The study of ocean worlds, planetary bodies with potential interior reservoirs of liquid water, has come to the forefront in terms of astrobiology and the search for life beyond Earth. From Jupiter’s Galilean Moons to Saturn’s Titan and Mimas to Neptune’s Triton and even Pluto, scientists are craving to better understand if these worlds truly possess interior bodies of liquid water. But what about Uranus and its more than two dozen moons? Could they harbor interior oceans, as well?Continue reading “Four of Uranus’ Moons Might Have Liquid Oceans, Too”
JWST Finds a Comet Still Holding Onto Water in the Main Asteroid Belt
Comets are instantly recognizable by their tails of gas and dust. Most comets originate in the far, frozen reaches of our Solar System, and only visit the inner Solar System occasionally. But some are in the Main Asteroid Belt, mixed in with the debris left over after the Solar System formed.
Astronomers just found water vapour coming from one of them.Continue reading “JWST Finds a Comet Still Holding Onto Water in the Main Asteroid Belt”
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Astronomers Prepare for the Next Thousand Years of Hazardous Asteroid Impacts
It is as inevitable as the rising of the Sun and the turning of the tides. Someday another large rock from space will crash into the Earth. It has happened for billions of years in the past and will continue to happen for billions of years into the future. So far humanity has been lucky, as we have not had to face such a catastrophic threat. But if we are to survive on this planet for the long term, we will have to come to terms with the reality of hazardous asteroids and prepare ourselves.Continue reading “Astronomers Prepare for the Next Thousand Years of Hazardous Asteroid Impacts”
Life Probably Didn't Have a Hand in Creating Organic Deposits on the Surface of Mars
At this very moment, eleven robotic missions are exploring Mars, a combination of orbiters, landers, rovers, and one aerial vehicle (the Ingenuity helicopter). Like their predecessors, these missions are studying Mars’ atmosphere, surface, and subsurface to learn more about its past and evolution, including how it went from a once warmer and wetter environment to the freezing, dusty, and extremely dry planet we see today. In addition, these missions are looking for evidence of past life on Mars and perhaps learning if and where it might still exist today.
One particularly interesting issue is how the atmosphere of Mars – primarily composed of carbon dioxide (CO2) – is relatively enriched with Carbon-13 (13C), aka. “heavy carbon.” For years, scientists have speculated that the ratio of this isotope to “light carbon” (12C) might be responsible for organics found on the surface (a sign of biological processes!). But after analyzing data from the ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission, an international team led by The Open University determined that these organics may be “abiotic” in origin (i.e., not biological).Continue reading “Life Probably Didn't Have a Hand in Creating Organic Deposits on the Surface of Mars”
Kathy Lueders Was NASA's Top Human Spaceflight Official. Now She Works for SpaceX
Another of NASA’s top human spaceflight officials has joined SpaceX. Kathy Leuders, the former associate administrator for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, retired from NASA on May 1 after 31 years of service. But this week, CNBC reports that Lueders has joined SpaceX at the company’s Starbase facility in Texas. She follows Bill Gerstenmaier, who retired from NASA in 2020 and became a senior executive at SpaceX as build and flight reliability vice president.Continue reading “Kathy Lueders Was NASA's Top Human Spaceflight Official. Now She Works for SpaceX”
Astronomers Have a New Way to Measure the Expansion of the Universe
The cosmos is expanding at an ever-increasing rate. This cosmic acceleration is caused by dark energy, and it is a central aspect of the evolution of our universe. The rate of cosmic expansion can be expressed by a cosmological constant, commonly known as the Hubble constant, or Hubble parameter. But while astronomers generally agree this Hubble parameter exists, there is some disagreement as to its value.Continue reading “Astronomers Have a New Way to Measure the Expansion of the Universe”
An Innovative Heat Shield That Doesn’t Need to Be Replaced Between Missions
A revolution in space manufacturing is coming. Enabled by cheaper launch costs, companies are scrambling to take advantage of easier access to the benefits space offers as a manufacturing environment. These include a constant vacuum, near absolute zero temperatures, and a lack of any significant gravity. These features would enable easier processing and manufacturing of hundreds of products, from pharmaceuticals to metal alloys. The tricky part is getting them back down to Earth, where they can be used.
A company based in the UK recently revealed what they think is a viable solution for that. Space Forge, which is developing a reusable manufacturing platform for use in space, recently discussed their Pridwen heat shield. The most remarkable thing about this new heat shield is it’s reusable.Continue reading “An Innovative Heat Shield That Doesn’t Need to Be Replaced Between Missions”
Astronomers Want Your Help to Identify Risky Asteroids
You, too, can be an asteroid hunter — thanks to a citizen-science project launched by the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. And you might even get a scientific citation.
The project is enlisting human spotters to verify potential detections of space rocks moving through the field of view of the Catalina Sky Survey’s telescopes. The NASA-funded survey is charged with keeping track of more than a million asteroids, with a principal goal of identifying near-Earth objects that could pose a risk to our planet.
More than 14,400 near-Earth objects, or NEOs, have been discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey during the past 30 years, including 1,200 that were identified just in the past year. That adds up to nearly half of the known NEO population.
The problem is, astronomers know there are still lots of unknown asteroids out there — too many for them to spot without an assist from amateurs. “We take so many images of the sky each night that we cannot possibly look through all of our potential real asteroids,” Carson Fuls, a science engineering specialist for the Catalina Sky Survey, said in a NASA news release. That’s where the Daily Minor Planet can make a difference.Continue reading “Astronomers Want Your Help to Identify Risky Asteroids”
It’s Time to Figure Out How to Land Large Spacecraft Safely on Other Worlds
One of the most iconic events in history is Apollo 11 landing on the lunar surface. During the descent, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin are heard relaying commands and data back and forth to mission control across 385,000 kilometers (240,000 miles) of outer space as the lunar module “Eagle” slowly inched its way into the history books.
In the final moments before touchdown, Aldrin can be heard saying, “Picking up some dust”, followed by large dust clouds shooting outward from underneath from the spacecraft as the exhaust plumes interacted with the lunar surface, more commonly known as brownout or brownout effect. This significantly reduced the visibility for Armstrong and Aldrin as they landed, and while they successfully touched down on the Moon, future astronauts might not be so lucky.Continue reading “It’s Time to Figure Out How to Land Large Spacecraft Safely on Other Worlds”
Seismic Waves Help Map the Core of Mars for the First Time
More than a hundred years after geologists first observed how seismic waves traveled through Earth, they’ve achieved another seismic first. This time, they measured “core-transiting seismic waves” moving through Mars. The InSight lander’s seismic instrument tracked shockwaves generated by an earthquake and an impact event. Their behavior revealed for the first time that Mars very likely has a liquid core. It’s made of a single blob of molten iron alloy.Continue reading “Seismic Waves Help Map the Core of Mars for the First Time”