Earlier this month, the Russian military conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test, launching a PL19 Nudol interceptor missile at a now-defunct Soviet-era intelligence satellite, KOSMOS 1408. The impact obliterated the spacecraft, creating a debris field consisting of approximately 1500 pieces of trackable debris, and potentially hundreds of thousands of pieces that are too small to monitor with ground-based radar. In the aftermath of the test, the debris field crossed the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) repeatedly, causing the crew to take emergency precautions and shelter in their descent capsules, ready for a quick return to Earth in the event that the station was hit.
While the station and its crew escaped without harm this time around, the November 15 test demonstrated far too clearly that ASATs pose a real danger to human life. They can also wreak havoc on the rest of Earth’s space infrastructure, like communications satellites and other orbital systems. Debris from an ASAT test remains in orbit long after the initial incident is over (the higher the orbit, the longer lasting the debris), and if humanity’s space infrastructure is to be sustainable, the era of ASATs must come to an end, and soon.
Continue reading “It’s Time to Stop Doing Anti-Satellite Tests”
Dark matter is notoriously difficult to study. It’s essentially invisible to astronomers since it can’t be seen directly. So astronomers rely on effects such as the gravitational lensing of light to map its presence in the universe. That method works well for other galaxies, but not so well for our own. To map dark matter in the Milky Way, we rely mostly on the motions of stars in our galaxy. Since dark matter attracts regular matter gravitationally, the method works well for areas of the galaxy where there are stars. Unfortunately, most of the stars lie along the galactic plane, making it difficult to map dark matter above and below that plane. But a recent study proposes a way to map more of our galaxy’s dark matter using runaway stars.
Continue reading “Stars Getting Kicked out of the Milky Way can Help us map its Dark Matter Halo”
Looking to the future, astronomers are excited to see how machine learning – aka. deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – will enhance surveys. One field that is already benefitting in the search for extrasolar planets, where researchers rely on machine-learning algorithms to distinguish between faint signals and background noise. As this field continues to transition from discovery to characterization, the role of machine intelligence is likely to become even more critical.
Take the Kepler Space Telescope, which accounted for 2879 confirmed discoveries (out of the 4,575 exoplanets discovered made to date) during its nearly ten years of service. After examining the data collected by Kepler using a new deep-learning neural network called ExoMiner, a research team at NASA’s Ames Research Center was able to detect 301 more planetary signals and add them to the growing census of exoplanets.
Continue reading “A Machine-Learning Algorithm Just Found 301 Additional Planets in Kepler Data”
Mercury is the speed champion in our Solar System. It orbits the Sun every 88 days, and its average speed is 47 km/s. Its average distance from the Sun is 58 million km (36 million mi), and it’s so fast it’s named after Mercury, the wing-footed God.
But what if instead of Mercury, Jupiter was closest to the Sun? And what if Jupiter was even closer to the Sun than Mercury and far hotter?
Continue reading “Astronomers Find a Planet That Orbits its Star in Just 16 HOURS!”
The State of Washington and the Province of BC are in a state of emergency following days of severe wind, rain, and flooding. The situation began when an “atmospheric river” (a plume of moisture) extended over the Pacific Northwest, triggering severe rainfall that caused already-rising rivers to overflow. This led to blocked roads, mudslides, fallen bridges, and thousands of animals drowning in farmland areas.
This extensive damage was photographed from space by Earth observation satellites, one of which was the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel mission and the International Space Station (ISS). These images captured the extent of the floods in the Nooksack and Fraser River valleys this week, which both spilled over their banks this week, leading to washed-out roads and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.
Continue reading “The Severe Pacific Northwest Flooding Seen From Space”
Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our Sun, is like a treasure trove with many scientific discoveries just waiting to be found. Part of what makes it so compelling is that our efforts to detect extrasolar planets there have failed to yield any concrete results to date. While the study of exoplanets has progressed exponentially in recent years, with 4,575 confirmed planets in 3,392 systems in the Milky Way (and even neighboring galaxies), astronomers are still having difficulty determining if anyone is next door.
In the coming decades, Breakthrough Initiatives plans to send a mission there known as Starshot, a lightsail craft that could make the journey in 20 years. On Nov. 16th, Breakthrough Initiatives announced another project for detecting exoplanets next door. It’s called the Telescope for Orbit Locus Interferometric Monitoring of our Astronomical Neighbourhood (TOLIMAN), a space telescope dedicated to finding rocky planets orbiting in Alpha Centauri’s circumsolar habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks Zone”).
Continue reading “A Space Telescope With one job: Find Habitable Planets at Alpha Centauri”
At Europe’s Spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana, technicians are busy getting the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) ready for launch. The observatory arrived at the facility on Oct. 12th and was placed inside the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket that will carry it to space on Nov. 11th. The upper stage was then hoisted high above the core stage and boosters so that a team of engineers could integrate them.
Unfortunately, an “incident” occurred shortly after when the engineers attempted to attach the upper stage to the launch vehicle adapter (LVA) to the launch vehicle. According to a NASA Blogs post, the incident involved the sudden release of a clamp band (which secures the JWST to the LVA), which sent vibrations throughout the observatory. According to NASA, this incident could push the JWST’s launch date (slated for Dec. 18th) to Dec. 22nd.
Continue reading ““Incident” that Occurred During Loading Pushes the Webb Launch Date to Dec. 22nd”
A wellness coach from Antigua and her daughter are getting tickets for a suborbital space trip, thanks to the latest in a line of out-of-this-world sweepstakes going back 20 years. And although not a single spaceflight sweepstakes winner has flown yet, there’s still significant value to such contests, financially and otherwise.
“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, said in a Nov. 24 news release.
Branson himself broke the good news to Keisha Schahaff at her home on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Schahaff had entered a contest arranged in collaboration with the Omaze online sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity this summer. She ended up winning the random drawing. Her grand prize? Two tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, plus terrestrial travel expenses.
Continue reading “Mother and Daughter Win Tickets for Suborbital Space Ride With Virgin Galactic”
Without phosphorus, there’s no life. It’s a necessary part of DNA, RNA, and other biological molecules like ATP, which helps cells transport energy. But any phosphorus that was present when Earth formed would’ve been sequestered in the center of the molten planet.
So where did phosphorus come from?
It might have come from cosmic dust.
Continue reading “Did Cosmic Dust Deliver the Phosphorus Needed for Life?”
Now is the time to start tracking Comet C/2021 A1 Leonard, as it starts its dawn dive sunward.
The days following New Year’s 2021 saw a comet discovery with potential. On the night of January 3rd, exactly one year to the day prior to perihelion, astronomer Gregory J. Leonard working at the Mount Lemmon Observatory near Tucson Arizona discovered the first long-period comet of the year, C/2021 A1 Leonard. Shining at magnitude +19 and 5 Astronomical Units (AU) distant (about the distance of Jupiter from the Sun) at the time of discovery, early indications hinted that comet A1 Leonard might prove to be something special, come the end of 2021.
Continue reading “Comet A1 Leonard Brightens in December”