Nearly eight years after its historic Pluto flyby, NASA’s New Horizons probe is getting ready for another round of observations made from the icy edge of the solar system — and this time, its field of view will range from Uranus and Neptune to the cosmic background far beyond our galaxy.
Scientists on the New Horizons team shared their latest discoveries, and provided a preview of what’s ahead, during this week’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
A newly discovered asteroid called 2023 DW has generated quite a buzz over the past week, due to an estimated 1-in-670 chance of impact on Valentine’s Day 2046. But despite a NASA advisory and the resulting scary headlines, there’s no need to put an asteroid doomsday on your day planner for that date.
The risk assessment doesn’t have as much to do with the probabilistic roll of the cosmic dice than it does with the uncertainty that’s associated with a limited set of astronomical observations. If the case of 2023 DW plays out the way all previous asteroid scares have gone over the course of nearly 20 years, further observations will reduce the risk to zero.
Nevertheless, the hubbub over a space rock that could be as wide as 165 feet (50 meters) highlights a couple of trends to watch for: We’re likely to get more of these asteroid alerts in the years to come, and NASA is likely to devote more attention to heading off potentially dangerous near-Earth objects, or NEOs.
A Japanese company has put out the call for passengers who’d be willing to pay more than $175,000 for an hours-long ride in a balloon-borne capsule that will rise as high as 15 miles (25 kilometers).
Technically, that’s nowhere near the boundary of outer space, but it’s high enough to get an astronaut’s-eye view of the curving Earth beneath a black sky.
“It’s safe, economical and gentle for people,” the CEO of a startup called Iwaya Giken, Keisuke Iwaya, told reporters in Tokyo. “The idea is to make space tourism for everyone.”
Other companies are planning similar stratospheric tourist ventures. But if Iwaya’s venture sticks to its announced timeline and begins flying customers around the end of this year, it would be the first to get to market.
NASA and its international partners have approved the crew lineup for Axiom Space’s second privately funded mission to the International Space Station — a lineup that includes the first Saudi woman cleared to go into orbit.
Two of the former crew members — former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner, a Tennessee business executive, race car driver and aviator — had previously been announced.
They’ll be joined by Ali AlQarni and Rayyannah Barnawi, representing Saudi Arabia’s national astronaut program. Only one other Saudi citizen — Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who flew on the space shuttle Discovery in 1985 — has ever been in space. The 10-day Axiom Space mission, known as Ax-2, is currently scheduled for this spring.
A new report to Congress says the Pentagon’s task force on UFOs — now known as unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs — has processed more reports in the past couple of years than it did in the previous 17 years. But that doesn’t mean we’re in the midst an alien invasion.
After a quarter-century of development, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is a smashing success. But senior project scientist John Mather, a Nobel-winning physicist who’s played a key role in the $10 billion project since the beginning, still sees some room for improvement.
A six-figure contribution from Rich Miner, the co-founder of Android, is energizing the campaign to create an illuminated 20-foot-high sculpture depicting Spock’s famous “Live Long and Prosper” hand gesture. The sculpture would be placed at Boston’s Museum of Science, near the West End neighborhood where Nimoy grew up.
Nimoy’s daughter, Julie Nimoy, and her husband David Knight are working with the museum to hit a $500,000 fundraising goal for the project. Thanks to Miner’s contribution, Knight said that the stainless-steel monument, designed and created by sculptor David Phillips, could begin taking shape as early as this year.
Thirteen years after the original “Avatar” movie came out, the idea of human minds inhabiting alien bodies is returning for an amped-up sequel — and since 2009, real-life efforts to create robotic avatars have advanced at least as much as computer-aided filmmaking has.
Oscar-winning director James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” returns to Pandora, a far-off exomoon where the peaceful, blue-skinned Na’vi people are menaced by human invaders who are capable of getting into their skin. The film is a visual mind-blower, combining elements of underwater documentaries, video games and the movie that earned Cameron his Oscar: “Titanic.”
In the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, we focus on the parallels between the science-fiction vision embodied in the Avatar movies and the future-tech vision that roboticists are pursuing through the Avatar XPRIZE and other efforts. Someday, robotic avatars could well transform space exploration as well as life back here on Earth.
For the first time ever, physicists have set off a controlled nuclear fusion reaction that released more energy than what was put into the experiment.
The milestone laser shot took place on Dec. 5 at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The fact that there was a net energy gain qualified the shot, in technical terms, as ignition. “Reaching ignition in a controlled fusion experiment is an achievement that has come after more than 60 years of global research, development, engineering and experimentation,” said Jill Hruby, under secretary of energy for nuclear security and the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
However, officials acknowledged that it’s still likely to be decades before commercial fusion power becomes a reality. They said the most immediate impact of the breakthrough will be felt in the field of national security and the stewardship of America’s nuclear weapons stockpile.