In the past decade, thousands of planets have been discovered beyond our Solar System. This has had the effect of renewing interest in space exploration, which includes the possibility of sending spacecraft to explore exoplanets. Given the challenges involved, a number of advanced concepts are currently being explored, like the time-honored concept of a light sail (as exemplified by Breakthrough Starshot and similar proposals).
However, in more recent years, scientists have proposed a potentially more-effective concept known as the electric sail, where a sail composed of wire mesh generates electrical charges to deflect solar wind particles, thus generating momentum. In a recent study, two Harvard scientists compared and contrasted these methods to determine which would be more advantageous for different types of missions.
Continue reading “What’s the Best Way to Sail From World to World? Electric Sails or Solar Sails?”
In May of 2019, Elon Musk began delivering on his promise to create a constellation of satellites (named Starlink) that would offer broadband internet access. It all started with the launch of the first sixty Starlink satellites and was followed by Musk sending the inaugural tweet using the service this past October. Earlier today, another batch of Starlink satellites was sent into space as part of a live-streamed launch event.
The mission, known as Starlink-1, saw the launch of another 60 satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Unlike previous launches, this mission involved the latest version of Starlink (Starlink 1.0), which feature a number of upgrades and refinements over the previous version (Starlink 0.9) and made this mission the heaviest Starlink launch to date.
Continue reading “SpaceX Launches Another 60 Starlink Satellites”
Since the mid-20th century, scientists have had a pretty good idea of how the Universe came to be. Cosmic expansion and the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) lent credibility to the Big Bang Theory, and the accelerating rate of expansion led to theories about Dark Energy. Still, there is much about the early Universe that scientists still don’t know, which requires that they rely on simulations on cosmic evolution.
This has traditionally posed a bit of a problem since the limitations of computing meant that simulation could either be large scale or detailed, but not both. However, a team of scientists from Germany and the United States recently completed the most detailed large-scale simulation to date. Known as TNG50, this state-of-the-art simulation will allow researchers to study how the cosmos evolved in both detail and a large scale.
Continue reading “Watch a Simulation of a Galaxy, From the Big Bang Until the Present Day”
On April 18th, 2018, NASA’s Transitting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) took to space for the first time. By August, it began capturing the light curves of distant stars for signs of planetary transits, effectively picking up where the Kepler Space Telescope left off. Now, just a few months away from the end of its primary mission, NASA has put a year’s worth of images of the southern sky together to create the beautiful mosaic you see here.
Continue reading “TESS Has Now Captured Almost the Entire Southern Sky. Here’s a Mosaic Made of 15,347 Photographs”
There is no doubt that climate change is a very serious (and worsening) problem. According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), even if all the industrialized nations of the world became carbon neutral overnight, the problem would continue to get worse. In short, it’s not enough to stop pumping megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere; we also have to start removing what we’ve already put there.
This is where the technique known as carbon capture (or carbon removal) comes into play. Taking their cue from nature, an international team of researchers from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, have created an “artificial leaf” that mimics the carbon-scrubbing abilities of the real thing. But rather than turning atmospheric CO2 into a source of fuel for itself, the leaf converts it into a useful alternative fuel.
Continue reading “This Artificial Leaf Turns Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel”
In the coming years, NASA is going back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. Rather than being a “footprints and flags” operation, Project Artemis is intended to be the first step in creating a sustainable human presence on the Moon. Naturally, this presents a number of challenges, not the least of which has to do with lunar regolith (aka. moondust). For this reason, NASA is investigating strategies for mitigating this threat.
Continue reading “NASA is Testing a Coating to Help Astronauts and Their Equipment Shed Dangerous Lunar Dust”
Ever since astronomers realized that the Universe is in a constant state of expansion and that a massive explosion likely started it all 13.8 billion years ago (the Big Bang), there have been unresolved questions about when and how the first stars formed. Based on data gathered by NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and similar missions, this is believed to have happened about 100 million years after the Big Bang.
Much of the details of how this complex process worked have remained a mystery. However, new evidence gathered by a team led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy indicates that the first stars must have formed rather quickly. Using data from the Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory, the team observed a cloud of gas where star formation was taking place just 850 million years after the Big Bang.
Continue reading “The First Stars Formed Very Quickly”
For years, NASA has been working to restore domestic launch capability to the US and send astronauts to the Moon and beyond. A crucial part of this is the development of next-generation crew capsules that can carry crews and payloads to space. These include Lockheed Martin’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Crew Space Transportation (CST) -100 Starliner currently being developed by Boeing.
Earlier today (on Monday, Nov. 4th), the CST-100 passed a critical milestone with a successful end-to-end test of its abort system. The Pad Abort Test took place at Launch Complex 32 at the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. When crewed missions to space begin using the CST-100, this system will ensure that astronauts will be carried to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency before liftoff.
Continue reading “Boeing’s Starliner Performed its Abort Test Today. One Parachute Failed to Deploy”
One of the most exciting things about space exploration today is the ways in which it is getting more cost-effective. Between reusable rockets, miniaturized electronics, and low-cost launch services, space is becoming more accessible and populated. However, this also presents a challenge when it comes to conventional methods for maintaining spacecraft and satellites.
One of the biggest challenges is packing electronics into tighter spaces, which makes it harder to keep them at operational temperatures. To address this, engineers at NASA are developing a new system known as microgap-cooling technology. During two recent test flights, NASA demonstrated that this method is effective at removing heat and can also function in a weightless environment.
Continue reading “NASA Has a New Method For Cooling Down Electronics Crammed Together in a Spacecraft”
Black holes are one of the most awesome and mysterious forces of nature. At the same time, they are fundamental to our understanding of astrophysics. Not only are black holes the result of particularly massive stars that go supernova at the end of their lives, they are also key to our understanding of General Relativity and are believed to have played a role in cosmic evolution.
Because of this, astronomers have diligently been trying to create a census of black holes in the Milky Way galaxy for many years. However, new research indicates that astronomers may have overlooked an entire class of black holes. This comes from a recent discovery where a team of astronomers observed a black hole that is just over three Solar masses, making it the smallest black hole discovered to date.
Continue reading “The Lowest Mass Black Hole has Been Found, only 3.3 Times the Mass of the Sun”