space_exploration (18)

Mars by Venus...

An artist's depiction of a rocket carrying humans to Mars. (Image: © NASA/John Frassanito and Associates)


Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

The roads of human spaceflight all seem to lead to Mars. For decades now, it's been the logical next step after the moon.

But if you're an astronaut or a cosmonaut on your way to or from Mars, you might make a surprising pit stop along the way: Venus.

A flight to (or from) Mars can happen more quickly and cheaply if it "involves a Venus flyby on the way to or on the way home from Mars," Noam Izenberg, a planetary geologist at Johns Hopkins University, told

Izenberg is one of a number of scientists and engineers advocating that a crewed mission to Mars also visit Venus. This group of researchers has drafted a white paper on the subject, to be submitted for peer review at Acta Astronautica. According to that paper, using Venus as a stepping stone to Mars isn't just one option — it's an essential part of a crewed Mars mission.

Astronauts bound for Mars should swing by Venus first, scientists say, Rahul Rao,

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Improving View...

View of the Alpha Centauri system. The bright binary star Alpha Centauri AB lies at the upper left. The much fainter red dwarf star Proxima Centauri is barely discernible towards the lower right of the picture. Credit: Digitized Sky Survey 2; Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin and Mahdi Zamani


Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Exoplanets, Space Exploration

Little is more enticing than the prospect of seeing alien worlds around other stars—and perhaps one day even closely studying their atmosphere and mapping their surface. Such observations are exceedingly difficult, of course. Although more than 4,000 exoplanets are now known, the vast majority of them are too distant and dim for our best telescopes to discern against the glare of their host star. Exoplanets near our solar system provide easier imaging opportunities, however. And no worlds are nearer to us than those thought to orbit the cool, faint red dwarf Proxima Centauri—the closest star to our sun at 4.2 light-years away.

In 2016 astronomers discovered the first known planet in this system: the roughly Earth-sized Proxima b. But because of its star-hugging 11-day orbit around Proxima Centauri, Proxima b is a poor candidate for imaging. Proxima c, by contrast, offers much better chances. Announced in 2019, based on somewhat circumstantial evidence, the planet remains unconfirmed. If real, it is estimated to be several times more massive than Earth—a so-called super Earth or mini Neptune—and to orbit Proxima Centauri at about 1.5 times the span between Earth and the sun. Its size and distance from its star make the world a tempting target for current and near-future exoplanet-imaging projects. Now, in a new preprint paper accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, some astronomers say they might—just might— have managed to see Proxima c for the first time.

“This planet is extremely interesting because Proxima is a star very close to the sun,” says Raffaele Gratton of the Astronomical Observatory of Padova in Italy, who is the study’s lead author. “The idea was that since this planet is [far] from the star, it is possible that it can be observed in direct imaging. We found a reasonable candidate that looks like we have really detected the planet.”


Astronomers May Have Captured the First Ever Image of Nearby Exoplanet Proxima C
Jonathan O'Callaghan, Scientific American

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TNOs and Planet Nine...

Over the past decade or so, astronomers have discovered a number of far-flung objects that all have very similar perihelia, meaning they make their closest approaches to the Sun at about the same location in space. One leading theory that attempts to explain the clustering is that a massive and unseen world known as Planet Nine hiding in the outer solar system.

Fauxtoez/WikiMedia Commons


Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Exoplanets, Space Exploration

Note: Not an April 1st joke. With the COVID-19 crisis, I literally had to peruse some sites that DIDN'T talk about what we're all living through. It's been rough, thinking about how and when this all ends. I'll try to get my sea legs back to blogging about science. Bear with me. I'm human.

Astronomers have discovered 139 new minor planets orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune by searching through data from the Dark Energy Survey. The new method for spotting small worlds is expected to reveal many thousands of distant objects in coming years — meaning these first hundred or so are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Taken together, the newfound distant objects, as well as those to come, could resolve one of the most fascinating questions of modern astronomy: Is there a massive and mysterious world called Planet Nine lurking in the outskirts of our solar system?

Neptune orbits the Sun at a distance of about 30 astronomical units (AU; where 1 AU is the Earth-Sun distance). Beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt — a comet-rich band of frozen, rocky objects (including Pluto) that holds dozens to hundreds of times more mass than the asteroid belt. Both within the Kuiper Belt and past its outer edge at 50 AU orbit distant bodies called trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). Currently, we know of nearly 3,000 TNOs in the solar system, but estimates put the total number closer to 100,000.

