In 1802, German astronomer Heinrich Olbers observed what he thought was a planet within the Main Asteroid Belt. In time, astronomers would come to name this body Pallas, an alternate name for the Greek warrior goddess Athena. The subsequent discovery of many more asteroids in the Main Belt would lead to Pallas being reclassified as a large asteroid, the third-largest in the Belt after Ceres and Vesta.
For centuries, astronomers have sought to get a better look at Pallas to learn more about its size, shape, and composition. As of the turn of the century, astronomers had come to conclude that it was an oblate spheroid (an elongated sphere). Thanks to a new study by an international team, the first detailed images of Pallas have finally been taken, which reveal that its shape is more akin to a “golf ball” – i.e. heavily dimpled.
This week we are airing Fraser’s interview with Dr. Cole Miller, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Miller led one of two separate teams that analyzed Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) data – specifically that for pulsar called J0030+0451 (J0030) in the constellation Pisces – and were able to map the surface features of a pulsar for the first time.
This summer, between mid-July and early August, the Mars 2020 rover will launch, reaching Mars by February of 2021. Once it touched down in the Jezero Crater, it will carry on in the footsteps of its predecessor – the Curiosity rover. This will include searching for evidence of Mars’ past habitability and the possible existence of life (past and present), as well as a sample-return mission.
To accomplish these tasks, the Mars 2020 rover will be relying on an advanced suite of instruments. One of these is the SuperCam, which includes a camera, a laser, and spectrometers and is mounted to the rover’s mast (or “head”). Once operational, this instrument will be used to study the chemistry and mineralogy of Martian rocks and (with any luck) find evidence of fossilized microbial life on Mars.
Picture the space around Earth filled with tens of thousands of communications satellites. That scenario is slowly coming into being, and it has astronomers concerned. Now a group of astronomers have written a paper outlining their detailed concerns, and how all of these satellites could have a severe, negative impact on ground-based astronomy.
In May of 2019, SpaceX launched the first batch of satellites that will make up its Starlink constellation, thus delivering on Musk’s promise to provide broadband internet access to the whole world. Since then, the company has conducted several launches of upgraded satellites with the intent of creating a constellation of 1,584 by 2024 and 2,200 by 2027.
According to the latest statements made by Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s President and Chief Operations Officer (COO), the company is considering spinning off Starlink and making it a publicly-traded company in the coming years. The announcement was made on Thursday, Feb. 6th, at a private investor event hosted by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Miami.
In the coming years, a number of will be sent to space for the purpose of answering some of the enduring questions about the cosmos. One of the most pressing is the effect that solar activity and “space weather” events have on planet Earth. By being able to better-predict these, scientists will be able to create better early-warning systems that could prevent damage to Earth’s electrical infrastructure.
This is the purpose of the Solar Orbiter (SolO), an ESA-led mission with strong participation by NASA that launched this morning (Monday, Feb. 10th) from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This is the first “medium-class” mission implemented as part of the ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-25 program and will spend the next five years investigating the Sun’s uncharted polar regions to learn more about how the Sun works.
In September of 2019, SpaceX unveiled the first Starship prototype, the first of several test vehicles that would validate the design of the next-generation spacecraft that would fulfill Musk’s promise of making commercial flights to the Moon and Mars. And while there was a bit of a setback in November of 2019 after the Mk. 1 suffered a structural failure, Musk indicated that the company would be moving forward with other prototypes.
As Musk explained at the time, this would consist of the Mk. 3 prototype conducting an orbital test flight to an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) sometime in 2020. According to recent filings made with the FCC, this test could be happening as early as mid-March and will involve the vehicle launching from the company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and flying to an altitude of 20 km (12.6 mi) before landing.
Earth and Pluto don’t have much in common. Earth is a vibrant, living world, whereas Pluto is cold, distant and lifeless. But one thing they do have in common is nitrogen. Earth’s atmosphere is about 78% nitrogen, and Pluto’s primary atmospheric constituent is also nitrogen, although the exact percentage is unclear.
On Pluto, where the surface temperature is about 42 Kelvin (-231 Celsius) most of that nitrogen is frozen. A new study says that Pluto’s frozen nitrogen drives the planet’s winds, and shapes its feature surfaces.