Voyager 2 Has Entered Interstellar Space, Confirms NASA

For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA’s Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

Members of NASA’s Voyager team will discuss the findings at a news conference at 11 a.m. EST (8 a.m. PST) today at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in Washington. The news conference will stream live on the agency’s website.

Comparing data from different instruments aboard the trailblazing spacecraft, mission scientists determined the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5. This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium. Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed this boundary in 2012, but Voyager 2 carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space.


Voyager 2 now is slightly more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth. Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters this new phase of its journey, but information – moving at the speed of light – takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. By comparison, light traveling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth.

The most compelling evidence of Voyager 2’s exit from the heliosphere came from its onboard Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), an instrument that stopped working on Voyager 1 in 1980, long before that probe crossed the heliopause. Until recently, the space surrounding Voyager 2 was filled predominantly with plasma flowing out from our Sun. This outflow, called the solar wind, creates a bubble – the heliosphere – that envelopes the planets in our solar system. The PLS uses the electrical current of the plasma to detect the speed, density, temperature, pressure and flux of the solar wind. The PLS aboard Voyager 2 observed a steep decline in the speed of the solar wind particles on Nov. 5. Since that date, the plasma instrument has observed no solar wind flow in the environment around Voyager 2, which makes mission scientists confident the probe has left the heliosphere.

In addition to the plasma data, Voyager’s science team members have seen evidence from three other onboard instruments – the cosmic ray subsystem, the low energy charged particle instrument and the magnetometer – that is consistent with the conclusion that Voyager 2 has crossed the heliopause. Voyager’s team members are eager to continue to study the data from these other onboard instruments to get a clearer picture of the environment through which Voyager 2 is traveling.

The set of graphs on the left illustrates the drop in electrical current detected in three directions by Voyager 2’s plasma science experiment (PLS) to background levels. They are among the key pieces of data that show that Voyager 2 entered interstellar space in November 2018. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT


“There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Together, the two Voyagers provide a detailed glimpse of how our heliosphere interacts with the constant interstellar wind flowing from beyond. Their observations complement data from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a mission that is remotely sensing that boundary. NASA also is preparing an additional mission – the upcoming Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), due to launch in 2024 – to capitalize on the Voyagers’ observations.

“Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.”

While the probes have left the heliosphere, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have not yet left the solar system, and won’t be leaving anytime soon. The boundary of the solar system is considered to be beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the Sun’s gravity. The width of the Oort Cloud is not known precisely, but it is estimated to begin at about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and to extend to about 100,000 AU. One AU is the distance from the Sun to Earth. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 2 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly 30,000 years to fly beyond it.


The Voyager probes are powered using heat from the decay of radioactive material, contained in a device called a radioisotope thermal generator (RTG). The power output of the RTGs diminishes by about four watts per year, which means that various parts of the Voyagers, including the cameras on both spacecraft, have been turned off over time to manage power.

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for. Now we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”


Voyager 2 launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have traveled well beyond their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. However, as the mission continued, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became a four-planet mission. Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA’s longest running mission.

The Voyager story has impacted not only generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth’s culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages. Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization.


Voyager’s mission controllers communicate with the probes using NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), a global system for communicating with interplanetary spacecraft. The DSN consists of three clusters of antennas in Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.

The Voyager Interstellar Mission is a part of NASA’s Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL built and operates the twin Voyager spacecraft. NASA’s DSN, managed by JPL, is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, operates both the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, part of the DSN, and the Parkes Observatory, which NASA has been using to downlink data from Voyager 2 since Nov. 8.

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Flat Earther Bets $100,000 To Anyone Who Can Prove Earth Is Round, Regrets Decision

Flat-Earther’s are the internet gift that keeps on giving. Not only do they keep upgrading their theories, presumably in an attempt to make themselves even less credible (think donut earth and Australia not existing); they also issue easily beatable challenges which they then need to wriggle out of.

That’s exactly what happened recently when a flat-earth YouTuber know as Flat Out Hero (a man with an apparent love for scraggly beards, sunglasses and exclamation marks) issued a challenge, offering a reward of $100,000.


In the video, Flat Out Hero challenges viewers to plot a route on a flight chart (an outdated navigational tool that hasn’t been used professionally in decades) in which they travel in a straight line, turn 90 degrees, travel for the same distance in a straight line, turn another degrees and travel the same distance for a third time. He claims that, due to there being no curvature to The Earth, the final destination will not be the same as the starting point.

A professional pilot, known on YouTube as Wolfie2060, took up the challenge. Using the vast array of professional navigational apps on his work iPod, he plotted a route to the exact specifications of Flat Out Hero’s challenge and, surprise surprise, ended up exactly where he started.


Wolfie then takes several minutes to walk-through his process and prove that he successfully beat the challenge, which he does in a way that a child could understand. He then goes on to explain that he’ll be giving half of the prize money to a children’s charity.

Unsurprisingly, Flat Out Hero doesn’t like this. In a video response to Wolfie and all the people telling him to pay up, he starts by offering to take Wolfie back to school. In a few more garbled sentences he talks about the differences between nouns and verbs and then tells Wolfie to f*!@ off. A true gentleman in defeat.

In Flat Out hero’s defense, Wolfie appears to speak with an Australian accent, making it very possible that he doesn’t even exist and is, in fact, a crisis actor.

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Why Does Mars Have Blue Sunsets?

Why Does Mars Have Blue Sunsets?

Mars is quite possibly the quintessential alien planet. It’s about as far removed from what we earthlings know to be reality. The planet itself is a waterless, red desert, incapable of housing life (at the moment, at least); Mars’ days are a whole 37 minutes longer than Earth’s days; and maybe the most alien of all, the day-time sky on Mars is red and the sunsets are a beautiful blue. Weird, ay?

But why are the sunsets on Mars blue? Why is there day-time sky red? It’s actually pretty simple.

Why Does Mars Have Blue Sunsets?

Sunset as seen of Gusev Crater on Mars taken in 2005. NASA/JPL Caltech


It’s pretty much the same reason that we earthlings are used to blue skies in the day and red skies at sunset: light from the sun refracts different colours, depending on what is in the atmosphere. For example, earth’s atmosphere is mostly made up of air particles. Air particles refract blue light, creating the blue-coloured sky you see every day (unless you live in Britain). As the day goes on and the sun sets, the light has to travel further, making it bounce off even more particles, this is why there is a wider range of colours towards the end of the day. The red we see at sunset is mostly the result of volcano ash, which scatter more red light.

On Mars, the atmosphere is mostly made up of carbon dioxide and very fine red dust. This mix refracts the red light that makes up the standard Martian sky colour. When the sun sets on Mars, the light is bounced around from more particles and causes the eerie blue sunsets we see in the videos sent back from the Mars rovers.


So, if humans ever decide to colonise Mars, they’ll have to get used to this reverse colour scheme for the sky, which, granted, will probably be one of the simpler adjustments.

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New Detection of Gravitational Waves Brings The Number to 11 - So Far

New Detection of Gravitational Waves Brings The Number to 11 – So Far

David Blair, University of Western Australia

Four new detections of gravitational waves have been announced at the Gravitational Waves Physics and Astronomy Workshop, at the University of Maryland in the United States.

This brings the total number of detections to 11, since the first back in 2015.

Ten are from binary black hole mergers and one from the merger of two neutron stars, which are the dense remains of stellar explosions. One black hole merger was extraordinarily distant, and the most powerful explosion ever observed in astronomy.

The latest news comes just a month after doubts were raised about the initial detection. In late October an article in New Scientist, headlined Exclusive: Grave doubts over LIGO’s discovery of gravitational waves, raised the idea that it “might have been an illusion”.

So how confident are we that we are detecting gravitational waves, and not seeing an illusion?

Artist’s conception shows two merging black holes. LIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State (Aurore Simonnet)


Open to scrutiny

All good scientists understand that scrutiny and scepticism is the power of science. All theories and all knowledge are provisional, as science slowly homes in on our best understanding of the truth. There is no certainty, only probability and statistical significance.

Years ago the team searching for gravitational waves with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), determined the levels of statistical significance needed to make a claim of detection.

For each signal we determine the false alarm rate. This tells you how many years you would need to wait before you have an even chance of a random signal mimicking your real signal.

The weakest signal detected so far has a false alarm rate of one every five years, so still there is a chance that it could have been accidental.

Other signals are much stronger. For the three strongest signals detected so far you would have to wait from 1,000 times to 10 billion billion times the age of the universe for the signals to occur by chance.

Knowing what to listen out for

The detection of gravitational waves is a bit like acoustic ornithology.

Imagine you study birds and want to determine the population of birds in a forest. You know the calls of the various bird species.

When a bird call matches your predetermined call, you jump with excitement. Its loudness tells you how far away it is. If it was very faint against the background noise, you may be uncertain.

But you need to consider the lyre birds that mimic other species. How do you know that sound of a kookaburra isn’t actually made by a lyre bird? You have to be very rigorous before you can claim there is a kookaburra in the forest. Even then you will only be able to be confident if you make further detections.

In gravitational waves we use memorised sounds called templates. There is one unique sound for the merger of each possible combination of black hole masses and spins. Each template is worked out using Einstein’s theory of gravitational wave emission.

In the hunt for gravitational waves, we are searching for these rare sounds using two LIGO detectors in the US and a third detector, Virgo, in Italy.

To avoid missing signals or claiming false positives, the utmost rigour is needed to analyse the data. Huge teams look over the data, search for flaws, criticise each other, review computer codes and finally review proposed publications for accuracy. Separate teams use different methods of analysis, and finally compare results.

Next comes reproducibility – the same result recorded again and again. Reproducibility is a critical component of science.


The signals detected

Before LIGO made its first public announcement of gravitational waves, two more signals had been detected, each of them picked up in two detectors. This increased our confidence and told us that there is a population of colliding black holes out there, not just a single event that could be something spurious.

The first detected gravitational wave was astonishingly loud and it matched a pre-determined template. It was so good that LIGO spent many weeks trying to work out if it was possible for it to have been a prank, deliberately injected by a hacker.

While LIGO scientists eventually convinced themselves that the event was real, further discoveries greatly increased our confidence. In August 2017 a signal was detected by the two LIGO detectors and the Virgo detector in Italy.

On August 17 last year a completely different, but long predicted type of signal was observed from a coalescing pair of neutron stars, accompanied by the predicted burst of gamma rays and light.

The black hole mergers

Now the LIGO-Virgo collaboration has completed the analysis of all the data since September 2015.

For each signal we determine the mass of the two colliding black holes, the mass of the new black hole that they create, and rather roughly, the distance and the direction.

Each signal has been seen in two or three detectors almost simultaneously (they were separated by milliseconds).

Eight of the 20 initial black holes have masses between 30 and 40 Suns, six are in the 20s, three are in the teens and only two are as low as 7 to 8 Suns. Only one is near 50, the biggest pre-collision black hole yet seen.

These are the numbers that will help us work out where all these black holes were made, how they were made, and how many are out there. To answer these big questions we need many more signals.

Graphic showing the masses of recently announced gravitational-wave detections and black holes and neutron stars. LIGO-Virgo / Frank Elavsky / Northwestern


The weakest of the new signals, GW170729, was detected on July 29, 2017. It was the collision of a black hole 50 times the mass of the Sun, with another 34 times the mass of the Sun.

This was by far the most distant event, having taken place, most likely, 5 billion years ago – before the birth of Earth and the Solar system 4.6 billion years ago. Despite the weak signal, it was the most powerful gravitational explosion discovered, so far.

But because the signal was weak, this is the detection with the false alarm rate of one every five years.

LIGO and Virgo are improving their sensitivity year by year, and will be finding many more events.

With planned new detectors we anticipate ten times more sensitivity. Then we expect to be detecting new signals about every five minutes.The Conversation


David Blair, Emeritus Professor, ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, OzGrav, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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NASA Spacecraft Gets Up Close With An Asteroid That Could One Day Collide With Earth

NASA Spacecraft Gets Up Close With An Asteroid That Could One Day Collide With Earth

Kathryn Harriss, University of Kent

NASA’s spacecraft OSIRIS-REx has finally reached the asteroid 101955 Bennu – which may be on collision course with the Earth – after travelling for just over two years since its launch in September 2016. This mission, which will bring grains back for us to study on Earth, is latest to return asteroid samples to Earth after the Japanese Space Agency’s missions Hayabusa 1 and 2 and StarDust. The data will help unveil more about the origins of the solar system and how to protect the Earth from possible asteroid impact.

The spacecraft will spend the next year completing a detailed survey of the surface of Bennu (492 metres in diameter) – including locating the most suitable landing sites. Once a site is selected, the spacecraft will land for about five seconds to collect a sample of the surface material using a burst of nitrogen gas to liberate material from the surface into the sampler head.

The spacecraft has enough gas to attempt three sample collections from the surface. This will hopefully provide a sample of between 60g and 2,000g of surface regolith material (the layer of material covering solid rock). It will start heading back to Earth in 2021 – getting here in 2023.

