CERN is Planning to Build a Much Larger Particle Collider. Much, Much, Larger.

CERN's Future Circular Collider. Image Credit: CERN

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, wants to build a particle collider that will dwarf the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC has made important discoveries, and planned upgrades to its power ensures it will keep working on physics problems into the future. But eventually, it won’t be enough to unlock the secrets of physics. Eventually, we’ll need something larger and more powerful.

Enter the Future Circular Collider (FCC.) The FCC will exceed the LHC in power by an order of magnitude. On January 15th, the FCC collaboration released its Conceptual Design Report (CDR) that lays out the options for CERN’s Future Circular Collider.

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Astronomers Aren’t Pleased About a Russian Plan to Put Billboards in Space

A screen capture from StartRocket's promotional video for their Orbital Display. Image Credit: StartRocket.

It was bound to happen.

While the rest of us look up at the night sky, and wonder at what we’re seeing, ponder how it all fits together, and strain ourselves trying to understand how our origins are intertwined with all that we see, others don’t. They look up at the magnitude of the night sky and think none of these things.

Instead they think, “Hmmm…that’s a big, empty billboard. How can I make money from it?”

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Weekly Space Hangout: Jan 16, 2019: Paul MacNeal of JPL’s Annual Invention Challenge

Hosts:
Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)
Dr. Pamela Gay (astronomycast.com / cosmoquest.org / @starstryder)
Dr. Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg & ChartYourWorld.org)

This week’s guest Paul MacNeal, a mechanical systems engineer at JPL, created the Annual Invention Challenge twenty-one years ago after helping his son with an extra credit assignment. Since then, teams of high school students from around the world compete each year against JPL engineers to see who can design and build the smartest and most efficient machine. The objective of the 2018 Challenge, which took place on Friday, December 14th, was to “to get a 24-inch length of two-inch PVC pipe from a horizontal position to an upright position on a platform using whatever device they could come up with, instructions not included.”

To view the 2018 results – as well as those from the prior 20 challenges – visit the Invention Challenge website at https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/inventionchallenge/

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The Weekly Space Hangout is a production of CosmoQuest.

There’s Life on the Moon! China’s Lander Just Sprouted the First Plants

China's Chang'e-4 lander on the lunar surface. Image Credit: CNSA/CLEP

It’s official, for the first time ever, scientists have found a living organism on the Moon! Well, not so much found, we put it there. But the implications are immense nonetheless! According to photos and a statement released by the China National Space Administration this week (Mon. Jan. 14th), the Chang’e-4 mission’s Lunar Micro Ecosystem (LME) experiment has produced its first sprouted plant.

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The Prototype for the Starship has been Assembled, Hop Tests Could be Happening Soon

The prototype Starship. Image: SpaceX

In an announcement sure to make you quiver with delight, Elon Musk says that SpaceX could begin short-hop test flights of its Starship prototype as early as next Spring. The Starship, which looks like something from a 1950’s sci-fi novel cover (awesome!) is intended to carry people to the Moon and Mars. When the spacecraft design was originally announced in 2016, it was called the Mars Colonial Transporter, and it sent shockwaves through the community.

Now, it’s almost test-flight time.

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Jupiter Meets Venus at Dawn in a Close Conjunction

Jupiter v Venus

You might be asking yourself: Where have all the planets gone?

With Mars past its epic opposition in 2018 and still lingering in the evening sky, all other naked eye planets are loitering in the early dawn for January 2019. Sure, it’s cold outside this month for folks up north, but January dawn skies offer early risers an amazing view, as Jupiter closes in on brilliant Venus for a close conjunction on the morning of January 22nd.

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Titan’s Thick Clouds Obscure our View, but Cassini Took these Images in Infrared, Showing the Moon’s Surface Features

A global mosaic of the surface of Titan, thanks to the infrared eyes of the Cassini spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Nantes/University of Arizona

Saturn’s moon Titan is a very strange place. It’s surrounded by a dense, opaque atmosphere, the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere to speak of. It has lakes of liquid methane on its surface, maybe some cryovolcanoes, and some scientists speculate that it could support a form of life. Very weird life.

But we still don’t know a lot about it, because we haven’t really seen much of the surface. Until now.

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A New Technique to Figure Out How Old Stars Are

Embry-Riddle researchers used data captured by the Gaia satellite (shown here in an artist’s impression) to determine the ages of stars. Credit: European Space Agency – D. Ducros, 2013

Our understanding of the universe, and of the Milky Way, is built on an edifice of individual pieces of knowledge, all related to each other. But each of those pieces is only so accurate. The more accurate we can make one of the pieces of knowledge, the more accurate our understanding of the whole thing is.

The age of stars is one such piece. For years, astronomers have used a method of determining the age of stars that has a 10% to 20% margin of error. Now, a team of scientists from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has developed a new technique to determine the age of stars with a margin of error of only 3% to 5%.

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Bizarre Double Star System Flipped its Planetary Disk on its Side

Astronomers theorize that when our Sun was still young, it was surrounded by a disc of dust and gas from which the planets eventually formed. It is further theorized that the majority of stars in our Universe are initially surrounded in this way by a “protoplanetary disk“, and that in roughly 30% of cases, these disks will go on to become a planet or system of planets.

Ordinarily, these disks are thought to orbit around the equatorial band (aka. the ecliptic) of a star or system of stars. However, new research conducted by an international group of scientists has discovered the first example of a binary star system where the orientation was flipped and the disk now orbits the stars around their poles (perpendicular to the ecliptic).

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Incredible Descent Video of the Chinese Lander to the Lunar Far Side

China's Chang'e-4 lander on the lunar surface. Image Credit: CNSA/CLEP

On January 2nd, 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 lander made a successful landing on the far side of the Moon. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) report that after 9 days on the surface, the mission is in good shape. The Yutu-2 rover has been deployed and has begun exploring the Von Karman crater.

CNSA has released some video of the mission, including a video of Chang’e-4’s historic descent. Thanks to the hard-working people at the Planetary Society, and to Andrew Jones who reports on the Chinese Space Program, we have a handful of new videos and images of the Chang’e-4’s mission to enjoy.

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