What do engineer Burt Rutan, hotel magnate Robert Bigelow, and game programmer John Carmack have in common? Answer: they've built the first private earth-to-space rocket, space station, and lunar lander in the current new space race.

Most people are familiar with Scaled Composite's X-Prize $10 million victory with SpaceShipOne, the first private reusable multi-flight manned spacecraft to succeed. But note 'first'-- they were not the only competitor. Just the first tick on the space race radar.
Just how much would you pay to go into space? $12000 for a satellite plus launch, like me? Or perhaps... $300 to build a high-altitude balloon camera?

Or, if $300 is too high, how about getting a couple of high school kids to do it for half that? Their 99EU ($144) high altitude balloon is a great achievement in engineering, science, cost reduction, and learning.

Their hardware specs are, alas, not in the article, but some MIT students replicated their work at the same $150 price point.

To space,

The Cassini spacecraft's Magnetospheric Imaging instrument (MIMI) has detected a temporary radiation belt around Dione, one of the moons of Saturn.  The discovery will be presented at the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam by Dr Elias Roussos on Monday, September 14th.

Radiation belts, like Earth’s Van Allen belts, have been discovered at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune but it has only been possible to observe the variability of their intensity at Earth and Jupiter.   Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for more than five years so it has been possible to assess changes in Saturn’s radiation belts.
New beautiful images from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have been released recently, and they are, as always, a pleasure to behold. The HST was serviced in a mission by the Space Shuttle Atlantis crew last May, to replace some broken gyroscopes and drained batteries, and perform a number of additional important tasks that will allow operation to continue for many years to come.

Among the new installed instruments the new HST sports an improved wide field camera, WFC3, which promises a significant improvement of the quality of telescope's imaging capabilities.
NASA's 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope still has a few tricks up its sleeve!  New images were released today from Hubble's new Wide Field Camera 3.  Installed back in March, WFC3 extends Hubble's capabilities well into the infrared, allowing it to peer through dust and see further back in time.  For a stunning demonstration, click here.

Shown below are the featured new images, taken in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light all with WFC3:
NGC 6302: remnants of a dying star
Old notion: Giant clouds of gas and dust to collapse inward due to gravity, growing denser and hotter until igniting nuclear fusion and forming stars.  New notion:  It's more than just gravity and cosmic magnetic fields play a more important role in star formation than previously thought.

A molecular cloud is a cloud of gas that acts as a stellar nursery.  When a molecular cloud collapses, only a small fraction of the cloud's material forms stars but scientists aren't sure why.
We have been in an anomalously long Solar Minimum.  The sun has an 11 year cycle from Minimum to Maximum.  But the cycles are (like most things in nature) not exact, and some are longer than the others.  We are coming out of Solar Minimum... or are we?

Even in the midst of our current cycle, solar physicists were predicting a long minimum, and, humorously, seemed evenly divided over whether this meant we would have a more active Maximum, or a far less active Maximum.  For example, David Hathaway in the NASA article "Solar Cycle 25 peaking around 2022 could be one of the weakest in centuries" clearly predicts the latter.
ESA's XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescope has uncovered the first close-up of a white dwarf star, circling a companion star, that could explode into a particular kind of supernova.

Well, in a few million years.

Astronomers use these supernovae as beacons to measure cosmic distances and could one day help us understand the expansion of the Universe.   They've been on the trail of this particular mystery object since 1997 when they discovered that something was giving off X-rays near the bright star HD49798. Now the mysterious object has been tracked along its orbit and observation has shown it to be a white dwarf, the dead heart of a star, shining X-rays into space.  
Welcome to Traceback, where I find articles other people have written on Project Calliope.  Having publically announced less than a week ago and with just 2 pieces written, I can safely paraphrase Oscar Wilde: the only thing worse than being blogged about, is not being blogged about.  And indeed we are blogged about.

Jon Newton at P2PNet had the news out before anyone at "Music from space ready for lift-off! (Literally.)  Thanks for the early lead, Jon!
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was closed Monday as wildfires came within two miles of the facility.  The decision to give most of the 5,000 employees the day off was made Sunday evening.  At that point the fire was no longer a threat to the lab (you think they'd let a government lab burn down?), but the air quality was very poor.  Only mission-critical personnel reported to work.

Lab reopened Tuesday, but I continued to work from Caltech until today, Thursday.  The air at JPL was still smoky, though by now not much worse than at Caltech or at my home in Glendale.