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching the asteroid Bennu. NASA


Asteroids are material left over from the early solar system, which means they offer a unique look into its early composition. Bennu orbits the sun between the Earth and Mars. Its composition is of particular interest as we already know it is rich in carbon. This means it may contain organic materials that have remained unaltered since the formation of the solar system. It is not impossible that asteroids like it delivered the building blocks of life to the early Earth – the mission could help us investigate this theory.

Though sample return is a major and complex part of this mission, OSIRIS-REx will study other aspects of the asteroid too. During the survey of the surface the spacecraft will also be looking out for plumes and natural satellites orbiting the body. Instruments on board will allow enable us to identify different chemicals on it. This will help finding the most interesting and richest sample sites to a resolution of about two metres.

Secret threat

The asteroid Bennu is of interest to Earth for another reason. Bennu may be on collision course with Earth in the future. It is theorised from the study of the orbit of Bennu that gravity interaction between the two bodies during a close approach to Earth in 2060 (750,000km) will slightly alter its course. This means that there is a cumulative one in 2,700 chance of an Earth impact between 2175 and 2199.


OSIRIS-REx may be able to aid in preventing such events. One of the thing it will measure is the body’s “Yarkovsky acceleration”. This effect is a force that acts on a rotating body in space, caused by the uneven release of heat from the surface of the asteroid. Once this is known, it will be possible to investigate whether we could use this force to change the orbit of Bennu and other threatening asteroids. For example, it may be possible to use solar radiation to heat up one side of the rock more than the other – changing its rotation and the orbit trajectory.

The next two years is going to be an exciting one for small body research. This mission will provide the most detailed analysis of carbon rich asteroids and will provide answers about the evolution of the solar system and our own planet. Analysis of the regolith will also tell us more about the effects of space weathering on the surface of small bodies from harsh solar radiation.

The collection method for the mission is called “Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism”. And touch and go is exactly what the spacecraft must achieve, rather than a full landing. This will be extremely difficult and we will have to wait a year to see if the new method is successful. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it all goes according to plan.The Conversation

Kathryn Harriss, Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Planetary Science, University of Kent

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Here’s How The ‘Brightest’ Object In Our Universe Formed

Andrew Blain, University of Leicester

Active galaxies are some of the most luminous and impressive objects in the sky. They tend to be massive, distant and emit extraordinary amounts of energy as material falls into the supermassive black hole that lurks at their centre. Astronomers have recently discovered that some of them are also hidden from plain view by huge amounts of gas and smoke-like dust. But it is unclear how these rare objects form and feed.

Now our team of astronomers has worked out more about the origin of the most luminous galaxy found in the universe: a “quasar” called W2246. Our findings, published in Science, show clear signs of W2246 forming by several galaxies merging.

W2246 was first discovered in the all-sky infrared survey made by the WISE spacecraft in 2010. But we don’t see it as it looks today. When we look out into the universe we detect light that has taken some appreciable time to get to us. This galaxy is so far away that we see it as it was when the universe was only about 8% of its present age.

The object is extremely bright – about 10,000 times more luminous than our galaxy, the Milky Way. Previous work using a range of cutting-edge telescopes – including the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), and the Hubble and Herschel Space Telescopes – confirmed in 2016 that W2246 is the current holder of the record for the most luminous galaxy in the universe.

The bulk of the power from W2246 emanates from a relatively compact region in its centre, several times smaller than the Milky Way. The images also show that this region contains a remarkable cloud of hot, uniform, high-pressure gas, plausibly starting to expand out as a bubble in all directions.

New observations

The latest observations were carried out by my colleague Tanio Diaz Santos in Chile, and 11 other astronomers, using the ALMA and Jansky Very Large Array (JCLA) telescopes, at excellent sites in Chile and New Mexico respectively. The work has revealed the smog of gas and dust contained within W2246 in unprecedented detail.

ALMA image of W2246-0526 and its companions feeding it through trans-galactic streamers. T. Diaz-Santos et al.; N. Lira; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)


The fact that W2246 could be so bright without feeding on nearby galaxies has long been a mystery to astronomers – potentially challenging our theories about galaxy formation. But our new results reveal that there are indeed a number of nearby companion galaxies that are in the process of being gobbled up by this object. This is evidenced by connecting dust bridges of carbon-rich solid material, similar to diesel soot. These trace the routes along which matter from the companion galaxies is being sucked in towards the supermassive black hole.

The presence of dust is important as it is made of elements that are only produced by nuclear reactions deep inside massive stars, and are then spread around the galaxy when these stars explode as supernovae. This indicates that the gas seen around W2246 has been cycled inside stars in the past – probably in the surrounding galaxies – prior to the start of the galaxy’s current dramatic burst of activity. The new images therefore provide insight not only into the activity in the galaxy as we see it today, but also into its history at even earlier times.

To be visible to ALMA, the bridging dust must be actively heated. This could be done by young stars that also occupy the bridges, or by the radiation from the hugely bright core of W2246. The conditions in the gas within the bridges suggest that even if W2246 is the primary heat source, the gas in the bridges can still collapse under its own gravity to form new stars in dense clouds, which would allow it to be gobbled up by the central black hole to fuel W2246.

From the relative speed and separation of the companion galaxies, it is possible to work out how much mass they contain. We can also estimated that the duration of the current interaction is about 200m years. Together, we used this to determine the rate at which gas must be fed into the black hole, uncovering that it is indeed sufficient to produce the dramatic energy output we see from the object.

ALMA antennas. Iztok Bončina/ESO, CC BY-SA


However, the details of what happens within the bright compact core of the galaxy as this material rains in, and enters the the black hole (that then heats and drives away material) can’t be seen. Observations on finer scales will be needed to investigate what happens deep in the heart of W2246.

Out with a whimper?

Luckily, further observations using ALMA and the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled for launch in 2021, will be able to reveal exactly how the gas and dust travels within and is distributed around the galaxies, gets converted into stars and is consumed by the black hole.

Not only will these observations give insight into this most extreme galaxy, it could also help us understand the processes that build more ordinary galaxies, and the conditions required to ignite all galaxies’ most luminous phases.

It’s been great watching W2246. In about 100m years, it will definitely have finished its meal of neighbouring galaxies. It will then lose its sparkle, and another object will take the crown of being the brightest galaxy in the universe. Nothing is forever.The Conversation

Andrew Blain, Professor of Observational Astronomy, University of Leicester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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NASA's InSight Lander's First Image From Mars

NASA’s InSight Lander’s First Image From Mars

At 2.53 pm EST, on Monday (November 26, 2018), NASA’s InSight probe successfully landed on the surface of Mars. InSight landed on an area of Mars called Elysium Planitia, which is the vast, flat expanse that can be seen in the pictures.

The pictures may be a little boring (no signs of life yet…), but the flat, featureless Elysium Planitia was the perfect place for the probe to land. The area is largely devoid of obstacles such as rocks and crevices, making it, according to a spokesperson for NASA, “the biggest parking lot on Mars”.

NASA's InSight Lander's First Image From Mars

The full image from NASA/JPL.


It’s difficult to make out due to dust covering the lens but the pictures show a large desert-like expanse of red-ish dust, that reaches all the way to the eerily-light horizon. The dust on the lens is from the impact of the landing and should be removed soon, hopefully leading to some clearer pictures. After all the technology needed to send such a sophisticated probe to Mars, you would think they would be able to attach a windscreen wiper to the lens, but I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

The InSight probe is the eighth successful probe to land on Mars. Its mission is to study beneath the planet’s surface and hopefully tell us something about the planet’s history and how it is evolving. NASA plans for the probe to dig 5 metres below the surface with the hope of finding out if it still has an active core. Aside from this, another instrument will be trying to find out what the planet’s core is made of, while a third measures seismic waves. The instruments will be placed on the surface with the use of a robotic arm from the main probe. This makes InSight the first probe ever to use an arm to set up its own instruments on an alien planet.


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After a Nail-Biting Landing, Here's What's Next for Mars InSight

After a Nail-Biting Landing, Here’s What’s Next for Mars InSight

Bob Myhill, University of Bristol

It’s notoriously hard to land on Mars, yet NASA managed just that with its recent InSight lander. From childhood, I’ve loved watching landings and other spacecraft manoeuvres on TV – always feeling a bit of that edge of the seat excitement. But it didn’t prepare me for the feeling of watching a mission I’ve worked on. Each period of silence during the seven-minute descent of InSight felt like an eternity, with time re-exerting itself only during call outs from systems engineer Christine Szalai. I will never forget the joy of the moment when she finally announced “touchdown confirmed”.

The InSight mission has been over ten years in the planning. Among planetary missions, it’s a bit of an oddball. While the majority of missions are designed to look at the surface or atmosphere of planetary bodies, InSight’s goal is to look deep beneath the surface – helping us crack the mystery of how it and the other rocky planets formed.


The lander carries a number of instruments, including seismometers, a heat flow probe, magnetometer and a radio transmitter. The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3) will hammer to a depth of five meters below Mars’ surface, almost twice as far as the handheld drills of the lunar missions. Its measurements will tell us how quickly heat is being lost from the planet’s interior – helping us understand how Mars cools over time.

The Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) will essentially bounce a radio signal sent from Earth back to us. The difference in frequency between the original and returned signal can then be used to work out the velocity of the InSight lander relative to Earth, rather like the pitch of a siren tells us whether it is moving toward or away from us. We’re specifically interested in using the velocity to tell us how Mars’ axis of rotation wobbles over time. The size of these wobbles is dependent on the structure of the interior, and especially its dense metallic core. Just like a raw egg wobbles more than a hard-boiled one when spinning on a flat surface, Mars will wobble more if its core is liquid.

I work on the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which consists of two seismometers, mounted on a levelling system that will sit about 15cm above the surface of Mars. This experiment is designed to tell us the amount of seismic activity on Mars. We will also use the time it takes for seismic waves to reach the seismometers to tell us about the temperature and composition of the interior, rather like a doctor uses a CT scanner.


The next few months

We now have about three months during which the instruments will be deployed and activated. Over the next few days, the health of the systems will be checked, and the lander and surrounding area will be thoroughly imaged so that the operations team can decide where to place InSight’s heat flow probe and seismometers. The first image taken from the surface suggests that we have landed on a shallow sand-filled crater almost free of rocks, so it looks like there will be multiple options.

The first image returned from InSight. The black specks are on the protective transparent lens cover, which had not yet been removed. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Around mid-December, a robotic arm will lift the tripod-mounted seismometers off the deck of the lander and lower them to the surface. After detailed checks, the levelling system will be used to make sure the seismometers are perfectly horizontal. By mid-January, a shield should be placed over the top of the seismometers to protect them from the elements. Then they can be turned on, and the heat flow probe will be deployed.

The heat flow probe will start returning data as soon as it starts to hammer its way beneath the surface, so we expect to have results in the first half of 2019. The radio experiment will take somewhat longer. It just so happens that, over the next year, we will not be in the best position to see the wobble of Mars’ pole. That changes in mid-2020, when we should be ideally situated to uncover the secrets of its core.

As for the SEIS experiment, when we see something exciting will depend on how often seismic energy is generated. We don’t currently know this. What we do know is that there are two potential sources of seismic activity: meteorite impacts and “marsquakes” created by movement along faults near the surface.

A 30 metre crater on Mars created by an impact sometime between 2010 and 2012. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona


While we know that meteorites frequently hit Mars, the rate of fault motion is a mystery. Unlike the Earth, Mars has no moving tectonic plates, so it is estimated that fault movement happens as the planet’s interior cools. However, some of the youngest faults on Mars appear to have been formed not by cooling, but by the movement of molten rock beneath the surface. Discovering the frequency and nature of marsquakes will help us work out the exact causes.

Cerberus Fossae, a Martian fault under 10m years old. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin


The big questions

Through its three main experiments, InSight will provide a “snapshot” of the present day state and composition of Mars. But that isn’t where the scientific discoveries will end. Ultimately, the mission will help us understand the processes that took place over 4.5 billion years ago, when the solar system was very young.

Here’s why. The composition of a planet is set when it formed, which in the case of Mars was only a few million years after the sun ignited. We think that as a result of its greater distance from the sun, Mars formed from different, more volatile-rich material than Earth. However, until Mars’ composition is known, this idea is very hard to test and develop. The data returned from InSight will provide a fundamental key to understanding how the rocky planets in our solar system formed – and perhaps even those around other stars.

The composition, temperature and magnetic field of our planet are also vital to sustaining life on our planet. So even though InSight is not looking for life, it will give us new clues as to how Earth was uniquely primed for life over 4 billion years ago.

InSight has already been a huge engineering success, and the science team now get the incredible opportunity to use it to reveal Mars’ secrets. We hope you’re as excited as we are.The Conversation

Bob Myhill, UK Space Agency Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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NASA Publishes Beautiful PR Video We Are NASA

NASA Publishes Inspirational PR Video: We Are NASA

We’ve taken giant leaps and left our mark in the heavens. Now we’re building the next chapter, returning to the Moon to stay, and preparing to go beyond. We are NASA – and after 60 years, we’re just getting started. Special thanks to Mike Rowe for the voiceover work.


