. Most adders are venomous but not all are considered especially dangerous to humans.

The term adder was adopted for these different snakes because they physicially resemble each other, even though they are not all related, according to Alan Savitzky, a professor of biological sciences at Utah State University specializing in the biology of snakes. For example, snakes in the genus Acanthophis, which are actually related to cobras, “are called death adders because of their physical resemblance to vipers.”

Eastern hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos), found in the eastern United States, are sometimes called puff adders because when confronted, they puff up the skin around their heads like a cobra, hiss and lunge, according to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. However, these snakes eventually play dead and almost never bite. They are nonvenomous and should not be confused with the venomous African variety (genus Bitis).

Black adder or European adder

While the common names of several species contain the word “adder,” the only species whose common name is simply adder is Vipera berus, according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web (ADW). Also called the common adder, common European adder, black adder or the common European viper, it is found throughout most of western Europe and into east Asia, and is the only venomous snake native to Britain, according to the Forestry Commission of England.

Physical characteristics

“Black or European adders are relatively small,” Savitzky said. Adults average about 24 inches (7.3 meters) long and are relatively thick-bodied.

Black or European adders are usually gray or reddish brown, though they can also be black, white, cream or pale yellow. Adders have a V shape on their heads and scales that partially cover their eyes, giving them a lidded appearance. Most adders have distinctive black or dark brown zig-zag markings on their backs, said Savitzky. Some, however, are pure black (hence the term, “black adder”). Females are generally redder and browner than males, which tend to have more gray, black and white coloring. Females are also larger.

Like other vipers, black or European adders have hinged fangs through which venom is injected into prey. Hinged fangs fold up and lie against the roof of the snake’s mouth. This allows their fangs to grow relatively long, according to Andrew Solway, author of the book “Deadly Snakes” (Heinemann-Raintree, 2005).


According to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, black or European adders have the largest range of any terrestrial snake in the world. They are the only snakes that live above the Arctic Circle. They extend from the upper reaches of Scandinavia south to northern Greece and east to Northern China and Korea. They also live at the highest elevation of any snake — up to 8,500 feet (2,591 meters) above sea level.


Black or European adders are often found on the edge of the woods, in open countryside, according to the Forestry Commission of England. They like to have open meadows or dunes for basking in the sun, but also leaves, scrub, or rocks to hide beneath when threatened. They are not commonly found in urban areas.


Black or European adders are solitary, shy snakes. Though they have relatively good eyesight, they rely primarily on their sense of smell when mating, according to Solway.

Adders are most commonly seen during sunset, when they go out to hunt. They are primarily terrestrial. Black or European adders in colder climates hibernate for five to seven months during the winter, according to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. They stay in abandoned mammal or tortoise burrows. Many adders will hibernate together. Young adders tend to hibernate in the place they were born.

Hunting and feeding habits

Adders feed mostly on small mammals, said Savitzky. They also eat lizards, nesting birds and frogs. Adders employ both ambush and active hunting techniques. Once they have identified their prey, they strike it and inject venom. They then immediately release the prey so that it cannot bite back. The bitten prey wanders off, dies and the adder uses its sense of smell to find it.

Reproduction and lifespan

During warm spring days, male adders actively search for females by picking up pheromones in the air. They sometimes wrestle other males for the same female, slithering across the ground quickly. The males raise their bodies and intertwine with each other, a movement the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust calls “dance of the adders.” Originally thought to be a mating display, it is actually an attempt to drive a competing male out of range.

Black or European adders are ovoviviparous, said Savitzky. That means the eggs are fertilized and incubate inside the mother and she gives birth to live young. The gestation period is three to four months. Adders typically give birth to about 12 babies, which are independent soon after birth. The mother may stay with them for a few hours.

Adder babies are about 7 inches (17.8 centimeters) long. The Forestry Commission of England describes them as perfect miniatures of adult snakes. They are sometimes born during hibernation, so they are born with excess fat stores to help them through their first winter.

Adders reach sexual maturity between 3 and 4 years of age. They can live for up to 15 years in the wild, according to the ADW.


According to the Forestry Commission of England, no one has died of an adder bite in Britain in more than 20 years. Though they are venomous, they are not aggressive, and when threatened only use their venom as a last resort. Humans are most likely to be bitten if they step on or try to pick up an adder.

