Saturn-sized Planet Found in the Habitable Zone of Another Star. The First Planet Completely Discovered by Amateur Astronomers

Exoplanets have been a particularly hot topic of late.  More than 4000 of them have been discovered since the first in 1995.  Now one more can potentially be added to the list. This one is orbiting Gliese 3470, a red dwarf star located in the constellation Cancer.  What makes this discovery particularly interesting is that this planet wasn’t discovered by any professional astronomers using high tech equipment like the Kepler Space Telescope.  It was found entirely by amateurs.

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The Moons of Uranus Are Fascinating Enough On Their Own That We Should Send a Flagship Mission Out There

What’s the most interesting fact you know about Uranus? The fact that its rotational axis is completely out of line with every other planet in the solar system?  Or the fact that Uranus’ magnetosphere is asymmetrical, notably tilted relative to its rotational axis, and significantly offset from the center of the planet?  Or the fact that it’s moons are all named after characters from Shakespeare or Alexander Pope?

All of those facts (with the exception of the literary references) have come from a very limited dataset. Some of the best data was collected during a Voyager 2 flyby in 1986. Since then, the only new data has come from Earth-based telescopes.  While they’ve been steadily increasing in resolution, they have only been able to scratch the surface of what may be lurking in the system surrounding the closest Ice Giant.  Hopefully that is about to change, as a team of scientists has published a white paper advocating for a visit from a new Flagship class spacecraft.

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They’re In! The First Images From ESA’s Solar Orbiter

While actually walking on the sun is still just a dream of Smash Mouth fans, humanity has gotten a little bit closer to our nearest solar neighbor with the recent launch of the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter (SolO).

SolO has just produced its first round of photographs of the sun in action and they are already revealing some features that have been unseen until now.  Those features might even hold the key to understanding one of the holy grails of heliophysics.

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Curiosity Is Going To Spend Its Summer Driving Around a Dangerous Sandy Region on Mars

Do road trips actually require roads? Not if you’re NASA’s Curiosity rover, who is embarking on an extended 1 mile long road trip this summer up the side of Mount Sharp.

The rover will be moving between two “units” of Gale Crater, where it has been exploring since 2014.  It’s wrapping up experiments in the “clay-bearing unit”, which resulted in the highest concentrations of clay found during the mission.  It’s now moving to the “sulfate-bearing unit”, which is expected to contain an abundance of sulfates, such as gypsum and Epsom salts.

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More Details On NASA’s VERITAS Mission, Which Could Go to Venus

Venus has always been a bit of the odd stepchild in the solar system.  It’s similarities to Earth are uncanny: roughly the same size, mass, and distance from the sun.  But the development paths the two planets ended up taking were very different, with one being the birthplace of all life as we know it, and the other becoming a cloud-covered, highly pressurized version of hell.  That cloud cover, which is partially made up of sulfuric acid, has also given the planet an air of mystery. So much so that astronomers in the early 20th century speculated that there could be dinosaurs roaming about on the surface.

Some of that mystery will melt away if a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory gets a chance to launch their newest idea for a mission to the planet, the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topograph, and Spectroscopy (or VERITAS) mission.

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Now You Can Build Your Own Curiosity Rover

The open source movement has been a fixture in the software and electronics worlds for over a decade now.  Open source components serve as the basis from everything from 3D printed Iron Man figures to the Linux computer operating system.  Now there’s a new open source project that ambitious creatives can undertake: building their very own Mars Curiosity Rover.

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A Tabletop-sized Experiment Could Help in the Search for Dark Matter

A computer simulation of the distribution of matter in the universe. Orange regions host galaxies; blue structures are gas and dark matter. Credit: TNG Collaboration

Dark matter is one of the least understood aspects in physics.  The evidence for dark matter is from its gravitational influence on galactic scales which cannot be explained by the presence of conventional matter.  Despite its large gravitational interactions, it is notoriously difficult to learn about dark matter as it does not interact with electromagnetic fields, hence the name of “dark” matter.

But just because it is difficult to get it to interact with anything on the electromagnetic spectrum does not mean it is impossible to detect other feeble interactions it may have.  A team of theoretical physicists from Caltech have recently proposed a novel type of experiment that may just hold the key to understanding dark matter with specific types of interactions.

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Here’s How Perseverance’s Helicopter Sidekick Will Deploy on Mars

Flight model of the Mars Ingeuity Helicopter
Flight model of the Mars Ingenuity Helicopter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When NASA’s new Perseverance Martian rover launches in a little over a month it will have a small robotic stow-away on board.  Ingenuity is a small helicopter, with a fuselage about the size of a softball and two extending rotors that measure about 4 feet across.  It was attached to the bottom of the rover’s chassis in April, and NASA recently released details about it’s technically challenging release process.

Before the team of NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers started designing the release mechanism though, they had to decide what Ingenuity’s mission would actually be.  Ultimately, the helicopter will serve as the first powered experimental test flight on any extraterrestrial body.  NASA is hoping it will be the first of many, leading to future helicopters on Mars that could allow mission scientists to peer into previously inaccessible places, such as craters and cliffs, from the air. If Ingenuity is successful, it could pave the way to many future air based scientific and scouting missions.

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Curiosity Sees Earth and Venus in the Night Skies on Mars

Mars rover Curiosity covered in dust and a combined image it took of Earth and Venus both in the Martian night sky.
Curiosity, seen here covered in dust, took two separate images that have been combined into one showing Earth and Venus in the night sky of Mars.

Normally the images from NASA’s Curiosity rover, currently sitting near “Bloodstone Hill” on Mars, are of alien vistas and rock outcroppings that conspiracy theorists constantly try to anthropomorphize into UFOs.  However, the rover is also excellently positioned to capture a unique perspective of an alien sky.  And that is exactly what it did recently when it captured an image of both Venus and Earth in the same Martian night sky.  The images were actually taken in two separate frames, though the two planets were visible in the sky at the same time.

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The Navy is Testing Beaming Solar Power in Space

Image if the PRAM satellite prototypes that was recently launched into space
PRAM Satellite Prototype - Credit: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Solar power has become a focal point of the battle to mitigate climate change.  The potential of solar power is massive – Earth receives as much solar energy in an hour as all of humanity uses in a year.  Even with that much energy hitting the Earth, it is only a tiny fraction of the sun’s overall output.  Some of that other solar energy hits other planets, but most is just lost to the void of deep space.

There are a number of groups that are leveraging various technologies to capture some of that lost energy.  One of the most common technologies being pursued is the idea of the power satellite.  Recently, one of those groups at America’s Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) hit a milestone in the development of power satellite technology by launching their Photovoltaic RF Antenna Module (PRAM) test satellite.

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