Laying on a grassy field staring at the cloud formations in the sky and coming up with harebrained ideas about their shapes is a common feature in childhood summers – at least as they’re portrayed in media. Someday that image might translate to a child laying on a sandy or rocky outcropping, looking up at the sky seeing iridescent, shimmering clouds in the sky. The biggest differences would be that the child would be looking through a visor, and those clouds would be on Mars. And Curiosity recently released some stunning images of what they might look like.Continue reading “Iridescent Clouds on Mars Seen by Curiosity”
On July 20th,, Blue Origin will conduct the first crewed launch of their New Shepard rocket, the reusable launch vehicle that will send small payloads and customers to space. In addition to Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark, the company announced that one of the seats was being left open for auction. On Saturday, June 12th, the company announced that the auction had closed with a winning bid of $28 million USD.Continue reading “Blue Origin Auction Ends With a Closing Bid of $28 million”
TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) has found a new planet, and the discovery of this sub-Neptune exoplanet has scientists excited about atmospheres. The combination of the planet’s size, its thick atmosphere, and its orbit around a small M-class star close to Earth provides researchers with an opportunity to learn more about exoplanet atmospheres. We’re getting better and better at finding exoplanets, and studying their atmospheres is the next step in understanding them as a whole.Continue reading “Astronomers Have Found the Perfect Exoplanet to Study Another World’s Atmosphere”
Asteroid 16 Psyche, often sensationally dubbed the 10,000 quadrillion dollar asteroid due to its composition of valuable metals, may not be entirely what it seems. A new paper out of the University of Arizona suggests that the asteroid is possibly more porous, and less metallic, than previous studies indicated. It still certainly has a mostly metallic structure, but its composition is more complex – and that’s good news. Given the impracticality of space mining (in the near future anyway) 16 Psyche’s real value is scientific: planetary scientists think it is probably the exposed core of a protoplanet from the early days of the Solar System. Studying such an object up close would be enormously useful for understanding planet formation, and this paper is the latest attempt to understand its structure.Continue reading “Asteroid 16 Psyche Might Not be a Solid Chunk of Metal After All, but Another Rubble Pile”
Given all of the news surrounding the landing and first few months of operation of the Perseverance rover on Mars, it might be surprising that its actual science mission hasn’t even started yet. That changed on June 1st when the rover officially kicked off its first science mission by leaving its landing site.Continue reading “It’s Time for Perseverance to get to Work”
Scientists seem to have come up with a new parlor game – how many ways can we potentially detect exoplanets? The two most common methods, the transit method and the Doppler method, each have their own problems. Alternative methods are starting to sprout up, and a new one was recently proposed by Jacob Nibauer, an undergraduate student in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. His suggestion: look at a star’s chemical composition. And his findings after analyzing data on some 1,500 stars hold some surprises.Continue reading “What’s the Connection Between the Chemistry of a Star and the Formation of its Planets?”
Author’s note – this article was written with Dr. Vincent Kofman, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), working in the Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration (SEEC), and the lead author on the research it discusses.
Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered in the recent decades. Planet hunters like TESS and Kepler, as well as numerous ground-based efforts, have pushed the field and we are starting to get a total number of planets that will allow us to perform effective statistical analysis on some of them.
Not only do the detected number of planets show us how common they are; it exposes our lack of understanding about how planets form, what conditions are present, and when planets may be habitable. The transit detection of an exoplanet primarily yields the orbital period, or the length of a year on the planet, and the relative size of the planet with respect to the star. The next steps are to characterize the planet. This usually requires follow up studies, using different observational strategies and more powerful telescopes.Continue reading “How To Search the Chemical Makeup of Exoplanet Atmospheres for Hints at Their History”
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that competition is a great way to foster progress and innovation. If these truisms are to be believed, then the NewSpace industry is destined to benefit from the presence of Relativity Space, a commercial space company based in Los Angeles. At the same time, SpaceX founder Elon Musk should be flattered that Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone (founders of Relativity Space) are following his example.
Roughly six years ago, Ellis and Noone founded Relativity for the purpose of using new technologies to disrupt the aerospace industry. Earlier this week (Tuesday, June 8th), the company announced that it had raised an additional $650 million in private capital. This money will go towards the development of rockets that are entirely 3D-printed and fully reusable, as well as the creation of a new class of heavy launch vehicles known as the “Terran-R.”Continue reading “Relativity Space Gets a Huge Investment to Take on SpaceX With Reusable Rockets”
It’s an exciting time to be a Venus watcher. Our sister planet, which has been the target of only one mission since the 1980s, is now the focus of not one, not two, but three missions from NASA and ESA. Combined, they promise to give the closest look ever at the Morning Star, and some of the processes that might have made such a similar world so different from our own.Continue reading “ESA is Joining NASA With Their own Mission to Venus”
Exploration of ocean worlds has become a hot topic of late, primarily due to their role as a potential harbor for alien life. Moons that have confirmed subsurface oceans garner much of the attention, such as Enceladus and Europa. But they may not be the only ones. Uranus’ larger moons – Miranda, Ariel, and Umbriel could potentially also have subsurface oceans even farther out into the solar system. We just haven’t sent any instruments close enough to be able to check. Now a team led by Dr. Corey Cochrane at NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory has done some preliminary work to show that a relatively simple flyby of the Uranian system with an averagely sensitive magnetometer could provide the data needed to determine if those larger moons harbor subsurface oceans. This work is another step down the path of expanding what we think of as habitable environments in the solar system.Continue reading “What Mission Could Detect Oceans at Uranus’ Moons?”