This is the Surface of a Giant Star, 350 Times Larger Than the Sun When it comes to looking beyond our Solar System, astronomers are often forced to theorize about what they don’t know based on what they do. In short, they have to rely on what we have learned studying the Sun and the planets from our own Solar System in order to make educated guesses about how other star systems and their respective bodies formed and evolved. For example, astronomers have learned much from our Sun about how convection plays a major role in the life of stars. Until now, they have notRead More →

Finally! SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Does its Static Fire Test. Actual Flight Should Be “In A Week Or So” The long-awaited Static Fire of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has been declared a success by SpaceX founder Elon Musk. After this successful test, the first launch of the Falcon Heavy is imminent, with Musk saying in a Tweet, “Falcon Heavy hold-down firing this morning was good. Generated quite a thunderhead of steam. Launching in a week or so.” This is a significant milestone for the Falcon Heavy, considering that SpaceX initially thought the Heavy’s first flight would be in 2013. The first launch for the Falcon HeavyRead More →

This was the Snowstorm Rosetta Saw When it Got 79 km Away From Comet 67P In August of 2014, the ESA’s Rosetta mission made history when it rendezvoused with the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. For the next two years, the probe flew alongside the comet and conducted detailed studies of it. And in November of 2014, Rosetta deployed its Philae probe onto the comet, which was the first time in history that a lander was deployed to the surface of a comet. During the course of its mission, Rosetta revealed some truly remarkable things about this comet, including data on its composition, its gaseous halo, and howRead More →

NASA’s Aqua Satellite Watches Ships Crossing the Atlantic Ocean Earth, when viewed from space, is a pretty spectacular thing to behold. From orbit, one can see every continent, landmass, and major feature. Weather patterns are also eerily clear from space, with everything from hurricanes to auroras appearing as a single system. On top of that, it is only from orbit that the full extent of human activity can be truly appreciated. For instance, when one hemisphere of Earth passes from day into night, one can see the patchwork of urban development by picking out the filamentary structure of lights. And as NASA’s Aqua satellite recentlyRead More →

Weekly Space Hangout – Jan 24, 2018: Paul Hildebrandt’s “First to the Moon” Hosts: Fraser Cain ( / @fcain) Dr. Paul M. Sutter ( / @PaulMattSutter) Dr. Kimberly Cartier ( / @AstroKimCartier ) Dr. Morgan Rehnberg ( / @MorganRehnberg & Special Guest: Paul Hildebrandt (director of the film Fight for Space) joins us again to discuss his newest project, a documentary which is an historical piece about the mission of Apollo 8 and it’s crew, Borman, Anders, and Lovell. Titled First to the Moon, the film covers the biographies of each astronaut and goes on to tell the story of the Apollo 8 flightRead More →

The Solar Eclipse Caused a Bow Wave in Earth’s Atmosphere It’s long been predicted that a solar eclipse would cause a bow wave in Earth’s ionosphere. The August 2017 eclipse—called the “Great American Eclipse” because it crossed the continental US— gave scientists a chance to test that prediction. Scientists at MIT’s Haystack Observatory used more than 2,000 GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receivers across the continental US to observe this type of bow wave for the first time. The Great American Eclipse took 90 minutes to cross the US, with totality lasting only a few minutes at any location. As the Moon’s shadow moved acrossRead More →

This is Ice in Antarctica, Flowing in Slow Motion Like Water Going Through River Rapids One of the benefits of the Space Age is the way it has allowed human beings to see Earth in all of its complexity and splendor. In addition, it has allowed us to conduct studies of Earth’s surface and atmosphere from orbit, which helps us to see the impact we have on our the planet. It is with this purpose in mind that NASA’s Earth Observation Program has been monitoring the Arctic and Antarctic for many years. For instance, Operation IceBridge has spent much of the past decade monitoring theRead More →

A New Kind of Propulsion System That Doesn’t Need Propellant. It Converts Electricity into Thrust and Vice Versa. Some of the best things in science are elegant and simple. A new propulsion system being developed in Spain is both those things, and could help solve a growing problem with Earth’s satellites: the proliferation of space junk. Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) in Spain are patenting a new kind of propulsion system for orbiting satellites that doesn’t use any propellant or consumables. The system is basically a tether, in the form of an aluminum tape aRead More →

Upcoming Telescopes Should be Able to Detect Mountains and Other Landscapes on Extrasolar Planets The study of exoplanets has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past few decades. Between ground-based observatories and spacecraft like the Kepler mission, a total of 3,726 exoplanets have been confirmed in 2,792 systems, with 622 systems having more than one planet (as of Jan. 1st, 2018). And in the coming years, scientists expect that many more discoveries will be possible thanks to the deployment of next-generation missions. These include NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and several next-generation ground based observatories. With their advanced instruments, these and other observatoriesRead More →

Here’s Something Strange, the Afterglow From Last Year’s Kilonova is Continuing to Brighten In August of 2017, a major breakthrough occurred when scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves that were believed to be caused by the collision of two neutron stars. This source, known as GW170817/GRB, was the first gravitational wave (GW) event that was not caused by the merger of two black holes, and was even believed to have led to the formation of one. As such, scientists from all over the world have been studying this event ever since to learn what they can from it. For example,Read More →

