Canada's Criminal Laws now Extend to Earth Orbit and the Moon

In this decade and the next, astronauts will be going to space like never before. This will include missions beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for the first time in over fifty years, renewed missions to the Moon, and crewed missions to Mars. Beyond that, new space stations will be deployed to replace the aging International Space Station (ISS), and there are even plans to establish permanent human outposts on the Lunar and Martian surfaces.

In anticipation of humanity’s growing presence in space, and all that it will entail, legal scholars and authorities worldwide are looking to extend Earth’s laws into space. In a recent decision, the Canadian government introduced legislation extending Canada’s criminal code to the Moon. The amendment was part of the Budget Implementation Act (a 443-page document) tabled and passed late last month in Canada’s House of Commons.

Continue reading “Canada's Criminal Laws now Extend to Earth Orbit and the Moon”

InSight Senses its two Biggest Marsquakes so far, Coming From the Opposite Side of the Planet

On Nov. 26th, 2018, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) lander arrived on Mars. Since then, this robotic mission has been using its advanced suite of instruments to study Mars’ interior and geological activity to learn more about its formation and evolution. One of these is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the lander’s primary instrument, which was deployed on the Martian surface less than a month after it arrived.

On August 25th, 2021, the mission detected a magnitude 4.2 and a magnitude 4.1 marsquake, the two largest seismic events recorded to date. These events (labeled S0976a and S1000a, respectively) were five times stronger than the previous largest event (a 3.7 marsquake in 2019) and the first that originated on the other side of the planet. The seismic wave data from these events could help scientists learn more about the interior of Mars, particularly its core-mantle boundary.

Continue reading “InSight Senses its two Biggest Marsquakes so far, Coming From the Opposite Side of the Planet”

NASA is Looking for Ideas on How to Simulate Missions to Mars!

In the coming decade, NASA plans to conduct the first crewed missions to Mars. Whereas robotic missions have provided images of the Martian surface for decades, this will be the first time human beings experience the Red Planet directly. In anticipation of these missions, NASA and its commercial partners (Epic Games and Buendea) have come together with HeroX – the leading platform for crowdsourced solutions – to launch the NASA MarsXR Challenge.

Continue reading “NASA is Looking for Ideas on How to Simulate Missions to Mars!”

NASA Announces the Winners of its Second Payload Challenge!

Lunar exploration has advanced considerably in the last two decades, with more countries sending robotic orbiters, landers, and rovers to the surface than ever before. These missions have taught us much about the Moon’s geological evolution, composition, environment, and resources. In a few years, this information will prove vital as NASA sends the first astronauts to the Moon since the Apollo Era (as part of the Artemis Program). They will be followed by many more crewed missions, which will eventually lead to the creation of lunar bases.

Alas, there is still a lot that we still need to know before regular, long-duration missions to the Moon can be conducted. To help fill in the gaps in our knowledge, HeroX launched the “Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload, the Sequel” Challenge in September 2020. With up to $800,000 in prizes, this competition sought innovative miniature payload designs that could collect information about the lunar environment and its potential resources. The competition’s winners were announced today during the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium Spring meeting.

Continue reading “NASA Announces the Winners of its Second Payload Challenge!”

A Space Telescope Could Reveal a Black Hole's Photon Ring

M87 black hole

Despite decades of study, black holes remain one of the most powerful and mysterious celestial objects ever studied. Because of the extreme gravitational forces involved, nothing can escape the surface of a black hole (including light). As a result, the study of these objects has traditionally been confined to observing their influence on objects and spacetime in their vicinity. It was not until 2019 that the first image of a black hole was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).

This feat was made possible thanks to a technique known as Very-Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), which allowed scientists to see the bright ring surrounding the supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the center of the M87 galaxy. A new study by an international team of astronomers has shown how a space-based interferometry mission could provide reveal even more secrets hiding within the veil of a black hole’s event horizon!

Continue reading “A Space Telescope Could Reveal a Black Hole's Photon Ring”

This is it! On May 12th we’ll see the Event Horizon Telescope’s Image of the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole

In April of 2019, the international astronomical consortium known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) made headlines worldwide when it announced the first-ever image of a black hole. Specifically, the image showed the glowing disk surrounding the supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the center of the M87 galaxy. In 2021, they followed up on this by acquiring an image of the core region of the Centaurus A galaxy and the radio jet emanating from it.

