If there is one driving force in the commercial space industry it is economics. The whole concept of reusable booster rocket emphasizes the importance of getting launch costs down. SpaceX, the company leading the charge in trying to bring launch costs down, doesn’t just recover booster rockets however. It also recovers the rocket fairings that hold the payload during launch. SpaceX’s original plan was to capture the fairings as they fell back to Earth using specially equipped ships with nets to catch them before they landed in the ocean. Now, however, the company has transitioned to simply fishing fairings out of the ocean after they splash down, and that seems to be working just fine.Continue reading “SpaceX has Given up Trying to Catch Rocket Fairings. Fishing Them out of the Ocean is Fine”
In October 2017, humanity caught its first-ever glimpse of an interstellar object – a visitor from beyond our solar system – passing nearby the Sun. We named it Oumuamua, and its unusual properties fascinated and confounded astronomers. Less than two years later, amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov found a second interstellar object: a comet-like body that began to disintegrate as it passed within 2 AU of the Sun (1 AU equals the distance from Earth to the Sun). Where do these interstellar objects come from? How common are they? With a sample size of just two, it’s difficult to make any generalizations just yet. On the other hand, given what we know about star formation, we can begin to make some inferences about the likely origins of these objects, and what we are likely to see of them in the future.Continue reading “When Stars Get Too Close to Each Other, They Cast Out Interstellar Comets and Asteroids”
One of the strangest predictions of general relativity is that gravity can deflect the path of light. The effect was first observed by Arthur Eddington in 1919. While the bending effect of the Sun is small, near a black hole light deflection can be significant. So significant that you need a powerful supercomputer to calculate how light will behave.Continue reading “You Thought Black Hole Event Horizons Looked Strange. Check out Binary Black Hole Event Horizons”
One of the least known of NASA’s funding mechanisms is the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This program, required by the Baye-Doyle Act of 1980, earmarks a piece of every US Federal agency’s budget (including NASA) for the development of small businesses to commercialize new technologies. NASA’s SBIR program usually focus on commercializing technologies that are useable in space, and many times fund a university doing some work in addition to the small business that received the grant. A company called Air Squared Inc, based in Broomfield, Colorado, recently received one of these SBIR grants, and teamed up with a mechanical engineering lab at Purdue University and Whirlpool, one of the world’s appliance giants, to produce a necessary component for any long-term space mission – a refrigerator.Continue reading “Astronauts Will Soon be Getting a Space Fridge, Keeping Everything Cold in Zero-G”
Space research, like much else in capitalist societies, is driven by funding. The biggest source of that funding for that space research is usually the US government. Which is why, when US presidents release their budget proposals, the space community takes notice. Especially because that budget affects NASA, the largest space funding agency in the world. With a new year and new administration comes a new budget and with the 2021 proposed budget comes a nice funding increase for NASA.Continue reading “Biden Administration is Looking for a 6.3% Increase in NASA’s Budget for 2022”
AI is often touted as being particularly good at finding patterns amongst reams of data. But humans also are extremely good at pattern recognition, especially when it comes to visual images. Citizen science efforts around the globe leverage this fact, and recent results released from the Milky Way Project on Zooinverse show how effective it can be. The project’s volunteer team identified 6,176 “yellowballs”, which are a stage that star clusters go through during their early years. That discovery helps scientists better understand the formation of these clusters and how they eventually grow into individualized stars.Continue reading “Citizen Scientists Discover a new Feature in Star Formation: “Yellowballs””
Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) are finding new uses for the laser-based technology that sharpens telescope imagery – called adaptive optics – and it just might help mitigate the world’s growing space debris problem. Purpose-built lasers could give derelict satellites a slight ‘push’ of photons, imparting just enough energy to change the debris’s orbit and prevent an impending collision.Continue reading “Ground-Based Lasers Could Push Space Debris off Collision-Course Orbits”
Using nuclear devices to deflect or disrupt an asteroid. Sounds a bit crazy, no? Maybe a little too Hollywood? And yet, detonating nukes in space may be necessary someday for the sake of planetary defense. In order for this method to be effective, scientists need to work out all the particulars in advance. That means knowing how much force will be necessary depending on the mass and trajectory of the asteroid.
Recently, a research collaboration between Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) investigated how the energy output of a nuclear detonation could affect the path of an asteroid. This consisted of modeling different nuclear reactions (fission or fusion) to determine the neutron energy generated, which could potentially pave the way for a new type of asteroid redirect mission (ARM).Continue reading “If you Want to Move an Asteroid, you Need the Right Kind of Nuclear Explosion”
We now know the universe is filled with planets. By one estimate, there are more than 20 billion Earth-like worlds in our galaxy alone. But how many of them are likely to have life? And how would we know if they do? Unless they happen to send us a very clear message directly, the most likely way we’ll discover exoplanet life is by looking at their atmospheres.Continue reading “Finding Oxygen on an Alien World Doesn't Always Mean There's Life There”
The effects of ancient asteroid impacts on Earth are still evident from the variety of impact craters across our planet. And from the Chelyabinsk event back in 2013, where an asteroid exploded in the air above a Russian town, we know how devastating an “airburst” event can be.
Now, researchers in Antarctica have discovered evidence of a strange intermediate-type event – a combination of an impact and an airburst. The event was so devastating, its effects are still apparent even though it took place 430,000 years ago.Continue reading “100-meter Asteroid Created a Strange Impact Event in Antarctica 430,000 Years Ago”