Adders “have relatively moderate venom, not highly lethal,” said Savitzky. They are, however, “unpleasant and could cause potentially serious medical issues. Though they are usually not lethal, that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve treatment.” He noted that they could still be fatal, mostly for children or the elderly.

Endangerment status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, lists black or European adders as a species of least concern. They are protected in the United Kingdom, according to the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Puff adder

Sometimes called African adders, puff adders (Bitis arietans) are members of the viper family. “Generally, more venomous vipers are in tropical areas, such as South America and Africa,” Savitzky said. That is certainly true for the puff adder, which is more venomous and dangerous than its European relatives. According to A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa, puff adders are responsible for the most snakebite fatalities in Africa.

Puff adder
A puff adder (Bitis arietans) strikes a defensive pose.
Credit: EcoPrint | Shutterstock

Physical characteristics

Puff adders average about 3 feet (1 meter) in length and have stout bodies. They have light brown, gray, and black markings with a distinctive chevron pattern, according to the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in South Africa. Their coloring makes for effective camouflage. Like most vipers, their heads have a triangular shape and are distinct from their necks. Males are larger than females. Like other vipers, puff adders have hinged fangs through which venom is injected into prey.


Puff adders are widespread throughout Africa, Savitzky said. They live in most of sub-Saharan Africa except the rainforests in west and central Africa. Puff adders are found across the Red Sea in the southwest corner of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and in in the southwest corner of Oman.


Puff adders primarily live in rocky savannahs, though they are found almost everywhere in Africa except deserts and rainforests. A primary reason they bite so many people is that they are highly adaptable snakes and often live in developed places, according to the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve.

Behavioral habits

Puff adders are out both during the day and at night, though they are more active at night, according to Perry’s Bridge Reptile Park in South Africa. Because of their stocky bodies, they are relatively slow-moving snakes. They rely on their camouflage for protection rather than their ability to move quickly. Puff adders move in a straight line, like a caterpillar, rather than in the side-to-side slithering motion of most snakes.

Puff adders are known for their aggressive temperament, though Savitzky says that might be overstated. Part of that reputation may come from the relative frequency of humans stepping on puff adders. Because they are slow and heavily camouflaged, it is possible for people to unintentionally get close to the snakes and step on them.

When threatened, puff adders inflate their upper bodies and hiss. This habit as given rise to their common name.

Despite their slow traveling speed, puff adders are known for their quick strike. According to Perry’s Bridge Reptile Park, they can strike within 0.25 of a second of being threatened.

Puff adders are primiarily terrestrial, though they sometimes climb trees and are fond of swimming.

Hunting and feeding habits

Puff adders eat mostly small mammals, said Savitzky. They also eat birds and lizards. They do not actively hunt but wait and ambush their prey.


Like black adders, puff adders are ovoviviparous, said Savitzky; the young are born live. Puff adders mate in the spring and give birth to an average of 20 to 50 babies. According to Perry’s Bridge Reptile Park, the gestation period lasts between seven and nine months. Babies are 5 to 7 inches (12.7 to 17.8 centimeters) long at birth and are born venomous.


Puff adders have cytotoxic venom, which means it destroys tissues in a process called necrosis, according to Sabi Sabi Game Preserve. Antivenom is available, however, and most fatalities occur not from the severity of the venom but from poor medical care.

Endangerment status

Puff adders have not been evaluated by the IUCN Red List or the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Death adders

Unlike other adders, death adders are not vipers. They are related to cobras, though they are not cobras, either. They are members of theAcanthophis genus in the Elapid family. There are seven subspecies, according Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). These are the common death adder, the Barkley Tableland death adder, the smooth-scaled death adder, northern death adder, desert death adder, rough-scaled death adder and the Pilbara death adder.

“They are called death adders because of their physical resemblance to vipers,” said Savitzky. “Vipers are heavy-bodied and squat with triangular heads. Death adders look like that. And for good reason — like vipers they consume relatively large prey for their head and body size.” Their similar appearance is due to convergent evolution, he said.

