NASA Confirms That 2023 was the Hottest Summer on Record

This map depicts global temperature anomalies for meteorological summer in 2023 (June, July, and August). It shows how much warmer or cooler different regions of Earth were compared to the baseline average from 1951 to 1980. Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory/Lauren Dauphin

Yesterday, NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) announced that the summer of 2003 was the hottest on record. This year saw a massive heat wave that swept across much of the world and was felt in South America, Japan, Europe, and the U.S. This exacerbated deadly wildfires in Canada and Hawaii (predominantly on the island of Maui) and are likely to have contributed to severe rainfall in Italy, Greece, and Central Europe. This is the latest in a string of record-setting summers that are the direct result of anthropogenic climate change.

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Following Up on Report, NASA Takes On a Bigger Role in UFO Research

The Milky Way spreads out in the sky over the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, which experts say could play a role in the search for unidentified anomalous phenomena in the solar system. (Credit: Bruno C. Quint via Rubin Observatory)

In response to a new report from an independent panel, NASA says it has appointed a director in charge of research into UFOs — now known as unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAPs — and will work with other agencies to widen the net for collecting UAP data.

“This is the first time that NASA has taken concrete action to seriously look into UAP,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today during a news briefing at NASA’s headquarters in Washington.

NASA initially kept the name of its UAP research director under wraps, but later in the day, the agency identified him as Mark McInerney, who has previously served as NASA’s liaison to the Department of Defense on the UAP issue.

Nelson downplayed the idea that aliens were behind any of the anomalous phenomena recorded to date, but he pledged to keep an open mind.

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Some Lunar Regolith is Better for Living Off the Land on the Moon

Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. Credit: NASA

Between now and the mid-2030s, multiple space agencies hope to send crewed missions to the Moon. of These plans all involve establishing bases around the Moon’s southern polar region, including the Artemis Base Camp and the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). These facilities will enable a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development,” according to the NASA Artemis Program mission statement. In all cases, plans for building facilities on the surface call for a process known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), where local resources are used as building materials.

This presents a bit of a problem since not all lunar soil (regolith) is well-suited for construction. Much like engineering and construction projects here on Earth, builders need to know what type of soil they are building on and if it can be used to make concrete. In a recent study, planetary scientist Kevin M. Cannon proposed a lunar soil classification scheme for space resource utilization. This could have significant implications for future missions to the Moon, where it would help inform the construction of bases, habitats, and other facilities based on soil type and location.

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Every Night and Every Morning, the Moon Rumbles With Tiny Quakes

Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. How will they store power on the Moon? 3D printed batteries could help. Credit: NASA
Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. How will they store power on the Moon? 3D printed batteries could help. Credit: NASA

The Moon was geologically active between 3.7 and 2.5 billion years ago, experiencing quakes, volcanic eruptions, and outgassing. Thanks to the Moon being an airless body, evidence of this past has been carefully preserved in the form of extinct volcanoes, lava tubes, and other features. While the Moon has been geologically inert for billions of years, it still experiences small seismic events due to tidal flexing (because of Earth’s gravitational pull) and temperature variations. These latter events happen regularly and are known as “moonquakes.”

Thanks to the Apollo missions, scientists have measured this activity using seismometers placed on the surface. In a recent NASA-funded study, a team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) reexamined the seismic data with a machine-learning model. This revealed that moonquakes occur with precise regularity, coinciding with the Sun rising to its peak position in the sky and then slowly setting. In this respect, moonquakes are like a “Lunar Alarm Clock,” which could be useful for future missions and lunar settlers!

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Follow the Fall 2023 Return of Comet 103P Hartley

Comet Hartley
Comet 103/P Hartley encounters the Perseus Double Cluster in 2010. Image credit: Kevin Jung

Catch periodic cosmic interloper 103P Hartley while you can.

Periodic comets are like old friends, back for a visit. We have a get together with just such a denizen of the cometary league, as Comet 103P Hartley makes a favorable apparition in late 2023.