As more and more TNOs have been discovered over the years, some astronomers — including Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of Caltech — have noticed a small subset of these objects have peculiar orbits. They seem to bunch up in unexpected ways, as if an unseen object is herding these so-called extreme TNOs (eTNOs) into specific orbits. Batygin and Brown — in addition to other groups, like that led by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science — think these bizarrely orbiting eTNOs point to the existence of a massive, distant world called Planet Nine.

Hypothesized to be five to 15 times the mass of Earth and to orbit some 400 AU (or farther) from the Sun, the proposed Planet Nine would have enough of a gravitational pull that it could orchestrate the orbits of the eTNOs, causing them to cluster together as they make their closest approaches to the Sun.

The problem is that the evidence for Planet Nine is so far indirect and sparse. There could be something else that explains the clumped orbits, or perhaps researchers stumbled on a few objects that just happen to have similar orbits. Discovering more TNOs, particularly beyond the Kuiper Belt, will allow astronomers to find more clues that could point to the location of the proposed Planet Nine — or deny its existence altogether. Of the 139 newly discovered minor planets found in this study, seven are eTNOs, which is a significant addition to a list that numbered around a dozen just a few months ago.


Astronomers find 139 new minor planets in the outer solar system
Erica Naone, Astronomy

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Off World Concerns...

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner are the next crewmembers scheduled to launch to the International Space Station.
(Image: © NASA)


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

The procedure to ensure that astronauts don't bring an illness to the International Space Station is under evaluation as NASA enacts tactics to help slow the spread of the novel-coronavirus disease COVID-19.

Governments and agencies around the world have been enacting measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus; those measures include social distancing and quarantines for people who think they may have been exposed to the virus. But these tactics aren't new territory for NASA astronauts, who take such measures to prepare for close-quarter, secluded living that can last six months or longer.


With coronavirus spreading, NASA may tweak astronaut prelaunch quarantine plans
Doris Elin Urrutia,

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Artist concept: Mars base

Topics: Mars, Moon, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Women in Science

(Trolling) I'm looking forward to the conspiracy theories on grainy YouTube homemade videos to "prove" the continuing faking of any manned moon landing. o_9

Artemis, in Greek religion, the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, and vegetation, and of chastity and childbirth; she was identified by the Romans with Diana. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. We will collaborate with our commercial and international partners and establish sustainable exploration by 2028. Then, we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.


Artemis: Humanity's Return to the Moon, NASA

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Through the Looking-Glass...

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky.
(Image: © NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett (IPAC/Caltech); B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)


Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Radio Astronomy, Research, Space Exploration

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

HONOLULU — Mysterious ultra-fast pinpricks of radio energy keep lighting up the night sky and nobody knows why. A newly discovered example of this transient phenomenon has been traced to its place of origin — a nearby spiral galaxy — but it's only made things murkier for astronomers.

The problem concerns a class of blink-and-you'll-miss-them heavenly events known as fast radio bursts (FRBs). In a few thousandths of a second, these explosions produce as much energy as the sun does in nearly a century. Researchers have only known about FRBs since 2007, and they still don't have a compelling explanation regarding their sources.

"The big question is what can produce an FRB," Kenzie Nimmo, a doctoral student at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said during a news briefing on Monday (Jan. 6) here at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii.

FRB 180916.J0158+65, as the object is known, is a repeating FRB discovered by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) observatory, a radio telescope near Okanagan Falls in British Columbia that Nimmo called "the world's best FRB-finding machine."

Follow-up observations by a network of telescopes in Europe allowed the research team to produce a high-resolution image of the FRB's location. This location turned out to be a medium-sized spiral galaxy like our Milky Way that is surprisingly nearby, only 500 million light-years away, making it the closest-known FRB to date. The results were published yesterday (Jan. 6) in the journal Nature.

Origin of Deep-Space Radio Flash Discovered, and It's Unlike Anything Astronomers Have Ever Seen
Adam Mann, Live Science

#P4TC links:

FRBs...December 7, 2015
Fast Radio Bursts and Missing Matter...February 25, 2016
ET, FRBs and Light Sails...March 13, 2017

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Mapping Titan...

These infrared views of Titan peer through the gloom
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stéphane Le Mouélic, University of Nantes, Virginia Pasek, University of Arizona


Topics: Astrophysics, Cassini, Exoplanets, Moon, Space Exploration

Slowly but surely, the surface of Saturn’s strange moon Titan is being revealed. Researchers have made the first map of the geology of Titan’s entire surface, and it will eventually help us figure out what the climate is like there.

