space exploration (31)

Planet Video...

 

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Exoplanets, Space Exploration

In 2008, HR8799 was the first extrasolar planetary system ever directly imaged. Now, the famed system stars in its very own video.

Using observations collected over the past 12 years, Northwestern University astrophysicist Jason Wang has assembled a stunning time-lapse video of the family of four planets — each more massive than Jupiter — orbiting their star. The video gives viewers an unprecedented glimpse into planetary motion.

“It’s usually difficult to see planets in orbit,” Wang said. “For example, it isn’t apparent that Jupiter or Mars orbit our sun because we live in the same system and don’t have a top-down view. Astronomical events happen too quickly or slowly to capture in a movie. But this video shows planets moving on a human time scale. I hope it enables people to enjoy something wondrous.”

An expert in exoplanet imaging, Wang is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA).

Watch distant worlds dance around their sun, Amanda Morris, Northwestern University.

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Reimagining ET...

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Life on other planets might not look like any beings we’re used to on Earth. It may even be unrecognizable at first to scientists searching for it. Credit: William Hand

Topics: Astrobiology, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Planetary Science, SETI, Space Exploration

Sarah Stewart Johnson was a college sophomore when she first stood atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano. Its dried lava surface differed from the eroded, tree-draped mountains of her home state of Kentucky. Johnson wandered away from the other young researchers she was with and toward a distant ridge of the 13,800-foot summit. Looking down, she turned over a rock with the toe of her boot. To her surprise, a tiny fern lived underneath it, sprouting from ash and cinder cones. “It felt like it stood for all of us, huddled under that rock, existing against the odds,” Johnson says.

Her true epiphany, though, wasn’t about the hardiness of life on Earth or the hardships of being human: It was about aliens. Even if a landscape seemed strange and harsh from a human perspective, other kinds of life might find it quite comfortable. The thought opened up the cosmic real estate and the variety of life she imagined might be beyond Earth’s atmosphere. “It was on that trip that the idea of looking for life in the universe began to make sense to me,” Johnson says.

Later, Johnson became a professional at looking. As an astronomy postdoc at Harvard University in the late 2000s and early 2010s, she investigated how astronomers might use genetic sequencing—detecting and identifying DNA and RNA—to find evidence of aliens. Johnson found the work exciting (the future alien genome project!), but it also made her wonder: What if extraterrestrial life didn’t have DNA, RNA, or other nucleic acids? What if their cells got instructions in some other biochemical way?

As an outlet for heretical thoughts like this, Johnson started writing in style too lyrical and philosophical for scientific journals. Her typed musings would later turn into the 2020 popular science book The Sirens of Mars. Inside its pages, she probed the idea that other planets were truly other. So their inhabitants might be very different, at a fundamental and chemical level, from anything in this world. “Even places that seem familiar—like Mars, a place that we think we know intimately—can completely throw us for a loop,” she says. “What if that’s the life case?”

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life as We Don’t Know It, Sarah Scoles, Scientific American

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Life Detector...

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An Orbitrap cell. Credit: Ricardo Arevalo

Topics: Astrobiology, Astronautics, Biology, Laser, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

As space missions delve deeper into the outer solar system, the need for more compact, resource-conserving, and accurate analytical tools have become increasingly critical—especially as the hunt for extraterrestrial life and habitable planets or moons continues.

A University of Maryland–led team developed a new instrument specifically tailored to the needs of NASA space missions. Their mini laser-sourced analyzer is significantly smaller and more resource efficient than its predecessors—all without compromising the quality of its ability to analyze planetary material samples and potential biological activity onsite. The team's paper on this new device was published in the journal Nature Astronomy on January 16, 2023.

Weighing only about 17 pounds, the instrument is a physically scaled-down combination of two important tools for detecting signs of life and identifying compositions of materials: a pulsed ultraviolet laser that removes small amounts of material from a planetary sample and an Orbitrap analyzer that delivers high-resolution data about the chemistry of the examined materials.

"The Orbitrap was originally built for commercial use," explained Ricardo Arevalo, lead author of the paper and an associate professor of geology at UMD. "You can find them in the labs of pharmaceutical, medical and proteomic industries. The one in my own lab is just under 400 pounds, so they're quite large, and it took us eight years to make a prototype that could be used efficiently in space—significantly smaller and less resource-intensive but still capable of cutting-edge science."

