NASA is Building a Nuclear Reactor to Power Lunar and Martian Exploration!

Over the next fifteen years, multiple space agencies and their commercial partners intend to mount crewed missions to the Moon and Mars. In addition to placing “footprints and flags” on these celestial bodies, there are plans to establish the infrastructure to allow for a long-term human presence. To meet these mission requirements and ensure astronaut safety, several technologies are currently being researched and developed.

At their core, these technologies are all about achieving self-sufficiency in terms of resources, materials, and energy. To ensure that these missions have all the energy they need to conduct operations, NASA is developing a Fission Surface Power (FSP) system that will provide a safe, efficient, and reliable electricity supply. In conjunction with solar cells, batteries, and fuel cells, this technology will allow for long-term missions to the Moon and Mars in the near future.

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InSight Peers Deep Below the Surface on Mars

The InSight lander has been on Mars, gathering data for a thousand days now, working to give us a better understanding of the planet’s interior. It’s at Elysium Planitia, the second largest volcanic region on Mars. A newly-published paper based on seismic data from the lander shows something unexpected underground: a layer of sediment sandwiched between layers of lava flows.

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Astronauts Took A Fly-around of the International Space Station. Here are Their Stunning Pictures

When astronauts left the International Space Station in early November to return home on the Crew Dragon Endeavour, they took the opportunity to do a fly-around of the ISS and take photos. NASA just released the new images, and they are a stunning look at both the orbiting outpost and our home planet.

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NASA Simulation Shows What Happens When Stars Get Too Close to Black Holes

What happens to a star when it strays too close to a monster black hole? Astronomers have wondered why some stars are ripped apart, while others manage to survive a close encounter with a lurking black hole, only a little worse for wear.

To figure out the dynamics of such an event, scientists built a supercomputer simulation and tested it out on eight different types of stars. The stars were sent towards a virtual black hole, 1 million times the mass of the Sun.

What they found was surprising.

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The Parker Solar Probe is getting pelted by hypervelocity dust. Could they damage spacecraft?

There’s a pretty significant disadvantage to going really fast – if you get hit with anything, even if it is small, it can hurt.  So when the fastest artificial object ever – the Parker Solar Probe – gets hit by grains of dust that are a fraction the size of a human hair, they still do damage.  The question is how much damage, and could we potentially learn anything from how exactly that damage happens?  According to new research from scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB), the answer to the second question is yes, in fact, we can.

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The Decadal Survey is out! What new Missions and Telescopes are in the Works?

It’s that time again.  Once every ten years, the American astronomy community joins forces through the auspices of the National Academies to produce one of the most important and influential reports in their discipline – the decadal survey.  This report has been the impetus for some of the great observational instruments of our time, including Spitzer, the Large Millimeter Array, and Chandra. Upcoming heavy-hitting observatories, such as Nancy Grace Roman and Vera C. Rubin, also spawned from suggestions made in the Decadal Survey.  In short, if you want to get a grandiose space telescope funded, your best bet is to have it supported by the National Academies in the form of the Decadal Survey.  Now a new one is out – so what does it back for the upcoming decade and beyond?

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This is a Classic Example of a Reflection Nebula, Where the Reflected Light From Young Hot Stars Illuminates a Protostellar Cloud of Gas and Dust

The interplay of energy and matter creates beautiful sights. Here on Earth, we enjoy rainbows, auroras, and sunsets and sunrises. But out in space, nature creates extraordinarily dazzling structures called nebulae that can span hundreds of light-years. Nebulae are probably the most beautiful objects out there.

While searching for young stars and their circumstellar disks, Hubble captured a classic reflection nebula.

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A Gravitational Lens Shows the Same Galaxy Three Times

Images from the Hubble Space Telescope are often mind-bending in both their beauty and wealth of scientific wonder. And sometimes, Hubble captures light-bending images too.

Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) snapped a photo of a galaxy where the light has been bent by gravitational lensing, so that the galaxy show up not just once, but three times. But the multiple views aren’t exact replicas of each other — they appear as different shapes.

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NASA Launches DART, to Learn how to Defend the Earth From a Future Asteroid Impact

In the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, Nov. 24th, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) launched from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base (SFB) in California. This spacecraft is the world’s first full-scale mission to demonstrate technologies that could someday be used to defend our planet from Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) that could potentially collide with Earth.

Put simply, the DART mission is a kinetic impactor that will evaluate a proposed method for deflecting asteroids. Over the next ten months, the DART mission will autonomously navigate towards the target asteroid – the binary NEA (65803) Didymos – and intentionally collide with it. If everything goes according to plan, this will alter the asteroid’s motion so that ground-based telescopes can accurately measure any changes.

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It’s Time to Stop Doing Anti-Satellite Tests

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.

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