Titan’s atmosphere is full of a thick, orange haze that blocks visible light from reaching the surface, making it difficult for spacecraft to take pictures. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017, took radar and infrared data of Titan’s surface, giving researchers a hint of the terrain below.

Rosaly Lopes at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and her colleagues assembled those observations and placed each area, or unit, into one of six categories: lakes, craters, dunes, plains, hummocky terrain – meaning hills and mountains – and labyrinth, which looks like heavily eroded plateaus. They then made a map of where each of those terrains exists on Titan’s surface.

We have the first full map of the weird surface features of Titan
Leah Crane, New Scientist

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Fossil Hunters...

Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 mission. The oval indicates the landing ellipse, where the rover will be touching down on Mars.


Topics: Astrobiology, Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Scientists with NASA's Mars 2020 rover have discovered what may be one of the best places to look for signs of ancient life in Jezero Crater, where the rover will land on Feb. 18, 2021.

A paper published today in the journal Icarus identifies distinct deposits of minerals called carbonates along the inner rim of Jezero, the site of a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. On Earth, carbonates help form structures that are hardy enough to survive in fossil form for billions of years, including seashells, coral and some stromatolites — rocks formed on this planet by ancient microbial life along ancient shorelines, where sunlight and water were plentiful.

The possibility of stromatolite-like structures existing on Mars is why the concentration of carbonates tracing Jezero's shoreline like a bathtub ring makes the area a prime scientific hunting ground.

Mars 2020 is NASA's next-generation mission with a focus on astrobiology, or the study of life throughout the universe. Equipped with a new suite of scientific instruments, it aims to build on the discoveries of NASA's Curiosity, which found that parts of Mars could have supported microbial life billions of years ago. Mars 2020 will search for actual signs of past microbial life, taking rock core samples that will be deposited in metal tubes on the Martian surface. Future missions could return these samples to Earth for deeper study.


NASA's Mars 2020 Will Hunt for Microscopic Fossils, NASA

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It Takes a Village...

This cutaway shows the interior of a 3D printed section of ESA's planned Moon Village.


Topics: ESA, Moon, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

We've all fantasized of visiting somewhere exotic. For most of us, that dream spot is somewhere on Earth. But for some, the ultimate must-see destination isn't on our planet at all.

NASA is currently planning a series of 37 rocket launches, both robotic and crewed, that will culminate with the 2028 deployment of the first components for along-term lunar base, according to recently leaked documents obtained by Ars Technica. An outpost on the Moon is surely an exciting prospect for both science geeks and prospective solar-system sightseers, but some believe NASA’s timeline is a too ambitious to be realistic.

However, unlike NASA, who not long ago adjusted their sights from Mars mission to a return to the Moon, the European Space Agency (ESA) has already spent almost five years quietly planning a permanent lunar settlement. And while building it may take a few decades, if done right, it could serve the entire world — sightseers included — for many more decades to come.


Moon Village: Humanity's first step toward a lunar colony?
Jake Parks, Astronomy Magazine

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Going Vertical...

Czech scientists have opened a lab to experiment growing food for environments with extreme conditions and lack of water, such as Mars.


Topics: Climate Change, Mars, NASA, Space Exploration

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech scientists have opened a lab to experiment growing food for environments with extreme conditions and lack of water, such as Mars.

The “Marsonaut” experiment by scientist Jan Lukacevic, 29, and his team at the Prague University of Life Sciences is based on aeroponics - growing plants in the air, without soil, and limiting water use to a minimum.

The plants grow horizontally from a vertical unit and are stacked one above the other to minimize space. Researchers experiment with light and temperature changes, Lukacevic said.

The team has already succeeded in growing mustard plants, salad leaves, radishes and herbs like basil and mint.

Scientists ate their first harvest last week.

“They taste wonderful, because they grow in a controlled environment and we supply them with bespoke nutrients,” said Lukacevic.


Czech lab grows mustard plants for Mars
Reporting by Jiri Skacel; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Dan Grebler, Reuters Science

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Olympus Mons and Beyond...

Olympus Mons, NASA/MOLA Science Team/ O. de Goursac, Adrian Lark

Topics: Mars, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Olympus Mons is the most extreme volcano in the solar system. Located in the Tharsis volcanic region, it's about the same size as the state of Arizona, according to NASA. Its height of 16 miles (25 kilometers) makes it nearly three times the height of Earth's Mount Everest, which is about 5.5 miles (8.9 km) high.