The team's new gadget shrinks down the original Orbitrap while pairing it with laser desorption mass spectrometry (LDMS)—techniques that have yet to be applied in an extraterrestrial planetary environment. The new device boasts the same benefits as its larger predecessors but is streamlined for space exploration and onsite planetary material analysis, according to Arevalo.

Small laser device can help detect signs of life on other planets, University of Maryland, Phys.org.

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At Horizon's Edge...

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An artist’s concept of New Horizons during the spacecraft’s planned encounter with Pluto and its moon Charon. The craft’s miniature cameras, radio science experiments, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers, and space plasma experiments would characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto’s atmosphere in detail. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

Only two spacecraft have ever left our solar system and lived to tell the tale. In 2012 and 2019, NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft respectively broke through the heliopause, the boundary at which our sun’s sphere of influence gives way to the interstellar medium. They have sent back remarkable riches from this distant location, humanity’s first foray into the limitless bounds beyond our solar system’s edge. Hot pursuit is a far more advanced vehicle, sporting improved instruments, updated optics, and even a means to sample the interstellar medium itself. New Horizons was launched from Earth in 2006 on a mission to visit Pluto, arriving in 2015 and revealing incredible details during its all-too-brief flyby. The spacecraft has continued its cruise toward interstellar frontiers ever since. It has now begun its second extended mission. It is soon set to wake up from a deep hibernation, opening a wealth of new scientific opportunities in the outer solar system. “It takes a long time to get to where our spacecraft is,” says Alice Bowman, mission operations manager for New Horizons at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Maryland. “When you have a spacecraft that is out in that part of the solar system, it is a huge asset to the scientific community. There are so many unique things that a spacecraft that is out that far can do. We definitely want to take advantage of that.”

For New Horizons, those “unique things” include unprecedented studies of the planets Uranus and Neptune, sampling of the local dust, studies of the background light in the universe, and more. The sum total will be a new phase of the mission that is “really unique and interdisciplinary in nature,” says Alan Stern, the lead on the mission at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Texas. In October, this two-year second extended mission officially began, but in 2023 it will pick up the pace as the spacecraft exits hibernation and begins its scientific program in earnest. “There were lots of good ideas for how to do things in astrophysics, heliophysics, and planetary science,” Stern says. “We took the very best of those.” There is even the tantalizing possibility of visiting another object in the Kuiper Belt, the region of asteroids and icy objects that lurks beyond Neptune, in which New Horizons has already visited one object—Arrokoth in 2019—after its Pluto encounter. Even without such a possibility, there was more than enough reason for NASA to extend the mission. “New Horizons is at a unique location in the solar system with an amazing suite of functioning instruments on board,” says Becky McCauley Rench, New Horizons program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “[It] can provide valuable insights to the heliosphere and the solar wind, astronomical observations of the cosmic background radiation, and valuable data about Uranus and Neptune that can be applied to our knowledge about ice giant planets.”

NASA’s Pluto Spacecraft Begins New Mission at the Solar System’s Edge, Jonathan O'Callaghan, Scientific American

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Cosmic Family Portraits...

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Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and Jupiter ERS Team; Image processing by Ricardo Hueso/UPV/EHU and Judy Schmidt

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

Jupiter's rings, its moons Amalthea (the bright point at left), Adrastea (the faint dot at the left tip of rings), and even background galaxies are visible in this image from JWST's NIRCam instrument. Whiter areas on the planet represent regions with more cloud cover, which reflects sunlight, especially Jupiter's famous Great Red Spot; darker spots have fewer clouds. Perhaps the most stunning feature is the blue glow of the planet's auroras at the north and south poles. This light shows results when high-energy particles streaming off the sun hit atoms in Jupiter's atmosphere. Auroras are found on any planet with an atmosphere and a magnetic field, which steers the sun's particles to the poles; besides Earth and Jupiter, telescopes have seen auroras on Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

The Best of JWST’s Cosmic Portraits, Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American

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The Way It's Supposed To Be...