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Russian Engineers Developing Nuclear Rocket To Take Humans To Mars

Russian Engineers Developing Nuclear Rocket To Take Humans To Mars

Why have humans never been to Mars? Pretty much everyone who works in the field agrees that we humans have had the technology to get there for some time now, and it’s certainly nothing to do with the moral implications of colonizing another planet when we’re unable to look after our own.

The reason is simple and brutal. It’s because it could potentially kill whoever tried in so many varied and horrible ways that I can’t list them all here. The main problem the astronauts would face, however, would be the sheer amount of time it would take to get there. Obviously, the longer you’re in space and the farther you are from Earth, the higher the risks. A journey to Mars with the technology currently available would take up to three years. The physical and— more importantly— psychological effects of being away from Earth this long are unknown and potentially catastrophic.


This could all be about to change, however, at least if you believe the latest news from Moscow’s Keldysh Research Center. Scientist, Vladimir Koshlakov, who heads the research center, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta they are working on new engines that could reach The Red Planet in just seven months. Not only that, the turn around time needed between the rocket landing and taking-off again could be as low as 48 hours.

According the Koshlakov, the rockets would work in a similar way to a nuclear power station: they’d heat cryogenic methane to create a gas which in turn powers a turbine and creates electrical energy. This energy would then be used to power the spacecraft.


Although Kashlokov says the engineers are not planning on using this technology in their next two upcoming missions, he describes the idea of a nuclear powered rocket to Mars as “feasible in the near future.”

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Radioactive Rocks May Be Melting Sheet Ice In Antarctica

Scientists have discovered a remarkably hot, remarkably large area of rock beneath Antarctica’s thick ice sheet.

The area that scientists are calling a hot spot, is thought to be twice the size of Greater London and is causing base layers of the ice-sheet that covers the continent to melt at an alarming rate. This, in turn is creating a large sag in the surface of Antarctica’s ice.

The findings were part of a larger study conducted by a team from The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in which they used aircraft equipped with radar equipment to collect data from beneath the 3KM thick sheet of ice that covers Antarctica. The study showed all kinds of detailed information from beneath the ice including the hot spot.


Scientists admit that they are at a loss as to what is causing the hot spot (located close to the South Pole) but speculate that it could be a large area of unusually radioactive rocks. These rocks, combined with extremely hot water— heated deep underground— and rising to the surface could be responsible for the melting that’s occurring. The area is known for its incredibly fast flowing ice; which scientists now believe may be attributed to the stream of melt water caused by the hot spot.

Radioactive Rocks May Be Melting Sheet Ice In Antarctica

This graphic shows the technique used to locate the rocks. Tom Jordan/British Antarctic Survey


So do we need to worry about The Antarctic melting and washing us all away? Well… no more than usual. The scientists from BAS believe that this hot spot has been there for hundreds of thousand, possibly millions of years and is not directly changing the ice sheet. Lead author of the study, Tom Jordan said, however; “in the future the extra water at the ice sheet bed may make this region more sensitive to external factors such as climate change”

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Is There a Cosmic, Earth-Sized Dolphin Swimming Through the Clouds of Jupiter?

Is There a Cosmic, Earth-Sized Dolphin Swimming Through the Clouds of Jupiter?

Weirdly enough; yes, there kinda/sorta is.

Obviously, this isn’t a real, flesh and blood dolphin. That would be psychedelic nightmare-fuel and not the kind of fodder for a light blogpost such as this. However; images captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft show a shape that really is remarkably close to that of a dolphin, swimming through the clouds of Jupiter.

This dolphin, unlike most terrestrial objects that people claim to see in space, really does look like a dolphin. This isn’t a rock that vaguely resembles a sphinx (if you close one eye, tilt your head, and haven’t slept in three days). The resemblance really is pretty crazy. The formation which can be seen in the clouds of the massive gas-giant is roughly the size of Earth (and would, presumably, require a vast amount of continent-sized fish to sustain it.)


Juno caught the images in late October. The spacecraft was performing its 16th close flyby of Jupiter when it took the raw images which NASA releases directly to the public. These images where picked up by civilian visual artist, Sean Doran, who, along with another image processor, Brian Swift, enhanced to images to give us the stunning view of the dolphin-like formation.


After spotting the remarkable formation, Doran posted four striking images to his Twitter. As always with Twitter, there were naysayers and trolls but Doran fought back, correctly stating that he saw it first and it’s a dolphin. Fair enough, Sean. I’m with you.

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Scientists Just Spotted Lost Continent Using Satellites-1

Scientists Just Spotted Lost Continent Using Satellites

Now, I’m not saying these lost continents were once roamed by giants and aliens or giant-alien hybrids (because they weren’t), but this is still very cool.

Antarctica is the one place on Earth where knowledge of basic lithospheric (the part of the Earth that we live on) features is incomplete. This is because it’s hidden under kilometers of ice. Now, however; information retrieved from the ESA’s GOCE (Gravity field and Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite is shedding more light on the mysterious surface that lies beneath the ice.

The findings from GOCE have revealed a difference between East and West Antarctica. They found that the crust under West Antarctica is thinner than East Antarctica. This suggests that at one point in the Earth’s geological history, West Antarctica was seabed.

Scientists Just Spotted Lost Continent Using Satellites

GOCE map of Antarctica on bedrock topography. Kiel University/BAS


East Antarctica, on the other hand shows a whole jumble of geological features known as cratons and orogens. Cratons are the remnants of truly ancient continents, while orogens are squashed up bits of plate commonly associated with mountain ranges.

According to co-author of the study, Fausto Ferraccioli, says the findings show the “fundamental similarities and differences between the crust beneath Antarctica and other continents it was joined to until 160 million years ago”

East Antarctica shows a striking resemblance to the geological make-up of India and Australia, which is relatively unsurprising as they used to be attached.


So does any of this matter? Obviously, it will be a while before anybody is down there exploring these newly found continents, seeing as there’s 2km of ice between us and them. That said, these findings can show scientists how Antarctica’s geological build-up influences its ice-sheets and can give an insight into how Antarctic regions will respond to melting ice.

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Stunning Images Show a Planet Orbiting Star 63 Light-Years Away

Stunning Images Show a Planet Orbiting Star 63 Light-Years Away

Images captured by the ESO (European Southern Observatory) show a series of orbital positions of a planet around a star 63 light-years from Earth. This is the first time we’ve captured a direct image of a planet orbiting another star.

The images were seen by the VLT (very large telescope). In these images exoplanet Beta Pictoris b traverses around the host star at an approximate distance of 800 million miles (or 1.3 billion kilometers). This orbit is comparable to Saturn and our Sun.

The planet is said to be 1.5 times the size of Jupiter and thirteen times more massive with an orbit of 20 years it’s also believed to be extremely hot at 1,500°C (2,700°F). This is the only known planet in this system.

Stunning Exoplanet Time-lapse

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has captured an unprecedented series of images showing the passage of the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b around its parent star. This young massive exoplanet was initially discovered in 2008 using the NACO instrument at the VLT.  The same science  team since tracked the exoplanet from late 2014 until late 2016, using the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE) — another instrument on the VLT. Beta Pictoris b then passed so close to the halo of the star that no instrument could resolve them from one another. Almost two years later, after seeming to merge into the image of the star, Beta Pictoris b has now emerged from the halo. This reappearance was captured again by SPHERE. The complete series of images, with the bright glow of the star Beta Pictoris blocked out, have been compiled to create a stunning and unique time-lapse of the long-period orbit of Beta Pictoris b. SPHERE caught sight of Beta Pictoris b by looking at it directly — not by inferring its existence. Most known exoplanets have been discovered using indirect methods — observing how they affect a star’s position or brightness. ESO’s SPHERE specialises in a method called direct imaging, hunting for exoplanets by taking their photographs. This extraordinarily challenging endeavour provides us with clear images of distant worlds such as Beta Pictoris b, 63 light-years away. Beta Pictoris b orbits its star at a distance similar to that between the Sun and Saturn, approximately 1.3 billion kilometres, meaning it’s the most closely orbiting exoplanet ever to have been directly imaged. The surface of this young planet is still hot, around 1 500 °C, and the light it emits enabled SPHERE to discover it and track its orbit, seeing it emerge from its passage in front of its parent star. Whilst a glance at these images might suggest that the planet transits the star, eclipsing a little of its light, Beta Pictoris b does not in fact qu


“These images are a remarkable achievement, heralding a new era in one of the most exciting and challenging areas of astronomy – discovering and characterising exoplanets,”

Below you can find a time-lapsed video of the image capture.


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Flat Earthers Now Believe The Earth Is Shaped Like A Donut

Flat Earthers Now Believe The Earth Is Shaped Like A Donut

Flat-Eathers aren’t famous for their intelligence or articulation, but even by their standards, a post by Flat-Earth Society member, Varuag, is pushing it.

In a long, barely decipherable post on the The Flat-Earth Society website’s forum, Varuag posits the theory that instead of being shaped like a pancake, The Earth is, in fact, the shape of a donut.

OK. I’m being little mean. Varuag doesn’t ever actually say that he believes this to be fact, instead he says it’s a theory that he thinks can be built upon. He says that The Earth is a torus. According to Wikipedia a torus is “a surface of revolution generated by revolving a circle in three-dimensional space about an axis coplanar with the circle”. In plain English, a three-dimensional donut.

In a series question and answers, Varuag laid his theory out. The first, and most important, question was along the lines of if it’s donut shaped, where’s the hole? Varuag responded that the curvature of light corresponds with the curvature of the torus, making the donut hole invisible (don’t worry, you’re not meant to understand).


Varuag goes on to explain his theory using logic that can barely even be described as pseudo-science. When asked “if I stand on the surface in the middle of the TE (torus earth) and look up, why can’t I see the opposite side of the torus?” He answers (and I quote),

Flat, or Donut?


“When you stand in the middle of the TE and look up, the light passes through the first atmosphere it reaches. However, by the time it reaches the second atmosphere (the one to re-enter the atmosphere of the TE) it has diminished enough to be reflected, and gets reflected into space, so you see space.”

So yeah. That about sums up the calibre of this theory. I’ve long ago given up attempting to figure out which parts of flat-earth theory satire and which are earnest. As always, I hope this is a joke but the sheer work gone into it suggests to me that Varuag is serious.

The link to the full thing is below, if you want to waste an hour making yourself less educated.

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Earth May Have Two Phantom Dust Moons Orbiting The Planet Alongside The Moon

Earth May Have Two Phantom “Dust Moons” Orbiting The Planet Alongside The Moon

In 1961, Polish astronomer, Kazimierz Kordylewski, thought he saw hints of a faint dust cloud in a region about an equal distance from Earth as The Moon. The cloud was so faint it was, however, that it was nearly impossible to prove that it was really there.

That is, until very recently. A team of Hungarian scientists, working from a private observatory in Badacsonytördemic, Hungary, believe that they have confirmed the existence of not only that cloud, but another as well. The clouds were found in a region of relative gravitational stability, about 400,000 KM from Earth, known as Lagrange points L4 and L5. A Lagrange point is an area in space that is affected by the gravitational force of two large objects (in this case Earth and The Moon). Of the five Lagrange points, L4 and L5 are the most stable, allowing objects to accumulate there, if only temporarily. These points orbit Earth ahead of The Moon forming a rough equilateral triangle.


How Did They Find Them?

The team took long exposures of the areas Kordylewski originally theorised the cloud would be and analysed the light being reflected. They found that light was reflecting from dust at point L5 and L4. Their findings matched with Kordylewski’s and also the findings of a paper the group of researchers had previously written.

Earth May Have Two Phantom Dust Moons Orbiting The Planet Alongside The Moon2

Brighter regions show suspected dust from the clouds. The lines are satellite paths. J. Slíz-Balogh


What Effects Does This Have on us?

More than you might imagine. Not only is it very cool that we may have found what Judit Sliz-Balogh calls “dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbour” and also confirmed a nearly 60-year-old theory, it may also have further benefits. Lagrange points like these can be used as sights for orbiting space probes and as transfer stations for missions exploring the wider solar system. Others have pointed out the potential for these sites to be used as a kind of dumping ground for the vast amount of space-junk already stuck in our orbit.

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Space Junk Hunter-Killer Satellites Are On The Way

We’ve known for a while now that Low Earth orbit is getting cluttered. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a good thing. According to the US Department of Defence, there are upwards of 29,000 large bits of space junk and nearly a million smaller peices, which pose a very real threat to satellites.

What is Space Junk?

Space junk is made up of bits of old satellites and other man-made debris that’s been left floating in orbit. Current satellites often have to perform evasive actions to avoid crashing into bits of it. If a satellite were to collide with a piece, it’s force would be the equivalent of an exploding grenade and it could shatter the satellite into around a million pieces. This could, in turn, pose a threat to the Earth.

Millions of pieces of space junk, many only the size of a fleck of paint, orbit the Earth. Credit: NASA


What Can We Do About it?

This has been an important question for a while now. ESA (European Space Agency) track the larger pieces of space junk and has a team dedicated to keeping the satellites out of harm’s way. As you can imagine, this ain’t cheap. In the past ideas of how to clean it up have focussed around firing nets to catch larger pieces, but this is ineffective at catching smaller pieces and a very slow process.

