NASA Plans to Retire the Space Station in 2030 and Replace it with Commercially Owned “Destinations” in Low Earth Orbit While it may seem like the International Space Station is just now fully hitting its stride as far as scientific output and the ability for crew rotations from several different spacecraft, the ISS has been operating with astronauts on board for over 21 years. Knowing the modules and entire physical structure cannot endure the long-term effects of the harsh space environment forever, NASA’s Office of the Inspector General has issued a new report outlining the agency’s plans to keep the space station in orbit untilRead More →

Alan Shepard’s Daughter Will be Flying on the Next New Shepard Flight Jeff Bezos has hit a particular stride lately with Blue Origin, the commercial space company he founded in 2000 in the hopes of “building a road to space.” For the sake of fostering interest in the space tourism industry, testing their reusable launch vehicle, and growing his company’s brand, he’s conducting recurring launches with the New Shepard featuring high-profile clientele. At the same time, he aims to make each new launch a record-setting event. On Nov. 23rd, Blue Origin announced the names of the six people who would fly aboard the New ShepardRead More →

An Upcoming Asteroid Mission Will be Able to Peer 100 Meters Under the Surface Engineers only get one shot at making a spacecraft work as intended.  Or at least they only get one shot in space.  In the preparation leading up to that final, climactic moment, there are typically thousands of hours of tests run on numerous systems and subsystems.  If all goes well, it bodes well for the mission’s overall success, but if problems arise, it’s much easier to address them on the ground than while a spacecraft is already orbiting.  A model of a new spacecraft known as Juventas just completed a significantRead More →

Our Guide to the Only Total Solar Eclipse of 2021 During this weekend’s total solar eclipse, the shadow of the Moon graces the Earth one last time for the year. Saturday’s total solar eclipse literally spans the ends of the Earth. The final eclipse for 2021 and the only total solar eclipse of the year occurs on Saturday, December 4th, as the Moon’s shadow sweeps across a remote segment of the Antarctic continent. You almost couldn’t design a more remote eclipse. The path for totality manages to very nearly miss every possible inhabited outpost on Earth. The only research station along the path is onRead More →

NASA is Building a Nuclear Reactor to Power Lunar and Martian Exploration! Over the next fifteen years, multiple space agencies and their commercial partners intend to mount crewed missions to the Moon and Mars. In addition to placing “footprints and flags” on these celestial bodies, there are plans to establish the infrastructure to allow for a long-term human presence. To meet these mission requirements and ensure astronaut safety, several technologies are currently being researched and developed. At their core, these technologies are all about achieving self-sufficiency in terms of resources, materials, and energy. To ensure that these missions have all the energy they need toRead More →

InSight Peers Deep Below the Surface on Mars The InSight lander has been on Mars, gathering data for a thousand days now, working to give us a better understanding of the planet’s interior. It’s at Elysium Planitia, the second largest volcanic region on Mars. A newly-published paper based on seismic data from the lander shows something unexpected underground: a layer of sediment sandwiched between layers of lava flows. Much of InSight’s media coverage has centred around the lander’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), also called the Mole. Its job was to measure the heat coming from the planet’s interior to the surface. AfterRead More →

Astronauts Took A Fly-around of the International Space Station. Here are Their Stunning Pictures When astronauts left the International Space Station in early November to return home on the Crew Dragon Endeavour, they took the opportunity to do a fly-around of the ISS and take photos. NASA just released the new images, and they are a stunning look at both the orbiting outpost and our home planet. The person behind the camera was ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. He began taking photos after Crew Dragon undocked from the Harmony module. Also on board were NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide.Read More →

NASA Simulation Shows What Happens When Stars Get Too Close to Black Holes What happens to a star when it strays too close to a monster black hole? Astronomers have wondered why some stars are ripped apart, while others manage to survive a close encounter with a lurking black hole, only a little worse for wear. To figure out the dynamics of such an event, scientists built a supercomputer simulation and tested it out on eight different types of stars. The stars were sent towards a virtual black hole, 1 million times the mass of the Sun. What they found was surprising. The stars theyRead More →

The Parker Solar Probe is getting pelted by hypervelocity dust. Could they damage spacecraft? There’s a pretty significant disadvantage to going really fast – if you get hit with anything, even if it is small, it can hurt.  So when the fastest artificial object ever – the Parker Solar Probe – gets hit by grains of dust that are a fraction the size of a human hair, they still do damage.  The question is how much damage, and could we potentially learn anything from how exactly that damage happens?  According to new research from scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB), the answerRead More →

The Decadal Survey is out! What new Missions and Telescopes are in the Works? It’s that time again.  Once every ten years, the American astronomy community joins forces through the auspices of the National Academies to produce one of the most important and influential reports in their discipline – the decadal survey.  This report has been the impetus for some of the great observational instruments of our time, including Spitzer, the Large Millimeter Array, and Chandra. Upcoming heavy-hitting observatories, such as Nancy Grace Roman and Vera C. Rubin, also spawned from suggestions made in the Decadal Survey.  In short, if you want to get aRead More →

