Russia Just Launched a New Science Module to the Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is about to get a little bigger.

On July 21, the Russian Space Agency launched the station’s newest module into orbit aboard a Proton-M rocket. The module, dubbed Nauka (which means science), is the station’s first new module since 2016, aside from some new docking ports and airlocks. The Nauka module includes several important additions that will enhance the station’s capabilities.

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A new Balloon-Based Observatory Could Produce Images as Fine as Hubble

Launching satellites is an expensive business – at least for now.  But satellites are necessary in astronomy for one major reason – it gets telescopes above the atmosphere.  The Earth’s atmosphere and its associated weather patterns are a massive hindrance to collecting good images.  If a stray cloud passes in front of the observational target once over the course of a few days, it could ruin the entire image.  Which is why some of the most striking astronomical pictures come from space-based observatories like Hubble. But now, a team of researchers from Durham, Toronto, and Princeton Universities has come up with a new way to get above that atmosphere that doesn’t involve a launch into orbit. They want to use a balloon.

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Forget About Interstellar Flights. Tiny Light Sails Could be Used to Explore the Solar System Today

Solar sails have been receiving a lot of attention lately.  In part that is due to a series of high profile missions that have successfully proven the concept. It’s also in part due to the high profile Breakthrough Starshot project, which is designing a solar sail powered mission to reach Alpha Centauri. But this versatile third propulsion system isn’t only useful for far flung adventures – it has advantages closer to home as well.  A new paper by engineers at UCLA defines what those advantages are, and how we might be able to best utilize them.

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The Moon has Been Mildly Preventing Coastal Erosion, in the 2030s, That Protection Ends

Planet Earth is currently experiencing an unprecedented warming trend. Average global temperatures are rising at an accelerated rate in response to greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity. These rising temperatures, in turn, result in the release of additional greenhouse gases (like methane), leading to positive feedback loops that threaten to compound the problem further.

This scientific consensus is based on multiple lines of evidence, all of which indicate the need for swift action. According to new research led by members of the NASA Sea Level Change Science Team (N-SLCT) at the University of Hawaii at Manao (UHM), a new Lunar cycle that will begin by the mid-2030s will amplify sea levels already rising due to climate change. This will mean even more coastal flooding during high tides and coastal storms in the near future.

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Scientists Have a new way to Predict the Most Damaging Solar Storms

Space is full of hazards.  The Earth, and it’s atmosphere, does a great job of shielding us from most of them.  But sometimes those hazards are more powerful than even those protections can withstand, and potentially catastrophic events can result.  Some of the most commonly known potential catastrophic events are solar flares.  While normal solar activity can be deflected by the planet’s magnetic field, resulting in sometimes spectacular auroras, larger solar flares are a danger to look out for.  So it’s worth celebrating a team of researchers from the International Space Science Institute which found a way to better track these potentially dangerous natural events.

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Micrometeorites Churn up the Surface of Europa. If you Want to Find Life, You’ll Need to dig Down a Meter or So

In the coming decade, NASA and the ESA will be sending two dedicated missions that will explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. These missions are known as the Europa Clipper and the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) missions, which will fulfill a dream that has been decades in the making – searching for possible evidence of life inside Europa. Since the 1970s, astronomers have theorized that this satellite contains a warm-water ocean that could support life.

The case for life in Europa has only been bolstered thanks to multiple flybys and observation campaigns that have been mounted since. According to new research led by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the best way to look for potential signs of life (aka. biosignatures) would be to analyze small impact craters on Europa’s surface. These patches of exposed subsurface ice could point the way towards life that might exist deeper in the moon’s interior.

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Neutron Stars Have Mountains, They’re Just a Fraction of a Millimeter High

The universe has some very extreme places in it – and there are few places more extreme than the surface of a neutron star.  These ultradense objects form after a supergiant star collapses into a sphere about 10 kilometers (6 miles) in diameter.  Their surface is extreme because of the gravity, which is about a billion times stronger than Earth. However, that gravity also forces the stellar remnant to be extraordinarily flat.  Just how flat is the outcome of a new set of theoretical research by PhD student Fabian Gittins from the University of Southampton. 

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Here are the First New Pictures From the Fully Operational Hubble

The astronomy community breathed a huge sigh of relief earlier this week when the Space Telescope Science Institute announced the Hubble Space Telescope’s major computer issues had been fixed. In a grueling month of recovery work, every expert – even retired Hubble engineers and scientists — was brought in for consultation. Their ultimate success is a tribute to the legacy of problem-solving and innovation NASA has been famous for over the years. And now, the telescope is back doing what it was built to do, taking incredible pictures of the cosmos and sending them down to Earth.  

Here are the first images since the long-distance repair, two pictures of galaxies. One shows a galaxy with unusual extended spiral arms, and the other is the first high-resolution view of an intriguing pair of colliding galaxies.

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Ions Surf Through Jupiter’s Magnetic Field, Triggering its Auroras

Auroras come in many shapes and sizes.  Jupiter is well known for its spectacular complement of bright polar lights, which also have the distinction of appearing in the X-ray band.  These auroras are also extreme power sources, emitting almost a gigawatt of energy in a few minutes. But what exactly causes them has been a mystery for the last 40 years.  Now, a team used data from a combination of satellites to identify what is causing these powerful emissions.  The answer appears to be charged ions surfing on a kind of wave.

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This is the View From Juno During its Flyby of Ganymede and Jupiter

Visualizations shape how we perceive space exploration.  Whether it’s the Pale Blue Dot, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, Earthrise, or any other myriad images captured as part of this great endeavor, they all help inspire the next generation of explorers.  Now, with advances in image capture and processing technology, we can finally start to take the next step in those visualizations – video.  Ingenuity was recently captured on video during its first flight a few months ago.  And this week, NASA released a breathtaking video of Juno’s view of Jupiter and Ganymede, one of its moons, as it flew past the gas giant.

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