Carnival of Space #545 This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Brian Wang at his Next Big Future blog. Click here to read Carnival of Space #545 And if you’re interested in looking back, here’s an archive to all the past Carnivals of Space. If you’ve got a space-related blog, you should really join the carnival. Just email an entry to, and the next host will link to it. It will help get awareness out there about your writing, help you meet others in the space community – and community is what blogging is all about. And if you really want to help out, sign upRead More →

A Black Hole is Pushing the Stars Around in this Globular Cluster Astronomers have been fascinated with globular clusters ever since they were first observed in 17th century. These spherical collections of stars are among the oldest known stellar systems in the Universe, dating back to the early Universe when galaxies were just beginning to grow and evolve. Such clusters orbit the centers of most galaxies, with over 150 known to belong to the Milky Way alone. One of these clusters is known as NGC 3201, a cluster located about 16,300 light years away in the southern constellation of Vela. Using the ESO’s Very Large TelescopeRead More →

Researchers Develop a New Low Cost/Low Weight Method of Searching for Life on Mars Researchers at Canada’s McGill University have shown for the first time how existing technology could be used to directly detect life on Mars and other planets. The team conducted tests in Canada’s high arctic, which is a close analog to Martian conditions. They showed how low-weight, low-cost, low-energy instruments could detect and sequence alien micro-organisms. They presented their results in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. Getting samples back to a lab to test is a time consuming process here on Earth. Add in the difficulty of returning samples from Mars, orRead More →

Just Like Earth, Titan Has a “Sea Level” for its Lakes and Seas Thanks to the Cassini mission, we have learned some truly amazing things about Saturn and its largest moon, Titan. This includes information on its dense atmosphere, its geological features, its methane lakes, methane cycle, and organic chemistry. And even though Cassini recently ended its mission by crashing into Saturn’s atmosphere, scientists are still pouring over all of the data it obtained during its 13 years in the Saturn system. And now, using Cassini data, two teams led by researchers from Cornell University have released two new studies that reveal even more interestingRead More →

Astronomers Set the Limit for Just How Massive Neutron Stars Can Be In February of 2016, scientists working at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) made history when they announced the first-ever detection of gravitational waves. Since that time, the study of gravitational waves has advanced considerably and opened new possibilities into the study of the Universe and the laws which govern it. For example, a team from the University of Frankurt am Main recently showed how gravitational waves could be used to determine how massive neutron stars can get before collapsing into black holes. This has remained a mystery since neutron stars were firstRead More →

Physicists Have Created an Artificial Gamma Ray Burst in the Lab On July 2nd, 1967, the U.S. Vela 3 and 4 satellites noticed something rather perplexing. Originally designed to monitor for nuclear weapons tests in space by looking for gamma radiation, these satellites picked up a series of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) coming from deep space. And while decades have passed since the “Vela Incident“, astronomers are still not 100% certain what causes them. One of the problems has been that until now, scientists have been unable to study gamma ray bursts in any real capacity. But thanks to a new study by an international teamRead More →

Weekly Space Hangout – Jan 17, 2018: Dr. Bram Venemans and Distant Quasars Hosts: Fraser Cain ( / @fcain) Dr. Paul M. Sutter ( / @PaulMattSutter) Dr. Kimberly Cartier ( / @AstroKimCartier ) Dr. Morgan Rehnberg ( / @MorganRehnberg & Special Guest: Dr. Venemans is a research staff scientist working at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany. His research topics include the discovery of black holes in the early Universe, the characterisation of the galaxies hosting these distant black holes, the Epoch of Reionisation and the galaxy environment of active galaxies. Bram is a member of the team that recentlyRead More →

James Webb Wraps up 3 Months in the Freezer. It’s Ready for Space When the James Webb Space Telescope finally takes to space, it will study some of the most distant objects in the Universe, effectively looking back in time to see the earliest light of the cosmos. It will also study extra-solar planets around nearby stars and even bodies within the Solar System. In this respect, the JWST is the natural successor to Hubble and other pioneering space telescopes. It is therefore understandable why the world is so eager for the JWST to be launched into space (which is now scheduled to take placeRead More →

Carnival of Space #544 This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by me at the CosmoQuest blog. Click here to read Carnival of Space #544 And if you’re interested in looking back, here’s an archive to all the past Carnivals of Space. If you’ve got a space-related blog, you should really join the carnival. Just email an entry to, and the next host will link to it. It will help get awareness out there about your writing, help you meet others in the space community – and community is what blogging is all about. And if you really want to help out, sign up to beRead More →

Asteroid Mining is Getting Closer to Reality. Planetary Resources Arkyd-6 Satellite Just Launched In 2009, Arkyd Aeronautics was formed with the intention of becoming the first commercial deep-space exploration program. In 2012, the company was renamed Planetary Resources, and began exploring the ambitious idea of asteroid prospecting and mining. By harnessing Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) for their water and minerals, the company hopes to substantially reduce the costs of space exploration. A key step in this vision is the deployment of the Arkyd 6, a CubeSat that will begin testing key technologies that will go into asteroid prospecting. Last week (on Friday, January 12th), the Arkyd-6Read More →