Scott Alan Johnston (that’s me!) joined the Universe Today team just over a year ago. Since then, I’ve written over 50 space news stories for the website – time flies when you’re having fun! But when I’m not writing articles here on Universe Today, I’m a historian of science, and I recently released a new book about the history of timekeeping.
Have you ever wondered why we tell time the way we do? Well, history buffs, come along for a journey:
Mars is a parched planet ruled by global dust storms. It’s also a frigid world, where night-time winter temperatures fall to -140 C (-220 F) at the poles. But it wasn’t always a dry, barren, freezing, inhospitable wasteland. It used to be a warm, wet, almost inviting place, where liquid water flowed across the surface, filling up lakes, carving channels, and leaving sediment deltas.
But then it lost its magnetic field, and without the protection it provided, the Sun stripped away the planet’s atmosphere. Without its atmosphere, the water went next. Now Mars is the Mars we’ve always known: A place that only robotic rovers find hospitable.
How exactly did it lose its magnetic shield? Scientists have puzzled over that for a long time.
Jerry Woodfill, an engineer who worked diligently behind the scenes during NASA’s Apollo program, has passed away at age 79. Jerry was still employed by the Johnson Space Center (JSC) at the time of his death, working there for over 57 years. Most notably, Jerry worked as the lead engineer behind the Caution and Warning System on the Apollo spacecraft, which alerted astronauts to issues such as Apollo 11’s computer problems during the first Moon landing, and the explosion of Apollo 13’s oxygen tanks.
While continuing his work as an engineer at JSC, Jerry’s infectious enthusiasm for spaceflight led him to also be part of NASA’s public and educational outreach, where he spearheaded programs for children, teachers and adults about science and space flight. He routinely gave over 40 lectures a year, both in person and online to listeners around the world. His unique sense of humor and sometimes unabashed showmanship could hold even the shortest of young attention spans. Jerry usually had his audiences either in stitches or fully captivated by his stories.
Jeff Bezos has hit a particular stride lately with Blue Origin, the commercial space company he founded in 2000 in the hopes of “building a road to space.” For the sake of fostering interest in the space tourism industry, testing their reusable launch vehicle, and growing his company’s brand, he’s conducting recurring launches with the New Shepardfeaturing high-profile clientele. At the same time, he aims to make each new launch a record-setting event.
On Nov. 23rd, Blue Origin announced the names of the six people who would fly aboard the New Shepard launch vehicle on its nineteenth flight (NS-19), scheduled for Dec. 9th. Among them is Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut to go to space, the fifth man to walk on the Moon, and for whom the NewShepard launch vehicle is named.
The astronomy community breathed a huge sigh of relief earlier this week when the Space Telescope Science Institute announced the Hubble Space Telescope’s major computer issues had been fixed. In a grueling month of recovery work, every expert – even retired Hubble engineers and scientists — was brought in for consultation. Their ultimate success is a tribute to the legacy of problem-solving and innovation NASA has been famous for over the years. And now, the telescope is back doing what it was built to do, taking incredible pictures of the cosmos and sending them down to Earth.
Here are the first images since the long-distance repair, two pictures of galaxies. One shows a galaxy with unusual extended spiral arms, and the other is the first high-resolution view of an intriguing pair of colliding galaxies.
Legendary NASA flight director Glynn Lunney has passed away at age 84. Lunney played a key role in the early days of NASA, helping to create the concept and operation of what we now reverently know as Mission Control. His calm decisiveness was lauded during the Gemini and Apollo missions he guided as flight director, and his leadership was especially pivotal in bringing the crew of Apollo 13 safely back to Earth.
On Dec.7th, 2020, World War II flying ace and legendary test pilot General Chuck Yeager passed away while in hospital in Los Angeles. He was 97 years of age and is survived by his second wife, Victoria Yeager (nee Victoria Scott D’Angelo), and his three children, Susan, Don, and Sharon. Yeager is interred at Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington D.C. with full military honors.
Rome was the world’s first mega-empire. At its height it stretched from Western Europe to the Middle East, and over 50 million souls lived within its borders. Some historians think that number could’ve been way higher, up to 100 million.
Rome got its start in the mid-8th century BC. It took centuries for that small city to grow into the Roman Empire, which reached its peak around AD 100. A well-known cliche reminds us how long that took.
But the Roman Empire also took centuries to fracture and dissolve.
Northern Canada has been keeping a secret from the rest of the world. It’s home to “Resurrection,” a tectonic plate that has been much theorized but never found until now. A team of researchers used what amounts to a CAT scan of northern Canada and the mantle underneath it to find the missing plate.
Finding it could lead to better hazard prediction and also to finding mineral and hydrocarbon deposits. But better than that, it’s helping scientists piece together Earth’s history.
The Magellanic Clouds are a pair of dwarf galaxies that are bound to the Milky Way. The Milky Way is slowly consuming them in Borg-like fashion, starting with the gas halo that surrounds both Clouds. They’re visible in the southern sky, and for centuries people have gazed up at them. They’re named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, in our current times.