Satellites are Tracking Rivers of Garbage Flowing Across the Oceans

garbage patches in Earth's oceans
A a computational model of ocean currents called ECCO-2 that shows how garbage can be distributed across Earth's oceans. Courtesy NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

There’s an ocean of human-made garbage floating through Earth’s seas. From plastic straws to beverage bottles and food wrappers, the ocean waters are this planet’s fastest-growing junkyard. Some of the plastic gets ground into little beads called microplastics, and ends up in the food chain, with humans at the top. For that reason, and many others, the European Space Agency is tracking ocean-bound plastics through the auspices of the MARLISAT project. It’s one of 25 efforts created to identify and trace marine litter as it moves through the world’s waterways. The ultimate goal is to help countries reduce ocean litter, particularly plastics.

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ESA’s EnVision Mission Doesn’t Have a lot of Fuel, so it’s Going to Aerobrake in the Atmosphere of Venus

Artist impression of ESA's EnVision mission. Credit:ESA/VR2Planets/Damia Bouic

Venus has almost been “the forgotten planet,” with only one space mission going there in the past 30 years. But the recent resurgence of interest in Earth’s closest neighbor has NASA and ESA committing to three new missions to Venus, all due to launch by the early 2030s.

ESA’s EnVision mission Venus is slated to take high-resolution optical, spectral and radar images of the planet’s surface. But to do so, the van-sized spacecraft will need to perform a special maneuver called aerobraking to gradually slow down and lower its orbit through the planet’s hot, thick atmosphere. Aerobraking uses atmospheric drag to slow down a spacecraft and EnVision will make thousands of passages through Venus’ atmosphere for about two years.

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Gaia's Massive Third Data Release is out!

It’s here! The third and largest data release (DR3) from the ESA’s Gaia Observatory has officially been made public. As promised, the DR3 contains new and improved details for almost two billion stars in our galaxy, including the chemical compositions, temperatures, colors, masses, ages, and the velocities at which stars move. The release coincided with a virtual press event hosted by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC) on June 13th, which featured ESA officials and guest speakers who addressed the significance of the new data.

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ESA is About to Release its Third Giant Data Release From Gaia

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia Observatory is a mission dedicated to astrometry, a branch of astronomy where the velocity and proper motion of celestial objects are measured to learn more about the formation and evolution of the cosmos. For the past eight and a half years, this space-based has been studying over two billion objects in the Universe. This includes stars in the Milky Way but also planets, comets, asteroids, and distant galaxies. This information obtained by this mission will be used to create the most-detailed 3D catalog of the Milky Way ever.

Since the mission began in 2013, two major catalogs have been released, known as Gaia Data Release 1 and 2 (DR1 and DR2), accompanied by a smaller data set – Early Data Release 3 (EDR3). On June 13th, Gaia’s third full catalog (DR3) will be released, containing new and improved details for the two billion celestial objects it has been observing. The release will coincide with a virtual press event hosted by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), where featured speakers will share the significance of this latest release and how it revolutionizes our understanding of the galaxy.

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Five Rover Teams Chosen to Help Explore the Moon’s South Pole

Illustration of NASA astronauts on the lunar South Pole. Credit: NASA

The Moon may seem barren, and it is. However, a certain species of inquisitive primates is still very interested in exploring the Moon, uncovering its secrets and maybe establishing a longer-term presence there. But thirsty primates need water, and there’s only one primary source on the Moon: the frozen water in shadowed craters at the lunar poles.

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Martian Astronauts Will Create Fuel by Having a Shower

Credit: ESA

When astronauts begin exploring Mars, they will face numerous challenges. Aside from the time and energy it takes to get there and all the health risks that come with long-duration missions in space, there are also the hazards of the Martian environment itself. These include Mars’ incredibly thin and toxic and toxic atmosphere, the high levels of radiation the planet is exposed to, and the fact that the surface is extremely cold and drier than the driest deserts on Earth.

As a result, missions to Mars will need to leverage local resources to provide all the basic necessities, a process known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). Looking to address the need for propellant, a team from the Spanish innovation company Tekniker is developing a system that uses solar power to convert astronaut wastewater into fuel. This technology could be a game-changer for missions to deep space in the coming years, including the Moon, Mars, and beyond!

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Because of Extreme Drought, Lake Powell is Barely a Lake Anymore

This Copernicus Sentinel-2 image allows us a wider view of Lake Powell and its dwindling water levels amidst the climate crisis. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2022), processed by ESA.

The two largest reservoirs in the United States are now at their lowest levels since they were first created. After several decades of drought – with the past two years classified as intense drought in the US Southwest — both Lake Powell and Lake Mead are shrinking. Recent satellite images show just how dramatic the changes have been, due to the ongoing the climate crisis..

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Cultured Meat Could Keep Astronauts fed in Space

The term “cultured meat” has become a bit of a buzzword for the health food industry. This refers to meat produced in a lab using in vitro cell cultures derived from animal proteins. For many, this “alternative meat” is vital to combatting climate change by removing one of the chief causes of deforestation (making room for cattle ranches) and global warming (bovine methane emissions). For others, it’s an environmentally-friendly way of ensuring food security in an era of climate change.

But what about as a means of feeding astronauts on long-duration missions or living for extended periods beyond Earth? In this case, cultured meat would be a way of fulfilling the dietary needs of astronauts who would otherwise be entirely dependent on vegetable proteins. The possibility is currently being explored by the European Space Agency (ESA) and could be a game-changer for future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond!

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The ExoMars Rover is Ready, now it Just Needs a new Ride to Mars

An artist's illustration of the ExoMars/Rosalind Franklin rover on Mars. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

When it arrives on Mars, the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover will join a growing fleet of robotic rovers, landers, and orbiters dedicated to searching for life on Mars. As part of the Exomars program, this mission was a collaborative effort between the ESA and the Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos). Whereas the ESA would provide the rover, Roscosmos was to provide the launch services and the Kazachok lander that would deliver Rosalind Franklin to the surface.

After many years of development, testing, and some delays, the Rosalind Franklin rover passed its System Qualification and Flight Acceptance Review in March. The Review Board confirmed that the rover was ready to be shipped to the launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome and would make the launch window opening on September 20th, 2022. Unfortunately, due to the suspension of cooperation with Roscosmos, the ESA’s rover finds itself stranded on Earth for the time being.

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ESA’s Gaia Just Took a Picture of L2 Neighbor JWST

Gaia snaps photo of Webb. Credit: ESA

Oh, hello there new neighbor!  In February, the Gaia spacecraft took a picture of its new closest companion in space at the second Lagrangian point, the James Webb Space Telescope.

Gaia is an optical telescope that is mapping out our galaxy by surveying the motions of more than a thousand million stars. Astronomers for the mission realized that once JWST reached L2, it would be in Gaia’s field of view.  It spied JWST when the two spacecraft were a million km apart.

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