Now, a Japanese-Australian team has come up with a concept of launching a fleet of plasma-firing satellites that will push the debris out of orbit. The plan would be to slow down the objects enough that they fall closer to Earth’s orbit, where the friction would cause them to decay rapidly.

(a) Concept for space debris removal by bi-directional momentum ejection from a satellite. (b) Schematic of a magnetic nozzle rf plasma thruster having two open source exits. (a) When plasmas carrying momentum fluxes F1 and F2 are expelled from two axially opposite satellite exits, the respective forces shown by the horizontal arrows F1 (pointing to the left and providing the acceleration of the satellite with respect to the orbit velocity) and F2 (providing the deceleration) are generated and used to adjust the satellite velocity relative to the debris. Continuously imparting momentum flux F1 to the debris (horizontal arrow F1 pointing to the right) will cause its deceleration, final re-entry into the Earth atmosphere and natural burn up. (b) The open exits magnetic nozzle rf plasma thruster forming the single electric propulsion device where control of the momentum flux imparted onto the debris is obtained via the control of the plasma momentum fluxes ejected at each open exit using variable external parameters (solenoids currents and propellant gas flow rates).


Cool. What’s the Problem?

The force of the plasma ray would push the satellite away from the debris before it could finish its job. The solution that’s currently being worked on, is to eject another, equally powerful ray of plasma from the other side of the machine, to keep it balanced. It hasn’t yet been tested in space, but in theory, it seems very possible.

The main focus at the moment is stop more space junk being put into orbit, so future generations don’t have to deal with it. That doesn’t deal with the stuff we have now, though. Hopefully, this plasma ray is the solution we’ve been waiting for.

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Air Force’s Secret Space Plane Has Reached 400 Days In Orbit, And We Still Have No Clue What It’s Doing

The US Air Force secret space plane known as X-37B has reached it’s 400th day in orbit. It’s now on it’s fifth mission and is testing new technology and potentially deploying satellites. What that technology is remains a mystery despite few vague clues from the Air Force.

According to the US Air Force website, the X-37B, also known as the OTV, is being used to demonstrate reusable spacecraft technologies. It shares lineage with the Space Shuttle orbiters which were also able to land horizontally upon re-entry.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold; reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.


X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle waits in the encapsulation cell of the Evolved Expendable Launch vehicle April 5, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Fla. Half of the Atlas V five-meter fairing is visible in the background. (Courtesy photo)


Before the most recent launch, the Air Force and NASA even revealed two of the payloads for the first time: a NASA materials science experiment and an ionizing thruster being tested for the Air Force. Those clues have led analysts to speculate with a little more confidence about the X-37B’s purpose.

It’s clear that any technologies tested on an Air Force spaceplane will have some military application, but that doesn’t narrow things down much. In space, it could mean communications, navigation, surveillance, or even anti-satellite and counter-anti-satellite operations. The smart money is on advanced surveillance sensors. The Air Force has never mentioned them directly, but everyone seems confident that they’re flying.

“I think that’s probably what they’re not telling you, that there are payloads in there that might be part of the design for future reconnaissance satellites,” says James Andrew Lewis, director and senior fellow in the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Air Force has great interest in developing small, advanced sensors, he says, because it’s “looking to figure out how to transition from big, expensive satellites to smaller but equally capable satellites.”


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China Has Plans To Launch A 'Second Moon' Into The Sky, To Save Money On Streetlights

China Has Plans To Launch A ‘Second Moon’ Into The Sky, Will Save Money On Streetlights

Like something straight out of science fiction, or an episode of the Simpsons, China is building an artificial moon to replace traditional street lighting technologies.

Last week, at a national mass innovation and entrepreneurship event held in Chengdu, China, Wu Chunfeng the chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute, announced plans to launch an “artificial moon” in 2020.

Chunfeng has said that the purpose of the fake moon is to become an “illumination satellite” that could actually replace the city’s streetlights.


The artificial moon is predicted to be eight times as bright as the actual moon and will be able to light an area within a diameter of 50 miles. The team aims to make its presence in the night sky complimentary to the moon at night, where on Earth it will appear as a “dusk-like” glow.

China is taking on such an ambitious project due to cash concerns. According to Chinese news outlets, the artificial moon is set to replace traditional energy sources contributing to a value of 20 billion yuan in savings within five years of the launch.

Could China have a second moon in it’s night sky? Credit: Shutterstock


This all sounds like something from a movie, but similar projects have actually been attempted before. In 1993, Russia launched the Space Mirror, an illumination mechanism used to increase the length of a day. The Space Mirror used a sheet of plastic attached to a spacecraft to reflect sunlight back down on Earth. That project was technically unsuccessful.

russia space mirror

An image of the Znamya, Russian space mirror from 1993.

The artificial moon is not expected to cause any disturbances to astronomical observations. According to Kang Weimin, Ph.D., the director of the Institute of Optics at the Harbin Institute of Technology, the moonlight is equivalent to a bright evening.

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Astronomers Witness Birth Of A Neutron Star For The First Time

For the first time ever, humans have witnessed the formation of something known as a neutron star binary. The team of astronomers from the California Institute of Technology have just released their findings in Science Journal. It has been named Supernova iPTF 14gqr.

What happened?

It’s a very complicated process. To try to explain it all here would be as painful for me as it would be for you. I’ll try to keep it simple. Basically, neutron stars are one of a few possible outcomes from a supernova. A supernova is a kind of massive explosion that takes place when a star dies. When a star has burned through most of its fuel and can no longer hold itself together against gravity, the core of the star collapses and then erupts in a massive explosion which blasts away it’s outer-layers, leaving an incredibly dense object known as a neutron star. A neutron star is so dense, that one teaspoon would weigh as much as a mountain.

The supernova before, during, and after the explosion. NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt


What makes this special?

During a supernova, the star blasts away all of its outer-layers which is usually several times the mass of the sun. However, the event witnessed by the Caltech team saw material only about one-fifth of the mass of the sun blasted off. This means that the neutron star produced must have a companion (either a black hole, white dwarf, or another neutron star), that siphoned off some of the mass before the explosion. Because the neutron and its companion are born so close, they will eventually collide. A similar thing was seen in 2017 and it produced gravitational and electromagnetic waves.


The event was first seen at the Palomar Observatory, in a nightly survey designed to pick up short-lived rare occurrences such as this one. Before it was observed, the idea of a neutron star binary was only theoretic. Mansi Kasliwa, who’s laboratory the research took place in, said, “This is the first time we have convincingly seen core collapse of a massive star that is so devoid of matter.”

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Why The ISS Could End Up Abandoned As Soon As January 2019

Why The ISS Could End Up Abandoned As Soon As January 2019

On Thursday (10/11/18), a Russian spacecraft, the Soyuz MS-10, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrone, Kazakhstan with the intention of bringing NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin to the International Space Station (ISS). Not long after take-off there was a failure with one of the boosters, forcing the craft to perform a ballistic landing. Fortunately, both men appear to be unharmed.

What does this mean for the future of the ISS?

Good question. That depends on a lot of factors. Firstly, how long are Soyuz craft going to be grounded for? The ISS has a constant crew of up to six people. The crew usually spend up to six months on the station before returning to earth. This requires a continuous stream of launches in order to rotate the crew. If Soyuz can’t get new crew members up to the ISS, it’s going to be empty.


Can’t the current team just stay up there until Soyuz has their issues sorted out?

In a word, nope. The spacecraft currently docked to the ISS, designed to bring the current crew home, has a maximum work-life of 200 days, which gives them until early January, 2019. If Soyuz can’t get anyone up there by then, the ISS is going to be empty.

Are there any other options?

Kind of. But not very hopeful ones. Boeing and SpaceX both have spacecraft in the works, but neither is due to be completed until at least the middle of 2019. To make matters even worse, the SpaceX and Boeing options both require a crew on-board the space station to help them dock. Because of this, unless they can bring forward their dates of completion significantly, they simply aren’t an option. The NASA space shuttle used to be an option, but it was cut in 2011.


Is there any hope at all?

Well, the best hope would be Soyuz getting back in the sky in time. Apparently, they seem confident they’ll be able to (but they would say that). If all else fails, NASA believes the ISS could be successfully controlled from the ground; however, the risk of it being lost is significantly greater.

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NASA Told To “Ramp Up” The Search For Alien Life

A report released by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, thinks that “NASA should expand it’s search for life in the universe and make astrobiology an integral part of its missions”.

“An updated, more sophisticated catalog and framework will be important to enhance our ability to detect both life that might be similar to terrestrial life, and potential life that differs from life as we know it. The latter will be enabled by investigating novel agnostic biosignatures – signs of life that are not tied to a particular metabolism or molecular blueprint, or other characteristics of life as we currently know it.” tells the committee that wrote the report.

Astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe, is a rapidly changing field, and NASA needs to focus on recent advancements. “Recent scientific advances in the field now provide many opportunities to strengthen the role of astrobiology in NASA missions and to increase collaboration with other scientific fields and organizations. The report finds that these changes necessitate an updated science strategy for astrobiology.”


The report mentions a need to focus the search for life within subsurface ecosystems “In particular, the report found that NASA should focus on research and exploration of possible life below the surface of a planet in light of recent advances that have demonstrated the breadth and diversity of life below Earth’s surface, the nature of fluids beneath the surface of Mars, and the likelihood of life-sustaining geological processes in planets and moons with subsurface oceans. A renewed focus on how to seek signs of subsurface life will inform astrobiology investigations of other rocky planets or moons, ocean or icy worlds, and beyond to exoplanets.”

Hydrothermal vents are able to support extremophile bacteria on Earth and may also support life in other parts of the cosmos.


It further details a need for NASA to “ramp up” efforts in developing mission-ready life detection technologies to advance the search for life. Specifically it details the types of collaboration needed to achieve technological feats we have yet to accomplish “For studies of life on planets outside of this solar system, the agency should implement technologies in near-term ground- and space-based direct imaging missions that can suppress the light from stars. The specialized measurements, equipment, and analysis required to take full advantage of space missions include some that exist outside of traditional space science fields, highlighting the need for interdisciplinary, non-traditional cooperation and collaboration with organizations outside of NASA.”

You can read the full report online right here.

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ct Now To Avoid Unprecedented, Irreversible Climate Change

UN Climate Change Report: Act Now To Avoid Unprecedented, Irreversible Climate Change

Today, a UN special report was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to asses the impact of climate change. Specifically, issues with global warming reaching 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

One of the world’s biggest climate targets is to keep global warming below 2°C. As of today, the IPCC believes that this goal is no longer sufficient for staving away the consequences of global warming. The report goes on to say that in order to avoid catastrophic damage we will need rapid advancements in the fields of energy, land use, infrastructure and personal lifestyle.

UN Climate Change Report Act Now To Avoid Unprecedented Irreversible Climate Change

An illustration from the WWF showing the difference a half of a degree can make.


1.5°C vs. 2°C

Here is a breakdown on the potential difference between living in a world 2 degrees warmer, vs that of one 1.5 degree warmer:

Climate models project robust differences in regional climate characteristics between present-day and global warming of 1.5°C, and between 1.5°C and 2°C. These differences include increases in: mean temperature in most land and ocean regions, hot extremes in most inhabited regions, heavy precipitation in several regions, and the probability of drought and precipitation deficits in some regions.

By 2100, global mean sea level rise is projected to be around 0.1 metre lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared to 2°C. Sea level will continue to rise well beyond 2100, and the magnitude and rate of this rise depends on future emission pathways. A slower rate of sea level rise enables greater opportunities for adaptation in the human and ecological systems of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas.


Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2ºC is projected to reduce increases in ocean temperature as well as associated increases in ocean acidity and decreases in ocean oxygen levels. Consequently, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is projected to reduce risks to marine biodiversity, fisheries, and ecosystems, and their functions and
services to humans, as illustrated by recent changes to Arctic sea ice and warm water coral reef ecosystems.

Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C.

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Voyager 2 Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space

Voyager 2 Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space

The voyager probes, launched in 1977, have already travelled nearly 17.7 billon kilometers (or 11 billion miles) into our solar system. NASA project scientists believe that it’s about to become the second man made object to leave the heliosphere and reach interstellar space. Voyager 1, it’s counterpart, was the first object to reach interstellar space.

“We’re seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2, there’s no doubt about that. We’re going to learn a lot in the coming months, but we still don’t know when we’ll reach the heliopause. We’re not there yet – that’s one thing I can say with confidence.” says Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist.

Voyager 2 currently sits at the edge of the Heliosphere. The heliosphere is the bubble-like region of space dominated by the Sun, which extends far beyond the orbit of Pluto.

Voyager 2 Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space

This graphic shows the position of the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes relative to the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause, or the edge of the heliosphere, in 2012. Voyager 2 is still in the heliosheath, or the outermost part of the heliosphere.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


What the team is seeing with Voyager 2, resembles patterns seen in Voyager 1’s journey. In May 2012, Voyager 1 experienced an increase in the rate of cosmic rays similar to what Voyager 2 is now detecting. That was about three months before Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space.