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Topics: Civilization, International Space Station, Politics, Space Exploration

ALMATY, March 30 (Reuters) - A U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts safely landed in Kazakhstan on Wednesday after leaving the International Space Station aboard the same capsule despite heightened antagonism between Moscow and Washington over the conflict in Ukraine.

The flight -- carrying NASA's Mark Vande Hei and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov back to Earth -- had been closely watched to determine whether escalating strife had spilled over into longtime cooperation in space between the two former Cold War adversaries.

Russian space agency Roscosmos broadcast footage of the landing from the Kazakh steppe and said a group of technical and medical specialists had been dispatched to help the astronauts out of the capsule.

"The crew is feeling good after landing, according to rescuers," Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Telegram messenger.

Vande Hei, who had completed his second ISS mission, logged a U.S. space-endurance record of 355 consecutive days in orbit, surpassing the previous 340-day record set by astronaut Scott Kelly in 2016, according to NASA.

U.S. astronaut, two Russian cosmonauts return home from ISS, Olzhas Auyezov and Steve Gorman, Reuters

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Proxima Oceans...

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An artist’s impression of the newly discovered planet orbiting Proxima Centauri.Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Exoplanets, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Astronomers have discovered a third planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the star closest to the Sun. Called Proxima Centauri d, the newly spotted world is probably smaller than Earth and could have oceans of liquid water.

“It’s showing that the nearest star probably has a very rich planetary system,” says Guillem Anglada-Escudé, an astronomer at the Institute of Space Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, who led the team that, in 2016, discovered the first planet to be seen orbiting Proxima Centauri.

Astronomer João Faria and his collaborators detected Proxima Centauri d by measuring tiny shifts in the spectrum of light from the star as the planet’s gravity pulled at it during orbit. The team used a state-of-the-art instrument called the Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO) at the Very Large Telescope, a system of four 8.2-meter telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Cerro Paranal, Chile. The results were published on 10 February in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Earth-like planet spotted orbiting Sun’s closest star, Davide Castelvecchi, Nature

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Martian Windmills...

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Artist's rendition of a future colony on Mars., e71lena via Shutterstock

Topics: Applied Physics, Energy, Mars, Space Exploration

(Inside Science) -- Mars is known for its dust storms, which can cause problems for lander equipment and block out the sun that fuels solar panels. These punishing storms, which can last for weeks, have already caused damage to equipment and even killed NASA’s Opportunity rover. But they could also be dangerous to astronauts on the ground, who would rely on solar power for oxygen, heat, and water cleansing during future missions.

Vera Schorbach, a professor of wind energy at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany, was curious to see whether wind turbines could harness the power of these storms, filling in for solar panels on the Red Planet during times of need.

"I asked myself, 'Why don't they have a wind turbine if they have dust storms,'" said Schorbach, the lead author of a study about the potential for wind power on Mars published recently in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Could martian dust storms help astronauts keep the lights on? Joshua Rapp Leam, Astronomy/Inside Science

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HETs...

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FIG. 1. Temporal evolution of chamber pressure assuming nominal operation for 30 s followed by a 40 s interval with flow rate reduced 100×. The colors correspond to 1 kW, 10 kW, 100 kW, and 1 MW power levels. The process is then repeated.

Topics: Applied Physics, Computer Modeling, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Abstract

Hall effect thrusters operating at power levels in excess of several hundreds of kilowatts have been identified as enabling technologies for applications such as lunar tugs, large satellite orbital transfer vehicles, and solar system exploration. These large thrusters introduce significant testing challenges due to the propellant flow rate exceeding the pumping speed available in most laboratories. Even with proposed upgrades in mind, the likelihood that multiple vacuum facilities will exist in the near future to allow long-duration testing of high-power Hall thrusters operating at power levels in excess of 100 kW remains extremely low. In this article, we numerically explore the feasibility of testing Hall thrusters in a quasi-steady mode defined by pulsing the mass flow rate between a nominal and a low value. Our simulations indicate that sub-second durations available before the chamber reaches critical pressure are sufficiently long to achieve the steady-state current and flow field distributions, allowing us to characterize thruster performance and the near plume region.

