Extreme winter weather hit Texas hard this February. An air mass from the arctic extended deep into the United States from Canada, with disastrous results for the ordinarily warm state. Along with snow and unusually low temperatures, the state’s capacity for power generation was significantly reduced by weather-related equipment failures. Images hosted by NASA’s Earth Observatory show the effect of controlled, rolling blackouts across the Greater Houston Area.Continue reading “This Is What Rolling Blackouts Look Like From Space”
Earth is the only planet in the solar system with aircraft capable of sustained flight. Suppose the ground-breaking Ingenuity helicopter, currently stowed aboard the similarly spectacular Mars Perseverance rover, accomplishes its planned mission. In that case, Mars will become the second planet to have a powered aircraft fly through its atmosphere.Continue reading “The Mars Helicopter is Online and Getting Ready to Fly”
Space-based internet service is poised to revolutionize the internet and bring high-speed connectivity to countless communities worldwide. Programs like SpaceX’s Starlink paint a picture of a bright future for the citizens of the world. Like many revolutionary technological advances, there is a dark side to Starlink.
The constellation of hundreds (and eventually thousands) of satellites reflect light back to the Earth, impinging on the darkness of the skies for professional astronomers and stargazers alike. Astronomers report images and data being disrupted by bright streaks left from the satellites passing through their observational fields of view. One potential solution to this issue is applying a dark coating to the reflective antennae on the satellites’ ground-facing side. In January of 2020, SpaceX launched the experimental DarkSat to test the effectiveness of such a coating. Astronomers around the world observed the new satellite. In December of 2020, a team from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) released a paper in The Astrophysical Journal showing detailed measurements of the efficacy of DarkSat.Continue reading “Astronomers Confirm That Darksat is About Half as Bright as an Unpainted Starlink”
The Sun, as it turns out, is a pretty big deal. The thermonuclear behemoth at the center of the solar system makes up well over 99% of all the mass in the solar system. Despite being the most well-studied star in the universe, there are still many mysteries about its works.
One of the Sun’s mysteries is the nature of sunquakes, massive ripples traveling thousands of kilometers across the sun’s surface. Occasionally, when a solar flare erupts, so-called seismic transients can be seen rippling through the solar surface over the next hour. The energy source driving these ripples was thought to be either the transient heating of the solar atmosphere during the flare event or by the powerful flexing of magnetic flux applied directly to the photosphere(the sun’s visible surface) itself, also originating in the flare event above. Using data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), scientists have published a paper in the Astrophysical Journal of Letters that, for the first time, describes submerged sources of transient acoustic emission (sunquakes). The source of these mysterious waves seems to be, as it turns out, a thousand kilometers deep below, in the churning, seething hot interior of the star.Continue reading “The Mystery of Sunquakes is Deep; One Million Meters Deep!”
In many ways, Mars is the planet that is most similar to the Earth. The red world has polar ice caps, a nearly 24-hour rotation period (about 24 hours and 37 minutes), mountains, plains, dust storms, volcanoes, a population of robots, many of which are old and no longer work, and even a Grand Canyon of sorts. The ‘Grand Canyon’ on Mars is actually far grander than any Arizonan gorge. Valles Marineris dwarfs the Grand Canyon of the southwestern US, spanning 4,000 km in length (the distance between LA and New York City), and dives 7 kilometers into the Martian crust (compared to a measly 2km of depth seen in the Grand Canyon). Newly released photos from the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) reveal a stunning look at eroding cliff faces in Candor Chasma, a gigantic canyon that comprises a portion of the Valles Marineris system.Continue reading “Layers Upon Layers of Rock in Candor Chasma on Mars”
For only the second time in history, astronomers have discovered a new, natural-origin, minimoon orbiting the Earth. The minimoon, known as 2020CD3 (CD3 for short), was first discovered by Kacper Werizchos and Teddy Pruyne using data from the Catalina Sky Survey. Once CD3’s orbit was determined to be geo-centric, Queens University Belfast Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Dr. Grigori Fedorets assembled a team of 23 astronomers worldwide to make careful observations of the object to determine its identity. Based on the team’s findings, a paper was published on November 24, 2020, in the Astronomical Journal, characterizing the minimoon.Continue reading “Here’s what we know about Earth’s new minimoon”
A remarkable microbe named Deinococcus radiodurans (the name comes from the Greek deinos meaning terrible, kokkos meaning grain or berry, radius meaning radiation, and durare meaning surviving or withstanding) has survived a full year in the harsh environment of outer space aboard (but NOT inside) the International Space Station. This plucky prokaryote is affectionately known by fans as Conan the Bacterium, as seen in this classic 1990s NASA article.
The JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) ISS module Kib? has an unusual feature for spacecraft, a front porch! This exterior portion of the space station is fitted with robotic equipment to complete various experiments in outer space’s brutal conditions. One of these experiments was to expose cells of D. radiodurans for a year and then test the cells to see if they not only would survive but could reproduce effectively afterward. D. radiodurans proved to be up to the challenge, and what a challenge it was!Continue reading “Earth’s toughest bacteria can survive unprotected in space for at least a year”
Founded in 2016, Menlo Park, California-based LeoLabs, is a mind-blowing company. They have built, and continue to expand, a network of ground-based, phased array radars worldwide to keep track of the thousands of operational satellites, defunct satellites, spent rocket bodies, and pieces of debris in orbit around the Earth. Not only is their radar technology ground-breaking, but they have built a spectacular, if not a little terrifying, digital visualization of the traffic in space that is free for the public to explore.Continue reading “Terrify yourself with LeoLabs’ visualization of satellites and space debris around Earth”
While ghouls and goblins may provide the ghastly delights many of us associate with this time of year, NASA has just released a series of spooky space-themed posters that are more unearthly than any monsters or scary stories told around terrestrial campfires. This year for Halloween, the space agency has released a series of spine-tingling posters called Galaxy of Horrors. The terrifying destinations highlighted within are all based on real locations in the Universe.Continue reading “NASA releases new spooky space-themed posters about extreme places in the Universe”
January 31, 2021, will mark 50 years since the launch of Apollo 14. This historic mission was the first to broadcast a color television signal from the surface of the Moon and marked the heroic return to space of America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard, who famously hit two golf balls off of the lunar regolith. While the significance of Apollo 14 and the Apollo program, in general, can’t be overstated, Shepard spent a mere two days on the lunar surface. The record for the longest human presence on the Moon, held by Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, is just over three days. All of the Apollo astronauts were exposed to high levels of radiation on the surface of the Moon but with such relatively short stays, the risk was considered to be acceptable.Continue reading “You’ll Experience 200 Times More Radiation Standing on the Moon than Standing on the Earth”