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This week in space: gravity waves, NASA’s Mars shot, and a new ‘super Jupiter’

LIGO, the team that detected gravity waves for the first time, wants your help to crunch the data. It just launched a new distributed scientific computing venture called GravitySpy; volunteers can help by using spare cycles on their own computers to identify glitches in the interferometer data LIGO provides.

The LIGO laser interferometer is set up to have its two beams destructively interfering with one another, so no light should make it through to the sensors; when a gravity wave rolls through, it distorts spacetime enough to nudge the perfect destructive interference away from perfect, and some light shows up at the detector.

But it’s not foolproof. That’s why LIGO wants your help, or at least your computer’s. Glitches represent a major source of false positives, and volunteers can use their home computers to pin down the readings and identify whether they’re glitches or actual gravity waves.

President Obama told the nation he thinks it’s pretty important that we send humans to Mars “by the 2030s.” His comments came shortly before the opening of the White House’s invitation-only Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, designed to “explore the future of innovation” with an eye to expanding the perimeter of human understanding. Obama’s vision for space travel is simple and clear: He wants to send humans to the far reaches of the solar system and perhaps even beyond, “not just to visit, but to stay.” To put this idea into motion, the Obama administration will award some $50 million in research funding toward small satellite technology.

Meteorites are making more craters on the moon than we expected they would, to the tune of 33% more. Scientists discovered the craters after comparing images taken by the LRO in 2009 and 2013 to images taken by the Apollo astronauts. Future lunar explorers may need to be wary of incoming debris.

Scientists have been looking closely at a recently identified “super Jupiter.” Its rings are some 75 million miles across — such a huge diameter that scientists aren’t completely sure how they aren’t flung apart by their own rotational speed. It may have to do with the planet’s odd rotational dynamic. While Jupiter’s rings spin in the same direction as the planet, J1407b’s don’t, and modeling shows that might be what makes the rings so stable. Based on a huge gap between two of its 37 rings, astronomers believe it could even have an Earth- or Mars-sized moon.

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