I. INTRODUCTION

Hall effect thrusters (HETs) are spacecraft electric propulsion (EP) devices routinely used for orbit raising, repositioning, and solar system exploration applications. To date, the highest power Hall thruster flown is the 4.5 kW BPT-4000 launched in 2010 aboard the Advanced EHF satellite1 (which the HET helped to deliver to the correct orbit after a failure of the primary chemical booster), although a 13 kW system is being readied for near-term flight operation as part of the Lunar Gateway,2 and thrusters at 503,4–100 kWs power levels have been demonstrated in the laboratory. Solar cell advancements and a renewed interest in nuclear power have led the aerospace community to consider the use of Hall thrusters operating at even higher power levels. Multi-hundred kW EP systems would offer an economical solution for LEO to GEO orbit raising or for the deployment of an Earth-to-Moon delivery tug, and power levels in excess of 600 kW could be utilized for crewed transport to Mars.5–9 While such power levels could be delivered using existing devices, a single large thruster requires less system mass and has a reduced footprint than a cluster of smaller devices.10

Quasi-steady testing approach for high‐power Hall thrusters, Lubos Brieda, Yevgeny Raitses, Edgar Choueiri, Roger Myers, Michael Keidar, Journal of Applied Physics

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Life As We Don't Know It...

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The depiction of tentacled extraterrestrials (above) in the recent science-fiction film, "Arrival, "indicates divergence from aliens reported by supposed eyewitness accounts. Paramount. Source: Wrinkles, tentacles and oval eyes: How depictions of aliens have evolved, CNN Style

Topics: Astrobiology, Philosophy, SETI, Space Exploration

In my freshman seminar at Harvard last semester, I mentioned that the nearest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri, emits mostly infrared radiation and has a planet, Proxima b, in the habitable zone around it. As a challenge to the students, I asked: “Suppose there are creatures crawling on the surface of Proxima b? What would their infrared-sensitive eyes look like?” The brightest student in class responded within seconds with an image of the mantis shrimp, which possesses infrared vision. The shrimp’s eyes look like two ping-pong balls connected with cords to its head. “It looks like an alien,” she whispered.

When trying to imagine something we’ve never seen, we often default to something we have seen. For that reason, in our search for extraterrestrial life, we are usually looking for life as we know it. But is there a path for expanding our imagination to life as we don’t know it?

In physics, an analogous path was already established a century ago and turned out to be successful in many contexts. It involves conducting laboratory experiments that reveal the underlying laws of physics, which in turn apply to the entire universe. For example, around the same time when the neutron was discovered in the laboratory of James Chadwick in 1932, Lev Landau suggested that there might be stars made of neutrons. Astronomers realized subsequently that there are, in fact, some 100 million neutron stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone—and a billion times more in the observable universe. Recently, the LIGO experiment detected gravitational wave signals from collisions between neutron stars at cosmological distances. It is now thought that such collisions produce the precious gold that is forged into wedding bands. The moral of this story is that physicists were able to imagine something new in the universe at large and search for it in the sky by following insights gained from laboratory experiments on Earth.

How to Search for Life as We Don't Know It, Avi Loeb, Scientific American

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Uhura to Proctor...

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Topics: Diversity in Science, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, SpaceX, Star Trek

Dr. King revealed to Nichols that TOS was the only show that he and his wife, Coretta, allowed their little children to stay up and watch. Further, he told Nichols what the show meant to him personally and detailed the importance of her having created a character with "dignity and knowledge." Nichols took it all in and finally said, “Thank you so much, Dr. King. I’m really going to miss my co-stars.” Dr. King's smile, Nichols recalled, vanished from his face.

"He said, 'What are you talking about?'" the actress explained. "I told him. He said, 'You cannot,' and so help me, this man practically repeated verbatim what Gene said. He said, 'Don’t you see what this man is doing, who has written this? This is the future. He has established us as we should be seen. Three hundred years from now, we are here. We are marching. And this is the first step. When we see you, we see ourselves, and we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.' He goes on and I’m looking at him and my knees are buckling. I said, 'I…, I…' And he said, 'You turn on your television and the news comes on and you see us marching and peaceful, you see the peaceful civil disobedience, and you see the dogs and see the fire hoses, and we all know they cannot destroy us because we are there in the 23rd century.'

Nichelle Nichols Remembers Dr. King, the StarTrek.com staff

Note: At this posting, she made history yesterday.

