Even Stars Doomed to Die as Supernovae can Have Planets

90 percent of all exoplanets discovered to date (there are now more than 5000 of them) orbit around stars the same size or smaller than our sun. Giant stars seem to lack planetary companions, and this fact has serious implications for how we understand solar system formation. But is the dearth of planets around large stars a true reflection of nature, or is there some bias inherent in how we look for exoplanets that is causing us to miss them? The recent discovery of two gas giants orbiting a giant star called µ2 Scorpii suggests it might be the latter.

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China is Building an Asteroid Deflection Mission of its own, due for Launch in 2025

Illustration of the DART spacecraft with the Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) extended. Credit: NASA

There’s an old joke that the dinosaurs are only extinct because they didn’t develop a space agency. The implication, of course, is that unlike our reptilian ancestors, we humans might be able to save ourselves from an impending asteroid strike on Earth, given our six-and-a-half decades of spaceflight experience. But the fact is that while we have achieved amazing things since Sputnik kicked off the space age in 1957, very little effort thus far has gone into developing asteroid deflection technologies. We are woefully inexperienced in this arena, and aside from our Hollywood dramatizations of it, we’ve never yet put our capabilities to the test. But that’s about to change.

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NASA is Ready to try and fix Lucy’s Unlatched Solar Panel

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, currently on its way to the outer Solar System to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, has a solar panel problem. Shortly after its launch last October, engineers determined that one of Lucy’s two solar panels failed to open completely. While the spacecraft has enough power to function, the team is concerned about how the unlatched panel might hinder Lucy’s performance going forward. In an attempt to fix the problem, the team will carry out a new procedure next month that is designed to unfurl the solar panel the rest of the way, and latch it firmly in place.

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Life Might Have Gotten Started Just 300 Million Years After the Earth Formed

On an outcrop of exposed volcanic and sedimentary rock on the eastern shores of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, researchers have discovered what may be the earliest fossilized lifeforms ever discovered. These microbial ancestors lived between 3.75 and 4.28 billion years ago, only 300 million years after the Earth itself formed – a blink of an eye in geologic timescales. If life developed this rapidly on Earth, it suggests that abiogenesis – the process by which non-living matter becomes a living organism – is potentially ‘easy’ to achieve, and life in the Universe may be more common than we thought.

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Astronauts are Practicing Landing at the Moon's South Pole

The European Space Agency (ESA) is learning how to touch down safely at the South Pole of the Moon, without ever leaving Earth. Actual Moon landings seem to be on the horizon in the next decade via the Artemis program, and astronauts are going to have to learn to handle the unique challenges of landing in the Moon’s polar environment. With low angle sunlight and deep, permanently shadowed craters, the Moon’s South Pole poses difficulties no Apollo mission ever faced. To get hands-on experience with this environment without risking human life, ESA is putting astronauts through their paces on high-tech simulators.

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An 1874 Citizen Science Project Studying the Aurora Borealis Helped Inspire Time Zones

For millennia, humans have gazed at the northern lights with wonder, pondering their nature and source. Even today, these once mysterious phenomena still evoke awe, though we understand them a little better now. Still, most of our knowledge about the northern lights has come recently, in the last century or two. Astronomers and meteorologists of the 1800s worked for years to understand the aurora, wondering if they were a feature of Earth’s atmospheric weather, of outer space, or, perhaps, something that straddled the boundary in-between. This centuries-old attempt to understand the northern lights was an immense, international-scale project, and, through fortunate happenstance, it even helped inspire one of the underlying foundations of modern society – time zones.

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Comprehensive Sky Survey Finds Over a Million New Objects

In perfect viewing conditions, with good eyesight and clear, dark skies, the average person can see between 2,500 and 5,000 stars in the night sky. Add a telescope to the mix, and the number of visible objects in the sky explodes exponentially. For example, in 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope famously pointed its mirrors at a tiny piece of empty space – about 1/12th the size of the Moon – and revealed three thousand new objects crammed into that little area, most of them distant galaxies, offering a glimpse of the past stretching back to the early Universe. The astounding implication of the Hubble Deep Field image was that there are still billions of objects out there yet unseen by human eyes (or telescopes). Since then, the process of surveying deep space has been a massive ongoing undertaking, using all the tools available to us, from visible light telescopes like Hubble to infrared and radio telescopes. In a new data dump last week, a major radio sky survey, LOFAR, has revealed over a million new, never before seen objects in the night sky.

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James Webb Might be Able to Detect Other Civilizations by their Air Pollution

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), launched last December, has been slowly powering up its instruments and unfurling its sunshield, and is now in the process of aligning its mirrors in preparation for operation. Within a few months, the most powerful space telescope ever built is going to set its sights on the stars. Astronomers are hoping that what JWST sees will change the way we understand our universe, just as the Hubble Space Telescope did decades before.

One tantalizing capability that JWST offers that Hubble could not is the opportunity to directly image planets orbiting distant stars, and maybe, just maybe, detect signs of life.

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The Object About to Hit the Moon isn’t a SpaceX Booster After All

Last month, astronomers reported that a discarded upper stage of a Falcon 9 rocket, launched 7 years ago, was on a collision course with the Moon. The rocket in question carried NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) to the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point, where the still-operating observatory provides advance warning on solar wind activities. The leftover rocket stage, meanwhile, became a floating piece of space junk orbiting the Sun. Its ultimate fate was unknown, until last month, when astronomer Bill Gray predicted that it was bound for an impact with the Moon sometime on March 4th, 2022.

This week, Gray, who has been tracking the object ever since, released an update on the situation. He confirmed that there is indeed a rocket stage on course to crash into the far side of the Moon, but it’s not a SpaceX rocket at all. Instead, it’s a Chinese booster: the upper stage of the rocket that carried China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission to the Moon in 2014.

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