Astronomers use the World's Biggest Radio Telescope to map new Features of the Milky Way

Artist impression of a fast radio burst. Credit: Danielle Futselaar

Despite everything astronomers have learned about the nature and structure of galaxies, there are still mysteries about the Milky Way. The reason for this is simple: since we are embedded in the Milky Way’s disk, we have difficulty mapping it and observing it as a whole. It’s also very challenging to observe the center of the galaxy, what lies beyond it, and features in the disk itself because of all the gas and dust between stars- the Interstellar Medium (ISM). However, by observing the Milky Way in the non-visible spectrum (radio, x-ray, gamma-ray, etc.), astronomers can see more of what’s out there.

There’s also the spectral line that corresponds to the emission frequency (1420 MHz) of cold neutral hydrogen gas (HI), which makes up the majority of the ISM. Using the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) – the most powerful radio telescope in the world near Guizhou, China – a team of scientists located more than 500 new faint pulsars. During the survey, the team simultaneously recorded the spectral line data with high spectral and spatial resolution, making it an extremely valuable resource for studying the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy and the life cycle of its stars.

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China Unable to Reestablish Contact With its Zhurong Mars Rover

A wireless camera took this 'group photo' of China's Tianwen-1 lander and rover on Mars' surface. Credit: Chinese Space Agency

China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) has been hoping to reestablish communications with the Zhurong Mars rover, but so far, their efforts have been unsuccessful. Zhurong was put into hibernation over six months ago as it hunkered down in attempts to survive the Martian winter.

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What’s Next for China’s Lunar Exploration Plans?

China is starting to become a force in space exploration. Its main focal point of lunar exploration has started bearing fruit, with several successes, including a sample return mission and the first-ever craft to land on the far side. So what’s next for the Lunar Exploration Program? Establishing a research base may be on the cards, but the country doesn’t just plan to stop at the Moon – they are looking far beyond.

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What Would Asteroid Mining do to the World's Economy?

Artist's impression of an astronaut conducting an EVA with an asteroid. Credit: NASA

About a decade ago, the prospect of “asteroid mining” saw a massive surge in interest. This was due largely to the rise of the commercial space sector and the belief that harvesting resources from space would soon become a reality. What had been the stuff of science fiction and futurist predictions was now being talked about seriously in the business sector, with many claiming that the future of resource exploitation and manufacturing lay in space. Since then, there’s been a bit of a cooling off as these hopes failed to materialize in the expected timeframe.

Nevertheless, there is little doubt that a human presence in space will entail harvesting resources from Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and beyond. In a recent paper, a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China, examined the potential impact of asteroid mining on the global economy. Based on their detailed assessment that includes market forces, environmental impact, asteroid and mineral type, and the scale of mining, they show how asteroid mining can be done in a way that is consistent with the Outer Space Treaty (i.e., for the benefit of all humanity).

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China Launches Mengtian, the Last Major Module to its Space Station

Artist's rendering of the completed Tiangong space station. Credit: Shujianyang/Wikimedia

On the afternoon of Monday, October 31st, 2022 (Halloween!), China launched the Mengtian laboratory cabin module into space, where it will join the Tiangong modular space station. This module, whose name translates to “Dreaming of the Heavens,” is the second laboratory and final addition to Tiangong (“Palace in the Sky”). This successful launch places China one step closer to completing its first long-term space station, roughly one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station (ISS) and comparable in size to Russia’s decommissioned Mir space station.

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The Moon had Volcanoes More Recently Than Previously Believed

New measurements of lunar rocks have demonstrated that the ancient moon generated a dynamo magnetic field in its liquid metallic core (innermost red shell). The results raise the possibility of two different mechanisms — one that may have driven an earlier, much stronger dynamo, and a second that kept the moon’s core simmering at a much slower boil toward the end of its lifetime. Credit: Hernán Cañellas/Benjamin Weiss

Fifty years ago, NASA and the Soviet space program conducted the first sample-return missions from the Moon. This included lunar rocks brought back to Earth by the Apollo astronauts and those obtained by robotic missions that were part of the Soviet Luna Program. The analysis of these rocks revealed a great deal about the Moon’s composition, formation, and geological history. In particular, scientists concluded that the rocks were formed from volcanic eruptions more than three billion years ago.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in lunar exploration as NASA and other space agencies have sent robotic missions to the Moon (in preparation for crewed missions). For instance, China has sent multiple orbiters, landers, and rovers to the Moon as part of the Chang’e program, including sample-return missions. A new study led by planetary scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) analyzed samples obtained by the Chang’e-5 rover dated to two billion years ago. Their research could provide valuable insight into how young volcanism shaped the lunar surface.

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Mars Might Have Been Covered in Lakes in the Ancient Past

Artist's impression of Mars during the Noachian Era. Credit: Ittiz/Wikipedia Commons

Ever since robotic explorers began visiting the Red Planet during the 1960s and 70s, scientists have puzzled over Mars’ surface features. These included flow channels, valleys, lakebeds, and deltas that appear to have formed in the presence of water. Since then, dozens of missions have been sent to Mars to explore its atmosphere, surface, and climate to learn more about its warmer, wetter past. In particular, scientists want to know how long water flowed on the surface of Mars and whether it was persistent or periodic in nature.

The ultimate purpose here is to determine whether rivers, streams, and standing bodies of water existed long enough for life to emerge. So far, missions like Curiosity and Perseverance have gathered volumes of evidence that show how hundreds of large lakebeds once dotted the Martian landscape. But according to a new study by an international team of researchers, our current estimates of Mars’ surface water may be a dramatic understatement. Based on a meta-analysis of years’ worth of satellite data, the team argues that ancient lakes may have once been a very common feature on Mars.

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China’s Long March Rocket Booster Makes Uncontrolled Reentry Back to Earth

A previous launch of the Long March 5, lifting off from Wenchang on July 2nd, 2017. Credit: CNS

A Chinese Long March 5B rocket first stage made an uncontrolled, fiery reentry through Earth’s atmosphere over Southeast Asia today (Saturday), six days it launched a new science module to China’s Tiangong space station. While the eventual return of the booster was known, China made the decision to let it fall uncontrolled. They also did not share any tracking data, and the large size of the rocket stage drew concern about fragments possibly causing damage or casualties.

The US Space Command confirmed reentry of the debris from the roughly 30-meter-long core (100 ft.) stage of the Long March 5B occurred at 12:45 p.m. Eastern time (1645 UTC) on July 30, 2022 over the Indian Ocean.

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China has Added a Science Module to its New Space Station

A rendering of the Chinese Tiangong space station. Credit: CMSA

China has expanded their research capabilities on the Tiangong 3 space station by adding a science module, named Wentian. The new laboratory launched from the Wenchang launch center on July 23 and the module docked to the space station on July 25. China’s Manned Space Agency (CMSA) says the astronauts on board will soon be able to conduct experiments in microgravity and life sciences.

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An Ambitious Plan to Find Earth 2.0

When it comes to astronomy, the more instruments watching the sky, the better. Which is why it has been so frustrating that the world’s rising superpower – China – has long lacked focus on space-science missions. In recent years, with some notable exceptions, China’s space agency has focused on lunar exploration and human spaceflight, as well as some remote monitoring capabilities, leaving the technical know-how of arguably the world’s second more capable country on the sidelines when it comes to collecting space science data. Now, a team led by Jian Ge of the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory has suggested the most ambitious Chinese-led space science mission to date. And it plans to search for one of the holy grails of current astronomy research – an exoplanet like Earth.

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