At first glance, it looks like something from an alien autopsy. A strange organ cut from a xenomorph’s thorax, under the flickering lights of an operating room in a top secret government facility, with venous tendrils dangling down to the floor, dripping viscous slime. (X-Com anyone?)
But no, it’s just our Solar System.
Continue reading “This is What the Solar System Really Looks Like”
In 1950, Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi sat down to lunch with some of his colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he had worked five years prior as part of the Manhattan Project. According to various accounts, the conversation turned to aliens and the recent spate of UFOs. Into this, Fermi issued a statement that would go down in the annals of history: “Where is everybody?“
This became the basis of the Fermi Paradox, which refers to the high probability estimates for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) and the apparent lack of evidence. But despite seventy years of looking, we still haven’t been able to answer Fermi’s question, leading to multiple proposals as to why this is. Today, we look at the “Aestivation Hypothesis,” which argues that aliens are not dead (or non-existent), they’re just resting!
Continue reading “Beyond the Fermi Paradox V: What is the Aestivation Hypothesis?”
Ready for the Perseids?
It’s August once again, and that means the Perseid meteors are inbound. This shower is a sure-fire bet starting this weekend, though 2020 sees the spectacle go down under somewhat challenging circumstances.
Continue reading “Meteors of August: Our Guide to the 2020 Perseids”
Twinkling stars might make for spectacular viewing on a hot summer’s night, but they are an absolute nightmare to astronomers. That twinkling is caused by disturbances in the Earth’s atmosphere, and can wreak havoc on brightness readings, a key tool for astronomers everywhere. Those readings are used for everything from understanding galaxy formation to the detection of exoplanets.
Astronomers now have a new potential location to try to avoid the twinkling. Only one problem though: it’s really cold, especially this time of year. A team of astronomers from Canada, China, and Australia have identified a part of Antarctica as the ideal place to put observational telescopes. Now the challenge becomes how to actually build one there.
Continue reading “Antarctica Is the Best Place On Earth for a Telescope, Is Also the Hardest Place to Put a Telescope”
Astronomers have found another strange exoplanet in a distant solar system. This one’s an oddball because its size is intermediate between Earth and Neptune, yet it’s 50% more massive than Neptune.
Astronomers have found what they call “puff planets” in other Solar Systems. Those are planets that are a few times more massive than Earth, but with radii much larger than Neptune’s. But this planet is the opposite of that: it’s much more massive than Neptune, but it also has a much smaller radius. Super-dense, not super-puffy.
This oddball planet is calling into question our understanding of how planets form.
Continue reading “A Strange Planet has been Found that’s Smaller than Neptune But 50% More Massive”
Orbiters are giving us a chance to study the surface of Mars closely, and some of the features that pop to prominence are dry river channels. There are over 10,000 of them. But a new study suggests that glaciers on ancient Mars are responsible for many of them.
According to the study, those glaciers and the water flowing under them are resonsible for carving out some of those riverbeds, rather than free-flowing rivers.
Continue reading “Martian Features Were Carved by Glaciers, not Flowing Rivers”
Since it launched in 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory has helped scientists understand how the Sun’s magnetic field is generated and structured, and what causes solar flares. One of the main goals of the mission was to be able to create forecasts for predicting activity on the Sun.
Using mission data from the past 10 years, SDO scientists have now developed a new model that successfully predicted seven of the Sun’s biggest flares from the last solar cycle, out of a set of nine.
Continue reading “New Solar Model Successfully Predicted Seven of the Sun’s Last Nine Big Flares”
On Sunday, August 2nd, astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley splashed down with their Crew Dragon spacecraft (Endeavour) in the Gulf of Mexico. This brought their historic mission (Demo-2) to a close and marked the beginning of a new era in space exploration. For the first time in almost ten years, astronauts bound for the ISS had been launched from American soil – effectively restoring domestic launch capability to the US.
Continue reading “NASA Astronauts are Back on Earth After a Successful Crew Dragon Splashdown”
Yesterday (on Tuesday, August 4th), ground crews at the SpaceX launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, accomplished a major milestone. After 11 months of prototyping, testing, and more than a few explosions, the fifth Starship prototype (SN5) successfully completed a 150 meter (~500 ft) hop test and landed safely again. This latest test puts SpaceX on track towards full-scale orbital testing of their future launch vehicle.
Continue reading “Finally! SpaceX Starship Prototype SN5 Flies Just Over 150 Meters Into the Air”
Mars’ massive cloud is back.
Every year during Mars’ summer solstice, a cloud of water ice forms on the leeward side of Arsia Mons, one of Mars’ largest extinct volcanoes. The cloud can grow to be up to 1800 km (1120 miles) long. It forms each morning, then disappears the same day, only to reappear the next morning. Researchers have named it the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud (AMEC).
Continue reading “There’s One Cloud on Mars That’s Over 1800 km Long”