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China Reveals Its Lunar Lander Design

Visualization of the ILRS, from the CNSA Guide to Partnership (June 2021). Credit: CNSA

Last May, as part of the nation’s growing presence in space, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) announced that it had established a Human Lunar Space Program that would send crewed missions to the Moon and culminate in the creation of a lunar base. This came shortly after China and Russia announced that they would be collaborating on future lunar missions, which included the creation of a base around the southern polar region. In June 2022, they announced that this base would be named the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) and released a guide explaining how international partners could join.

On Thursday, August 31st, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) released artists’ renderings of their next-generation spacecraft and lunar lander. The spacecraft will consist of two sections, a reentry capsule, and a service section, while the lunar lander will include a landing section and a propulsion section. According to a statement released by the Agency, these vehicles will deliver crews to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and allow China to send crewed missions to the lunar surface. The release of these images confirms what has been suspected for some time: that China fully intends to land taikonauts on the Moon before 2030.

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The Space Station is Getting Gigabit Internet

NASA's ILLUMA-T payload communicating with LCRD over laser signals. Credit: NASA/Dave Ryan

Aboard the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts and cosmonauts from many nations are performing vital research that will allow humans to live and work in space. For more than 20 years, the ISS has been a unique platform for conducting microgravity, biology, agriculture, and communications experiments. This includes the ISS broadband internet service, which transmits information at a rate of 600 megabits per second (Mbps) – ten times the global average for internet speeds!

In 2021, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) began integrating a technology demonstrator aboard the ISS that will test optical (laser) communications and data transfer. This system currently consists of Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) and will soon be upgraded with the addition of the Integrated LCRD Low Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T). Once complete, this system will be the first two-way, end-to-end laser relay system, giving the ISS a gigabit internet connection!

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Exploring Io’s Volcanic Activity via Hubble and Webb Telescopes

Concept image of the various features within Jupiter’s surrounding environment that this new science campaign will examine, including its massive magnetic field, along with Io’s neutral clouds and plasma torus. (Credit: Southwest Research Institute/John Spencer)

The two most powerful space telescopes ever built, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and Hubble Space Telescope, are about to gather data about the most volcanically body in the entire solar system, Jupiter’s first Galilean Moon, Io. This data will be used in combination with upcoming flybys of Io by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which is currently surveying the Jupiter system and is slated to conduct these flybys later this year and early 2024. The purpose of examining this small, volcanic moon with these two powerful telescopes and one orbiting spacecraft is for scientists to gain a better understanding of how Io’s escaping atmosphere interacts with Jupiter’s surrounding magnetic and plasma environment.

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JWST Plucks One Single Star out of a Galaxy Seen 12.5 Billion Years Ago

The massive gravity of galaxy cluster MACS0647 acts as a cosmic lens to bend and magnify light from the more distant MACS0647-JD system. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

After years of build-up and anticipation, the James Webb Space Telescope finally launched into orbit on December 25th, 2021 (what a Christmas present, huh?). Since then, the stunning images and data it has returned have proven beyond a doubt that it was the best Christmas present ever! After its first year of operations, the JWST has lived up to one of its primary objectives: to observe the first stars and galaxies that populated the Universe. The next-generation observatory has accomplished that by setting new distance records and revealing galaxies that existed less than 1 billion years after the Big Bang!

These studies are essential to charting the evolution of the cosmos and resolving issues with our cosmological models, like the Hubble Tension and the mysteries of Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Well, hang onto your hats because things have reached a new level of awesome! In a recent study, an international team of scientists isolated a well-magnified star candidate in a galaxy that appears as it was almost 12.5 billion years ago. The detection of a star that existed when the Universe was only ~1.2 billion years old showcases the abilities of the JWST and offers a preview of what’s to come!

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Ancient Cracked Mud Found on Mars

A panorama image taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a rock target nicknamed “Pontours” where researchers identified preserved, ancient mud cracks hypothesized to have shaped throughout lengthy cycles of wet and dry environments over many years. These cycles are hypothesized to support conditions where life could form. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/IRAP)

A recent study published in Nature examines how mud cracks observed on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover could provide insight into how life on the Red Planet could have formed in its ancient past. On Earth, mud cracks have traditionally been linked to cycles of wet and dry environments that assisted in developing the complex processes responsible for microbial life to take hold. This study was conducted by an international team of researchers and holds the potential to help scientists better understand the geological and chemical processes that might have existed in Mars’ ancient past, up to billions of years ago.

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