Tractor beams (short for "attractor beams," which can bring one object closer to another from a distance) are a common trope in science fiction. But could they be made in real life? Researchers made news earlier this year when they created a kind of tractor beam, or "optical tweezers," that can move around nano-sized objects with light. NASA scientists are also working on a project to reel in objects with light; Australian researcher have moved small objects a total of 5 feet with lasers. Most of this work has involved light, but now, a separate group has made an acoustic tractor beam that can move much larger objects with sound waves.
If you weren't looking at the constellation Leo very early on Saturday morning, you probably missed the brightest explosion NASA scientists have ever observed. It was three times as bright as the next-brightest explosion, and a ridiculous, basically unimaginable 35 billion times brighter than visible light.
It's cold up there in space, so before the James Webb Space Telescope gets sent up there, NASA scientists are putting it through its paces, locking parts of it in a vacuum and chilling them to -414 F. We've seen what the vacuum looks like, and here we see the telescope's wings coming in for testing. The wings have 900 parts, mostly made from lightweight graphite composite materials, and can unfold from 16.4 feet to 21 feet. The tests will ensure all of those parts work in a controlled setting before the telescope is rocketed away for real.
NASA's new budget is slated to land on Capitol Hill today, and it's not quite what the space agency was hoping for. US President Barack Obama is asking Congress for US$17.7 billion for NASA in 2013, funding it at its lowest level in four years and a full billion dollars less than the President mapped out for the agency in the five-year budget he sent Congress last year. Perhaps hardest hit: future Mars missions. The planetary science division will lose $300 million (down to $1.2 billion, or a 20 per cent cut), and Mars exploration will take the brunt of that reduction.