This is a Classic Example of a Reflection Nebula, Where the Reflected Light From Young Hot Stars Illuminates a Protostellar Cloud of Gas and Dust The interplay of energy and matter creates beautiful sights. Here on Earth, we enjoy rainbows, auroras, and sunsets and sunrises. But out in space, nature creates extraordinarily dazzling structures called nebulae that can span hundreds of light-years. Nebulae are probably the most beautiful objects out there. While searching for young stars and their circumstellar disks, Hubble captured a classic reflection nebula. A nebula starts with a cloud of interstellar dust. There are many clouds of dust out there in space,Read More →

A Gravitational Lens Shows the Same Galaxy Three Times Images from the Hubble Space Telescope are often mind-bending in both their beauty and wealth of scientific wonder. And sometimes, Hubble captures light-bending images too. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) snapped a photo of a galaxy where the light has been bent by gravitational lensing, so that the galaxy show up not just once, but three times. But the multiple views aren’t exact replicas of each other — they appear as different shapes. Take a look at the clumps of light in the bottom right corner of the image. The galaxy, with a license-plate-like nameRead More →

NASA Launches DART, to Learn how to Defend the Earth From a Future Asteroid Impact In the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, Nov. 24th, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) launched from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base (SFB) in California. This spacecraft is the world’s first full-scale mission to demonstrate technologies that could someday be used to defend our planet from Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) that could potentially collide with Earth. Put simply, the DART mission is a kinetic impactor that will evaluate a proposed method for deflecting asteroids. Over the next ten months, the DART mission will autonomouslyRead More →

It’s Time to Stop Doing Anti-Satellite Tests Earlier this month, the Russian military conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test, launching a PL19 Nudol interceptor missile at a now-defunct Soviet-era intelligence satellite, KOSMOS 1408. The impact obliterated the spacecraft, creating a debris field consisting of approximately 1500 pieces of trackable debris, and potentially hundreds of thousands of pieces that are too small to monitor with ground-based radar. In the aftermath of the test, the debris field crossed the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) repeatedly, causing the crew to take emergency precautions and shelter in their descent capsules, ready for a quick return to EarthRead More →

Stars Getting Kicked out of the Milky Way can Help us map its Dark Matter Halo Dark matter is notoriously difficult to study. It’s essentially invisible to astronomers since it can’t be seen directly. So astronomers rely on effects such as the gravitational lensing of light to map its presence in the universe. That method works well for other galaxies, but not so well for our own. To map dark matter in the Milky Way, we rely mostly on the motions of stars in our galaxy. Since dark matter attracts regular matter gravitationally, the method works well for areas of the galaxy where there areRead More →

A Machine-Learning Algorithm Just Found 301 Additional Planets in Kepler Data Looking to the future, astronomers are excited to see how machine learning – aka. deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – will enhance surveys. One field that is already benefitting in the search for extrasolar planets, where researchers rely on machine-learning algorithms to distinguish between faint signals and background noise. As this field continues to transition from discovery to characterization, the role of machine intelligence is likely to become even more critical. Take the Kepler Space Telescope, which accounted for 2879 confirmed discoveries (out of the 4,575 exoplanets discovered made to date) during itsRead More →

Astronomers Find a Planet That Orbits its Star in Just 16 HOURS! Mercury is the speed champion in our Solar System. It orbits the Sun every 88 days, and its average speed is 47 km/s. Its average distance from the Sun is 58 million km (36 million mi), and it’s so fast it’s named after Mercury, the wing-footed God. But what if instead of Mercury, Jupiter was closest to the Sun? And what if Jupiter was even closer to the Sun than Mercury and far hotter? In a remote solar system about 855 light-years away, there’s a planet that makes Mercury seem like a slow,Read More →

The Severe Pacific Northwest Flooding Seen From Space The State of Washington and the Province of BC are in a state of emergency following days of severe wind, rain, and flooding. The situation began when an “atmospheric river” (a plume of moisture) extended over the Pacific Northwest, triggering severe rainfall that caused already-rising rivers to overflow. This led to blocked roads, mudslides, fallen bridges, and thousands of animals drowning in farmland areas. This extensive damage was photographed from space by Earth observation satellites, one of which was the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel mission and the International Space Station (ISS). These images captured theRead More →

A Space Telescope With one job: Find Habitable Planets at Alpha Centauri Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our Sun, is like a treasure trove with many scientific discoveries just waiting to be found. Part of what makes it so compelling is that our efforts to detect extrasolar planets there have failed to yield any concrete results to date. While the study of exoplanets has progressed exponentially in recent years, with 4,575 confirmed planets in 3,392 systems in the Milky Way (and even neighboring galaxies), astronomers are still having difficulty determining if anyone is next door. In the coming decades, Breakthrough Initiatives plans toRead More →

“Incident” that Occurred During Loading Pushes the Webb Launch Date to Dec. 22nd At Europe’s Spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana, technicians are busy getting the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) ready for launch. The observatory arrived at the facility on Oct. 12th and was placed inside the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket that will carry it to space on Nov. 11th. The upper stage was then hoisted high above the core stage and boosters so that a team of engineers could integrate them. Unfortunately, an “incident” occurred shortly after when the engineers attempted to attach the upper stage to the launch vehicleRead More →