Sian Proctor is making history as the first-ever Black female spacecraft pilot. 

Proctor, a geoscientist, artist, and science communicator, has been paving the way in the space sector for decades. Now, years after being a finalist in NASA's astronaut candidate program back in 2009, she is realizing her dream of becoming an astronaut as she launches to orbit with the Inspiration4 mission tonight (Sept. 15).

While the mission itself is making history as the first all-civilian mission to launch to orbit, Proctor is accomplishing a major first herself as the first Black female spacecraft pilot. 

"I'm really grateful to be here and to have this opportunity," Proctor said Sept. 14 during a news conference with reporters. "There have been three Black female astronauts that have made it to space, and knowing that I'm going to be the fourth means that I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream but also inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color and really get them to think about reaching for the stars and what that means."

Sian Proctor makes history with SpaceX's Inspiration4 as first-ever Black female spacecraft pilot, Chelsea Gohd, Space.com

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Yonder Water Worlds...

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Hot and humid The surface of a Hycean planet as interpreted by an artist. (Courtesy: Amanda Smith, University of Cambridge).

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Astrobiology, Exoplanets, Space Exploration

Hot, ocean-covered exoplanets with hydrogen-rich atmospheres could harbor life and may be more common than planets that are Earth-like in size, temperature, and atmospheric composition. According to astronomers at the University of Cambridge, UK, this newly defined class of exoplanets could boost the search for life elsewhere in the universe by broadening the search criteria and redefining which biosignatures are important.

Astronomers define the habitable or “Goldilocks” zone as the region where an exoplanet is neither too close nor too far from its host star to have liquid water on its surface – water being the perfect solvent for many forms of life. Previous studies of planetary habitability have focused primarily on searching for Earth-like exoplanets and evidence that they could harbor the kind of chemistry found in life on Earth. However, it has so far proven difficult to detect atmospheric signatures from Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars.

Potentially habitable mini-Neptunes

Larger exoplanets are easier to detect than smaller, Earth-sized ones, and exoplanets around 1.6‒4 times bigger than the Earth, with masses of up to 15 Earth masses and temperatures that in some cases exceed 2000 K, are relatively common. These planets are known as mini-Neptune's as they are similar to the ice giant planets in our solar system.

Previous studies suggested that the high pressures and temperatures beneath these planets’ hydrogen-rich atmospheres were incompatible with life. However, based on their analysis of an exoplanet called K2-18b, exoplanet scientist Nikku Madhusudhan and colleagues at Cambridge say that life could, in fact, exist on a subset of mini-Neptunes that meet specific criteria.

This subset, which the researchers dub “Hycean” (hydrogen + ocean) planets, consists of planets that have radii up to 2.6 times larger than Earth’s and are capable of harboring vast oceans under atmospheres dominated by molecular hydrogen and water vapor. Such oceans could cover the whole planet and reach depths greater than the Earth’s oceans, and the researchers say that the conditions within them could be compatible with some forms of Earth-based microbial life. Hycean planets tidally locked with their host star could also exhibit habitable conditions on their permanent night side.

Astronomers define new class of potentially habitable ocean worlds, Chaneil James, Physics World

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Biggie's Starship...

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Topics: Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Star Trek

China is investigating how to build ultra-large spacecraft that are up to 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) long. But how feasible is the idea, and what would be the use of such a massive spacecraft?

The project is part of a wider call for research proposals from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, a funding agency managed by the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology. A research outline posted on the foundation’s website described such enormous spaceships as “major strategic aerospace equipment for the future use of space resources, exploration of the mysteries of the universe, and long-term living in orbit.”

The foundation wants scientists to conduct research into new, lightweight design methods that could limit the amount of construction material that has to be lofted into orbit, and new techniques for safely assembling such massive structures in space. If funded, the feasibility study would run for five years and have a budget of 15 million yuan ($2.3 million).

The project might sound like science fiction, but former NASA chief technologist Mason Peck said the idea isn’t entirely off the wall, and the challenge is more a question of engineering than fundamental science.

“I think it’s entirely feasible,” Peck, now a professor of aerospace engineering at Cornell University, told Live Science. “I would describe the problems here not as insurmountable impediments, but rather problems of scale.”