Death adder
Death adders live in Australia. Their venom is very potent, but it’s a very different kind of venom.
Credit: Brooke Whatnall | Shutterstock

Physical characteristics

Death adders are short and stout, averaging between 15 and 35 inches (38 to 89 cm) in length, depending on the subspecies. They are usually gray, brown, black, reddish or yellow in color. Most have large bands around their bodies, and their coloring provides effective camouflage. They have a small, wormlike growth on the ends of their tails that they use to lure prey, according to the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. Death adders have large fangs, though they are much smaller than a viper’s.


Death adders are found in Australia, New Guinea, and a few small surrounding islands, said Savitzky. They do not live in Tasmania.


Death adders live throughout most of Australia, in heaths, around the edges of rain forests, grasslands and eucalyptus forests, according to the Queensland Murray Darling Committee, an Australian natural resources management organization. Desert death adders live in parts of the arid outback.

Behavioral habits

Death adders are effectively camouflaged, and their defense strategy relies on this. When they feel the vibrations of approaching large animals, including humans, they burrow deep into leaf litter or other debris, rather than moving out of the way as most snakes do. This caused early European settlers of Australia to think that they couldn’t hear (no snakes truly hear), giving rise to the name “deaf adder,” which later morphed into death adder, according to the CSL Antivenom Handbook.

Death adders will strike quickly if stepped on or otherwise threatened. They are shy, secretive snakes that spend most of their time partially hiding under rocks or other ground cover to ambush their prey, according to the Australian Museum.

They are both diurnal and nocturnal depending on the local climate, according to the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

Diet and hunting habits

Death adders eat mostly small mammals, said Savitzky. Younger death adders eat lizards, birds and frogs. They are ambush predators with the fastest strike of any snake in Australia, according to the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.


Death adder females reproduce every two years, according to the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. They mate in the spring and between 10 and 20 babies are born in autumn. Like other adders, death adders are ovoviviparous.


“Death adder venom is very potent, but it’s a very different kind of venom,” said Savitzky. “It has a larger proportion of toxins that affect nerve transmission and breathing centers, whereas vipers in general tend to have enzymatic venom that affects general tissues.”

According to the CSL Antivenom Handbook, before antivenom was introduced in the early 20th century, death adder bites had a 50 percent mortality rate. Today, the mortality rate is quite low. Most bites in urban areas are not envenomed, meaning the snake did not inject any venom with its bite.

Endangerment status

Death adders are listed as stable on the IUCN’s Red List. According to the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, common death adders are vulnerable. Other species are declining in number because of human development in their habitats.

Gallery: ‘Insects Unlocked’ Collection Shares Free Bug Photos

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Gallery: ‘Insects Unlocked’ Collection Shares Free Bug Photos

Bumblebee moth

Credit: Public domain image by Christopher Johnson; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
This moth, part of the genus Hemaris, is also known as the snowberry clearwing. Many Insects Unlocked subjects reside in the University of Texas Insect Collection, which holds between 1 million and 2 million specimens.

Variable beautymark

Credit: Public domain image by Christopher Johnson; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
The variable beautymark butterfly(Rhetus periander), ranges from Mexico to Brazil and Argentina. This specimen was found in Cacaulandia, RO, Brazil. InsectUnlocked’s high-resolution photos are released into the public domain, which means they are available for anyone to use at no charge and for any purpose — personal, educational or commercial — without permission or attribution required.

Extinct fungus-growing ant

Credit: Public domain image by Christopher Johnson; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
This extinct fungus-growing ant, an ancient ancestor of the modern leaf-cutting ant, can be found in the Insects Unlocked project designed by the Insect Image Lab at the University of Texas, Austin.

Greater anglewing katydid

Credit: Public domain image by Christopher Johnson; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
The greater anglewing katydid (Microcentrum rhombifolium) was photographed on the University of Texas at Austin campus. One of the project’s goals is to represent the diversity of “Texas’ smallest wildlife,” according to a statement on the project’s fundraising page.

Blister beetle

Credit: Public domain image by Christopher Johnson; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
Photographed for the Insects Unlocked project, this blister beetle (Epicauta atrivittata) was collected in Sheffield, Texas, at the Oasis Ranch.

Moneilema armatum

Credit: Public domain image by Christopher Johnson; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
This beetle in the Cerambycidae family was photographed at Dolan Falls in ValVerde County, Texas.

Straight-snouted weevil

Credit: Public domain image by Alejandro Santillana; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
Also known as the primitive weevil, of the Brentidae family, this beetle is found in Trinidad on Mt. St. Benedict.

