Perseverance Went Into Safe Mode Shortly After Launch, But it’s Fine

On Thursday, July 30th, NASA launched the most sophisticated Mars rover ever built atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.This mission includes the Perseverance rover (Curiosity‘s sister vehicle) and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, both of which are being flown on a seven-month journey by the Mars 2020 spacecraft.

In a minor hiccup, the Mars 2020 spacecraft entered safe mode a few hours after launch, apparently due to a temperature anomaly. This was the conclusion reached by mission controllers after receiving telemetry data on the spacecraft via the NASA Deep Space Network. Luckily, the spacecraft is working nominally and is on its way toward Mars to join in the search for evidence of past (and present) life!

Continue reading “Perseverance Went Into Safe Mode Shortly After Launch, But it’s Fine”

SpaceX Just Completed a Static Fire of Starship Prototype SN5. Next Comes the Hop

It’s been a busy week for SpaceX! Yesterday (Sunday, Aug. 2nd), astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley returned from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the same Crew Dragon spacecraft that had carried them to space two months before. With their safe return, the first crewed mission to launch from US soil in almost a decade (Demo-2) was complete, signaling that NASA has restored domestic launch capability to the US.

In all the hubbub, another major SpaceX accomplishment went largely unnoticed. This was the successful completion of a full-duration static fire test by the SN5 Starship prototype, which took place at the company’s South Texas Launch Facility near Boca Chica on Thursday, July 30th. With this milestone reached, SpaceX is moving ahead with the next major test of the SN5, the long-awaited 150 meter (~500 foot) hop test!

Continue reading “SpaceX Just Completed a Static Fire of Starship Prototype SN5. Next Comes the Hop”

How Loop Quantum Gravity Could Match Anomalies in the CMB with Large Structures in the Modern Universe

Our universe is best described by the LCDM model. That is an expanding universe filled with dark energy (Lambda), and dense clumps of cold dark matter (CDM). It is also sprinkled with regular matter that makes up planets, stars, and us, but that only makes up about 4% of the cosmos. While we don’t know what dark matter and dark energy are, we know how they behave, so the ?CDM model works exceptionally well. There’s just one small problem.

Continue reading “How Loop Quantum Gravity Could Match Anomalies in the CMB with Large Structures in the Modern Universe”

Juno Captures Pictures of Ganymede for the First Time

On July 5, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft arrived around Jupiter, becoming the second mission in history to study the gas giant from orbit – the last being the Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. Since then, the spacecraft has gathered data on Jupiter’s atmosphere, composition, gravity field, and magnetic field in the hopes of learning more about how the planet formed and evolved.

In addition, the spacecraft has gathered some of the most breathtaking images ever taken of Jupiter and its system of moons. In fact, as the spacecraft was making another approach towards Jupiter on December 26th, 2019, it managed to capture the first infrared images of the moon Ganymede’s northern polar region. These images will inform future missions to this satellite, which could host life beneath its icy mantle.

Continue reading “Juno Captures Pictures of Ganymede for the First Time”

Ancient Meteorites Can be Found Embedded in Rocks, Like Fossils

Comets visit the inner Solar System, and leave without saying goodbye. Maybe they leave a trail of dust behind, and when the Earth passes through it, we get a pretty light show in the night sky, in the form of a meteor shower. Likewise, asteroids frequently go whizzing by, though they don’t leave us with a pyrotechnic display.

Sometimes these rocky interlopers head straight for Earth. And when they do, the results can be cataclysmic, like when an asteroid struck Earth about 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and 75% of life on Earth. Other times, it’s not quite as cataclysmic, but still devastating, like in about 2350 BC, when debris from a disintegrating comet may have caused the collapse of an ancient empire.

But regardless of the severity of any of these individual events, the conclusion is crystal clear: Earth’s history is intertwined with the coming and going of space rocks. The evidence is all around us, sort of.

Continue reading “Ancient Meteorites Can be Found Embedded in Rocks, Like Fossils”

This Is Fascinating. An Image of a Galaxy’s Magnetic Field

There’s always more than one way to look at the world.  There’s also more than one way to look at a galaxy.  And sometimes combining those ways of looking can result in something truly special.

That is what happened recently when a team of astronomers from seven different universities in four different countries used three different telescopes to produce an absolutely spectacular image of a galaxy and its surrounding magnetic field.

Continue reading “This Is Fascinating. An Image of a Galaxy’s Magnetic Field”

There are Natural Starshades Out There, Which Would Help Astronomers Image Exoplanets

In the past few decades, the study of extrasolar planets has grown by leaps and bounds, with the confirmation of over 4000 exoplanets. With so many planets available for study, the focus of exoplanet-researchers is shifting from discovery to characterization. In the coming years, new technologies and next-generation telescopes will also enable Direct Imaging studies, which will vastly improve our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres.

To facilitate this process, astronomers will rely on costly technologies like coronagraphs and starshades, which block out the light of a star so any planets orbiting it will become more visible. However, according to a new study by an international team of astronomers and cosmologists, eclipsing binary stars could provide all the shading that’s needed to directly image planets orbiting them.

Continue reading “There are Natural Starshades Out There, Which Would Help Astronomers Image Exoplanets”

Supermassive black holes can cloak themselves in a cocoon of dust, making them invisible even when they should be bright quasars

Quasars are the most powerful sources of light in the universe, but sometimes they’re hard to find. A team of astronomers used the Chandra X-ray Space Telescope to find some diamonds in the rough.

Continue reading “Supermassive black holes can cloak themselves in a cocoon of dust, making them invisible even when they should be bright quasars”

Earth Observation Satellites Could be Flown Much Lower than Current Altitudes and Do Better Science

Satellite engineers know what every photographer knows: get close to your subject to get better pictures. Not just visible light pictures, but all across the spectrum. The lower altitude also improves things like radar, lidar, communications, and gps.

But when your subject is Earth, and Earth is surrounded by an atmosphere, getting closer is a delicate dance with physics. The closer a satellite gets to Earth, the more atmospheric drag it encounters. And that can mean an unscheduled plummet to destruction for Earth-Observing (EO) satellites.

Continue reading “Earth Observation Satellites Could be Flown Much Lower than Current Altitudes and Do Better Science”