Artemis 1 Probably won’t Launch Until August On March 17th, the Artemis I mission rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VLB) and was transferred to Launch Complex 39B at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the first time that a fully-stacked Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft were brought to the launchpad in preparation for a “wet dress rehearsal.” To mark the occasion, NASA released a video of the event that featured a new song by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (“Invincible”). Unfortunately, technical issues forced ground controllers to scrub the dress rehearsal repeatedly and return the Artemis I to theRead More →

The Tonga Eruption Reached Space! What a massive volcanic eruption looks like from space. The GOES-17 satellite captured images of an umbrella cloud generated by the underwater eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Jan. 15, 2022. The Tonga eruption sent crescent-shaped bow shock waves through the atmosphere, as well as numerous lightning strikes. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens using GOES imagery courtesy of NOAA and NESDIS Volcanic eruptions do more than send lava and clouds of noxious gas across the landscape, and trigger tsunamis and sonic booms. Sometimes they reach for space! In the case of the January 2022 underwaterRead More →

Mars’ Carbon Dioxide Glaciers are on the Move In 1666, famed Italian astronomer and mathematician Giovanni Cassini (the man who discovered four of Saturn’s largest moons) observed the Martian polar ice caps for the first time. However, it was not until the late-18th century, when Sir William Herschel recorded his own observations, that the connection to Earth’s own ice caps was established. In his subsequent treatise, “On the remarkable appearances at the polar regions on the planet Mars” (1784), noted how the southern cap grew and shrunk due to seasonal changes. With the development of modern telescopes and robotic explorers, scientists have learned a greatRead More →

What’s the Best Way to Build Landing Pads on the Moon? In the near future, NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), China, and Roscosmos all mount crewed missions to the Moon. This will constitute the first time astronauts have walked on the lunar surface since the Apollo Era. But unlike the “Race to the Moon,” the goal of these programs is not to get their first and leave only a few experiments and landers behind (i.e., “footprints and flags” missions) but to establish a sustained human presence on the lunar surface. This means creating habitats on the surface and in orbit that can be usedRead More →

Astronaut Jessica Watkins Floats Above the Earth in the Space Station’s Cupola NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins is seen here floating above Earth in the International Space Station’s cupola, which provides a spectacular viewing spot for those who live and work on the space station. The cupola is a dome-shaped module with six windows that face Earth. It was installed in 2010, and is a favorite spot for astronauts to do some Earth observation and quiet introspection. The small module is designed for the observation of operations outside the station such as robotic activities, the approach of vehicles, and spacewalks. But the direct, nadir view ofRead More →

If There are Dyson Spheres Around White Dwarfs, We Should be Able to Detect Them Searching for Dyson spheres, rings, or swarms remains a preoccupation of many astronomers.  If there are any out there, they will eventually be found, and the person or research team to do so will go down in history for making one of the most momentous discoveries in the history of humanity.  If you’re interested in claiming that accolade for yourself, an excellent place to look may be around white dwarfs.  At least, that’s the theory put forward in a new paper by Benjamin Zuckerman, a now-retired professor of astrophysics atRead More →

China Announces Its new Flagship Space Telescope Mission Artist’s concept of the Chinese Space Station Telescope (CSST). Credit: Jaimito130805, CC BY-SA 4.0 Distant galaxies, dark matter, dark energy, and the origin and evolution of the universe itself are some of the many scientific goals of China’s newly announced space telescope. If all goes according to plan, the China Space Station Telescope (CSST) will blast off atop a Long March 5B rocket sometime in late 2023. Once in a safe orbit, CSST should begin observations in 2024. Judging by these research topics, it looks like the Chinese Academy of Sciences is throwing down an impressive scientificRead More →

Webb is Almost Ready. There’s One Last Thing To Do The James Webb Space Telescope is now in the final phase of commissioning as it readies for science observations. Of the more than 1,000 milestones the observatory has needed to reach since launch to become fully operational, the team said today they are down to about two hundred activities to go. But those 200 are all part of the final phase of commissioning the instruments. “I call it the home stretch,” said Michael McElwain, Webb observatory project scientist in a media briefing on May 9. “There are 17 scientific modes we need to bring onlineRead More →

Russia Says it’ll Quit the International Space Station Over Sanctions. Also, Russia Says a lot of Stuff That Doesn’t Happen When Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine amidst accusations of Nazism and NATO aggression, it left most of its credibility behind. What’s left of its credibility is in shreds as Russia lurches towards pariah status. That’s what happens when you unleash your military on your peaceful neighbour and when the body count grows alongside the rubble piles that used to be Ukrainian cities. Now Russia seems to be “threatening” to end its participation in the ISS over economic sanctions the world has imposed onRead More →

Canada’s Criminal Laws now Extend to Earth Orbit and the Moon In this decade and the next, astronauts will be going to space like never before. This will include missions beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for the first time in over fifty years, renewed missions to the Moon, and crewed missions to Mars. Beyond that, new space stations will be deployed to replace the aging International Space Station (ISS), and there are even plans to establish permanent human outposts on the Lunar and Martian surfaces. In anticipation of humanity’s growing presence in space, and all that it will entail, legal scholars and authorities worldwide areRead More →

