On March 26th, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter made its closest approach to the Sun so far. It ventured inside Mercury’s orbit and was about one-third the distance from Earth to the Sun. It was hot but worth it.
The Solar Orbiter’s primary mission is to understand the connection between the Sun and its heliosphere, and new images from the close approach are helping build that understanding.
If skies are clear, be sure to watch for a potential tau Herculid meteor outburst early next Tuesday morning.
With a little cosmic luck, we could potentially be in for a meteor storm of epic proportions this coming Monday night/Tuesday morning. We recently wrote about the possibility for an outburst from the tau Herculids on the night of May 30th/May 31st. As we’re now just under a week out from the shower, let’s look at the prospective for the shower, what went down during meteor storms of yore, and more.
Everyone loves looking at the Moon, especially through a telescope. To see those dark and light patches scattered across its surface brings about a sense of awe and wonder to anyone who looks up at the night sky. While our Moon might be geologically dead today, it was much more active billions of years ago when it first formed as hot lava blanketed hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of the Moon’s surface in hot lava. These lava flows are responsible for the dark patches we see when we look at the Moon, which are called mare, translated as “seas”, and are remnants of a far more active past.
In a recent study published in The Planetary Science Journal, research from University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) suggests that volcanoes active billions of years ago may have left another lasting impact on the lunar surface: sheets of ice that dot the Moon’s poles and, in some places, could measure dozens or even hundreds of meters (or feet) thick.
NASA’s spacesuits are getting old. The extra-vehicular mobility units – EMUs for short – were designed and built for spacewalks outside NASA’s space shuttles, which flew for the last time in 2011. Nowadays, the EMUs are an integral part of maintaining and upgrading the International Space Station (ISS) exterior, providing the crew with the ability to live and work in the vacuum of space for extended periods of time (spacewalks regularly last from 6 to 8 hours). However, at the end of the most recent spacewalk on March 23, NASA astronaut Kayla Barron discovered water in the helmet of German astronaut Matthias Maurer while she helped him remove the suit.
Last week, Boeing’s next-generation CST-100 Starliner took off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, reached orbit, and docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Designated Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2), this uncrewed test flight successfully validated the reusable space capsule for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). This program, a public-private partnership between NASA and commercial launch providers (SpaceX and Boeing), aims to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective payload and crew transportation to the ISS from American soil.
The mission came with its share of hiccups, which consisted of two of the spacecraft’s thrusters shutting off prematurely during orbital maneuvers. Nevertheless, this successful test flight was a welcome relief after three years of delays, checks, and corrective actions that followed the first failed attempt (OFT-1). After six days of being docked with the ISS, the spacecraft is scheduled to undock tomorrow autonomously (Wednesday, May 25th) and land at the White Sands Space Harbor at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico.
NASA is planning a mission to demonstrate the ability to repair and upgrade satellites in Earth orbit. The mission, called OSAM-1 (On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing-1), will send a robotic spacecraft equipped with robotic arms and all the tools and equipment needed to fix, refuel or extend satellites’ lifespans, even if those satellites were not designed to be serviced on orbit.
Remember all the fuss about the “doorway on Mars” from just last week? Well, this week, NASA issued some more information about the rock mound where the Curiosity rover snapped a pic showing a fracture hole in the rock. It looks like a door, but it’s not.
Ever wonder what it would be like to fly through the Orion Nebula with all its newborn stars? Or buzz through the California Nebula? Of course, we’ve seen simulated “fly-throughs” of nebulae in sci-fi TV and movies and on planetarium domes. But, what if we had a warp-speed spaceship and could chart a path through the real thing? The first thing we’d need is accurate data about that region of space. That’s where a 3D model with precise distance measurements to stars and other objects would come in really handy.
It might be hard to fathom now, but the human exploration of the solar system isn’t going to stop at the Moon and Mars. Eventually, our descendants will spread throughout the solar system – for those interested in space exploration, the question is only of when rather than if. Answering that question is the focus of a new paper released on arXiv by a group of researchers from the US, China, and the Netherlands. Their approach is highly theoretical, but it is likely more accurate than previous estimates, and it gives a reasonable idea of when we could expect to see humans in the outer solar system. The latest they think we could reach the Saturnian system is 2153.
As of this article’s writing, NASA has indicated that 5,030 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in 3,772 systems, with another 8,974 candidates awaiting confirmation. With next-generation instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) coming online, the number and diversity of confirmed exoplanets are expected to grow exponentially. In particular, astronomers anticipate that the number of known terrestrial planets and Super-Earths will drastically increase.
In the coming years, the opportunities for exoplanet studies will increase considerably as thousands more are discovered using various methods. In a recent study, a team led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) described a new space-telescope concept known as the Closeby Habitable Exoplanet Survey (CHES). This proposed observatory will search for Earth-like planets in the habitable zones (HZs) of Sun-like stars within approximately 33 light-years (10 parsecs) using a method known as micro-arcsecond relative astrometry.