This’ll be us… in 5 Billion Years Scientists have long known the fate of our solar system – and likely the fate of Earth itself.   In a few billion years, the Sun will run out of fusion fuel and expand to a “red giant” phase, likely swallowing everything in the solar system up to the orbit of Mars.  But, some of the planets past that point could survive, like Jupiter and Saturn.  Now, scientists have used the Keck Observatory to see a system that looks like what ours will after the Sun’s red giant phase for the very first time. They used a techniqueRead More →

A Spacecraft Could use Gravity to Prevent a Dangerous Asteroid Impact The idea of avoiding asteroid impacts has featured prominently in the public’s mind for decades – especially since the release of Deep Impact and Armageddon.  But is using a nuclear explosion the best way to deal with potentially hazardous space rocks?  Decidedly not.  If given enough time, there is a much more effective (and safer) way to dealing with any object on a collision course with Earth – a gravity tractor.  Now, Dr. Yohannes Ketema from the University of Minnesota has developed a flight pattern that makes this simplest of all asteroid defense mechanismsRead More →

Did Titan Give Saturn its Tilt? Giant planets like Saturn don’t just tilt over all by themselves: something has to knock them over, or tug on them gravitationally, to push them off axis. Scientists expect that when new planets are born, they form with almost no tilt at all, lining up like spinning tops, with their equators level to the orbital plane in which they circle around their sun. But no planet in our solar system is perfectly level. Jupiter is the closest, boasting an obliquity (tilt) of just 3.12 degrees. Earth’s obliquity is much more substantive at 23.45 degrees, causing us to experience anRead More →

William Shatner Completes his Trip to Space With Blue Origin After traveling to the edge of space this week, William Shatner and the crew of the NS-18 mission made it back to Earth safe and sound. This was the second time Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle flew to space with a crew aboard, and as with the inaugural flight, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos decided to enlist some star power! Who better than the man known to millions of fans as James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the starship Enterprise? At 90 years of age, the veteran actor of television, film, and stage is theRead More →

Perseverance has Collected its First Sample of Mars and Prepared it for Return to Earth… Eventually It’s another first for NASA. In early September, the Perseverance rover successfully used its robotic arm and drill to drill into a rock and extract a sample. It extracted a rock core about 6 cm (2 in) long and placed it inside a sealed tube. This is the first time a robotic spacecraft has collected a sample from another planet destined for a return to Earth on a separate spacecraft. Now we wait for the eventual return of the sample to Earth. Missions to Mars keep getting more andRead More →

Rocky Planets Might Need to be the Right age to Support Life Extrasolar planets are being discovered at a rapid rate, with 4,531 planets in 3,363 systems (with another 7,798 candidates awaiting confirmation). Of these, 166 have been identified as rocky planets (aka. “Earth-like”) while another 1,389 have been rocky planets that are several times the size of Earth (“Super-Earths). As more and more discoveries are made, the focus is shifting from the discovery process towards characterization. In order to place tighter constraints on whether any of these exoplanets are habitable, astronomers and astrobiologists are looking for ways to detect biomarkers and other signs ofRead More →

Not Just Sitting Ducks. Maybe Satellites Could Dodge Almost all Space Junk Kessler syndrome is becoming more and more of a potential hazard as more and more companies vie to place more and more satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  But it will only get out of hand if a chain reaction of collisions happens, which could potentially cause a complete breakdown of orbital infrastructure.   To combat that possibility, satellites currently attempt to dodge any debris that gets anywhere near them.  Now, a new paper by Dr. Jonathan Katz of Washington University, St. Louis, proposes a system that can accurately detect whether a piece ofRead More →

NASA’s Mission to Visit 8 Asteroids, Lucy, Launches on October 16th An early morning launch is planned for the Lucy spacecraft, the first space mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Tomorrow, October 16 at 5:34 a.m. EDT is the first day and time in Lucy’s 21-day launch window, and current weather conditions show a 90% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch window remains open for 75 minutes. Lucy will embark on a 12-year mission to explore the “fossils of planet formation,” Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid swarms. This mission provides the first opportunity to observe these intriguingRead More →

How to Prevent our Spacecraft From Contaminating Mars Mars has become something of an international playground over the past twenty years. There are currently eleven missions from five space agencies exploring the Red Planet, a combination of orbiters, landers, and rovers. Several additional robotic missions will be leaving for Mars in the next few years, and crewed missions are planned for the 2030s. Because of this increase in traffic, NASA and other space agencies are naturally worried about “planetary protection.” With this in mind, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a new report that identified several criteria for future roboticRead More →

Why Visit Just one Moon When you Could Explore Them all? The Solar System’s moons are intriguing objects for exploration. Especially moons like Europa and Enceladus. Their subsurface oceans make them primary targets in the search for life. But why not send one spacecraft to visit several moons? NASA’s about to launch its Lucy mission which will visit 8 separate asteroids. Could the same be done for a mission to multiple moons? For a spacecraft to do that, it would have to do a little dance with the notorious three-body problem, which makes a stubborn partner. A new study presents a possible way to doRead More →