But in what is sure to be the most exciting announcement yet, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and researchers from the EHT will announce the results of their survey that examined the SMBH at the center of our very own Milky Way Galaxy – Sagittarius A*! The results will be shared as part of a press conference on Thursday, May 12th, starting at 03:00 PM CEST (08:00 EDT; 05:00 PDT). The event will take place at the ESO Headquarters in Munich, Germany, and live-streamed via an ESO webcast.

Continue reading “This is it! On May 12th we’ll see the Event Horizon Telescope’s Image of the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole”

Which Parts of Mars are the Safest From Cosmic Radiation?

In the coming decade, NASA and China plan to send the first crewed missions to Mars. This will consist of both agencies sending spacecraft in 2033, 2035, 2037, and every 26 months after that to coincide with Mars being in “Opposition” (i.e., when Earth and Mars are closest in their orbits). The long-term aim of these programs is to establish a base on Mars that will serve as a hub that accommodates future missions, though the Chinese have stated that they intend for their base to be a permanent one.

The prospect of sending astronauts on the six-to-nine-month journey to Mars presents several challenges, to say nothing of the hazards they’ll face while conducting scientific operations on the surface. In a recent study, an international team of scientists conducted a survey of the Martian environment – from the peaks of Mount Olympus to its underground recesses – to find where radiation is the lowest. Their findings could inform future missions to Mars and the creation of Martian habitats.

Continue reading “Which Parts of Mars are the Safest From Cosmic Radiation?”

In Some Places, Black Holes are Tearing Apart Thousands of Stars at a Time

At the heart of the more massive galaxies in the Universe, there are supermassive black holes (SMBHs) so powerful that they outshine all of the stars in their galactic disks. The core regions of these galaxies are known as Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN), or by their more popular-moniker “quasars.” The ongoing study of these objects has provided a testbed for General Relativity and revealed a great deal about the formation and evolution of galaxies and the large-scale structure of the Universe.

If there’s one thing astronomers have observed repeatedly, it is the fact that these massive black holes have massive appetites. In fact, a new survey of over 100 galaxies by the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory has shown that some supermassive black holes can consume stars by the thousands! These results indicate that some SMBHs needed to consume amounts of stellar matter rarely (if ever) seen in the Universe to grow and reach the sizes that astronomers see today.

Continue reading “In Some Places, Black Holes are Tearing Apart Thousands of Stars at a Time”

All Five of Life's Informational Components can Form in Space

On Earth, all life comes down to the polymeric molecules known as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). These two building blocks contain all of the instructions for every living organism and its many operations. In turn, these are made up of five informational components (nucleobases), which are composed of organic molecules (purines and pyrimidines). For decades, scientists have been scouring meteorite samples for these building blocks.

To date, these efforts have resulted in the detection of three of the five nucleobases within meteorites. However, a recent analysis led by researchers from Hokkaido University, Japan (with support from NASA) has revealed the remaining two nucleobases that have eluded scientists until now. This discovery could help resolve the ongoing debate about whether life on Earth emerged on its own or was assisted by organic compounds deposited by meteorites (aka. panspermia).

Continue reading “All Five of Life's Informational Components can Form in Space”

Shallow Pockets of Water Under the ice on Europa Could Bring Life Close to its Surface

Beneath the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, there’s an ocean up to 100 km (62 mi) deep that has two to three times the volume of every ocean on Earth combined. Even more exciting is how this ocean is subject to hydrothermal activity, which means it may have all the necessary ingredients for life. Because of this, Europa is considered one of the most likely places for extraterrestrial life (beyond Mars). Hence, mission planners and astrobiologists are eager to send a mission there to study it closer.

Unfortunately, Europa’s icy surface makes the possibility of sampling this ocean rather difficult. According to the two predominant models for Europa’s structure, the ice sheet could be a few hundred meters to several dozen kilometers thick. Luckily, new research by a team from Stanford University has shown that Europa’s icy shell may have an abundance of water pockets inside, as indicated by features on the surface that look remarkably like icy ridges here on Earth.

Continue reading “Shallow Pockets of Water Under the ice on Europa Could Bring Life Close to its Surface”