Extended Trips to Space Alter the Brains of Astronauts Astronaut Peggy Whitson in the International Space Station’s Cupola during a 2017 tour of duty. Doctors are interested in how long periods in low gravity change an astronaut’s brain. (NASA Photo) Going to space changes a person. We’ve known that ever since NASA and the former Soviet Union started sending people to space back in the mid-20th Century. Not only does that trip affect an astronaut’s outlook (just look what it did to William Shatner) but it changes their body. Space physicians continually study astronauts to understand just what happens to them in space. Their latestRead More →

We can Probably Find Supernovae Enhanced by Gravitational Lensing, We Just Need to Look Gravitational lensing provides an opportunity to see supernovae and other transients much farther than we normally can. A new research proposal outlines a plan to use a comprehensive catalog of strong gravitational lenses to capture these rare events at extreme distances. Supernovae and the Transients Transients are awesome. In astronomy, a transient is any phenomenon happening in the sky that doesn’t last very long. They range range from classical novae (a nuclear explosion on a white dwarf), kilonovae (two neutron stars merging), supernovae (entire stars blowing up), tidal disruption events (starsRead More →

Even Stars Doomed to Die as Supernovae can Have Planets 90 percent of all exoplanets discovered to date (there are now more than 5000 of them) orbit around stars the same size or smaller than our sun. Giant stars seem to lack planetary companions, and this fact has serious implications for how we understand solar system formation. But is the dearth of planets around large stars a true reflection of nature, or is there some bias inherent in how we look for exoplanets that is causing us to miss them? The recent discovery of two gas giants orbiting a giant star called µ2 Scorpii suggestsRead More →

This Crater on Mars is Just a Couple of Years Old Changes are always taking place on Mars, from factors like seasonal variations and wind. But there’s one other aspect that changes the surface of Mar quite often: impacts. Here’s a new impact crater that was seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Exactly when the crater formed is not known, but this image was taken on July 24, 2020 and in a previous image of this site taken in 2018, the crater is not there. This is an example of the benefit of having long-term missions in orbit or on the surface of other worlds,Read More →

A Supermassive Black Hole Just Flipped its Entire Magnetic Field Black holes are powerful cosmic engines. They provide the energy behind quasars and other active galactic nuclei (AGNs). This is due to the interaction of matter with its powerful gravitational and magnetic fields. Technically, a black hole doesn’t have a magnetic field on its own, but the dense plasma surrounding the black hole as an accretion disk does. As the plasma swirls around the black hole, the charged particles within it generate an electrical current and magnetic field. The direction of the plasma flow doesn’t change spontaneously, so one would imagine the magnetic field isRead More →

Volcanoes May Have Killed Venus with a Runaway Greenhouse, and Almost the Earth Too What turned Venus into hell? It could have simply been a steadily-warming Sun, but new research suggests that Volcanoes may have played a role in creating a runaway greenhouse effect. And the same history of active Volcanism almost killed the Earth, too. Earth and the Volcano Exactly how often has the Earth suffered massive episodes of volcanism, and how bad did those episodes affect our planet? To get a handle on these questions, a team of researchers investigated the occurrence of large igneous provinces (LIPs), which are huge deposits of magma-bornRead More →

This is a Dust Avalanche on Mars For decades, scientists have observed dark landslides called slope streaks on Mars. First seen by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s, every orbiter mission since has observed them, but the mechanism behind the slope streaks has been hotly debated: could they be caused by water activity on the Red Planet, or are they the result of some sort of dry mechanics? Turns out, the leading candidate is “dry.” But scientists with the Mars Odyssey mission have verified an additional culprit behind the slope streaks: carbon dioxide frost. Big Impact-Triggered Dust Avalanche seen by the HIRSE camera on theRead More →

Traveling the Solar System with Pulsar Navigation A team of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have found a way for travelers through the Solar System to work out exactly where they are, without needing help from ground-based observers on Earth. They have refined the pulsar navigation technique, which uses X-ray signals from distant pulsars, in a way similar to how GPS uses signals from a constellation of specialized satellites, to calculate an exact position . Navigating through space Before you can navigate a course through space, you need to know your location and orientation. Current space craft can only discover one of theseRead More →

What Does Micrometeoroid Damage do to Gossamer Structures Like Webb’s Sunshield? Tiny little bullets flood the solar system, each micrometeoroid a potential hazard. New research has found that the James Webb Space Telescope’s thin sunshields, and future inflatable spacecraft, may be at risk. Micrometeoroids on Steroids A micrometeoroid is a tiny bit of space junk usually weighing less than a gram. Some of them are the leftover bits of the countless collisions that have occurred over the past 4.5 billion years of the history of the solar system. Most however come from the dust cloud that initially collapsed to form our solar system, and neverRead More →

A Giant Galaxy has been Unwinding its Neighbor for 400 Million Years The interacting galaxy pair NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 take center stage in this image from the Dark Energy Camera, a state-of-the art wide-field imager on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. Courtesy NOIRLab. Sometimes you have to just sit back and marvel at a particularly gorgeous view of a galaxy interaction. When these giant space cities merge with each other, wild and crazy things happen—a sort of “Galaxies Gone Wild” scenario. Take this pair, for example. We see them locked together in a cosmic dance that hasRead More →