Olympus Mons is a gigantic shield volcano, which was formed after lava slowly crawled down its slopes. This means that the mountain is probably easy for future explorers to climb, as its average slope is only 5 percent. At its summit is a spectacular depression some 53 miles (85 km) wide, formed by magma chambers that lost lava (likely during an eruption) and collapsed.

Mars is a planet mostly shaped by wind these days, since the water evaporated as its atmosphere thinned. But we can see extensive evidence of past water, such as regions of "ghost dunes" found in Noctis Labyrinthus and Hellas basin. Researchers say these regions used to hold dunes that were tens of meters tall. Later, the dunes were flooded by lava or water, which preserved their bases while the tops eroded away.

Old dunes such as these show how winds used to flow on ancient Mars, which in turn gives climatologists some hints as to the ancient environment of the Red Planet. In an even more exciting twist, there could be microbes hiding in the sheltered areas of these dunes, safe from the radiation and wind that would otherwise sweep them away.


Touring Mars, Elizabeth Howell,

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The rings of Saturn take center stage in this portrait by the Hubble Space Telescope taken on June 20, 2019. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL Team


Topics: Astronomy, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

There was a strong temptation to use the Norse legend of Bifrost - the rainbow bridge made popular in Thor, but rings of trees tell their age, so...

Yggdrasil is the tree of life, and it is an eternal green Ash tree; the branches stretch out over all of the nine worlds in Norse mythology, and extend up and above the heavens. Norse mythology: Yggdrasil.

Against earlier studies estimating an age of just 100 million years, new research suggests the planet’s rings could be as old as the solar system itself.

The great Saturn ring debate is far from settled, a new study suggests.

For years, scientists have argued about the age of Saturn’s famous rings: Are they ancient, dating to the birth of the planet itself? Or did the ring system form more recently, in just the past hundred million years or so?

This latter hypothesis has been gaining steam in the last few years, with multiple papers reporting that the rings could be even younger than the dinosaurs. Such studies cite the rings’ composition—more than 95% pure water ice—and total mass, which NASA’s Cassini mission pegged at about 15.4 million billion metric tons shortly after the probe’s epic “grand finale” at Saturn in 2017. (For perspective, 15.4 million billion metric tons is about 40% the mass of the Saturn moon Mimas, which is 250 miles, or 400 kilometers, wide.)


Saturn’s Rings May Be Ancient After All, Mike Wall, and Scientific American

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Off-World Ventures...
A scheme to beam solar power entails collecting sunlight and beaming it to Earth. An array of mirrored heliostats (conical structure) collects the sunlight, and a photovoltaic array (disk) converts it into electricity, which is then converted into a coherent microwave beam and sent to receivers almost anywhere in view on Earth. The image depicts the SPS-ALPHA, or Solar Power Satellite by means of Arbitrarily Large Phased Array.


Topics: Asteroids, Economics, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

An apparent confluence of political will and technological readiness has fans of humankind’s expansion beyond Earth hopeful that their dreams may soon become reality. Alongside a rise in missions to the Moon by agencies and private companies in the US, Europe, China, Japan, India, and Russia, commercial sectors are buzzing with related activities. And various governmental and nongovernmental bodies are strategizing about environmental, ethical, legal, sociological, and other issues of space utilization and colonization.

With interest in space travel growing—spurred in part by billionaire entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk—enthusiasts say the time is right to figure out how to use space resources, including water, solar power, and lunar regolith. Doing so would expand space exploration, increase commercial activities in space, and lead to technological advances for humanity, says Angel Abbud-Madrid, director of the first graduate degree program in space resources, which he and colleagues launched last year at the Colorado School of Mines.

The only space resource exploited to date is the view of Earth from orbit for such applications as global positioning systems, weather prediction, communications, and science missions. A few years ago the prospect of mining asteroids for platinum and other metals to use on Earth was “the rage,” says George Sowers of the Colorado School of Mines. But the business case didn’t hold up. One exception might be rare-earth elements, but in the near to mid term, he says, “bringing stuff back to Earth is not economically viable.” For now, the focus has shifted to using space resources in situ.

Water is a primary target resource in space. Electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen, it becomes fuel that could replenish satellites in orbit and propel rockets for exploring the solar system and returning to Earth. Astronauts and space tourists could drink water, use it for gardening and hygiene, and shield themselves from ionizing radiation with meter-thick sheaths of it around habitats or spacecraft.


