Electron Rocket’s 13th Launch Failed, Destroying its Satellite Payload

This past weekend (June 5th), the California and New Zealand-based aerospace company Rocket Lab suffered a terrible accident. During the 13th launch of their Electron rocket, an anomaly caused the second stage of the rocket to explode in midair. Luckily, there were no injuries, but the explosion did claim the mission payload, which consisted of satellites and commercial payloads for three different companies.

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There’s a Black Hole With 34 Billion Times the Mass of the Sun, Eating Roughly a Star Every Day

In the 1960s, astronomers began theorizing that there might be black holes in the Universe that are so massive – supermassive black holes (SMBHs) – they could power the nuclei of active galaxies (aka. quasars). A decade later, astronomers discovered that an SMBH existed at the center of the Milky Way (Sagitarrius A*); and by the 1990s, it became clear that most large galaxies in the Universe are likely to have one.

Since that time, astronomers have been hunting for the largest SMBH they can find, in the hopes that can see just how massive these things get! And thanks to new research led by astronomers from the Australian National University, the latest undisputed heavy-weight contender has been found! With roughly 34 billion times the mass of our Sun, this SMBH (J2157) is the fastest-growing black hole and largest quasar observed to date.

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Breakthrough Listen Releases its one-of-Everything “Exotica” Catalog

In July of 2015, Breakthrough Initiatives announced that it was embarking on a ten-year initiative to conduct the largest Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) to date. This initiative was aptly named Breakthrough Listen, which combines state-of-the-art software and data obtained by premier observatories around the world to look for signs of extraterrestrial technological activity (aka. technosignatures).

In recent years, Breakthrough Listen has made two major releases of data, and announced a lucrative collaboration with NASA’s Transitting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. And most recently, Breakthrough Listen announced the release of their catalog of “Exotica” – a diverse list of objects that could be of interest to astronomers that are searching for signs of technosignatures and extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).

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Help NASA Develop a Better Space Toilet

Right now, NASA is working towards its long-awaited return to the Moon. Known as Project Artemis, this program aims to send the “first woman and next man” to the lunar surface by 2024. Beyond that, NASA also plans to establish a “sustainable program of lunar exploration” with commercial and international partners. This means building the infrastructure that will allow people to stay on the Moon and facilitate eventual missions to Mars.

In order to meet this challenge, there are all kinds of questions that need to be addressed first. Besides the matter of how we can keep astronauts healthy during long-duration missions, there’s also the pressing question of how astronauts will relieve themselves on the Moon. Luckily for them, HeroX has launched the Lunar Loo Challenge – sponsored by the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) – to come up with innovative new ideas!

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Behold! The Martian Menu, Courtesy of Mars City Design!

Today, there is no shortage of people who want to see humans go to Mars in their lifetime. Moreover, many want to go there themselves, and some even want to stay! It goes without saying that this proposed endeavor presents all kinds of challenges (the word Herculean comes to mind!) This is especially true when it comes to feeding future missions to Mars, not to mention permanent residents.

Regular resupply missions to Mars are simply not feasible, which means astronauts and settlers will have to grow their own food. To inspire ideas for how this could be done, and what the resulting meals would be like, Vera Mulyani and the organization she founded (Mars City Design) created the Martian Feast Gala. This annual event showcases what a Martian Menu could consist of and illustrates how every challenge is an opportunity to get creative!

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Do Hot Jupiters Form Close in, or Do They Migrate? A Newly-Discovered Planet Might Help Answer This

The discovery of over 4000 planets (4,171 confirmed and counting!) beyond our Solar System has revolutionized the field of astronomy. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of all these discoveries is how it has shaken up theories about how our Solar System formed. In the past, astronomers thought that the eight planets (or nine, or over one hundred, depending on your point of view) formed where they are currently located.

However, the discovery of gas giants that orbit close to their stars (aka. “Hot Jupiters”) has confounded this thinking. But according to a recent NASA-supported study, the recent discovery of a young gas giant could offer clues as to how Jupiter-like planets form and whether or not they migrate. This discovery was made possible thanks to the Spitzer Space Telescope, which continues to reveal things about our Universe even in retirement.

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A Simulation of Sunsets on Other Worlds: From Venus to Titan

When we think of exploring other planets and celestial bodies, we tend to focus on the big questions. How would astronauts live there when they’re not working? What kind of strategies and technology would be needed for people to be there long term? How might the gravity, environment, and radiation effect humans who choose to make places like the Moon, Mars, and other bodies place their home? We tend to overlook the simple stuff…

For example, what will it be like to look up at the sky? How will Earth, the stars, and any moon in orbit appear? And how will it look to watch the sun go down? These are things we take for granted here on Earth and don’t really ponder much. But thanks to NASA, we now have a tool that simulates what sunsets would look like from other bodies in the Solar System – from the hellish surface of Venus to the dense atmosphere of Uranus.

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Learning to Live Sustainably on the Red Planet: Habitat Mars

There’s quite a bit of buzz these days about how humanity could become a “multiplanetary” species. This is understandable considering that space agencies and aerospace companies from around the world are planning on conducting missions to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the Moon, and Mars in the coming years, not to mention establishing a permanent human presence there and beyond.

To do this, humanity needs to develop the necessary strategies for sustainable living in hostile environments and enclosed spaces. To prepare humans for this kind of experience, groups like Habitat Marte (Mars Habitat) and others are dedicated to conducting simulated missions in analog environments. The lessons learned will not only prepare people to live and work in space but foster ideas for sustainable living here on Earth.

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NASA Changes its Mind. It Will be Using Previously Flown Crew Dragons and Falcon 9

For the purpose of restoring domestic launch capability to US soil, NASA launched the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in 2010. Alongside its commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, the focus of this program has been to develop crew-capable spacecraft that could deliver payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), something NASA has been unable to do since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

On May 30th, 2020, the CCP fulfilled its purpose as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft was launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket and successfully delivered two astronauts (Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley) to the ISS. Looking ahead, NASA and SpaceX have modified their contract agreement, which gives the company permission to use previously-flown Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 boosters to send NASA astronauts to the ISS.

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Calculate the Number of Alien Civilizations in the Milky Way for Yourself.

In recent years, the explosive nature of exoplanet discovery (over 4,164 confirmed so far!) has led to renewed interest in the timeless question: “are we alone in the Universe?” Or, as famed Italian physicist Enrico Fermi put it, “Where is everybody?” With so many planets to choose from and the rate at which our instruments and methods are improving, the search for life beyond Earth is really kicking into high gear.

At the same time, these discoveries have inspired a plethora of new studies regarding the ongoing Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). This includes the Alien Civilization Calculator, which is the brainchild of physicists Steven Woodling and Dominick Czernia. Inspired by recent attempts to address the statistical likelihood of advanced life in our galaxy, they offer a mathematical tool that can crunch the numbers for you!

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