When it comes to looking for extraterrestrial life “out there” astronomers scan distant planets. They also look for technosignatures at alien worlds. What if the answer they seek is dust blowing on the interstellar winds?Continue reading “Are We Alone? The Answer Might Be in Space Dust That’s All Around Us”
Moons Orbiting Rogue Planets Could be Habitable
When looking for signs of life beyond the Solar System, astrobiologists are confined to looking for life as we understand it. For the most part, that means looking for rocky planets that orbit within their star’s circumsolar habitable zone (HZ), the distance at which liquid water can exist on its surface. In the coming years, next-generation telescopes and instruments will allow astronomers to characterize exoplanet atmospheres like never before. When that happens, they will look for the chemical signatures we associate with life, like nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia.
However, astrobiologists have theorized that life could exist in the outer Solar System beneath the surfaces of icy moons like Europa, Callisto, Titan, and other “Ocean Worlds.” Because of this, there is no shortage of astrobiologists who think that the search for extraterrestrial life should include exomoons, including those that orbit free-floating planets (FFPs). In a recent study, researchers led by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) determined the necessary properties that allow moons orbiting FFPs to retain enough liquid water to support life.Continue reading “Moons Orbiting Rogue Planets Could be Habitable”
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Type One Energy Raises $29M to Work on a Crazy Fusion Device
A Wisconsin-based startup called Type One Energy says it’s closed an over-subscribed $29 million financing round to launch its effort to commercialize a weird kind of nuclear fusion device known as a stellarator.
Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $2 billion clean-energy fund created by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, partnered with TDK Ventures and Doral Energy Tech Ventures to co-lead the investment round. Other backers include Darco, the Grantham Foundation, MILFAM, Orbia Ventures, Shorewind Capital, TRIREC and Vahoca.
Stellarator fusion devices rely on a pretzel-shaped torus of magnets to contain the plasma where fusion takes place. They have a design that’s strikingly different from, say, the giant tokamak that’s being built for the multibillion-dollar ITER experimental fusion reactor in France, or the laser-blasting device at the National Ignition Facility in California that recently hit an energy-producing milestone. Some have gone so far as to call stellarators the “fusion reactor designed in hell.”Continue reading “Type One Energy Raises $29M to Work on a Crazy Fusion Device”
Kazakhstan Seizes Russia's Launch Facility at Baikonur
In February 2022, Russian military forces invaded Ukraine as part of what President Vladimir Putin described as a “limited military operation.” This operation quickly turned into a protracted war now in its second year. For Russia, the response from the international community has been anything but favorable, consisting of sanctions, embargoes, and the termination of programs. This has been especially true for Roscosmos, which has had several cooperative agreements canceled and terminated its participation in the International Space Station (ISS).
On March 7th, 2023, Kazakhstan seized control of the Biaterek launch complex at the Baikonur Cosmodrome – Russia’s main launch site since 1955. According to statements by KZ24 News and The Moscow Times, the Kakazh government has impounded Russian assets at the Center for Utilization of Ground-based Space Infrastructure (TsENKI), a subsidiary of Roscosmos. It is also preventing Russian officials from leaving the country or liquidating Roscosmos assets. This incident is another example of how Russia’s space program is suffering collateral damage from the war in Ukraine.Continue reading “Kazakhstan Seizes Russia's Launch Facility at Baikonur”
Beads of Lunar Glass Boost Hopes for Using the Moon’s Water
Beads of glass could become a key source of water for future crewed settlements on the moon, researchers say.
That claim is based on an assessment of the water contained within a sampling of glassy beads that were created over the course of millennia by cosmic impacts on the moon, and ended up being brought back to Earth in 2020 by China’s Chang’e-5 sample return mission.
A spectroscopic analysis determined that the beads contained more water than the researchers expected based on past studies. They surmised that interactions between hydrogen ions in the solar wind and oxygen-bearing materials in lunar soil created H2O molecules that could be trapped within the glass — and then diffused under the right conditions.
Based on an extrapolation of such findings, the research team — headed by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences — estimates that glass beads in lunar soil may contain up to 270 trillion kilograms (595 trillion pounds, or 71 trillion gallons) of water.
“We propose that impact glass beads in lunar soils are a prime water reservoir candidate able to drive the lunar surface water cycle,” the researchers report in Nature Geoscience.Continue reading “Beads of Lunar Glass Boost Hopes for Using the Moon’s Water”
Finally, JWST's Data on the First TRAPPIST-1 Planet. Survey Says? It Sucks
With the James Webb Space Telescope’s ability to detect and study the atmospheres of distant planets orbiting other stars, exoplanet enthusiasts have been anticipating JWST’s first data on some of the worlds in the famous TRAPPIST-1 system. This is the system where seven Earth-sized worlds are orbiting a red dwarf star, with several in the habitable zone.
Today, a new study was released on the innermost planet in the system, TRAPPIST-1 b. The authors of the study were quite frank: this world very likely has no atmosphere at all. Additionally, the conditions there for possible life as we know it only get worse from there.Continue reading “Finally, JWST's Data on the First TRAPPIST-1 Planet. Survey Says? It Sucks”
Why Does ‘Oumuamua Follow Such a Bizarre Orbit? Hydrogen Outgassing
Nothing excites space enthusiasts like a good alien mystery. The interstellar visitor ‘Oumuamua presented one as it moved through the inner solar system in 2017. At least one scientist has insisted that this pancake-shaped object is an alien spacecraft. That’s because of the way it accelerated away from the Sun as it passed through. However, a number of planetary scientists say its activity might be more comet-like—something fairly common in the solar system.Continue reading “Why Does ‘Oumuamua Follow Such a Bizarre Orbit? Hydrogen Outgassing”
Asteroid Ryugu Contains Niacin (aka Vitamin B3)
In December 2020, JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft delivered a pristine sample of otherworldly dust and rock from asteroid Ryugu to Earth. Scientists have since had the opportunity to study the sample, and announced last week that the asteroid contains organic molecules important for life. In particular, they discovered Niacin, otherwise known as vitamin B3, and Uracil, one of the four core components of ribonucleic acid (RNA).Continue reading “Asteroid Ryugu Contains Niacin (aka Vitamin B3)”
Astronauts Could Mix and Match Parts to Make the Perfect Robot for Any Job
Building with Legos is a favored pastime for many small children and adults. We’ve even covered some more space-oriented Lego sets here at UT. But, as the Lego movie points out, they constitute “a highly sophisticated interlocking brick system.” So why not take the idea underpinning Legos – that you can make anything you want out of a set of generic pieces and apply it to a much more serious scientific topic…like robots.Continue reading “Astronauts Could Mix and Match Parts to Make the Perfect Robot for Any Job”
Don’t Take Batteries to the Moon or Mars, 3D Print Them When you Get There
When the Artemis astronauts and future explorers go to the Moon and Mars, they’ll need power. Lots of it. Of course, they’ll use solar panels to generate the juice they need for habitats, experiments, rovers, and so on. But, they’ll need batteries for power storage. Those things weigh a lot and cost a fortune to send up from Earth. So, why not simply 3D print their own when they get there?Continue reading “Don’t Take Batteries to the Moon or Mars, 3D Print Them When you Get There”