By far the biggest challenge would be the price tag, noted Peck, due to the huge cost of launching objects and materials into space. The International Space Station (ISS), which is only 361 feet (110 meters) wide at its widest point according to NASA, cost roughly $100 billion to build, Peck said, so constructing something 10 times larger would strain even the most generous national space budget.

China Wants to Build a Mega Spaceship That’s Nearly a Mile Long, Edd Gent, Scientific American

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Gene Centennial...

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Image source: The Roddenberry Foundation link below

Topics: Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Star Trek

NASA is helping the legacy of inspiration, hope, and diversity fostered by the creator of Star Trek to live long and prosper. The agency will observe the late Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday with a special program called, Celebrating Gene Roddenberry: Star Trek's Bridge and NASA – a panel discussion airing on NASA Television, the agency’s website, the NASA App, and NASA social media at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 19.

The program includes introductory remarks by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson followed by a panel discussion moderated by Rod Roddenberry, son of Gene Roddenberry. Special guest George Takei, a Star Trek actor, and activist will participate in the question-and-answer session.

Coinciding with the program, NASA will broadcast into space a 1976 recording of Gene Roddenberry's remarks on diversity and inclusion through the agency’s Deep Space Network of radio antennas. NASA also is inviting people on social media to join in celebrating Roddenberry’s 100th birthday on Thursday by posting a Vulcan salute selfie with the hashtag #Roddenberry100.

The Roddenberry Foundation Centennial Celebration

NASA

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Roaming Goldilocks...

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Image Source: Link below

Topics: Astrophysics, Planetary Science, SETI, Space Exploration

Even as a child, before he devoted his life to the search for extraterrestrial life, Frank Drake wondered whether Earth was alone in its ability to harbor life. He wasn’t the first or the only one to wonder. There’s a reason so many are fascinated by the question: Its answer helps reveal humankind’s place in the cosmos.

Drake’s musings inspired him to pursue astronomy, serving as director of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and president of the SETI Institute — which, as the acronym suggests, is devoted to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and exploring the possibilities of life elsewhere in the universe. Drake is perhaps most famous for his eponymous equation — an estimate of how many alien civilizations might exist in our galaxy. Presented in 1961, the equation is generally considered as the start of a new era of searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.

But decades after the invention of that famous equation, Drake has conceded that his estimates were overly conservative. Among the too-moderate assumptions was that a potentially inhabited other world must be orbiting a star — overlooking the possibility of life on rogue planets.

Sometimes called “nomads of the galaxy” or “orphan planets,” these cold, dark worlds careen through space with no home, no solar system, no sun to orbit. Long ago, they formed around a star but were flung out, abandoned by their parents. There are billions of rogue planets — astronomers estimate there could be at least one for every star — wandering the galaxy.

It may seem futile to search for life in such cold, desolate environments, but over the last two decades, astronomers have come up with a number of possible scenarios that would make life possible on a planet without a star.

Can Life Exist on a Rogue Planet? Katie McCormick, Discovery Magazine

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ISAAC...

NASA’s Integrated System for Autonomous and Adaptive Caretaking, or ISAAC, is advancing new technology for robots to take care of spacecraft. Researchers recently demonstrated the tech aboard the International Space Station using Astrobee, NASA’s free-flying robotic assistants.
Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center

 

Topics: International Space Station, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

 

In April 2021, Bumble, one of the free-flying Astrobee robots aboard the International Space Station, was put to the test to investigate a simulated anomaly. In the simulation, the station’s life support systems detected a high concentration of carbon dioxide. A similar situation, in reality, could be very dangerous for the seven people who are living and working aboard the microgravity laboratory.

 

During the test, the small, cube-shaped robot adeptly navigated the station to find the location designated as a "vent" used for cabin air circulation and used computer vision to automatically detect the foreign object blocking the vent – an "astronaut sock," represented by a printed image of a sock. Then, Bumble called for help to clear the blockage. For its next test, Bumble completed a survey of Bay 6 of the space station’s Japanese Exploration Module, building a high-resolution multi-sensor 3D map. During this journey, Bumble found itself bumping into and untangling itself from stray cables, and coping with simulated space-to-ground communication interruptions. It ultimately persevered and completed its mission objectives, with a little timely help from ground operators.

