Asteroid Bennu has little pieces of Vesta on it

The asteroid belt is a chaotic place.  Things smash into each other, get thrown into completely different orbital planes, and are occasionally visited by small electronic spacecraft launched by humans.  All three things seem to have happened to the asteroid Bennu, which is currently being orbited by OSIRIS-REx, a mission launched by NASA in 2016.

The most recently released results from the mission show that Bennu might have small pieces of Vesta on it.  Given that Vesta is one of the biggest asteroid belt objects and Bennu is a near Earth asteroid millions of kilometers away from the asteroid belt, this hints at a pretty exciting past history for the asteroid currently being visited by NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

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NASA’s Janus Mission is Going to Visit Two Binary Asteroids

Gravity is good for a lot of things. It brings objects closer together. Occasionally they crash into each other.  But sometimes two objects get locked in a unique gravitational dance that pairs them together. That dance can be short-lived, or it can last for billions of years. In some cases the objects are large (i.e. planets and moons), but they can also be quite small.

These small dancing objects are called binary asteroids, and we know very little about them, despite making up approximately 15% of all asteroids in the solar system.  That is until a newly greenlighted NASA mission, called Janus, will arrive at two different binary asteroids around 2026.

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Design for a Space Habitat With Artificial Gravity That Could Be Grown Larger Over Time to Fit More People

There are two main approaches that humanity can take to living in space.  The one more commonly portrayed is of us colonizing other celestial bodies such as the Moon and Mars.  That approach comes with some major disadvantages, including dealing with toxic soils, clingy dust, and gravity wells.

The alternative is to build our own habitats.  These could be located anywhere in the solar system, could be of any size that material science allows, and have different characteristics, such as temperature, climate, gravity, and even lengths of day.  Unfortunately, we are still a very long way from building anything like a fully sized habitat.  However, we are now one step closer to doing so with the release of a paper from a team at Texas A&M that describes a way to build an expandable space habitat of concentric cylinders that can house up to 8000 people.

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Australian Telescope Just Scanned 10 million Stars For Any Sign of Extraterrestrial Signals. No sign.

One of the most important results of science is the negative result.  If something doesn’t work or a hypothesis is disproven, often it’s not widely reported or disseminated.  That is a shame.  However, science is getting better at incorporating negative results into its reporting system, which has resulted in publications like the Journal of Negative Results, which covers biomedicine.  

Unfortunately there isn’t a similar journal for Astronomy. At least not yet.  But the field could really use one.  There are plenty of disproven hypotheses that don’t see the light of day in academically peer reviewed publications.  When it comes to topics like SETI, sometimes those negative results are extremely important, as it lends credence to one of the most important hypotheses out there – that we are alone in the universe.  Papers that cover negative SETI results can be accepted into journals that otherwise might not accept a paper centered around not finding anything.  That’s what happened recently when a team of astronomers from Australia and elsewhere used the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) to search a patch of sky that included 10 million stars.  The negative results was that they did not see a single sign of intelligent life anywhere in those 10 million stars.

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Finally! A Solution to Deal With Sticky Lunar Dust

As a wise man once said, “I don’t like sand.  It’s coarse and rough and irritating – and it gets everywhere”.  The same could be said for another material in our solar system – dust.

The kind of dust present on the moon is even more annoying than the grains that bothered Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine.  It is constantly bathed in solar radiation, smells like spent gunpowder, and can cause allergic reactions, as it did in some of the Apollo astronauts.  It’s also notoriously difficult to clean off of surfaces.  Now a team of scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder think they have a solution that would remove lunar dust without harming the material it’s attached to.  And they would do this by using a tool that sounds like it’s straight out of Star Wars – an electron beam.

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Okay, New Idea. Oumuamua is an Interstellar “Dust Bunny”

Explaining the concept of a dust bunny to small children can be quite amusing.  No, it’s not actually alive.  It’s moving around because of really small currents of wind that we can’t even see.  It’s mainly formed out of dead skin and spider webs.   No, the spiders don’t actually eat the dead skin.  Most of the time.

Now take that same concept of a bunch of particles stuck together, scale it up a few orders of magnitude, and put it in space.  Though it’s still not alive, it would be blown by solar radiation rather than the winds.  And instead of being made out of skin and spider webs, it could be made up of cometary dust particles.  That is what scientists think our first detected visitor from another star might be – an interstellar dust bunny.

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A New Non-toxic Propellant is Looking Promising

Believe it or not there are some people out there who think traditional rocket science is too easy and want more of a challenge.  A group at the University of Illinois (UI) decided to up the difficulty a bit by attempting to design a rocket engine that is capable of both electric and chemical propulsion. 

Such a dual-mode rocket engine would have the benefits from both kinds of propulsion.  The chemical side would give them significant thrust and quick reaction times when needed at the cost of efficiency, while the electric engine would allow for efficient, though slow, travel.  Recently the group tested a novel type of rocket fuel that might just be able to be used in both types of engines.

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There Could Be More Rogue Planets Than Stars in the Milky Way. Here’s How Nancy Grace Will Find Them

Rogue planets are notoriously hard to detect, unless you’re the Jedi in an Extended Universe novel.  So far we have only been able to discover a handful, but estimates range from a few billion to a trillion solitary planets floating through the galaxy.  NASA hopes to dramatically increase the number we’ve detected, and thereby better our estimates of how many there actually are, with the launch of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (formerly called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST).

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Did Jupiter Push Venus Into a Runaway Greenhouse?

Venus has been garnering a lot of attention lately, though primarily in the scientific community as the last Hollywood movie about the planet was released in the 1960s.  This is in part due to its dramatic difference from Earth, and what that difference might mean for the study of exoplanets.  If we can better understand what happened during Venus’ formation to make it the hell scape it is today, we might be able to better understand what truly constitutes the habitable zone around other stars.

Numerous planetary scientists have focused on Venus’ formation and atmospheric development in the recent past.  Now a new paper posits that Venus might have had liquid water on its surface as recently as one billion years ago.  And a contributor to the disappearance of that water might be an unlikely culprit: Jupiter.

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Machine Learning Just Classified Over Half a Million Galaxies

Shows some of the galaxies in Subaru's image set that allows them to be classified.

Humanity is still a long way away from a fully artificial intelligence system. For now at least, AI is particularly good at some specialized tasks, such as classifying cats in videos.  Now it has a new skill set: identifying spiral patterns in galaxies.

As with all AI skills, this one started out with categorized data.  In this case, that data consisted of images of galaxies taken by the Subaru Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.  The telescope is run by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), and has identified upwards of 560,000 galaxies in images it has taken.

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