Five Snapshots of how the Earth Looked at Key Points in its History Could Help us Find Habitable Exoplanets

In the past few decades, astronomers have confirmed the existence of thousands of planets beyond our Solar System. Over time, the process has shifted from discovery to characterization in the hopes of finding which of these planets are capable of supporting life. For the time being, these methods are indirect in nature, which means that astronomers can only infer if a planet is inhabitable based on how closely it resembles Earth.

To aid in the hunt for “potentially habitable” exoplanets, a team of Cornell researchers recently created five models that represent key points in Earth’s evolution. These “snapshots” of what Earth looked like during various geological epochs could greatly enhance the search for extra-terrestrial life by providing a more complete picture of what a life-bearing planet could look like.

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Astronaut Pee Will Help Build Bases on the Moon

In the next few decades, NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), China, and Russia all plan to create outposts on the lunar surface that will allow for a permanent human presence. These proposals seek to leverage advances in additive manufacturing (aka. 3-D printing) with In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) to address the particular challenges of living and working on the Moon.

For the sake of their International Moon Village, the ESA has been experimenting with “lunacrete” – lunar regolith combined with a bonding agent to create a building material. But recently, a team of researchers conducted a study (in cooperation with the ESA) that found that lunacrete works even better if you add a special ingredient that the astronauts make all by themselves – urine!

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SpaceX Almost Ready to Start Testing its Third Starship Prototype. Let’s Hope it Doesn’t Explode

For almost a year now, SpaceX has been building a series of Starship prototypes that will test how the system fares when launched to orbit. Coming on the heels of successful hop tests with the Starship Hopper, these tests will validate the spacecraft and its Raptor engines in space. Unfortunately, the company has encountered some hiccups with these prototypes, where the first two exploded during pressure testing.

The first prototype, Starship Mk.1, exploded on the launchpad on November 20th, 2019, during a cryogenic loading test that sent its nose cone flying. The second prototype, SN1, also exploded during a pressure test on the evening of Feb. 28th, 2020, causing the fuselage to jump several meters in the air before hitting the ground and exploding again. Undeterred, Musk recently shared images of the components for the SN3 prototype undergoing assembly.

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This Galaxy is the Very Definition of “Flocculent”

I know you’re Googling “flocculent” right now, unless you happen to be a chemist, or maybe a home brewer.

You could spend each day of your life staring at a different galaxy, and you’d never even come remotely close to seeing even a tiny percentage of all the galaxies in the Universe. Of course, nobody knows for sure exactly how many galaxies there are. But there might be up to two trillion of them. If you live to be a hundred, that’s only 36,500 galaxies that you’d look at. Puts things in perspective.

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Weekly Space Hangout: April 1, 2020 – Dr. Robert B. Hayes and Radiation Shielding in Space

Hosts: Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)

Dr. Kimberly Cartier (KimberlyCartier.org / @AstroKimCartier )

Pam Hoffman (EverydaySpacer.com / @EverydaySpacer)

Michael Rodruck (@michaelrodruck)

Announcements:

This week we are airing Fraser’s prerecorded interview with Dr. Robert B. Hayes, Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering at North Carolina State University. Dr. Hayes is co-author of a recent paper published January 7.

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How were Supermassive Black Holes Already Forming and Releasing Powerful Jets Shortly After the Big Bang?

A supermassive black hole has been found in an unusual spot: an isolated region of space where only small, dim galaxies reside. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the past few decades, astronomers have been able to look farther into the Universe (and also back in time), almost to the very beginnings of the Universe. In so doing, they’ve learned a great deal about some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe and their subsequent evolution. However, there are still some things that are still off-limits, like when galaxies with supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and massive jets first appeared.

According to recent studies from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) and a team of astronomers from Japan and Taiwan provide new insight on how supermassive black holes began forming just 800 million years after the Big Bang, and relativistic jets less than 2 billion years after. These results are part of a growing case that shows how massive objects in our Universe formed sooner than we thought.

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Are the Gaps in These Disks Caused by Planets?

Astronomers like observing distant young stars as they form. Stars are born out of a molecular cloud, and once enough of the matter in that cloud clumps together, fusion ignites and a star begins its life. The leftover material from the formation of the star is called a circumstellar disk.

As the material in the circumstellar disk swirls around the now-rotating star, it clumps up into individual planets. As planets form in it, they leave gaps in that disk. Or so we think.

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How Will Clouds Obscure the View of Exoplanet Surfaces?

In 2021, NASA’s next-generation observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), will take to space. Once operational, this flagship mission will pick up where other space telescopes – like Hubble, Kepler, and Spitzer – left off. This means that in addition to investigating some of the greatest cosmic mysteries, it will also search for potentially habitable exoplanets and attempt to characterize their atmospheres.

This is part of what sets the JWST apart from its predecessors. Between its high sensitivity and infrared imaging capabilities, it will be able to gather data on exoplanet atmospheres like never before. However, as a NASA-supported study recently showed, planets that have dense atmospheres might also have extensive cloud cover, which could complicate attempts to gather some of the most important data of all.

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The heliosphere looks a lot weirder than we originally thought

Every second of every day, our sun spits out a stream of tiny high-energy particles, known as the solar wind. This wind blows throughout the solar system, extending far beyond the orbits of the planets and out into interstellar space.

But the farther from the sun the wind gets, the more slowly it streams, changing from the raging torrent that the inner planets experience (strong enough to cause the aurora) into nothing more than an annoying drizzle. And far enough away – about twice the orbit of Neptune – it meets and mingles with all the random bits of energetic junk just floating around amongst the stars.

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