 

This simulated fault scenario marked the end of the first phase of testing for software designed to enable autonomous operations of a spacecraft’s operating and robotic systems. The software’s name is ISAAC – the Integrated System for Autonomous and Adaptive Caretaking.

 

"ISAAC is far more than just a management tool for our robotics and spacecraft systems," said Trey Smith, the project manager for ISAAC at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. "Our long-term vision is that it can transform a spacecraft into an autonomous robotic system itself."

 

NASA's future Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond will take humans farther than they ever have before – and a host of robotic and mechanical systems will go with them. On the space station, much closer to home, astronauts have been able to stay full time, surpassing 20 years of continuous human presence – something that won’t be possible in deep space for some time. How can future spacecraft operate smoothly without that consistent human touch? ISAAC aims to deliver technologies to enable remote and autonomous caretaking during long periods of time when the astronauts are not aboard to perform maintenance, logistics management, and utilization tasks, as well as when communicating with ground controllers is limited or simply unavailable.

 

Meet ISAAC, Integrating Robots with the Space Stations of the Future, Frank Tavares, NASA's Ames Research Center

 

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A Voyage In Her Lifetime...

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Image Source: Link in the article text

 

Topics: International Space Station, Interstellar, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Star Trek

 

Light Sails were first mentioned in the year 1610 in a letter by astronomer Johannes Kepler to his friend, Galileo Galilei. “With ships or sails built for heavenly winds, some will venture into that great vastness.” In his character of Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Avery Brooks used his Starfleet engineering prowess deciphering ancient text to recreate an ancient Bajoran solar sail in the episode "Explorers." The possibilities have vacillated between science and fiction ever since.

 

I've enjoyed reading the speculation by Avi Loeb, Chair of Harvard University's Department of Astronomy on the Oumuamua object in Extraterrestrial. I've also enjoyed the healthy counter debate, as that's how ideas in science are refined before they become laws, doctrine, or accepted universal theorems.

 

On the "billionaire space race": Eli Musk started it with his SpaceX rocket system. It would be nice in current geopolitical tensions not to rely so much on Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the ISS. Brian Branson and Jeff Bezos have probably opened up space tourism, but in the foreseeable near-future and exorbitant price tag, it will probably be a dalliance of the wealthy. Desktop computers used to cost between $2,000 - 3,000, cell phones irradiating Gordon Gekko's skull in the movie "Wall Street" used to be the size of Canada. Even the fictional Zefram Cochrane needed a financier, Micah Brack, to get Warp One going. Whether that leads to a utopia of limitless energy, the end to poverty, money, life extension, and eliminating inequality is yet to be seen.

 

The article title, Breakthrough Starshot: A voyage to the stars within our lifetimes, Astronomy Magazine, takes into account the bane of our spacefaring existence: mass, quite literally a "drag," and cannot be compensated for by technobabble "inertia dampeners" or artificial gravity. We are currently accelerating at 9.8 meters per square second to the Earth's center, but we're used to it after living here a while. Twenty percent of the speed of light would get a nano solar sail craft propelled by a high-energy laser to Alpha Centauri in twenty years but would turn human passengers (if any were that small) into DNA goo against the bulkhead. Starshot launching in 2060 means my granddaughter will be forty-one, her parents might be grandparents, and I would have to be a spry ninety-eight to witness it. "Our lifetimes" must be humankind, that is if we haven't overextended our resources to make the endeavor fruitless. From the end of the article:

 

But as award-winning Cosmos writer and producer Ann Druyan, a member of the Breakthrough Starshot advisory board, said during a 2016 press conference announcing the initiative: “Science thinks in timescales of billions of years. And yet, we live in a society that only thinks in terms of, generally, the balance sheet of the next quarter or the next election. … So, this kind of thinking that looks at a horizon that’s 35 years away — possibly 20, possibly 50 — is exactly what’s called for now, because it’s this kind of multigenerational enterprise that nets us such great results.”

 

Godspeed, "Little Bit."

 

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Ganymede...

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A global view of Ganymede, based on data gathered by NASA’s Voyager 1, Voyager 2, and Galileo spacecraft. Credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Wheaton, NASA and JPL-Caltech

Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

Ganymede, get ready for your close-up.

