A new Method Simulates the Universe 1000 Times Faster

Cosmologists love universe simulations.  Even models covering hundreds of millions of light years can be useful for understanding fundamental aspects of cosmology and the early universe.  There’s just one problem – they’re extremely computationally intensive.  A 500 million light year swath of the universe could take more than 3 weeks to simulate..  Now, scientists led by Yin Li at the Flatiron Institute have developed a way to run these cosmically huge models 1000 times faster.  That 500 million year light year swath could then be simulated in 36 minutes.

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It’s Official, Astronaut Bill Nelson is NASA’s new Administrator

On March 19th, 2021, the Biden Administration announced that they had nominated a successor for the role of NASA Administrator. Their nominee was Sen. Clarence William Nelson II (aka. Bill Nelson), a Democratic Senator from Florida, an attorney, and a former payload specialist at NASA. On Monday, May 3rd, he assumed the role of 14th NASA Administrator during a ceremony where he was given the oath of office.

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Volcanoes on Mars Might Still be Active

Back in March, NASA’s InSight lander detected two large quakes from a geologically active region of Mars called the Cerberus Fossae. Now, using imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which circles the red planet at an altitude of about 300km, researchers have discovered that the Cerberus Fossae region holds the most recent evidence of volcanic activity ever seen on Mars.

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Mars Helicopter Completes its 4th Flight. 117 Seconds of Airtime

On April 30th, 2021, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter achieved yet another milestone and set new records with its fourth flight on Mars. This time around, the helicopter took off at 12:33 AM Mars Standard Time (10:49 AM EDT; 07:49 AM PDT) and ascended to an altitude of 5 meters (16 feet). It then traveled south for approximately 133 meters (436 feet) and then back in the space of about two minutes (117 seconds).

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We Could Detect Extraterrestrial Satellite Megaconstellations Within a few Hundred Light-Years

Starlink is one of the most ambitious space missions we’ve ever undertaken. The current plan is to put 12,000 communication satellites in low-Earth orbit, with the possibility of another 30,000 later. Just getting them into orbit is a huge engineering challenge, and with so many chunks of metal in orbit, some folks worry it could lead to a cascade of collisions that makes it impossible for satellites to survive. But suppose we solve these problems and Starlink is successful. What’s the next step? What if we take it further, creating a mega-constellation of satellites and space stations? What if an alien civilization has already created such a mega-constellation around their world? Could we see it from Earth?

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What we’ve Learned About Venus From the Parker Solar Probe

The Parker Solar Probe has been getting in a lot of extracurricular activity lately.  Originally designed to observe the Sun, the probe has been taking full advantage of its path through the solar system.  In addition to snapping pictures of comets, the probe has repeatedly focused on Venus, including capturing an image peering underneath the cloud cover of the notoriously hot world.  Now a team led by Glyn Collinson of Goddard Space Flight Center found another serendipitous discovery in the data Parker collected during its latest flyby in the summer of 2020 – the probe actually flew through Venus’ upper atmosphere, and that atmosphere appeared different than it was almost 30 years ago.

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One Full Year of Seismic Data Collected by Mars Insight Includes 500 Quakes

The English vocabulary has some words that only make sense from an Earth-bound perspective.  Earthquake is one of those.  Even in some science fiction and fantasy books, where the action takes place somewhere other than Earth, that team is used to denote the ground shaking.  It’s therefore nice to see planetary scientists trying to expand the root word to other planets.  Marsquakes are the most commonly studied, and now thanks to InSight scientists have collected a full year of data on Marsquakes for the first time.

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SpaceX’s SN15 Starship Prototype Nails It!

On the afternoon of May 5th, 2021, at 05:24 PM local time, SpaceX made its fifth attempt at a high-altitude test flight and soft landing with a Starship prototype. Given the outcomes of the previous test, this event had many people on the edge of their seats. In all four attempts, the prototypes managed to reach their maximum altitude and pull off the bellyflop maneuver, but then exploded during landing (or shortly thereafter).

Would the fifteenth iteration of the Starship prototype (SN15) succeed where the others had failed? As of 05:30 P.M. local time (06:30 P.M. EDT; 03:30 P.M. PDT), the answer to that question is, “WITH GUSTO!” On their fifth attempt, the SN15 not only managed to reach its target altitude of 10 km (6.2 mi) and pull off the belly-flop and controlled descent, it also stuck the landing and suffered no mishaps afterward.

In other words, COMPLETE SUCCESS!

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Dark Matter Could Change the Temperature of Exoplanets, Allowing us to Detect it

Ah, dark matter, you continue to allude us. The stuff is incredibly difficult to study. It doesn’t interact with light, so our evidence of it is based upon its gravitational effects on light and visible matter. And the biggest difficulty is that we still don’t know what it is. Efforts to detect dark matter directly have come up empty, as have indirect methods such as looking for evidence of dark matter through things such as excess gamma-rays in the Milky Way. But astronomers continue to think up new ways to detect the stuff, such as a recent study published in Physical Review Letters.

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