On Feb. 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed within the Jezero Crater on Mars. Like its predecessor, Curiosity, a fellow member of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP), the goal of Perseverance is to seek out evidence of possible life on Mars (past and present). A key part of this mission will be the first sample return ever performed on Mars, where samples obtained by Perseverance will be placed in a cache for later retrieval and return to Earth.
For the past five months, mission controllers at NASA have been driving the rover further from where it landed (Octavia E. Butler Landing Site) and conducting test flights with the Ingenuity helicopter. NASA is now in the midst of making final preparations for Perseverance to collect its first sample of Martian rock. This historic first is expected to begin by the end of the month or by early August and will culminate with the return of the samples to Earth by 2031.
Continue reading “Perseverance is About to Collect the First Sample on Mars That Could Eventually be Returned to Earth”
Planet Earth is currently experiencing an unprecedented warming trend. Average global temperatures are rising at an accelerated rate in response to greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity. These rising temperatures, in turn, result in the release of additional greenhouse gases (like methane), leading to positive feedback loops that threaten to compound the problem further.
This scientific consensus is based on multiple lines of evidence, all of which indicate the need for swift action. According to new research led by members of the NASA Sea Level Change Science Team (N-SLCT) at the University of Hawaii at Manao (UHM), a new Lunar cycle that will begin by the mid-2030s will amplify sea levels already rising due to climate change. This will mean even more coastal flooding during high tides and coastal storms in the near future.
Continue reading “The Moon has Been Mildly Preventing Coastal Erosion, in the 2030s, That Protection Ends”
In the coming decade, NASA and the ESA will be sending two dedicated missions that will explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. These missions are known as the Europa Clipper and the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) missions, which will fulfill a dream that has been decades in the making – searching for possible evidence of life inside Europa. Since the 1970s, astronomers have theorized that this satellite contains a warm-water ocean that could support life.
The case for life in Europa has only been bolstered thanks to multiple flybys and observation campaigns that have been mounted since. According to new research led by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the best way to look for potential signs of life (aka. biosignatures) would be to analyze small impact craters on Europa’s surface. These patches of exposed subsurface ice could point the way towards life that might exist deeper in the moon’s interior.
Continue reading “Micrometeorites Churn up the Surface of Europa. If you Want to Find Life, You’ll Need to dig Down a Meter or So”
Update: Hubble took its first picture since it went into safe mode on June 13th! More info here.
On Sunday, June 13th, the Hubble Space Telescope gave the astronomical community a fright when its payload computer suddenly stopped working. This prompted the main computer to put the telescope and its scientific instruments into safe mode. What followed was many tense weeks as the operations team for the HST tried to figure out what the source of the problem was and come up with a strategy for turning Hubble back on.
On Friday, July 17th, after more than a month of checking, re-checking, and attempted restarts, the operations team for Hubble identified the root of the problem and restored power to the telescope’s hardware and all of its instruments. Science operations can now resume, and the pioneering space telescope that gave us over thirty years of dedicated astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics, still has some life in her!
Continue reading “Good News! NASA Announces that they have Fixed Hubble!”
Every day, there are more indications that show how anthropogenic factors are causing uncomfortable changes in our climate. Here in beautiful British Columbia, this means that wildfires are once again threatening countless acres of forests, communities, and wildlife. By the end of June 2021, more than 40 wildfires were raging across the province, including a rather substantial cluster around the town of Lytton.
Located just 150 km (about 93 mi) northeast of the city of Vancouver, Lytton, had to be evacuated on June 30th after an extreme heatwave led to wildfire sweeping through the area. These wildfires and the impact they were having at the time was being monitored by some of NASA’s Earth Observatory satellites. In a series of images recently shared on their website, they show the fires that were raging near Lytton just hours before the evacuation.
Continue reading “After British Columbia’s Record-Breaking Heatwave, Here Come the Wildfires”
This month, two billionaires will be flying to space aboard their very own commercial launch vehicles. The first to go will be Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who will be a passenger aboard the inaugural crewed flight of the New Shepard on July 20th. Mark Bezos, Jeff’s brother, will be accompanying him on this flight, as will the person who won the auction that wrapped up on June 12th (they bid $28 million for the seat).
On July 1st, Blue Origin announced that the fourth passenger on this historic flight would be Wally Funk, a pioneer in aerospace who trained to become an astronaut back in the 1960s. As part of the “Mercury 13” Woman in Space Program, Funk was one of several qualified test pilots and graduated at the top of her class. And now, sixty years later, she is once again a pioneer since she is the oldest person that has ever flown to space.
Continue reading “Wally Funk From the Mercury 13 Will be Joining Jeff Bezos on his Flight to the Edge of Space”
Things are not looking very good for the Hubble Space Telescope right now. On Sunday, June 13th, the telescope’s payload computer suddenly stopped working, prompting the main computer to put the telescope into safe mode. While the telescope itself and its science instruments remain in working order, science operations have been suspended until the operations team can figure out how to get the payload computer back online.
While attempting to restart the computer, the operations team has also tried to trace the issue to specific components in the payload computer and switch to their backup modules. As of June 30th, the team began looking into the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF) and the Power Control Unit (PCU). Meanwhile, NASA is busy preparing and testing procedures to switch to backup hardware if either of these components are the culprit.
Continue reading “NASA Continues to Try and Rescue Failing Hubble”
Between 2021 and 2024, the James Webb (JWST) and Nancy Grace Roman (RST) space telescopes will be launched to space. As the successors to multiple observatories (like Hubble, Kepler, Spitzer, and others), these missions will carry out some of the most ambitious astronomical surveys ever mounted. This will range from the discovery and characterization of extrasolar planets to investigating the mysteries of Dark Matter and Dark Energy.
In addition to advanced imaging capabilities and high sensitivity, both instruments also carry coronagraphs – instruments that suppress obscuring starlight so exoplanets can be detected and observed directly. According to a selection of papers recently published by the Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems (JATIS), we’re going to need more of these instruments if we truly want to really study exoplanets in detail.
Continue reading “To Take the Best Direct Images of Exoplanets With Space Telescopes, we’re Going to Want Starshades”
For centuries, human beings have speculated about the existence of planetary systems (much like our own) orbiting other stars. However, it has only been in the past few decades that scientists have been able to detect and study these distant worlds. To date, astronomers have used various methods to confirm the existence of 4,422 extrasolar planets in 3,280 star systems, with an additional 7,445 candidates awaiting confirmation.
Naturally, this raises some questions. If there is intelligent life out there that has similar capabilities to our own – and the same burning sense of curiosity – could it be watching us too? Equally important is the question of how many of be able to detect us. According to new research conducted by a team from Cornell and the American Museum of Natural History, there are 2,034 star systems within 326 light-years of Earth that would be watching us right now!
Continue reading “Aliens in 2,034 Nearby Star Systems Could use the Transit Method to see Earth”
For over thirty years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been in continuous operation in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and revealing never-before-seen aspects of the Universe. In addition to capturing breathtaking images of our Solar System and discovering extrasolar planets, Hubble also probed the deepest reaches of time and space, causing astrophysicists to revise many of their previously-held theories about the cosmos.
Unfortunately, Hubble may finally be reaching the end of its lifespan. In recent weeks, NASA identified a problem with the telescope’s payload computer which suddenly stopped working. This caused Hubble and all of its scientific instruments to go into safe mode and shut down. After many days of tests and checks, technicians at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center have yet to identify the root of the problem and get Hubble back online.
Continue reading “There’s a Problem With Hubble, and NASA Hasn’t Been Able to fix it yet”