However, Voyager team members note that the increase in cosmic rays is not a definitive sign that the probe is about to cross the heliopause. Voyager 2 is in a different location in the heliosheath — the outer region of the heliosphere — than Voyager 1 had been, and possible differences in these locations means Voyager 2 may experience a different exit timeline than Voyager 1.


The fact that Voyager 2 may be approaching the heliopause six years after Voyager 1 is also relevant, because the heliopause moves inward and outward during the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle. Solar activity refers to emissions from the Sun, including solar flares and eruptions of material called coronal mass ejections. During the 11-year solar cycle, the Sun reaches both a maximum and a minimum level of activity.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, managed by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

You can track Voyager’s progress right here.

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A Blueprint For Aliens Trying To Hack A Human Host

Allison E. McDonald, Wilfrid Laurier University

The movie Venom, the latest thriller in Marvel’s Spider-Man franchise, plays to one of our deepest human fears: the loss of self control. In the movie, journalist Eddie Brock becomes infected with a parasite and is transformed into Venom, an alien-human hybrid. But could a parasite truly control our minds and actions?

In order to think about this scenario, we can look to biology of parasites.

Parasites are both fascinating and revolting. They fall on the continuum of symbiotic relationships where two organisms live together in intimate association.

A close relationship between two species can be mutually beneficial, where an equal trade of resources takes place, such as with bees and flowers; the bees get a source of food (pollen or nectar), and the flower has its pollen spread to other flowers in order to reproduce.

Or parasites can tip the scales in their favour and take advantage of their hosts. Often this involves the stealing of nutrients or resources. For example, the aliens from Ridley Scott’s movies use humans as incubators for the next generation of their species.

Trailer for the 1979 movie ‘Alien,’ directed by Ridley Scott.

This alone would be terrifying, but the central premise of Venom is more disturbing. What if the parasite not only lives inside your body, but also takes away your autonomy and ability to control your behaviour?

Zombie ants

Venom is the product of a symbiotic association of an alien (the black goo) and Brock (played by Tom Hardy). Brock is the host, the alien is the parasite — and the source of Venom’s violent behaviour.

Nature contains many fascinating examples of parasites that can control host behaviour and physiology, and scientific studies indicate how this might play out in the film.

One well-characterized interaction where the parasite modifies the host’s behaviour and appearance is the relationship between the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis and its ant host.

These carpenter ants normally live in the tree canopy of tropical rainforests. When they leave the canopy to scavenge, some encounter the fungus and become infected by fungal spores.

The fungus uses the ant as an energy source, damaging muscle and the central nervous system. As the infection progresses, the ant develops seizures and a bizarre erratic zombie walk. Ultimately, the ant climbs a tree sapling and at solar noon clamps its mandibles onto a leaf, locking it into place until death.

A dead carpenter ant on the underside of a leaf after being infected by a parasitic fungus. The fungal fruiting body with spores emerges from the ant’s head.
Maj-Britt Pontoppidan, CC BY

The fungus — its survival and growth now ensured — grows a fruiting body (a stalk covered in spores) out of the ant’s head and releases the spores, infecting other ants. And the cycle continues.

Not only does the fungus alter the behaviour of the ant by manipulating its neurobiology, but it also changes the physiology of the ant to lock it in place even after it dies.

In reel life

If we apply this to Venom, as a first step, the alien needs to somehow invade or interface with the human host.

Based on the trailer, the alien appears to crawl into Brock’s mouth. The next steps are far more complicated and involve gaining control over the host’s movements and mind.

What mechanisms could explain the control that a parasite exerts on a host’s behaviour and physiology? One hypothesis is that the parasite makes proteins that interact with the biological pathways responsible for motion and behaviour in the host. In effect, the alien hijacks the human for its own use.

A recent study looked at which genes the fungus was expressing (that is, which proteins were being produced) during the ant’s death bite. The fungus likely uses toxins to target the ant’s immune system and interfere with its ability to detect environmental cues — it may even drug its victim.

In Venom, the alien must be producing molecules that reprogram Eddie’s biochemistry to give it control of his body and mind, without killing him outright.

This is tricky business, made trickier since it’s unlikely the alien parasite has co-evolved with humans for any length of time, like the fungus and ants.

Human hack?

From a purely biological standpoint, the alien parasite almost certainly lacks the genetic tools to hack Brock — or any other human — to any appreciable extent. But, given enough time for adaptation to occur — or some technological help — perhaps such parasites might find a way around these challenges.

One of the defining characteristics of life is its ability to reproduce. Can the alien parasite in Venom replicate and infect other hosts when Brock is no longer useful for its survival?

Fortunately for us, based on our current knowledge of biology, it’s more likely an alien parasite would kill us outright upon infection or be biologically incompatible with our neurological and physiological systems than exert any sort of mind control.

Humanity can rest easy — and so can our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.The Conversation

Allison E. McDonald, Associate Professor of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Russian Newspaper Claiming U.S. Astronauts Drilled The Hole In The ISS

Russian Space Agency Claims Hole In The ISS May Have Been Deliberately Drilled

The head of Roscosmos, Dimitry Rogozin, has said that he believes the hole found in the ISS was not an accident and could have been drilled intentionally.

Rogozin spoke with media on October 1st to say that russian investigators have been looking into the cause of the hole, according to the AFP. Saying that a manufacturing defect has been ruled out as the cause:

“It [the investigation] concluded that a manufacturing defect had been ruled out, which is important to establish the truth. “Where it was made will be established by a second commission, which is at work now.” Initially, the hole was thought to be caused by a meteorite fragment, but markings around the hole that appear to be drill marks have investigators suspicious.

Russian Newspaper Claiming U.S. Astronauts Drilled The Hole In The ISS

Markings near the hole suggest it is more likely that a drill was used, than an impact from a meteorite.


The hole that was located in August (in the Russian made Soyuz) was quickly sealed up but speculation led to a great deal of controversy over the cause. Russia at first had accused the U.S. of creating the hole but than backed off from the claim.

The current ISS commander, US astronaut Drew Feustel, called the suggestion that the crew was somehow involved “embarrassing”.

Russia continues to investigate, and last month they even claimed to have identified the individual responsible, although they weren’t able to divulge their intentions (deliberate or by mistake), nor confirm this is fact.


It’s unclear what the end result of this investigation will be. It seems highly unlikely that this would be a deliberate event from any members on board.

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A Falcon 9 SpaceX heavy rocket lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Feb. 6, 2018. AP Photo/ John Raoux

A Decade Of Commercial Space Travel – What’s Next?

Joel Wooten, University of South Carolina

In many industries, a decade is barely enough time to cause dramatic change unless something disruptive comes along – a new technology, business model or service design. The space industry has recently been enjoying all three.

But 10 years ago, none of those innovations were guaranteed. In fact, on Sept. 28, 2008, an entire company watched and hoped as their flagship product attempted a final launch after three failures. With cash running low, this was the last shot. Over 21,000 kilograms of kerosene and liquid oxygen ignited and powered two booster stages off the launchpad.

While scientists are busy developing new technologies that address the countless technical problems of space, there is another segment of researchers, including myself, studying the business angle and the operations issues facing this new industry. In a recent paper, my colleague Christopher Tang and I investigate the questions firms need to answer in order to create a sustainable space industry and make it possible for humans to establish extraterrestrial bases, mine asteroids and extend space travel – all while governments play an increasingly smaller role in funding space enterprises. We believe these business solutions may hold the less-glamorous key to unlocking the galaxy.When that Falcon 1 rocket successfully reached orbit and the company secured a subsequent contract with NASA, SpaceX had survived its ‘startup dip’. That milestone – the first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit – ignited a new space industry that is changing our world, on this planet and beyond. What has happened in the intervening years, and what does it mean going forward?

The new global space industry

When the Soviet Union launched their Sputnik program, putting a satellite in orbit in 1957, they kicked off a race to space fueled by international competition and Cold War fears. The Soviet Union and the United States played the primary roles, stringing together a series of “firsts” for the record books. The first chapter of the space race culminated with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic Apollo 11 moon landing which required massive public investment, on the order of US$25.4 billion, almost $200 billion in today’s dollars.

Competition characterized this early portion of space history. Eventually, that evolved into collaboration, with the International Space Station being a stellar example, as governments worked toward shared goals. Now, we’ve entered a new phase – openness – with private, commercial companies leading the way.

The industry for spacecraft and satellite launches is becoming more commercialized, due, in part, to shrinking government budgets. According to a report from the investment firm Space Angels, a record 120 venture capital firms invested over $3.9 billion in private space enterprises last year. The space industry is also becoming global, no longer dominated by the Cold War rivals, the United States and USSR.

In 2018 to date, there have been 72 orbital launches, an average of two per week, from launch pads in China, Russia, India, Japan, French Guinea, New Zealand and the U.S.

The uptick in orbital launches of actual rockets as well as spacecraft launches, which includes satellites and probes launched from space, coincides with this openness over the past decade.

More governments, firms and even amateurs engage in various spacecraft launches than ever before. With more entities involved, innovation has flourished. As Roberson notes in Digital Trends, “Private, commercial spaceflight. Even lunar exploration, mining, and colonization – it’s suddenly all on the table, making the race for space today more vital than it has felt in years.”

Worldwide launches into space. Orbital launches include manned and unmanned spaceships launched into orbital flight from Earth. Spacecraft launches include all vehicles such as spaceships, satellites and probes launched from Earth or space. Wooten, J. and C. Tang (2018) Operations in space, Decision Sciences; Space Launch Report (Kyle 2017); Spacecraft Encyclopedia (Lafleur 2017), CC BY-ND


One can see this vitality plainly in the news. On Sept. 21, Japan announced that two of its unmanned rovers, dubbed Minerva-II-1, had landed on a small, distant asteroid. For perspective, the scale of this landing is similar to hitting a 6-centimeter target from 20,000 kilometers away. And earlier this year, people around the world watched in awe as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched and – more impressively – returned its two boosters to a landing pad in a synchronized ballet of epic proportions.

Challenges and opportunities

Amidst the growth of capital, firms and knowledge, both researchers and practitioners must figure out how entities should manage their daily operations, organize their supply chain and develop sustainable operations in space. This is complicated by the hurdles space poses: distance, gravity, inhospitable environments and information scarcity.

One of the greatest challenges involves actually getting the things people want in space, into space. Manufacturing everything on Earth and then launching it with rockets is expensive and restrictive. A company called Made In Space is taking a different approach by maintaining an additive manufacturing facility on the International Space Station and 3D printing right in space. Tools, spare parts and medical devices for the crew can all be created on demand. The benefits include more flexibility and better inventory management on the space station. In addition, certain products can be produced better in space than on Earth, such as pure optical fiber.

How should companies determine the value of manufacturing in space? Where should capacity be built and how should it be scaled up? The figure below breaks up the origin and destination of goods between Earth and space and arranges products into quadrants. Humans have mastered the lower left quadrant, made on Earth – for use on Earth. Moving clockwise from there, each quadrant introduces new challenges, for which we have less and less expertise.

A framework of Earth-space operations. Wooten, J. and C. Tang (2018) Operations in Space, Decision Sciences, CC BY-ND


I first became interested in this particular problem as I listened to a panel of robotics experts discuss building a colony on Mars (in our third quadrant). You can’t build the structures on Earth and easily send them to Mars, so you must manufacture there. But putting human builders in that extreme environment is equally problematic. Essentially, an entirely new mode of production using robots and automation in an advance envoy may be required.

Resources in space

You might wonder where one gets the materials for manufacturing in space, but there is actually an abundance of resources: Metals for manufacturing can be found within asteroids, water for rocket fuel is frozen as ice on planets and moons, and rare elements like helium-3 for energy are embedded in the crust of the moon. If we brought that particular isotope back to Earth, we could eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.

As demonstrated by the recent Minerva-II-1 asteroid landing, people are acquiring the technical know-how to locate and navigate to these materials. But extraction and transport are open questions.

How do these cases change the economics in the space industry? Already, companies like Planetary Resources, Moon Express, Deep Space Industries, and Asterank are organizing to address these opportunities. And scholars are beginning to outline how to navigate questions of property rights, exploitation and partnerships.

Threats from space junk

A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95 percent of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris – not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item. The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. NASA


The movie “Gravity” opens with a Russian satellite exploding, which sets off a chain reaction of destruction thanks to debris hitting a space shuttle, the Hubble telescope, and part of the International Space Station. The sequence, while not perfectly plausible as written, is a very real phenomenon. In fact, in 2013, a Russian satellite disintegrated when it was hit with fragments from a Chinese satellite that exploded in 2007. Known as the Kessler effect, the danger from the 500,000-plus pieces of space debris has already gotten some attention in public policy circles. How should one prevent, reduce or mitigate this risk? Quantifying the environmental impact of the space industry and addressing sustainable operations is still to come.

What’s Next?

It’s true that space is becoming just another place to do business. There are companies that will handle the logistics of getting your destined-for-space module on board a rocket; there are companies that will fly those rockets to the International Space Station; and there are others that can make a replacement part once there.What’s next?