Cuckoo wasp

Credit: Public domain image by James Marchment; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
The Chrysididae — the Cuckoo Wasp — was found in Travis County, Texas, and is included in the Insects Unlocked project.

Female Culex sp. mosquito

Credit: Public domain image by Alex Wild; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
The mosquito from the Austin Brackenridge Field Laboratory is part of the Insects Unlocked project.

Exoskeleton remains of dragonflies

Credit: Public domain image by Alejandro Santillana; “Insects Unlocked” project, University of Texas at Austin
This image captures two dragonfly exoskeletons left behind on the side of a fish tank after the insects molted.

In Photos: Ancient Silk Road Cemetery Contains Carvings of Mythical Creatures

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In Photos: Ancient Silk Road Cemetery Contains Carvings of Mythical Creatures



Arctic Sea Ice Is at Near Record Lows, NASA Says

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Arctic Sea Ice Is at Near Record Lows, NASA Says

A Nightmarish Timeline of What Would Happen to the Earth After a Massive Solar Flare

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A Nightmarish Timeline of What Would Happen to the Earth After a Massive Solar Flare

Friday 12:59pm
A Nightmarish Timeline of What Would Happen to the Earth After a Massive Solar Flare
A solar flare seen on our Sun / NASA

At first, things could actually be rather beautiful: worldwide auroras! A brighter sun! But then things would rapidly get ugly, with the breakdown of communications, rolling power outages, and a burning away of the ozone.

We see solar flares all the time on our sun. There’s nothing unusual about them, or the lovely auroras that they leave in their wake. But when we look at other stars out there, we see not only solar flares but also the occasional “superflare”—flares that are not only large, but dwarf everything we’ve ever seen from our own sun, sometimes up to 10,000 times the size.

But what if we saw something like that not through the distant, indifferent eye of the telescope, but right above through our own unaided eyes?

The idea is not absurd. Previous studies have theorized about the possibility and now, a brand new study by Danish physicists has been published in Nature Communications. The paper explores the question of whether this is also something that can happen with our own sun.

The answer: not likely. Almost all the super flares the researchers looked at came from stars with much stronger magnetic fields than our own sun. A small but significant portion (about 10 percent), however, had magnetic fields of about our own sun’s size, meaning that the field is at least theoretically strong enough to generate a superflare.

So what would it look like in the unlikely event that we did get one?

Christoffer Karoff of Denmark’s Aarhaus University, told Gizmodo a little more about just how such a massive solar flare would play out. He sketched out a timeline of what we could expect to see from our Earth-bound perspective —from the worldwide auroras, to the breakdown of our tech, to the final return to normalcy.

During the superflare, the Sun would light up and become a few times brighter for the half an hour the flare would last. The superflare would likely also be associated with a lot UV and X-ray emission, but our ozone layer would shield us for most of this.

After a day or so the Earth would be hit by the plasma from the superflare. First the plasma would destroy all satellites around the Earth, shotting down GPS and communication system. Then particles from the plasma would get accelerated in the Earth’s magnetic field and cause world wide auroras, as it was seen after the 1859 solar storm (which was significant smaller than a superflare). The plasma would also affect the Earth’s magnetic field so much that it would stars to induce electric currents in our electric infrastructure. This would likely led to power outage world wide, as in happened in Quebec during the 1989 solar storm. The Earth atmosphere would also be effected, so radar and radio system would be down, as in happened in Arlanda airport in Stockholm last year.

But the worst thing would be our ozone layer. Some simulations predict that the 1859 solar storm (the Carrington event) was associated with a 5% reduction of the ozone layer. Though these simulations have been criticised, it is still safe to assume that a superflare would cause a much larger reduction of the ozone layer… 5-10-50%. Our ozone layer protect us from 99% of the UV radiation from the Sun, so skin cancer could wipe out a significant fraction of the population and it is not clear what the increased UV radiation would do to animals and plants. The ozone layer would likely take more than 5 years to rebuild, and after that things should be back to normal.

Both these theorized effects and the possibility of a superflare on our sun are fairly unlikely events. So we can hold off on on our stockpile of SPF 10,000 and generators—for now. But the threat of what could happen if a solar flare didstrike is still enough to make us feel a little uneasy about our sun.