The Biggest Comet Ever Seen Will get as Close as Saturn in 2031 A mega-comet – potentially the largest ever discovered – is heading from the Oort Cloud towards our direction. Estimated to be 100–200 kilometers across, the unusual celestial wanderer will make its closest approach to the Sun in 2031. However, the closest it will come to Earth is to the orbit of Saturn. Astronomers say Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (C/2014 UN271) could be the largest member of the Oort Cloud ever detected, and it is the first comet on an incoming path to be detected so far away. The graphic above, by astronomer Will GaterRead More →

China’s FAST Telescope Could Detect Self-Replicating Alien Probes One of the most challenging questions to answer when confronting the Fermi Paradox is why exponentially scaling technologies haven’t taken over the universe by now.  Commonly known as von Neumann probes, the idea of a self-replicating swarm of extraterrestrial robots has been a staple of science fiction for decades.  But so far, there has never been any evidence of their existence outside the realm of fiction.  That might be because we haven’t spent a lot of time looking for them – and that could potentially change with the new Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST).  According toRead More →

Advanced Civilizations Could use Their Stars to Communicate (and as Telescopes) A Long Distance Call E.T. managed to call home with a Speak and Spell, buzzsaw blade, and an umbrella. The reality of interstellar communication is a bit more complicated. Space is really, really big. The power needed to transmit a signal across the void is huge. However, rather than using super high power transmitters, recent research by Stephen Kerby and Jason T. Wright shows that we could make use of a natural signal gain boost built into solar systems – the gravitational lensing of a solar system’s star. Networking a series of stars asRead More →

Images of 42 of the Biggest Asteroids in the Solar System A huge team of astronomers have combined forces to use the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) to provide the sharpest view ever of 42 of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. Fittingly, the collection of images was released on the 42nd anniversary of the publication of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. In the book, the number 42 is the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” These 42 images represent some of the sharpest views ever ofRead More →

You Can Blow Up an Asteroid Just a few Months Before it Hits Earth and Prevent 99% of the Damage So far, the battle between life on Earth and asteroids has been completely one-sided. But not for long. Soon, we’ll have the capability to deter asteroids from undesirable encounters with Earth. And while conventional thinking has said that the further away the better when it comes to intercepting one, we can’t assume we’ll always have enough advance warning. A new study says we might be able to safely destroy potentially dangerous rocky interlopers, even when they get closer to Earth than we’d like. Humanity facesRead More →

LOFAR Sees Strange Radio Signals Hinting at Hidden Exoplanets LOFAR sees ‘exoplanet aurorae’ near distant red dwarf suns. A powerful new method may help to detect exoplanets, via the aurorae they induce on their host star. The finding was announced recently from ASTRON’s Low Frequency Array radio telescope (LOFAR), based out of Exloo in the Netherlands, and sprawled across sites in Europe. The survey looked at red dwarf stars near our solar system. The Sun-Earth interaction between the space weather emitted from the Sun and the Earth’s magnetosphere generates powerful aurorae, along with copious amounts of radio signals, and it has long been thought thatRead More →

Webb has Arrived Safely at the Launch Site Whew! A major milestone was achieved today in the James Webb Space Telescope’s journey towards launch. After the telescope successfully arrived in French Guiana yesterday after a secretive 16-day ocean journey (with apparently no pirates in sight), today the telescope took a short road trip over land to the ESA’s spaceport in Kourou. JWST is now at the payload processing facility, where staff will start the process of getting the telescope into the Ariane 5 rocket fairing. Launch is currently scheduled for December 18, 2021 … T-66 days and counting! The world’s largest, most expensive space telescopeRead More →

Next Generation Telescopes Could Detect the Direct Collapse of Enormous Black Holes Near the Beginning of Time The first black holes to appear in the universe may have formed from the direct collapse of gas. When they collapsed, they released a flood of radiation, including radio waves. A new study has found that the next generation of massive radio telescopes may be able to detect these bursts, giving precious insights into a critical epoch in the history of the universe. Astronomers have identified supermassive black holes stretching almost back to the beginning of the universe, when it was less than 700 million years old. TheRead More →

BepiColombo’s First Pictures of Mercury BepiColombo recently had its first close flyby of Mercury, its eventual mission target, and got to snap some pictures to commemorate the event.  Even at this early stage of the mission, these images are some of the clearest we have ever had of the innermost planet. The spacecraft itself passed within about 199 km of the planet’s surface.  Unfortunately, it was on the night side of the planet at that point, and as such, nothing was visible on the surface from that close.  However, the probe did start taking photos immediately after the closest approach, and up to 4 hoursRead More →

Greenland’s Ice Sheet is Similar in Many Ways to the Solar System’s Icy Worlds and Can Teach Us How to Search for Life Many regions on Earth are temperate, nutrient-rich, stable environments where life seems to thrive effortlessly. But not all of Earth. Some parts, like Greenland’s ice sheet, are inhospitable. In our nascent search for life elsewhere in the Solar System, it stands to reason that we’ll be looking at worlds that are marginal and inhospitable. Icy worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus are our most likely targets. These frozen worlds have warm oceans under layers of ice. What can Greenland’sRead More →