What comes next? In one sense, it’s anybody’s guess, but all signs point to this new industry forging ahead. A new breakthrough could alter the speed, but the course seems set: exploring farther away from home, whether that’s the moon, asteroids or Mars. It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, SpaceX launches were yet to be successful. Today, a vibrant private sector consists of scores of companies working on everything from commercial spacecraft and rocket propulsion to space mining and food production. The next step is working to solidify the business practices and mature the industry.

Standing in a large hall at the University of Pittsburgh as part of the White House Frontiers Conference, I see the future. Wrapped around my head are state-of-the-art virtual reality goggles. I’m looking at the surface of Mars. Every detail is immediate and crisp. This is not just a video game or an aimless exercise. The scientific community has poured resources into such efforts because exploration is preceded by information. And who knows, maybe 10 years from now, someone will be standing on the actual surface of Mars.The Conversation

Joel Wooten, Assistant Professor of Management Science, University of South Carolina

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Canadian Donna Strickland Wins Nobel Prize In Physics

Canadian Donna Strickland Wins Nobel Prize In Physics

Todd Adams, Florida State University

Our world is full of light, and we depend upon it to power life on our planet. So it is appropriate to honor three scientists who invented new ways of using light rays to explore our world.

The 2018 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for developing tools made from light beams. Ashkin won half of the prize for his work on optical tweezers, which are beams of light that can actually manipulate tiny objects like cells or atoms, while Mourou and Strickland won the other half for creating technology that generates high-intensity, ultra-short laser pulses, which are used for eye surgeries, material sciences, studies of very fast processes and plasma physics, among others.

Alfred Nobel specified in his will that the physics prize should be awarded for “the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics,” so as a physicist I think he’d be pleased that this year’s award recognizes inventions made in the 1970s and 1980s that have led to practical applications that benefit mankind.

Donna Strickland is only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in physics, out of 210 recipients, and the first since 1963. Marie Curie was the first, in 1903; she won another one in 1911 for chemistry. Maria Goeppert-Mayer was the second. Hopefully in the future the Nobel Prize committee can lower the average of 60 years between women laureates being named.

What are optical tweezers?

Using light to manipulate our world has become very important in science and medicine over the past several decades. This year’s physics Nobel recognizes the invention of tools that have facilitated advances in many fields. Optical tweezers use light to hold tiny objects in place or measure their movement. It may seem odd that light can actually hold something in place, but it has been well-known for more than a century that light can apply a force on physical objects through what is known as radiation pressure. In 1969, Arthur Ashkin used lasers to trap and accelerate micron sized objects such as tiny spheres and water droplets. This led to the invention of optical tweezers that use two or more focused laser beams aimed in opposite directions to attract a target particle or cell toward the center of the beams and hold it in place. Each time the particle moves away from the center, it encounters a force pushing it back toward the center.

The Optical Cell Rotator uses laser beams from optical fibers to hold living cells in place. The beams can be used to rotate the cells for detailed imaging.


Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William D. Phillips won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics for development of laser cooling traps, known as optical traps, that hold atoms within a confined space. Askhin and Chu worked together at Bell Laboratories in the 1980s laying the foundation for work on optical traps. While Chu continued work with neutral atoms, Ashkin pursued larger, biological targets. In 1987, Ashkin used optical tweezers to examine an individual bacterium – without harming the microbe. Now optical tweezers are routinely used in studies of molecules and cells.

Ashkin earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and his Ph.D. from Cornell. He started at Bell Laboratories in 1952 and retired in 1992. But he assembled a home laboratory to continue his scientific investigations. He has been awarded more than 45 patents.

Why are fast laser pulses important?

Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland worked together at the University of Rochester, where they developed the technique called chirped pulse amplification for laser light. Strickland was a graduate student and Mourou was her thesis advisor in the mid-1980s. At the time, progress on creating brighter lasers had slowed. Stronger lasers tended to damage themselves. Strickland and Mourou invented a way to create more intense light, but in short pulses.

You are probably most familiar with laser pointers or barcode scanners, which are just some of the ways we use lasers in everyday life. But these are relatively low-intensity lasers. Many scientific applications need much stronger ones.

To solve this problem, Mourou and Strickland used lasers with very short (ultrashort) pulses – quick bursts of light separated in time. With chirped pulse amplification, the pulses are stretched in time, making them longer and less intense, and then the pulses are amplified up to a million times. When these pulses are compressed again (through reversing the process used to stretch), the pulses are much more intense than can be created without the chirped pulse amplification technique. As an analogy, consider a thick rubber band. When the band is stretched, the rubber becomes thinner. When it is released, it returns to its original thickness. Now imagine that there is a way to make the stretched rubber band thicker. When the band is released, it will end up thicker than than the original band. This is essentially what happens with the laser pulse.

There are a variety of ways the stretching and amplification can be done, but nearly all of the highest-power lasers in the world use some variation of this technique. Since the invention of chirped pulse amplification, the maximum intensity of new lasers has continued a dramatic rise.

The chirped pulse amplification technique creates extremely intense pulses of light by stretching in time short pulses of light before amplifying them up to a million times. When the pulse is compressed again, it results in pulses that are a million times more intense than the original light., CC BY-SA


In my own field of particle physics, chirped pulse amplification-based lasers are used to accelerate beams of particles, possibly providing a path to greater acceleration in a shorter distance. This could lead to lower-cost, high-energy accelerators that can push the bounds of particle physics – enabling us to detect evermore elusive particles and gain a better understanding of the universe.

But not all particle accelerators are behemoths like the Large Hadron Collider, which has a circumference of 17 miles. There are some 30,000 industrial particle accelerators worldwide that are used closer to home for material preparation, cancer treatment and medical research. Mourou and Strickland’s work may be used to shrink the size of these accelerators making them smaller and cheaper.

Ultrafast, high-intensity lasers are also now being used in eye surgery. It can be used to treat the cornea (surface of the eye) to improve vision in some patients. The chirped pulse amplification invention is also used in attosecond science for studying ultrafast processes. An attosecond is one million trillionth of a second. By having lasers that produce pulses every attosecond, we can get a snapshots of extremely fast processes such as atoms losing an electron (ionizing) and then recapturing it.

The Nobel Prize-winning work was the basis for Strickland’s Ph.D. thesis from the University of Rochester. Dr. Strickland is now an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Mourou became the founding director of the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science at the University of Michigan in 1990. He later became director of the Laboratorie d’Optique de Applique in France.


The 2018 Nobel Prize in physics shines a light on the pioneering work of these three scientists. Over the past three decades, their inventions have created avenues of science and medical treatments that were previously unattainable. It is certain that we will continue to benefit from their work for a long time.The Conversation

Todd Adams, Professor of Physics, Florida State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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New Object Discovered In Our Solar System

New Object Discovered In Our Solar System

Announced on Tuesday by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, a newly discovered body has been found in our solar system known as 2015 TG387 (nicknamed “The Goblin”).

The research has been reported in the Astronomical Journal by Carnegie Science.

2015 TG387 was discovered about 80 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, a measurement defined as the distance between the Earth and Sun. For context, Pluto is around 34 AU, so 2015 TG387 is about two and a half times further away from the Sun than Pluto is right now.

“We think there could be thousands of small bodies like 2015 TG387 out on the Solar System’s fringes, but their distance makes finding them very difficult. Currently we would only detect 2015 TG387 when it is near its closest approach to the Sun. For some 99 percent of its 40,000-year orbit, it would be too faint to see.” says the University of Hawaii’s David Tholen.

new object solar system the goblin

A comparison of 2015 TG387 at 65 AU with the Solar System’s known planets. Saturn can be seen at 10 AU and Earth is, of course, at 1 AU, as the measurement is defined as the distance between the Sun and our home planet. Illustration by Roberto Molar Candanosa and Scott Sheppard, courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science.


What Is Planet X?

The Goblin was discovered while hunting for Planet X. A quick brush up on Planet X; Caltech researchers have found mathematical evidence suggesting there may be a “Planet X” deep in the solar system. This hypothetical Neptune-sized planet orbits our sun in a highly elongated orbit far beyond Pluto. The object, which the researchers have nicknamed “Planet Nine,” could have a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbit about 20 times farther from the sun on average than Neptune. It may take between 10,000 and 20,000 Earth years to make one full orbit around the sun.

The elongated orbit of 2015 TG387 and other similar objects could indicate the influence of a larger body in our solar system.

“These distant objects are like breadcrumbs leading us to Planet X. The more of them we can find, the better we can understand the outer Solar System and the possible planet that we think is shaping their orbits—a discovery that would redefine our knowledge of the Solar System’s evolution,” notes Scott Sheppard added.


The orbits of the new extreme dwarf planet, 2015 TG387, and its fellow Inner Oort Cloud objects, 2012 VP113 and Sedna, as compared with the rest of the Solar System. 2015 TG387 was nicknamed “The Goblin” by the discoverers, as its provisional designation contains TG and the object was first seen near Halloween. 2015 TG387 has a larger semi-major axis than either 2012 VP113 or Sedna, which means it travels much further from the Sun at its most distant point in its orbit, which is around 2,300 AU. Illustration by Roberto Molar Candanosa and Scott Sheppard, courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science.


The existence of The Goblin, and other similar bodies, does not necessarily indicate the presence of Planet X but simulations have shown that its presence would guarantee orbit stability for 2015 TG387.

Discovery images of 2015 TG387, taken 3 hours apart at the Subaru Telescope on October 13, 2018. 2015 TG387 is the dot moving near the center. Scott Sheppard


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Scientists Suggest Key Building Block Of Life May Have Been Delivered To Earth From Outer Space

Scientists Suggest Key Building Block Of Life May Have Been Delivered To Earth From Outer Space

Panspermia – the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by space dust, meteoroids, asteroids, comets, planetoids, and also by spacecraft carrying unintended contamination by microorganisms – is nothing new. It’s a theory that has been around for decades.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa is investigating the theory, and trying to get to the heart of elements involved. In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers suggest that phosphate could have been delivered to Earth in its first billion years by meteorites or comets.


The team used the process of infrared spectroscopy to analyze. In this process the team uses an ultra-high vacuum chamber to cool simulated interstellar grains down to -270°C (-450°F). They coat those grains in carbon dioxide and water, and phosphine.

Within the chamber, they expose these grains to radiation which simulates cosmic rays in space. The result is the production of phosphoric acid which is a key ingredient in life here on Earth.

“On Earth, phosphine is lethal to living beings. But in the interstellar medium, an exotic phosphine chemistry can promote rare chemical reaction pathways to initiate the formation of biorelevant molecules such as oxoacids of phosphorus, which eventually might spark the molecular evolution of life as we know it.” says lead author Andrew Turner.


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Japan's Rovers Have Sent More Images From The Surface Of Asteroid Ryugu

Japan’s Rovers Have Sent More Images From The Surface Of Asteroid Ryugu

Just last week Japan successfully landed the first rovers on an Asteroid and on day one they were sending back some stunning images.

Now, the two rovers Rover-1A and 2B (known together is MINERVA II) have delivered new images with a remarkable amount of detail.

“The MINERVA-II1 rovers were deployed on September 21 to explore the surface of asteroid Ryugu. Here is the second report on their activities, following our preliminary article at the start of this week. We end this report with a video taken by one of the rovers that shows the Sun moving across the sky as seen from the surface of Ryugu. Please take a moment to enjoy “standing” on this new world.”

Rover-1B hop

More Images From The Surface Of Asteroid Ryugu

Images taken by Rover-1B. September 23, 2018: confirmation of Rover-1B hop.
Observation time (JST): (Left) 2018-09-23 09:50, (Center) 2018-09-23 09:55, (Right) 2018-09-23 10:00


Image captured immediately before hop of Rover-1B

September 23, 2018: image captured immediately before hop of Rover-1B. 2018-9-23 09:46 (JST).
(Image credit: JAXA)

Surface image from Rover-1B after landing


September 23, 2018 at 10:10 JST: surface image from Rover-1B after landing
(Image credit: JAXA)


Surface image taken from Rover-1A

Ryugu surface

September 23, 2018 at 09:43 JST: surface image taken from Rover-1A
(Image credit: JAXA)

Rover-1A captured the shadow of its own antenna and pin

September 23, 2018 at 09:48 JST: surface image taken from Rover-1A. MINERVA-II1 successfully captured the shadow of its own antenna and pin.


Rover-1B successfully shot a movie

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Astronomers Looking For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Andromeda Galaxy

Astronomers Looking For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Andromeda Galaxy

A new project known as the Trillion Planet Survey, is launching a search for directed intelligence in M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy). The project is being run by the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The aim of the Trillion Planet Survey is to try and detect laser signals directed at us from an extraterrestrial civilization in M31. And according to researchers, this is our best target for searching to date, “Andromeda is home to at least one trillion stars, and thus at least one trillion planets. As a result, in surveying M31, we are surveying one trillion planets, and consequently one trillion possible locations of intelligent life. This is an unprecedented number of targets relative to other past SETI searches. ”


Specifically, researchers will be looking for intelligence of “similar or higher class than ours trying to broadcast their presence using an optical beam,” says lead researcher Andrew Stewart, a student at Emory University and a member of Lubin’s group (Lubin is the the lead on the Trillion Planet Survey).