Prospect of off-planet outposts spurs interest in space resources
Toni Feder, Physics Today

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Shake, Rattle and Roar...

SpaceX's Mars Starship prototype "Starhopper" hovers over its launchpad during a test flight in Boca Chica, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Trevor Mahlmann


Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

(Reuters) - SpaceX test-launched an early prototype of the company’s Mars rocket on Tuesday, unnerving residents near the Texas site and clearing another key hurdle in billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s interplanetary ambitions.

After the launch, Musk congratulated engineers from SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp, and posted a photo of Starhopper touching down on its landing pad with billowing clouds of dust and sand rising from the ground.

“One day Starship will land on the rusty sands of Mars,” Musk tweeted.

The prototype, dubbed Starhopper, slowly rose about 500 feet (152 m) off its launch pad in Brownsville, Texas, and propelled itself some 650 feet (198 m) eastward onto an adjacent landing platform, completing a seemingly successful low-altitude test of SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine.

The Raptor is designed to power Musk’s forthcoming heavy-lift Starship rocket, a reusable two-stage booster taller than the Statue of Liberty that is expected to play a central role in Musk’s interplanetary space travel objectives, including missions to Mars.


SpaceX's Mars rocket prototype rattles nearby residents in Texas flight test
Joey Roulette, Reuters Science

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Half the Time...

An illustration of a spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion. (Image: © NASA/Marshall)


Topics: Mars, NASA, Nuclear Fission, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

Humanity's next giant leap could be enabled by next-gen nuclear tech, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

During the sixth meeting of the National Space Council (NSC) today (Aug. 20), the NASA chief lauded the potential of nuclear thermal propulsion, which would harness the heat thrown off by fission reactions to accelerate propellants such as hydrogen to tremendous speeds.

Spacecraft powered by such engines could conceivably reach Mars in just three to four months — about half the time of the fastest possible trip in a vehicle with traditional chemical propulsion, said NSC panelist Rex Geveden, the president and CEO of BWX Technologies Inc.

And that's a big deal for NASA, which is working to get astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

"That is absolutely a game-changer for what NASA is trying to achieve," Bridenstine said. "That gives us an opportunity to really protect life, when we talk about the radiation dose when we travel between Earth and Mars."


Nuclear Propulsion Could Be 'Game-Changer' for Space Exploration, NASA Chief Says
Mike Wall,

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A Year of TESS...


Topics: Exoplanets, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Star Trek

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before." (Star Trek: The Captain's Oath)

“Kepler discovered the amazing result that, on average, every star system has a planet or planets around it. TESS takes the next step. If planets are everywhere, let’s find those orbiting bright, nearby stars because they’ll be the ones we can now follow up with existing ground and space-based telescopes, and the next generation of instruments for decades to come.” Padi Boyd, TESS project scientist, NASA GSFC

- HD 21749c, the first Earth-size planet the mission has found. The world orbits a K-class star with about 70 percent of the mass of the Sun, located 53 light years away in the constellation Reticulum, one of two planets identified in this system;

- A number of multi-planet systems, like that around L98-59, which includes a planet (L98-59b) between the size of Earth and Mars, the smallest yet found by TESS. Here the host star is an M-dwarf about a third the mass of the Sun, 35 light years away in the constellation Volans;

- Three exocomets identified in the Beta Pictoris system. A comet’s lightcurve differs significantly from that of a transiting planet because of the extended cometary tail. These discoveries demonstrate the ability of TESS to identify tiny objects around young, bright stars, and should lead to future exocomet detections that can supply information about planet formation;

- Six supernovae occurring in other galaxies, among them ASASSN-18rn, ASASSN-18tb and ATLAS18tne, found before ground-based surveys could identify them.


TESS: Concluding First Year of Observations, Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams

#P4TC: TESS... August 2, 2018

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Stepping Backwards...

Image source: link [1] below


Topics: Civics, NASA, Space Exploration, Star Trek, STEM

The first time I ran into the notion of the moon landing being "faked," a young coworker showed me a grainy amateurish video on YouTube. I encountered it with a co-vendor at the IBM research facility I supported. To neither, both younger than me, did it matter that "I was there" and they weren't on the planet yet. Evidence and eye witness testimony did not move them from their stances.

