A Black Hole Emitted a Flare Away From us, but its Intense Gravity Redirected the Blast Back in our Direction

In 1916, Albert Einstein put the finishing touches on his Theory of General Relativity, a journey that began in 1905 with his attempts to reconcile Newton’s own theories of gravitation with the laws of electromagnetism. Once complete, Einstein’s theory provided a unified description of gravity as a geometric property of the cosmos, where massive objects alter the curvature of spacetime, affecting everything around them.

What’s more, Einstein’s field equations predicted the existence of black holes, objects so massive that even light cannot escape their surfaces. GR also predicts that black holes will bend light in their vicinity, an effect that can be used by astronomers to observe more distant objects. Relying on this technique, an international team of scientists made an unprecedented feat by observing light caused by an X-ray flare that took place behind a black hole.

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Lightweight Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic Fuel Tanks Pass a Critical Test, and Could Knock a lot of Weight off a Rocket’s dry Mass

Material science is still the unsung hero of space exploration.  Rockets are flashier, and control systems more precise, but they are useless without materials that withstand the immense temperatures of forces required to get people and things off the planet.  Now a team from MT Aerospace, working on a grant from ESA, has developed a new type of material that will be immensely useful in one of the most important parts of any rocket engine – the fuel tanks.

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InSight has Mapped out the Interior of Mars, Revealing the Sizes of its Crust, Mantle, and Core

In May of 2018, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) landed on the Martian surface. This mission is the first of its kind, as all previous orbiters, landers, and rovers focused on studying the surface and atmosphere of Mars. In contrast, InSight was tasked with characterizing Mars’ interior structure and measuring the core, mantle, and crust by reading its seismic activity (aka. “marsquakes”).

The purpose of this is to learn more about the geological evolution of Mars since it formed 4.5 billion years ago, which will also provide insight into the formation of Earth. According to three recently published papers, the data obtained by InSight has led to new analyses on the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle and confirmed the theory that the planet’s inner core is molten.

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Bad News. Those Underground Lakes on Mars? They’re Probably Just Frozen Clay

If you were planning an ice-fishing trip to the Martian south pole and its sub-surface lakes observed by radar in 2018, don’t pack your parka or ice auger just yet. In a research letter published earlier this month in Geophysical Research Letters by I.B. Smith et al., it seems that the Martian lakes may be nothing more smectite, that is, a kind of clay. Should the findings of the paper, titled A Solid Interpretation of Bright Radar Reflectors Under the Mars South Polar Ice (a solid title if you ask me), turn out to be correct, it would be a significant setback for those hoping to find life on the red planet. So why were these supposed lakes so critical for the search for life on Mars? How were they discovered in the first place? Why have our dreams of Martian ice-fishing turned to dust (or, more correctly, clay)?

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Starliner Will try Again on August 3 After ISS “Emergency”

The planned launch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) has been pushed back to Tuesday, August 3 after a mishap involving a newly docked Russian module. Originally, Starliner’s flight was to take place today, July 30, 2021 but NASA and Boeing officials agreed to delay the flight following a “spacecraft emergency” on the space station after inadvertent thruster firings on the new Nauka module caused a loss of attitude control on the ISS.

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The Event Horizon Telescope Zooms in on Another Supermassive Black Hole

On April 10th, 2019, the world was treated to the first image of a black hole, courtesy of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Specifically, the image was of the Supermassive Black Hole (SMBH) at the center of the supergiant elliptical galaxy known as M87 (aka. Virgo A). These powerful forces of nature are found at the centers of most massive galaxies, which include the Milky Way (where the SMBH known as Sagittarius A* is located).

Using a technique known as Very-Long-Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), this image signaled the birth of a new era for astronomers, where they can finally conduct detailed studies of these powerful forces of nature. Thanks to research performed by the EHT Collaboration team during a six-hour observation period in 2017, astronomers are now being treated to images of the core region of Centaurus A and the radio jet emanating from it.

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Strange Intersecting Sand Dunes on Mars

In our exploration of Mars, we’ve seen some strange but naturally occurring shapes. Polygons – a shape with at least three straight sides and angles, typically with five or more – have been seen in several different Martian landscapes, and scientists say these shapes are of great interest because they often indicate the presence of shallow ice, or that water formerly was present in these areas.

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Blue Origin Offers a $2 Billion Discount to get Back in the Lunar Lander Game

Blue Origin has been busy lately.  They launched their founder, Jeff Bezos, into space and put a bid in on NASA’s new Lunar Lander project.  While SpaceX won that contract back in April, Blue Origin has continued to fight for their right to supply the space agency with an alternative lander.  And recently, their not-quite-an-astronaut chief had added another fuel to the fire by offering to take $2 billion off the price tag of a Blue Origin lander.

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Searching for Dark Matter Inside the Earth

Dark matter remains one of the greatest mysteries in science.  Despite decades of astronomical evidence for its existence, no one has yet been able to find any sign of it closer to home.  There have been dozens of efforts to do so, and one of the most prominent just hit a milestone – the release and analysis of 8 years of data.  The IceCube Neutrino Observatory will soon be releasing results from those 8 years, but for now let’s dive in to what exactly they are looking for.

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A New Plan to Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts at Earth and Across the Solar System

On October 19th, 2017, astronomers made the first-ever detection of an interstellar object (ISO) in our Solar System. This body, named 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua), was spotted shortly after it flew by Earth on its way to the outer Solar System. Years later, astronomers are still hypothesizing what this object could have been (an interstellar “dust bunny,” hydrogen iceberg, nitrogen icebergs), with Harvard Prof. Abraham Loeb going as far as to suggest that it might have been an extraterrestrial solar sail.

Roughly three years later, interest in extraterrestrial visitors has not subsided, in part because of the release of the Pentagon report on the existence of “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.” This prompted Loeb and several of his fellow scientists to form the Galileo Project, a multi-national, multi-institutional research team dedicated to bringing the search for Extraterrestrial Technological Civilizations (ETC) into the mainstream.

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