On Feb. 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed within the Jezero Crater on Mars. Like its predecessor, Curiosity, a fellow member of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP), the goal of Perseverance is to seek out evidence of possible life on Mars (past and present). A key part of this mission will be the first sample return ever performed on Mars, where samples obtained by Perseverance will be placed in a cache for later retrieval and return to Earth.
For the past five months, mission controllers at NASA have been driving the rover further from where it landed (Octavia E. Butler Landing Site) and conducting test flights with the Ingenuity helicopter. NASA is now in the midst of making final preparations for Perseverance to collect its first sample of Martian rock. This historic first is expected to begin by the end of the month or by early August and will culminate with the return of the samples to Earth by 2031.
Continue reading “Perseverance is About to Collect the First Sample on Mars That Could Eventually be Returned to Earth”
Planet Earth is currently experiencing an unprecedented warming trend. Average global temperatures are rising at an accelerated rate in response to greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity. These rising temperatures, in turn, result in the release of additional greenhouse gases (like methane), leading to positive feedback loops that threaten to compound the problem further.
This scientific consensus is based on multiple lines of evidence, all of which indicate the need for swift action. According to new research led by members of the NASA Sea Level Change Science Team (N-SLCT) at the University of Hawaii at Manao (UHM), a new Lunar cycle that will begin by the mid-2030s will amplify sea levels already rising due to climate change. This will mean even more coastal flooding during high tides and coastal storms in the near future.
Continue reading “The Moon has Been Mildly Preventing Coastal Erosion, in the 2030s, That Protection Ends”
In the coming decade, NASA and the ESA will be sending two dedicated missions that will explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. These missions are known as the Europa Clipper and the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) missions, which will fulfill a dream that has been decades in the making – searching for possible evidence of life inside Europa. Since the 1970s, astronomers have theorized that this satellite contains a warm-water ocean that could support life.
The case for life in Europa has only been bolstered thanks to multiple flybys and observation campaigns that have been mounted since. According to new research led by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the best way to look for potential signs of life (aka. biosignatures) would be to analyze small impact craters on Europa’s surface. These patches of exposed subsurface ice could point the way towards life that might exist deeper in the moon’s interior.
Continue reading “Micrometeorites Churn up the Surface of Europa. If you Want to Find Life, You’ll Need to dig Down a Meter or So”
Early this morning, from their Launch Site One facility in West Texas, Blue Origin made history as it conducted the first crewed flight of its New Shepard launch vehicle. The crew consisted of four commercial astronauts: Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, aerospace pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year old student from The Netherlands Oliver Daemon.
Continue reading “What’s Next for Blue Origin After Today’s Successful Flight?”
Update: Hubble took its first picture since it went into safe mode on June 13th! More info here.
On Sunday, June 13th, the Hubble Space Telescope gave the astronomical community a fright when its payload computer suddenly stopped working. This prompted the main computer to put the telescope and its scientific instruments into safe mode. What followed was many tense weeks as the operations team for the HST tried to figure out what the source of the problem was and come up with a strategy for turning Hubble back on.
On Friday, July 17th, after more than a month of checking, re-checking, and attempted restarts, the operations team for Hubble identified the root of the problem and restored power to the telescope’s hardware and all of its instruments. Science operations can now resume, and the pioneering space telescope that gave us over thirty years of dedicated astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics, still has some life in her!
Continue reading “Good News! NASA Announces that they have Fixed Hubble!”
On May 14th, 2021, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) achieved another major milestone when the Tianwen-1 lander successfully soft-landed on Mars, making China the second nation in the world to land a mission on Mars and establish communications from the surface. Shortly thereafter, China National Space Agency (CNSA) shared the first images taken by the Tianwen-1 lander.
By May 22nd, 2021, the Zhurong rover descended from its lander and drove on the Martian surface for the first time. Since then, the rover has spent 63 Earth days conducting science operations on the surface of Mars and has traveled over 450 meters (1475 feet). On Friday, July 9th, and again on July 15th, the CNSA released new images of the Red Planet that were taken by the rover as it made its way across the surface.
Continue reading “New Images of Mars From China’s Rover”
China has certainly been making its growing power and influence felt in recent years, especially when it comes to the realm of space exploration and science. In the past ten years alone, China has deployed the three space stations with their Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) program, unveiled the Long March 5 heavy launch rocket, and sent robotic missions to the far side of the Moon and the surface of Mars.
Here on Earth, facilities like the Five hundred meter Aperture Space Telescope (FAST) illustrate China’s growing accomplishments in space and astronomy. And on Friday (July 16th), the largest museum in the world dedicated to the study of space – the Shanghai Astronomy Museum – will open its doors. The purpose and design of this museum is to highlight China’s accomplishments in space and astronomy, as well as the country’s future ambitions in space.
Continue reading “Shanghai is About to Open the World’s Largest Astronomy Museum“
At their South Texas Launch Facility, just outside of the village of Boca Chica, SpaceX is gearing up to test the Super Heavy, the booster element of their Starship launch system. This massive reusable first stage rocket will be responsible for sending the Starship orbital vehicle to space, where it will deliver satellites to orbit, payloads and people to the Moon, and (if all goes as planned) the first human settlers to Mars.
According to a recent statement issued by SpaceX founder Musk Musk, the Starship could also be used to “chomp up debris” in Earth orbit. As usual, the statement was issued via Twitter, where Musk was once again addressing questions posted by followers and fans. The topic arose after Musk shared the latest updates about Starlink, one of a handful of satellite constellations that are bringing broadband internet services to every corner of the planet.
Continue reading “According to Elon, Starship Could Chomp up Space Junk”
About 97% of all stars in our Universe are destined to end their lives as white dwarf stars, which represents the final stage in their evolution. Like neutron stars, white dwarfs form after stars have exhausted their nuclear fuel and undergo gravitational collapse, shedding their outer layers to become super-compact stellar remnants. This will be the fate of our Sun billions of years from now, which will swell up to become a red giant before losing its outer layers.
Unlike neutron stars, which result from more massive stars, white dwarfs were once about eight times the mass of our Sun or lighter. For scientists, the density and gravitational force of these objects is an opportunity to study the laws of physics under some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. According to new research led by researchers from Caltech, one such object has been found that is both the smallest and most massive white dwarf ever seen.
Continue reading “A Nearby White Dwarf Might be About to Collapse Into a Neutron Star”
Early this morning, Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic achieved a major milestone in the development of commercial space travel. Along with a team of specialists, Branson traveled to the edge of space aboard the VSS Unity and made it safely back to Earth. In so doing, Branson and his company have also fired the latest salvo in the ongoing race between the titans of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace).
Continue reading “Richard Branson and Friends Reach the Edge of Space, and Lived to Tell About it!”