Neil Armstrong thought he had a 50–50 shot at pulling it off. "There are so many unknowns," the first man to set foot on the moon said in a 2011 interview with an Australian accounting firm. “There was a big chance that there was something in there we didn’t understand properly and we [would have] to abort and come back to Earth without landing.” That he, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins—with the help of thousands of NASA engineers, scientists and mission controllers on Earth—did pull off a moon landing remains one of humanity's most incredible achievements.

Consider that 50 years ago this month a 36-story-tall Saturn V rocket weighing as much as 400 elephants climbed away from Earth atop an explosion more powerful than the output of 85 Hoover Dams. Once in space, the astronauts escaped Earth orbit, traveled to lunar orbit, then undocked part of their spacecraft and steered it down for a soft impact on an alien land. Perhaps even more impressive, after taking a walk around, they climbed back in their lunar lander, launched off the surface of another planetary body (another first), rejoined the command module orbiting roughly 60 miles above the lunar surface, and then flew back to Earth, splashing down safely in the Pacific Ocean two days later. [1]

The spin offs from the space industry technologically benefited America. Not since the king cotton era (fueled by the free, uncompensated slave labor of my ancestors) had the United States enjoyed such dominance in production, productivity and economic expansion. It would go on for decades, many young people inspired by NASA, Star Trek reruns and conventions to pursue STEM careers out of a passion for exploration, and birthing a more egalitarian society post previous sectarian divisions.

Exactly 50 years ago today, a Saturn V rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin would land on the Moon and inspire a generation of young people to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

The Apollo program's effect of inspiring America's children to pursue careers in STEM fields is one of the most powerful lasting legacies of the Moon race. Unfortunately, this effect seems to be coming to an end.

On the eve of the Apollo 11 anniversary, LEGO asked The Harris Poll to survey a total of 3,000 children in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom about their attitudes toward and knowledge of space. The results reveal that, at least for Western countries, kids today are more interested in YouTube than spaceflight. [2]

Entertainment and ambition looked upward: the notion of a three nacelle starship with a saucer section that could travel impossible speeds fueled imaginations. The notion of defying relativistic time dilation, traversing vast distances in human lifetimes propelled many of us into STEM to “do our parts” in getting at least close to this lofty goal. A fifth or tenth the speed of light to Proxima Centauri would achieve that aim. Any higher level physics class disabused us of attaining “warp speed,” but we could see the technological benefit and spin off of assisting in things that would promote the “Common Good” here on Terra Firma.

We did not count on the divorce of productivity and cost of living wages, stagnant since the 1970s. We did not count on conspiracy theorists masking themselves as serious news pundits and influencing more than clicks or product purchases from their sites. We did not count on the rapidly increasing (and encouraged) income disparity. We did not count on politicians bought by wealthy families and corporations whose only about getting wealthier and more powerful in our lives. We did not count on science denial, climate or otherwise. Such a dysfunctional dystopia depends on selfies, self-centered attitudes and distractions, like supercomputers in our hip pockets sharing our suppers; websites that reinforce our views and cute cat videos. And we did not count on the cultural division encouraged by authoritarians the world over as their best means of controlling the masses.

It is in such a world young people would rather be YouTube personalities than starship captains.

My previous, gob-smacking encounters with my younger coworkers are now explained.

1. One Small Step Back in Time: Relive the Wonder of Apollo 11, Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American
2. American kids would much rather be YouTubers than astronauts, Eric Berger, ArsTechica

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Mars 2020...

When I test a vacuum, I just sprinkle oats all over the floor. When NASA tests one, you get this.



Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight

NASA will leave no Martian rock unturned as it prepares the next Mars robot for the chaos of space travel and landing on the red planet.

Over the last two months, the Mars 2020 spacecraft has been subjected to a number of extreme tests designed to ensure it can withstand an intense rocket launch and the extremes of space. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has put the futuristic craft through "acoustic and thermal vacuum" testing -- and it has passed with flying colors.

The test involve blasting the spacecraft with sound levels as high as 150 decibels -- the type of levels you'd hear standing next to a jet at take-off -- to replicate the environment of a launch, according to Andy Rose, manager of JPL's environmental test facilities.

After the sound blast tests were performed six times, NASA put the Mars 2020 rover through a brutal test that replicates the vacuum of space. That required the spacecraft to be transported to the Space Simulator Facility and suspended in midair, as seen in the above image.


Mars 2020 spacecraft subjected to brutal tests as it prepares for launch, Jackson Ryan, CNET

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