This’ll be us… in 5 Billion Years

Scientists have long known the fate of our solar system – and likely the fate of Earth itself.   In a few billion years, the Sun will run out of fusion fuel and expand to a “red giant” phase, likely swallowing everything in the solar system up to the orbit of Mars.  But, some of the planets past that point could survive, like Jupiter and Saturn.  Now, scientists have used the Keck Observatory to see a system that looks like what ours will after the Sun’s red giant phase for the very first time.

Continue reading “This’ll be us… in 5 Billion Years”

A Spacecraft Could use Gravity to Prevent a Dangerous Asteroid Impact

The idea of avoiding asteroid impacts has featured prominently in the public’s mind for decades – especially since the release of Deep Impact and Armageddon.  But is using a nuclear explosion the best way to deal with potentially hazardous space rocks?  Decidedly not.  If given enough time, there is a much more effective (and safer) way to dealing with any object on a collision course with Earth – a gravity tractor.  Now, Dr. Yohannes Ketema from the University of Minnesota has developed a flight pattern that makes this simplest of all asteroid defense mechanisms that much more effective.

Continue reading “A Spacecraft Could use Gravity to Prevent a Dangerous Asteroid Impact”

Did Titan Give Saturn its Tilt?

Giant planets like Saturn don’t just tilt over all by themselves: something has to knock them over, or tug on them gravitationally, to push them off axis. Scientists expect that when new planets are born, they form with almost no tilt at all, lining up like spinning tops, with their equators level to the orbital plane in which they circle around their sun.

But no planet in our solar system is perfectly level. Jupiter is the closest, boasting an obliquity (tilt) of just 3.12 degrees. Earth’s obliquity is much more substantive at 23.45 degrees, causing us to experience an annual cycle of seasons as our homeworld wobbles on its axis. Saturn’s tilt is more extreme yet, with an obliquity of 26.73 degrees (though it’s nowhere near as extreme as Uranus, which is practically sideways, spinning at a 97.86-degree angle to its orbital plane).

We can learn a lot from these obliquities.

Continue reading “Did Titan Give Saturn its Tilt?”

William Shatner Completes his Trip to Space With Blue Origin

After traveling to the edge of space this week, William Shatner and the crew of the NS-18 mission made it back to Earth safe and sound. This was the second time Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle flew to space with a crew aboard, and as with the inaugural flight, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos decided to enlist some star power! Who better than the man known to millions of fans as James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the starship Enterprise?

At 90 years of age, the veteran actor of television, film, and stage is the oldest person to fly to space. The previous record was held by 82-year old veteran aviator Wally Funk, who went to space as part of the first crewed flight of the New Shepard on July 20th. Along with his fellow crewmembers, Shatner’s experienced what it’s like to go to space for the first time from the company’s Launch Site One facility in West Texas.

Continue reading “William Shatner Completes his Trip to Space With Blue Origin”

Perseverance has Collected its First Sample of Mars and Prepared it for Return to Earth… Eventually

It’s another first for NASA.

In early September, the Perseverance rover successfully used its robotic arm and drill to drill into a rock and extract a sample. It extracted a rock core about 6 cm (2 in) long and placed it inside a sealed tube. This is the first time a robotic spacecraft has collected a sample from another planet destined for a return to Earth on a separate spacecraft.

Now we wait for the eventual return of the sample to Earth.

Continue reading “Perseverance has Collected its First Sample of Mars and Prepared it for Return to Earth… Eventually”

Rocky Planets Might Need to be the Right age to Support Life

Extrasolar planets are being discovered at a rapid rate, with 4,531 planets in 3,363 systems (with another 7,798 candidates awaiting confirmation). Of these, 166 have been identified as rocky planets (aka. “Earth-like”), while another 1,389 have been rocky planets that are several times the size of Earth (“Super-Earths). As more and more discoveries are made, the focus is shifting from the discovery process towards characterization.

In order to place tighter constraints on whether any of these exoplanets are habitable, astronomers and astrobiologists are looking for ways to detect biomarkers and other signs of biological processes. According to a new study, astronomers and astrobiologists should look for indications of a carbon-silicate cycle. On Earth, this cycle ensures that our climate remains stable for eons and could be the key to finding life on other planets.

Continue reading “Rocky Planets Might Need to be the Right age to Support Life”

Not Just Sitting Ducks. Maybe Satellites Could Dodge Almost all Space Junk

Kessler syndrome is becoming more and more of a potential hazard as more and more companies vie to place more and more satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  But it will only get out of hand if a chain reaction of collisions happens, which could potentially cause a complete breakdown of orbital infrastructure.  

To combat that possibility, satellites currently attempt to dodge any debris that gets anywhere near them.  Now, a new paper by Dr. Jonathan Katz of Washington University, St. Louis, proposes a system that can accurately detect whether a piece of debris will impact a satellite and allow the satellite itself to move out of the way only for trash that will actually hit it.

Continue reading “Not Just Sitting Ducks. Maybe Satellites Could Dodge Almost all Space Junk”

NASA’s Mission to Visit 8 Asteroids, Lucy, Launches on October 16th

An early morning launch is planned for the Lucy spacecraft, the first space mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Tomorrow, October 16 at 5:34 a.m. EDT is the first day and time in Lucy’s 21-day launch window, and current weather conditions show a 90% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch window remains open for 75 minutes.

Lucy will embark on a 12-year mission to explore the “fossils of planet formation,” Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid swarms. This mission provides the first opportunity to observe these intriguing objects close-up.

Continue reading “NASA’s Mission to Visit 8 Asteroids, Lucy, Launches on October 16th”

How to Prevent our Spacecraft From Contaminating Mars

Mars has become something of an international playground over the past twenty years. There are currently eleven missions from five space agencies exploring the Red Planet, a combination of orbiters, landers, and rovers. Several additional robotic missions will be leaving for Mars in the next few years, and crewed missions are planned for the 2030s. Because of this increase in traffic, NASA and other space agencies are naturally worried about “planetary protection.”

With this in mind, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a new report that identified several criteria for future robotic missions to Mars. These would reduce these missions’ “bioburden” requirements, which are designed to prevent the unintentional contamination of the Red Planet with Earth-based organisms. Specifically, the report considers how Earth organisms would interfere with searches for indigenous life on the planet.

Continue reading “How to Prevent our Spacecraft From Contaminating Mars”

Why Visit Just one Moon When you Could Explore Them all?

The Solar System’s moons are intriguing objects for exploration. Especially moons like Europa and Enceladus. Their subsurface oceans make them primary targets in the search for life.

But why not send one spacecraft to visit several moons? NASA’s about to launch its Lucy mission which will visit 8 separate asteroids. Could the same be done for a mission to multiple moons?

For a spacecraft to do that, it would have to do a little dance with the notorious three-body problem, which makes a stubborn partner. A new study presents a possible way to do that.

Continue reading “Why Visit Just one Moon When you Could Explore Them all?”