Virgin Orbit Successfully Launches a Batch of Satellites From an Airplane

On Sunday, January 17th, Virgin Orbit conducted the second launch test of its LauncherOne rocket, which the company will use to deploy small satellites to orbit in the coming years. The mission (Launch Demo 2) went smoothly and validated the company’s delivery system, which consists of the rocket air launching from a repurposed 747-400 (named Cosmic Girl).

It also involved the successful deployment of 10 CubeStars which were selected by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). The event began when Cosmic Girl took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 10:50 A.M. PST (01:50 P.M. EST) and flew to a location about 80 km (50 mi) south of the Channel Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

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Only 31 Magnetars Have Ever Been Discovered. This one is Extra Strange. It’s Also a Pulsar

Some of the most stunningly powerful objects in the sky aren’t necessarily the prettiest to look at.  But their secrets can allow humanity to glimpse some of the more intricate details of the universe that are exposed in their extreme environs.  Any time we find one of these unique objects it’s a cause for celebration, and recently astronomers have found an extremely unique object that is both a magnetar and a pulsar, making it one of only 5 ever found.

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The One Place on the Space Station Astronauts Aren’t Supposed to Clean

While most of us are now more fastidious about keeping our homes and workplaces clean, on board the International Space Station, cleanliness is imperative. Of high importance is anti-bacterial measures, since bacteria tends to build up in the constantly-recycled air inside the ISS. Every Saturday in space is “cleaning day” where surfaces are wiped down, and the astronauts vacuum and collect trash.

But there’s one spot on board the station where cleaning is a no-no. But don’t worry, its all for science!

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Strange Green Star is the Result of a Merger Between two White Dwarfs

A white dwarf isn’t your typical kind of star. While main sequence stars such as our Sun fuse nuclear material in their cores to keep themselves from collapsing under their own weight, white dwarfs use an effect known as quantum degeneracy. The quantum nature of electrons means that no two electrons can have the same quantum state. When you try to squeeze electrons into the same state, they exert a degeneracy pressure that keeps the white dwarf from collapsing.

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Mars has Been Through Many Ice Ages in the Last Billion Years

Like Earth, Mars has experienced periods of extreme glaciation or ice sheet coverage, which are known as ice ages. As these ice ages come and go, glaciers expand and contract along the planet’s surface, grinding huge boulders down to smaller rocks. By examining the size of boulders and rocks at specific locations on Mars, we should be able to understand the history of the Martian ice ages.

A new study did just that.

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A Habitat at Ceres Could be the Gateway to the Outer Solar System

In the near future, humanity stands a good chance of expanding its presence beyond Earth. This includes establishing infrastructure in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), on the surface of (and in orbit around) the Moon, and on Mars. This presents numerous challenges, as living in space and on other celestial bodies entails all kinds of potential risks and health hazards – not the least of which are radiation and long-term exposure to low gravity.

These issues demand innovative solutions; and over the years, several have been proposed! A good example is Dr. Pekka Janhunen‘s concept for a megasatellite settlement in orbit around Ceres, the largest asteroid in the Main Belt. This settlement would provide artificial gravity for its residents while the local resources would allow for a closed-loop ecosystem to created inside – effectively bringing “terraforming” to a space settlement.

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New Drones for Exploring Mars are Getting Tested in Iceland

It’s looking more and more like the future of space exploration could involve drones in a big way.

We’ve already seen it here on Earth, where all kinds of flying drones are used by all kinds of people for all kinds of things. Drones are particularly useful in resource development, exploration, imaging, and remote sensing.

Could the future see drones flying around in the thin Martian atmosphere?

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Astronomers Confirm That Darksat is About Half as Bright as an Unpainted Starlink

Space-based internet service is poised to revolutionize the internet and bring high-speed connectivity to countless communities worldwide. Programs like SpaceX’s Starlink paint a picture of a bright future for the citizens of the world. Like many revolutionary technological advances, there is a dark side to Starlink. 

The constellation of hundreds (and eventually thousands) of satellites reflect light back to the Earth, impinging on the darkness of the skies for professional astronomers and stargazers alike. Astronomers report images and data being disrupted by bright streaks left from the satellites passing through their observational fields of view. One potential solution to this issue is applying a dark coating to the reflective antennae on the satellites’ ground-facing side. In January of 2020, SpaceX launched the experimental DarkSat to test the effectiveness of such a coating. Astronomers around the world observed the new satellite. In December of 2020, a team from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) released a paper in The Astrophysical Journal showing detailed measurements of the efficacy of DarkSat.

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This is a Simulation of the Interstellar Medium Flowing Like Smoke Throughout the Milky Way

How do stars form?

We know they form from massive structures called molecular clouds, which themselves form from the Interstellar Medium (ISM). But how and why do certain types of stars form? Why, in some situations, does a star like our Sun form, versus a red dwarf or a blue giant?

That’s one of the central questions in astronomy. It’s also a very complex one.

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