New results presented at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference could change our approach to Mars exploration. Scientists studying the surface of Mars discovered a relict glacier near the planet’s equator. The relict glacier could signal the presence of buried water ice at the planet’s mid-latitudes.Continue reading “Remnants of a Relict Glacier Found Near the Equator on Mars”
Sci-Fi Christmas is Ruined! Planet Vulcan Doesn’t Exist
Fans of Star Trek were over the Moon when, in 2018, astronomers with the Dharma Planet Survey (DPS) announced the possible detection of 40 Eridani b, an extrasolar planet in the star system 40 Eridani. Located just 16.3 light-years away, this triple-star system happens to be where the planet Vulcan was located in the popular franchise. Based on radial velocity measurements of the system’s primary star (40 Eridani A), the discovery team estimated that “Vulcan” was a rocky planet several times the mass of Earth (a Super-Earth) with an orbital period of 42 days or so.
The existence of this exoplanet has remained a controversial subject ever since. A study released in 2021 concluded that the signal was a false positive, but the debate remained open. Now, according to a new study by an international team of researchers, the detection of 40 Eridani b was a false positive that astronomers mistook for an exoplanet. The study was part of an archival review of exoplanets to identify promising candidates for follow-up studies. So while “Vulcan” is currently off the table, these results could lead to other exciting discoveries in the coming years.Continue reading “Sci-Fi Christmas is Ruined! Planet Vulcan Doesn’t Exist”
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Here’s Where Artemis III Might Land. It Looks… Inviting
Where on the Moon will the first crewed Artemis mission Land? While NASA is still deliberating on the exact location, they’ve chosen several candidate landing sites near the lunar south pole. This new image captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter reveals what the astronauts might see out the window as they approach their destination.Continue reading “Here’s Where Artemis III Might Land. It Looks… Inviting”
Venus Breakthrough, $1B to Deorbit The ISS, Moon Spacesuits
Venus has active volcanoes, we get a glimpse of NASA’s new lunar exploration suits, and scientists build a completely flat telescope lens.Continue reading “Venus Breakthrough, $1B to Deorbit The ISS, Moon Spacesuits”
An Alternative Theory of Inertia will Get Tested in Space
One of the most exciting aspects of the current era of space exploration (Space Age 2.0) is how time-honored ideas are finally being realized. Some of the more well-known examples include retrievable and reusable rockets, retrieval at sea, mid-air retrieval, single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) rockets, and kinetic launch systems. In addition, there are also efforts to develop propulsion systems that do not rely on conventional propellants. This technology offers many advantages, including lower mass and improved energy efficiency, ultimately leading to lower costs.
On June 10th, 2023, an all-electrical propulsion system for satellites (the IVO Quantum Drive) will fly to space for the first time. The system was built by North Dakota-based wireless power company IVO, Ltd., and will serve as a testbed for an alternative theory of inertia that could have applications for propulsion. The engine will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of a dedicated rideshare (Transporter 8) hosted by commercial partner Rogue Space Systems. If the technology is validated, the Quantum Drive could trigger a revolution in commercial space and beyond. And if not, then we can relax knowing that the laws of physics are still the laws of physics!Continue reading “An Alternative Theory of Inertia will Get Tested in Space”
NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Sees A Beautiful Sunset on Mars
Sunsets provide some of the most beautiful natural imagery anywhere on Earth. People flock from all over to see sunsets at specific places at specific times, such as when they perfectly align down a street in Manhattan. But sunsets on other planets wouldn’t be nearly as spectacular.Continue reading “NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Sees A Beautiful Sunset on Mars”
Watch the Chelyabinsk Meteor Breakup in this Detailed Simulation
The people of Chelyabinsk in Russia got the surprise of their lives on the morning of February 15, 2013. That’s when a small asteroid exploded overhead. The resulting shockwave damaged buildings, injured people, and sent a sonic boom thundering across the region.Continue reading “Watch the Chelyabinsk Meteor Breakup in this Detailed Simulation”
The Universe Sparkles in Gamma Rays in this New NASA Animation
We’ve come a long way since gamma rays were discovered.
The late 1800s and early 1900s were a time of great scientific advancements. Scientists were just getting a handle on the different types of radiation. Radium featured prominently in the experiments, including one by French scientist Paul Ulrich Villard in 1900.
Radium decays readily, and scientists had already identified alpha and beta radiation coming from radium samples. But Villard was able to identify a third type of penetrating radiation so powerful even a layer of lead couldn’t stop it: gamma rays.
Now we have a gamma ray detector in space, and it’s showing us how the Universe sparkles with this powerful energy.Continue reading “The Universe Sparkles in Gamma Rays in this New NASA Animation”
Planets Might Protect their Water Until their Star Settles Down
Creating rocky planets is a messy, dangerous, hot business. Planetesimals accrete together, which creates heat and pressure on the newborn world. The nearby adolescent star bombards them with intense radiation. That likely “bakes off” any surface oceans, lakes, or rivers, which is a disaster if you’re looking for places where life might arise or exist. That’s because life needs water and planets around these stars are among the most likely to harbor life. But, that doesn’t look too hopeful if the radiation steams the water away.Continue reading “Planets Might Protect their Water Until their Star Settles Down”
The Best Way to Learn About Venus Could Be With a Fleet of Balloons
Interest in the exploration of Venus has kicked up a notch lately, especially after a contested recent discovery of phosphine, a potential biosignature, in the planet’s atmosphere. Plenty of missions to Venus have been proposed, and NASA and ESA have recently funded several. However, they are mainly orbiters, trying to peer into the planet’s interior from above. But they are challenged by having to see through dozens of kilometers of an atmosphere made up of sulfuric acid.
That same atmosphere is challenging for ground missions. While some of the recently funded missions include a component on the ground, they are missing an opportunity that isn’t afforded on many other planets in the solar system – riding along in the atmosphere. Technologists have proposed everything from simple balloons to entire floating cities – we even heard of a plan to enclose the entirety of Venus in a shell and live on the surface of that shell. But for now, balloons seem to be a more straightforward answer. That is the mission modality proposed by a team of researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to discover more about something that was only confirmed to exist on Venus in the last week – volcanism.Continue reading “The Best Way to Learn About Venus Could Be With a Fleet of Balloons”