1Astronomers Looking For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. The image also shows Messier Objects 32 and 110, as well as NGC 206 (a bright star cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy) and the star Nu Andromedae. This image was taken using a hydrogen-alpha filter.


Below you can read the abstract from the Trillion Planet Project:

In realm of optical SETI, searches for pulsed laser signals have historically been preferred over those for continuous wave beacons. There are many valid reasons for this, namely the near elimination of false positives and simple experimental components. However, due to significant improvements in laser technologies and light-detection systems since the mid-20th century, as well as new data from the recent Kepler mission, continuous wave searches should no longer be ignored. In this paper we propose a search for continuous wave laser beacons from an intelligent civilization in the Andromeda galaxy. Using only a 0.8 meter telescope, a standard photometric system, and an image processing pipeline, we expect to be able to detect any CW laser signal directed at us from an extraterrestrial civilization in M31, as long as the civilization is operating at a wavelength we can “see” and has left the beacon on long enough for us to detect it here on Earth. The search target is M31 due to its high stellar density relative to our own Milky Way galaxy. Andromeda is home to at least one trillion stars, and thus at least one trillion planets. As a result, in surveying M31, we are surveying one trillion planets, and consequently one trillion possible locations of intelligent life. This is an unprecedented number of targets relative to other past SETI searches. We call this the TPS or Trillion Planet Survey.

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Unexpected Find From A Neutron Star Forces A Rethink On Radio Jets

Unexpected Find From A Neutron Star Forces A Rethink On Radio Jets

James Miller-Jones, Curtin University

Just a little to the left of the leftmost part of the “W” in the constellation Cassiopeia lies a binary system of a neutron star in a 27-day orbit with a more massive, rapidly rotating star.

It’s from here we’ve detected radio jets – material travelling close to the speed of light and emitting radio waves – with details published today in Nature.

But the find was something not predicted by current theory. This particular neutron star has a very strong magnetic field, yet jets from neutron stars had only previously been observed in systems with magnetic fields about 1,000 times weaker.

Neutron stars are dense stellar corpses, with about one and a half times the mass of the Sun squeezed into a sphere just ten kilometres across.


With enormous densities (similar to that of an atomic nucleus), they are the densest objects that can support themselves against their own gravity. If they were any denser they would collapse to form a black hole.

A Swift discovery

This particular binary system, known as Swift J0243.6+6124, was first discovered on October 3, 2017, by NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory. This satellite, known as Swift, continuously scans the sky looking for new, bright sources of X-ray emission.

After a bright new burst of X-rays was detected from the location of this binary system, astronomers from across the world trained their telescopes on the source to try to determine what was producing them.

It turned out that the strong gravity of the neutron star in this system was capturing material thrown off by the rapid rotation of the other star. For many years this gas had been piling up in a disk of matter swirling around the neutron star.

An artist’s impression of the binary system Swift J0243.6+6124 with a neutron star in a 27-day orbit and a more massive, rapidly-rotating donor star. ICRAR/University of Amsterdam, Author provided


When enough matter had accumulated, it all started to move inwards at once. We’re all familiar with a weight thrown from the top of a hill picking up speed as it falls. The physics behind this everyday phenomenon is the release of gravitational energy, which is converted into the energy of motion.

In exactly the same way, the gravitational energy of the mass was released as it fell in towards the neutron star. That energy was initially converted into motion, and eventually into X-ray radiation, which was what the Swift satellite detected.

Closer inspection

Our team, led by PhD student Jakob van den Eijnden from the University of Amsterdam, also detected radio waves from the source, using the Karl G Jansky Very Large Array observatory, in New Mexico.

The brightness of the radio emission tracked the brightness of the X-rays from the source as the burst rose and then faded away over a period of a few months. The behaviour of the radio emission led us to conclude that it was coming from jets.

Jets are narrowly-focused beams of matter and energy that travel outwards at close to the speed of light. They carry away some of the gravitational energy released when matter falls in towards a central object, such as a black hole or neutron star.

The jets deposit this energy into the surroundings, often at very large distances from the launch point.

In neutron stars and black holes that are only a few times more massive than the Sun, this energy can be transported many light years away. For supermassive black holes that lie at the centres of galaxies, the jets can carry away energy to hundreds of thousands of light years from the galaxy centre.

The first jet was discovered 100 years ago by the astronomer Heber Curtis, who noticed a “curious straight ray” associated with the nearby galaxy M87. Since the dawn of radio and X-ray astronomy in the middle of last century, jets have been studied extensively.

They are produced whenever matter falls onto a dense central object, from newly-forming stars to white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes. The one exception had been neutron stars with strong magnetic fields – around a trillion times stronger than that of the Sun.

Against the theory

Despite decades of observations, jets had not been detected in these systems. This had led to the suggestion that strong magnetic fields prevented jets from being launched.

Our detection of jets from a neutron star with a strong magnetic field disproved the idea that had held for the past several decades. But it requires a re-examination of our theories for how jets are produced.

There are two main theories explaining how jets are launched. If a magnetic field threads the event horizon of a spinning black hole, the rotational energy of the hole can be extracted to power the jets.

But as neutron stars have no event horizon, their jets are instead thought to be launched from rotating magnetic fields in the inner part of the disk of gas surrounding it. Particles can be flung out along magnetic field lines in much the same way as a bead will move outward on a wire that you whirl around above your head.

If a neutron star’s magnetic field is sufficiently strong, it should prevent the disk of matter from getting close enough to the neutron star for this second mechanism to work. We therefore need another explanation.

Recent theoretical work has suggested that under certain circumstances it might be possible to launch jets from the extraction of the neutron star’s rotational energy.

In our case, this could have been enabled by the high rate at which matter was falling inwards. It would also explain why the jets that we saw were about 100 times weaker than seen in other neutron stars with weaker magnetic fields.

Whatever the explanation, our result is a great example of how science works, with theories being developed, tested against observations and revised in light of new experimental results.

It also provides us with a new class of sources to test how magnetic fields affect the launching of jets, helping us to understand this key feedback mechanism in the universe.The Conversation

James Miller-Jones, Associate Professor, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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China Confirms Tiangong-2 Space Station Will Crash To Earth Next Year

China Confirms Tiangong-2 Space Station Will Crash To Earth Next Year

On April 2nd, 2018 the Tiangong-1 space station crashed to Earth and landed in the Pacific Ocean. Now, the Tiangong-2 is in jeopardy of suffering the same fate.

China has stated the Tiangong-2 is expected to return to Earth in July of 2019. The re-entry will be controlled, so it will not be as dramatic as the Tiangong-1 crisis which was an uncontrolled fall into the pacific ocean.

“Tiangong-2 has fulfilled its mission during the two-year time, and all the loads are now in good condition. It will be in orbit until July 2019, and then will be controlled to deorbit.” says Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.

The space lab, which has been in orbit for two years, was launched in 2016. It performed 14 projects and carried a 600 kg load. It has only seen a manned crew just once.

China Confirms Tiangong-2 Space Station Will Crash To Earth Next Year3

China’s Tiangong 2 space lab is launched on a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, in China’s Gansu province, on September 15, 2016.
China launched its second space lab on September 15, as the Communist country works towards setting up its own space station. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO / AFP / – (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)



Using knowledge from the Tiangong 1 and 2, China is now setting its sights on a permanent space station project with construction starting in 2022.

In July we’ll be privy to another unique atmospheric entry from a man made object, albeit the control factor may make the event less dramatic than its predecessor.

China Confirms Tiangong-2 Space Station Will Crash To Earth Next Year1

This TV grab taken from CCTV (China Central Television) on 1 April 2018 shows a file photo of Tiangong-1, China’s experimental space lab, before it plunged to Earth.


China Confirms Tiangong-2 Space Station Will Crash To Earth Next Year

Monitor image of Tiangong-1’s fall to Earth, tracked by Korea’s space science institute. Photograph: Yonhap/EPA

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Hurricane Florence Strikes East Coast of United States

AI Could Help Us Manage Natural Disasters – But Only To An Extent

Roger Wang, University of Dundee

Residents are struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, a record-breaking storm that has hit the US east coast and led to at least 32 deaths, floods and damaged homes. Meanwhile, Typhoon Mangkhut has been ravaging southern China. More than three million people were evacuated.

In the last few years, AI has become ever more powerful. It can diagnose diseases, book restaurants, fake presidential speeches, and even compose hit music and produce trailers for horror movies. So in this new era of “big data” and “artificial intelligence”, do we have new tools to protect our society and manage the damage of such storms?

AI demonstrated a superior ability to understand certain situations in 2016, when the programme AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, 18-time world champion, at the game Go, the most sophisticated game in history. But is this superior capability seen elsewhere, too? Could, for example, AI understand, predict and manage natural disasters – such as floods – better than humans can?

A computer game and a flood are obviously two very different things. But AI is catching up humans in understanding “things”. For example, researchers recently demonstrated that AI could help diagnose breast tumours from the medical imaging. And more preliminary research is showing that AI could definitely help us monitor floods and could perhaps even deliver more accurate early warning messages in the near future.


In a recently published paper, I describe how I used two of the most popular AI techniques to monitor tweets and photos streamed from Twitter and a mobile app called MyCoast. These AI-based algorithms can identify the location mentioned in a tweet about flooding and describe the content of the photos to recognise flood scenes through intensive training with “worked examples”, photos manually labelled by humans using keywords. After such training, the trained AI could make a prediction about whether a new photo is a flood scene or not.

Diagnosing breast tumours and identifying floods is, of course, something that humans can do. But AI can up the potential of such human capability by a major scale. An AI programme, for example, can read thousands of tweets and photos in seconds. In addition, AI does not tire – its judgement is kept at the same level all the time. In comparison, human judgements are subjective, changing due to decreasing concentration and fluctuating emotions. So yes, AI is much more powerful than humans in these aspects, especially in terms of speed and volume.

Dystopia hype

So should we be worried about this power? Many argue that we should worry about AI using natural disasters to destroy human society, as imagined in the recent movie Geostorm. Technology tycoon Elon Musk has also spoken of AI posing an “existential risk” to humans. But it is important to note that AI cannot compete with humans, at least in the foreseeable future, in many other areas.


First, AI is a mimicking algorithm of human judgements. AI is better than humans in terms of speed and volume, but not in terms of quality. This is especially true of flood monitoring. My research demonstrated that AI could make mistakes in recognising flood scenes. However, this situation might change in the future, as it did in the case of the game Go. As more training datasets become available, the accuracy and reliability of AI’s predictions will be further improved.

Second, AI is still weak when it comes to prediction. Although these algorithms can make acceptable forecasts within the scope of the past, predictions become wild when they go beyond the parameters of the training data. Say you are given a series of points to connect with a line. It’s relatively easy to guess what lies between the points as the guess cannot be absurdly wrong (assuming the data is not fluctuating too much). But it will be far more difficult to guess the point beyond the most right and the most left points because there is no evidence as to how they will change.

In terms of flood-monitoring, then, it is difficult to predict long-term flood trends based on the past training datasets because climate change is fundamentally changing the trend of many hydrological factors. We have no acceptable training data in this case.

But the most fundamental difference between AI and humans, I think, is the difference in consciousness, or more specifically, motivation. So far, AI will do whatever the users ask, but it cannot come up with an idea of its own. My two-year-old daughter can easily exceed AI when she says “I want that candy”. She can even improvise by saying repeatedly “I want want that candy” to emphasise her demand. I cannot imagine an AI algorithm that could do anything even close to that. At the end of the day, we need creative solutions, and AI is not capable of providing them.

AI, then, is currently merely a tool to scale up human’s “understanding” and maybe “prediction”. It has a long way to go before it catches up with human thinking, creativity and motivation.The Conversation

Roger Wang, Lecturer of Fluid Mechanics in Civil Engineering, University of Dundee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Elon Musk Predicts When SpaceX Will Build Its First Base on Mars

Elon Musk Predicts When SpaceX Will Build First Base on Mars

SpaceX is set to build the first human settlement on Mars, and it could arrive before the end of 2030. CEO of the company, Musk explained that the company’s plan to station a series of BFR rockets on Mars, alongside a permanent base and roads, could easily become reality by 2028.

Initially, Musk announced the plans in detail at the International Astronautical Congress in 2017. But, this announcement over the weekend is a huge update on their timescale and intentions. It was explained by Musk that he plans to send a couple of unmanned BFRs in 2022, followed swiftly by two more unmanned, and two manned BFRs in 2024. Musk himself has described the plans as “ambitious”.

Elon Musk Announces First Mars Base

Artist rendering of Mars base alpha. (Elon Musk/Twitter)


That six-ship fleet of BFRs will potentially serve as a starting point, from which a much more ambitious colony can be built. Each individual ship has the capability of carrying 100 tonnes of supplies, which will be the materials for the planned homes initially. The passengers from the final two ships will have the mammoth task of extracting one tonne of ice per day, and then returning home with the fuel that they have harvested.

