Axiom’s Next Trip to the ISS Will Carry the First Saudi Woman in Space

Illustration: SpaceX Crew Dragon at ISS
An illustration shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule approaching the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

Axiom Space says it’s working with the Saudi Space Commission to send two spacefliers from the Arab kingdom, including the first Saudi woman to go into orbit, to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The inclusion of a female astronaut is particularly notable for Saudi Arabia — where women were forbidden to drive motor vehicles until 2018, and where the status of women is still a controversial subject.

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The World’s Ground Stations are Getting Ready to Watch a Spacecraft Crash Into an Asteroid Next Week!

NASA's DART spacecraft is due to collide with the smaller body of the Didymos binary asteroid system on Sept. 26th, 2022. Credit: ESA

On September 26th, NASA’s Double-Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) will rendezvous with the Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Didymos. By 23:14 UTC (06:14 PM EDT; 03: 14 PM PDT), this spacecraft will collide with the small moonlet orbiting the asteroid (Dimorphos) to test the “kinetic impactor” method of planetary defense. This method involves a spacecraft striking an asteroid to alter its orbit and divert it from a trajectory that would cause it to collide with Earth. The event will be broadcast live worldwide and feature data streams from the DART during its final 12 hours before it strikes its target.

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Habitable Planets Will Most Likely be Cold, Dry “Pale Yellow Dots”

An artist's concept of K2-18b, a super-Earth exoplanet that could support life. But, not all habitable planets are pale blue dots. Some are dry and yellow. Courtesy STScI

Remember all the habitable planets we’ve seen in science fiction movies? There’s wintry Hoth, for example, and overwhelmingly hot Dune. The folks in Interstellar visited an ocean world and a desolate rocky world. For all their differences, these places were still what they call on Star Trek M-class habitable worlds. Sure they weren’t all like Earth, but that made them excitingly alien for the lifeforms they did support. In the real universe, it seems that alien worlds not quite like ours could be the norm. Earth could be the real alien world.

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Webb Turns its Infrared Gaze on Mars

Graphic of Webb’s 2 NIRCam instrument images of Mars, taken on Sept. 5, 2022. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Mars JWST/GTO team

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the most complex and sophisticated observatory ever deployed. Using its advanced suite of infrared instruments, coronographs, and spectrometers – contributed by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) – this observatory will spend the next ten to twenty years building on the achievements of its predecessor, the venerable Hubble. This includes exoplanet characterization, star and planet formation, and the formation and evolution of the earliest galaxies in the Universe.

However, one of the main objectives of the JWST is to study the planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and other celestial bodies here in the Solar System. This includes Mars, the first Solar planet to get the James Webb treatment! The images Webb took (recently released by the ESA) provide a unique perspective on Mars, showing what the planet looks like in infrared wavelengths. The data yielded by these images could provide new insight into Mars’ atmosphere and environment, complimenting decades of observations by orbiters, landers, rovers, and other telescopes.

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Neptune and Its Rings Glow in Webb Telescope’s Portrait

JWST view of Neptune and rings
An infrared image from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope shows Neptune and its rings. Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / Joseph DePasquale

The first picture of Neptune to be taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals the latest, greatest details of the ice giant’s atmosphere, moons and rings in infrared wavelengths.

Some of those details — for example, faint bands of dust that encircle Neptune — haven’t been brought to light since the Voyager 2 probe zoomed past in 1989.

“It has been three decades since we last saw those faint, dusty bands, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” astronomer Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist on the JWST team who specializes in Neptune, said today in a news release. Neptune’s brighter rings stand out even more clearly.

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It Appears That Enceladus is Even More Habitable Than we Thought

Phosphorus is likely abundant in the waters of Enceladus. Credit: Southwest Research Institute

The problem with looking for life on other worlds is that we only know of one planet with life. Earth has a wondrous variety of living creatures, but they all evolved on a single world, and their heritage stems from a single tree of life. So astrobiologists have to be both clever and careful when looking for habitable worlds, even when they narrow the possibilities to life similar to ours.

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Astronomy For Equity: Building Hope Through the Night Sky

Roaya Astronomical Clubs in Libyan Schools is a project of Roaya for Astronomy and Space Applications, a Libyan youth group created in 2012 that became a government-recognized Non-Governmental Foundation in 2021. The project is supported through partnerships with the Libya Ministry of Education. Image courtesy of A4E.

Have you ever attended a star party, where amateur astronomers set up telescopes and invite the public to take a look at the night sky? If so, then you understand and appreciate how much these part-time but incredibly enthusiastic stargazers love to share the wonders of our Universe with others.  

That type of passion and generosity of heart is the basis of a new organization that hopes to harness the proven capability of astronomy to bring hope, wonder and science to marginalized and isolated students and communities around the world.

Astronomy For Equity (A4E) looks to bring together existing resources within communities in war-torn or developing countries, and provide the tools and resources to support experienced volunteers and teachers for public education programs that are already in place. Their first initiative will help get telescopes to astronomy students in Libya.

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Uh oh, There’s a Problem With one of Webb’s Science Instruments

James Webb

James Webb is currently experiencing problems with its MIRI instrument. The problem is due to increased friction in one of MIRI’s mechanisms in the Medium-Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) mode. The observatory is otherwise healthy, but the team decided to stop observations using MRS mode until they find a solution.

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InSight Heard Four Meteoroids Crash Into Mars

These craters were formed by a Sept. 5, 2021, meteoroid impact on Mars, the first to be detected by NASA’s InSight. Taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, this enhanced-color image highlights the dust and soil disturbed by the impact in blue in order to make details more visible to the human eye. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

For the first time, a spacecraft has detected acoustic and seismic waves from impacts on Mars. NASA’s InSight lander made the detections from four meteoroids that crashed on Mars in 2020 and 2021. Ever since the mission landed on the Red Planet in 2018, scientists have been hoping to be able to detect impacts with InSight’s seismometer, which was mainly designed to sense Marsquakes. But these impacts are the first the lander has detected.

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Should Low Earth Orbit be a protected environmental ecosystem?

Conceptual image of streaks of light across a starry sky, to illustrate the pollution of near-earth space
The growing population of mega-constellations of satellites in Low-Earth Orbit may constitute an ecological threat.

An article published in Nature Astronomy makes a strong case to declare the orbital space around earth an ecologically protected environment. It was part of a submission to the US Court of Appeals in August last year and was filed by several organisations in response to license amendments granted by the FAA to SpaceX for Starlink satellites. To understand why this is so important, it may help to remember that orbital space is a “common” area, like “International Waters” in our oceans, so it is not currently protected by a single country or organization.

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