Jupiter’s oddball, wrong-way moon
With 67 moons, Jupiter already has more satellites than any other planet in the solar system, and now scientists have found a dozen more. Nine of the newly discovered moons inhabit part of an outer swarm that orbits in retrograde, the direction opposite Jupiter’s rotation. Two others are part of an inner group of moons that orbits in prograde, the same direction as the planet spins.
But the 12th moon, only 1 kilometer in diameter, is an atypical little sphere. Astronomers call it an oddball because it orbits in the opposite direction of its neighbors. “This moon is going down the highway the wrong way,” Scott Sheppard, the team’s lead astronomer, said in a statement.
The oddball orbits prograde but hangs out with the retrograde crowd, putting it on a possible collision course with other moons. “This is an unstable situation,” Sheppard said. “Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust.” —J.B.
U.K. to build its first spaceport
The recent development of small satellites, often no bigger than a shoebox but more technologically capable and cheaper to launch than their older counterparts, has created a $339 billion global market. These tiny spacecraft offer a variety of functions such as communications and weather monitoring. Now the United Kingdom is jumping into that part of the space race. The U.K. Space Agency just announced Sutherland, Scotland, will be the site of the country’s first Spaceport, The Verge reported.
The agency selected Sutherland because of its location on the coast in a sparsely populated area, where it can launch rockets into the preferred orbital path above the Arctic Circle. It plans the first rocket launch for the early 2020s.
In the United States, Cape Canaveral in Florida and California’s Vandenbert Air Force Base host commercial spaceports, as does Spaceport America in New Mexico. Alaska Aerospace runs a vertical-only launch site on Kodiak Island and, pending Federal Aviation Administration approval, Colorado plans to build Spaceport Colorado about 30 miles east of Denver. Earlier this month, SpaceX, a private company that manufactures and launches advanced spacecraft, secured approval to build a launch complex in Texas, CBS News reported. —J.B.
Is your robot happy?
It can seem a daunting task to keep the humans in our lives happy, but one day we may need to worry about how our robots feel, too. In recent years, engineers have often tried to design robots that can read and respond to human emotions and in some respects even mimic them.
Researchers at Cornell University just took another step in the development of social robots that can express feelings. Their robot gives nonverbal clues to its emotional state through a grid of texture units under its outer skin, either goosebumps or spikes. These units change shape and patterns depending on the robot’s “mood.” This robot design can “significantly enhance the expressive spectrum of robots for social interaction,” the electronics engineers said in a statement. —J.B.