No probe has gotten a good view of Jupiter’s largest moon since 2000 when NASA’s Galileo spacecraft swung past the strange world, which is the largest moon in the whole solar system. But on Monday (June 7),  at 1:35 p.m. EDT (1735 GMT), NASA’s Juno spacecraft will skim just 645 miles (1,038 kilometers) above Ganymede’s surface, gathering a host of observations as it does so.

“Juno carries a suite of sensitive instruments capable of seeing Ganymede in ways never before possible," principal investigator Scott Bolton, a space scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a NASA statement. “By flying so close, we will bring the exploration of Ganymede into the 21st century.”

Ganymede is a fascinating world for scientists. Despite its status as a moon, it’s larger than the tiny planet Mercury and is the only moon to sport a magnetic field, a bubble of charged particles dubbed a magnetosphere. Until now, the only spacecraft to get a good look at Ganymede were NASA’s twin Voyager probes in 1979 and the Galileo spacecraft, which flew past the moon in 2000.

NASA’s Juno Set for Close Encounter with Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede, Meghan Bartels, SPACE.com, Scientific American

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The Lighthouse...

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Creators Brian Haberlin and David Hine take "Jules Verne's Lighthouse" into the depths of deep space piracy starting this April. (Image credit: Image Comics)

Topics: History, Science Fiction, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Widely considered to be the "Father of Science Fiction," the famed French poet, novelist, and playwright [known] as Jules Verne celebrates what would have been his 193rd birthday this year. 

Born Feb. 8, 1828, Verne ushered in the grand era of speculative fiction with his classic novels, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "From the Earth to the Moon," "Around the World in 80 Days," and "Journey to the Center of the Earth."

Now one of Verne’s lesser-known works from 1905, "The Lighthouse At The End Of The World," is being adapted for the first time into a five-issue comic book miniseries at Image Comics premiering in April. Orchestrated by the veteran creative team of Brian Haberlin and David Hine ("The Marked,'" "Sonata"), "Jules Verne's: Lighthouse" gets a sci-fi twist and casts readers into the high seas of outer space for a swashbuckling cyberpunk saga.

Here's the official synopsis:

"Jules Verne's: Lighthouse" is set at the edge of the galaxy, where there is a giant supercomputer known as the Lighthouse. The only brain powerful enough to navigate ships through a Sargasso of naturally occurring wormholes, potentially cutting months or even years of a spaceship's journey. Three humans, one alien, and a nanny bot have manned the remote station for years in relative peace until the arrival of Captain Kongre and his band of cutthroat pirates threatens the future of civilization and reveals that each of the Lighthouse crew has been hiding a shocking secret. He who controls the Lighthouse controls this part of the galaxy."

Exclusive: A little-known Jules Verne adventure novel scores a sci-fi comic book series with 'Lighthouse', Jeff Spry, Space.com

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40 Years Since STS-1...

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The first mission of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-1, blasts off from launch pad 39A on April 12, 1981, attempting to kick off a new era of rapid access to space.

Topics: History, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Space Shuttle

In April 1981, John Young — America’s premier astronaut and one of only 12 people to ever walk on the Moon — was training with co-pilot Bob Crippen for STS-1, the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Columbia. Though eager, Young harbored no illusions that he might never return from this first mission of the Space Shuttle Program.

After rocketing into space, Columbia aimed to circle our planet 36 times over two days. But then, unlike the previous spacecraft, it would glide back to Earth, landing on a runway like an airplane. NASA hoped its reusable fleet of four shuttles — Atlantis, Challenger, Discovery, and Columbia — would launch weekly with crews of up to seven, allowing more rapid access to space than ever before. The Space Shuttle Program promised to both revolutionize and routinize spaceflight.

But, as with all cutting-edge technologies, the risks were severe. A month before STS-1, as Columbia sat on Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, several technicians were asphyxiated by nitrogen fumes while working in the shuttle’s aft fuselage. Two of them later succumbed to their injuries. The accident served as a deadly reminder that spaceflight is a dangerous business, even when still on Earth.

40 years since the first space shuttle mission, STS-1, Ben Evans, Astronomy

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