While definitely ambitious, and seemingly impossible from the point of view of some readers (not me, I promise), this project is only the start, and will lay the groundwork for something much bigger – cities that offer greenhouses, life support, habitats, and an open environment for new experiments and research.

“The idea would be to expand out, start off not just with an outpost, but grow into a larger base, not just like there are in Antarctica, but really a village, a town, growing into a city and then multiple cities on Mars” Paul Wooster said earlier this month. Wooster is the principle Mars development engineer for SpaceX.


Not content with such ambitions, though, Elon Musk talked about his hopes for the project’s possibilities at the event, too. He said the BFR is “really intended as an interplanetary transport system that’s capable of getting from Earth to anywhere in the solar system as you establish propellant depots along the way.”

They do say shoot for the stars – we’re right behind you, Elon……at a safe and reasonable and “waiting to see what will happen” kinda distance.

Elon Musk First Mars Base

(Elon Musk/Twitter)

From our friends: Man Recreates Lord Of The Rings Scene With 150,000 Legos


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Japan Reveals First Images Taken By Asteroid Rovers-3

Japan Reveals First Images Taken By Asteroid Rovers

Japan landed two rovers on an asteroid known as Ryugu on Friday, and we’re now receiving images from the mission.

The first image was sent back to Earth at roughly 1:08 p.m. on Friday the 21st. This image from Rover 1A shows both the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft and asteroid Ryugu.

Japan Reveals First Images Taken By Asteroid Rovers-2

Image captured by Rover-1A on September 21 at around 13:08 JST. This is a color image taken immediately after separation from the spacecraft. Hayabusa2 is at the top and the surface of Ryugu is bottom. The image is blurred because the shot was taken while the rover was rotating. (Image credit: JAXA)


Although the image itself is grainy, it still marks a significant accomplishment as noted by Tetsuo Yoshimitsu a member of the Hayabusa-2 team, “Although I was disappointed with the blurred image that first came from the rover, it was good to be able to capture this shot,”

Rover 1B then sent back the next image that shows the rocky surface of Ryugu.

Japan Reveals First Images Taken By Asteroid Rovers-1

Image captured by Rover-1B on September 21 at around 13:07 JST. This color image was taken immediately after separation from the spacecraft. The surface of Ryugu is in the lower right. The coloured blur in the top left is due to the reflection of sunlight when the image was taken. (Image credit: JAXA)


The third image, sent back on Saturday September 22nd, is much more dramatic than the first two as it contains a lens flare from the sun (like you’d see in a J.J. Abrams movie).

Japan Reveals First Images Taken By Asteroid Rovers-3

Image captured by Rover-1A on September 22 at around 11:44 JST. Color image captured while moving (during a hop) on the surface of Ryugu. The left-half of the image is the asteroid surface. The bright white region is due to sunlight.
(Image credit: JAXA).


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Japan Has Successfully Landed The First Ever Rovers On An Asteroid

Japan Has Successfully Landed The First Ever Rovers On An Asteroid

Japan sent two rovers to the surface of an asteroid and they have landed successfully which marks a significant moment in the history of our progress into the cosmos.

Two tiny rovers designed to hop across an asteroid (each weighing in at about 2 pounds) were released from the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft on Friday September 21st. The rovers are known as 1A and 1B (while the pair are officially known as Minerva II-1). The descent to the asteroid lasted several hours.

The asteroid in question is known as Ryugu, which is about 1 kilometer (0.6) miles in diameter and is located about 280 million kilometers (175 million miles) from Earth.

“Both rovers are confirmed to have landed on the surface of Ryugu. They are in good condition and have transmitted photos & data. We also confirmed they are moving on the surface” stated the team on Twitter.

Read more: Japan Reveals First Images Taken By Asteroid Rovers


Each rover has cameras that will send back images from the asteroid and sensors that will measure the surface temperature. Images and data will be sent back to Hayabusa-2 and then relayed to earth.


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Astronomers Have Detected Matter Falling Into Black Hole At 1/3 The Speed Of Light

Astronomers Have Detected Matter Falling Into Black Hole At 1/3 The Speed Of Light

A UK team has observed the first detection of matter falling into a supermassive black hole at a speed nearing 90,000 kilometers (56,000) miles per second, which is strangely, only about 30 percent the speed of light.

Reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a team of researchers have used X-ray observations to track material movement at the center of a black hole. The black hole in question is at the center of galaxy PG1211+143. Using the XMM-Newton they were able to detect an “earth-sized” ball of matter accelerating at 1/3 the speed of light.

In a statement lead author Professor Ken Pound, from the University of Leicester, says “The galaxy we were observing with XMM-Newton has a 40 million solar mass black hole, which is very bright and evidently well fed. Indeed some 15 years ago we detected a powerful wind indicating the hole was being over-fed. While such winds are now found in many active galaxies, PG1211+143 has now yielded another ‘first’, with the detection of matter plunging directly into the hole itself. We were able to follow an Earth-sized clump of matter for about a day, as it was pulled towards the black hole, accelerating to a third of the velocity of light before being swallowed up by the hole.”


In the study, the team discovered an interesting phenomena in the system that explains the rapid acceleration of matter falling into a super-massive blackhole. Material in the eccretion disk is actually misaligned with the black hole’s rotation, and because black holes are so heavy they drag space time as they rotate (known as frame dragging) which breaks the disk up into individual rings.

Those rings often collide, and when they do, material from those disks hurdle directly into the center of the black hole rather than spiralling towards it. This massive pull is what generates the immense speeds seen in the study.


Below, you can see this phenomena in action:

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FBI Mysteriously Shuts Down And Evacuates Observatory In New Mexico

The Real Reason That Solar Observatory Was Closed Down By The FBI

We now know the reason the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico was shut down last week and the details aren’t pretty.

FBI records obtained by Reuters show that the closure stemmed from an FBI child pornography probe.

The report states that the FBI was “investigating the activities of an individual who was utilizing the wireless internet service of the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, to download and distribute child pornography.”


The individual in question has been identified as a janitor staffed to maintain the facility, whose laptop was connected to the observatories wifi. The decision was made to shut down the observatory “out of concern that the suspect might pose a danger to other personnel.”

The group that runs the facility, AURA, has stated it is “cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak.”


As we dive into the details, the story begins to get a bit strange:

According to gizmodo, there was a search warrant that claimed hundreds of files of child porn had been downloaded and distributed onto Sunspot’s wifi, of which only one persons activity matched. That computer was seized by the FBI, and that janitor protested his innocence claiming that other people had access to the computer.

Allegedly the janitor began to become erratic and “potentially dangerous” so the FBI made the decision to shut down the observatory for safety.

A report from a New Mexico station KRQE, states that the suspect said it’s “only a matter of time before the facility got hit,” and that he “believed there was a serial killer in the area” that may execute someone in the observatory. Ultimately, this is what may have gotten the facility shut down for the weekend.

The subject in question has yet to be named as he is not yet formally charged.

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Yusaku Maezawa’s #dearMoon Project Aims For Lunar Art

Yusaku Maezawa, the world’s first private lunar passenger, wants to share the experience with all of humanity in a truly unique way; through they eyes and ears of select artists.

“I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself/ That would be a little lonely. I don’t like being alone, so I want to share these experiences and things with as many people as possible, so that is why I choose to go to the moon with artists!” said Maezawa during the announcement press conference.

A short video screened at the beginning of the #dearMoon announcement Sept. 17 included this vision of a violinist performing in space.
Credit: SpaceX


Maezawa, an eccentric billionaire, is also a seasoned art collector who during the press conference spoke about being inspired by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Lennon and Coco Chanel.

The project is being welcomed by the scientific community, in an interview with, former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott goes on to say that “The thing that makes me happiest about this is it’s bringing together space and art, which I think are just two naturally complimentary things,”.

Learn more about the #dearMoon project below.

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Five Reasons To Forget Mars For Now And Return To The Moon

Ian Whittaker, Nottingham Trent University and Gareth Dorrian, Nottingham Trent University

Hopes of colonising Mars rest on the premise that we could terraform the red planet, making it habitable for humans with a breathable atmosphere and clement temperatures. However, a recent study cast doubt on the idea, concluding that terraforming is impossible with present technology.

With colonising Mars on hold, it’s a good time to reevaluate the relationship we have with our nearest cosmic neighbour, the moon. The first successful lander on the moon was the Russian spacecraft Luna 9 in 1966. This mission revealed the barren lunar landscape in fine detail for the first time.

The first close-up images of the moon’s surface, from 1966. NASA


Since the dawn of the space age, there have been over 60 successful missions to the moon, including eight that were manned. The most famous being Apollo 11 in July 1969 which resulted in the first human presence on the moon.

These space pioneers broadened our understanding of Earth and the universe. The Apollo 15 mission of 1971, for example, recovered the so-called “Genesis Rock”, one of the oldest rock samples ever found from a crater on the moon. Analysis of other surface samples supported the “giant impact hypothesis”, a now predominant view that the moon formed from a giant impact on the Earth some 4.5 billion years ago.

The Genesis Rock was formed at least four billion years ago, during the birth of our solar system. NASA/Wikimedia Commons


Since then, however, our gaze has shifted away from the moon and onto Mars. In the 1990s, after a string of failures, Mars Pathfinder delivered the first rover onto the surface of Mars. This was the first successful landing on Mars since the Viking probes of the late 1970s. The pictures that the probe returned set the public’s imagination aflame, stoking interest in new missions to the red planet.

Rather than mourning the immediate prospect of a manned Martian mission today, we present five reasons why the moon deserves another look – and more than just a flying visit.

We’ve only scratched the surface of our moon’s potential interest to humanity. NASA


1. A staging post in space

To overcome the pull of gravity and reach another body in space you need to achieve a certain speed. A journey to Mars from Earth’s surface requires a minimum total speed of nearly 30,000mph (approximately 13.1km/s). This requires large rockets, tonnes of fuel, and complex orbital manoeuvring. Due to the moon’s weaker gravitational field, the same journey from the lunar surface would “only” require a speed of 6,500mph (2.9km/s). This is roughly one third of that necessary to reach the International Space Station from Earth.

The moon also possesses a wealth of mineral resources, including valuable metals and the ingredients for rocket fuel, which is produced by breaking down water ice (recently confirmed on the moon’s surface) into hydrogen fuel and oxidiser.

The mineral troilite, an iron-sulphur compound rare on Earth, is also present in the lunar crust. The sulphur from troilite can be extracted and combined with lunar soil to produce a building material stronger than Portland Cement, meaning a settlement could be constructed on the moon using locally sourced material.

Establishing a lunar base from which to launch deep space missions would massively increase the payload to fuel ratio, allowing us to explore the solar system at a fraction of the current cost and effort.

2. Fuelling the future

Nuclear fusion, the process that fuels stars, could provide our future energy supply. Fusion reactors of the future will use Helium-3, a lighter version of the helium used in party balloons. This isotope is rare on Earth but abundant on the moon where it could be mined, something which has already attracted interest from a number of businesses and governments willing to ship it to Earth.

This initial burst of commercial interest could provide the incentive and finance needed for our first forays into establishing a permanent human presence on the moon.

The core of a nuclear fusion reactor. Shutterstock


3. Rock of ages

The moon is an inactive world – no major geological changes have occurred in the last three billion years. On Earth, surface features are weathered by rain, tides, wind or plant growth. The lunar landscape proudly displays a record of its violent past in the form of impact features, offering a preserved history of the solar system which is ready for us to explore.

4. Observing the universe

The atmospheric density of the moon is thin, a ten trillionth of that on Earth. This absence provides the perfect conditions for astronomical observatories across the full breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum. A radio observatory on the far side of the moon would be completely shielded from the radio chatter of Earth.

The low-density atmosphere also makes a ground-based X-ray or gamma ray telescope possible, unlike on Earth where short wavelength light from space is blocked. Such observatories could be maintained and upgraded by a human presence on the moon far more easily than an orbiting telescope.

The lunar observatory could search deeper into space than an Earth-bound equivalent. Les Bossinas/NASA


5. Humans in space

One of the major hurdles for a Mars mission is understanding how human health is affected by a long-term voyage into space. If anything unexpected occurs, resupply or rescue is over two years away. By testing human tolerances on the moon first and developing technology and experience, further exploration of Mars or beyond will be far more practical. If an emergency occurs on a lunar base, Earth is only three days away.

Another major concern about going to Mars is the inadvertent contamination of the pristine martian environment by earthly organisms. The Moon is almost certainly sterile, so such concerns are moot.

While the first scientific research conducted on the moon was performed in the late 1960s, in the subsequent half century we have come no closer to a sustained human presence there. This is despite an ever-increasing technological capability which far surpasses what was available to the Apollo missions. Before we can take another giant leap into space, it might be worth taking some small steps closer to home.The Conversation

Ian Whittaker, Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University and Gareth Dorrian, Post Doctoral Research Associate in Space Science, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Watch Satellite Collects Space Junk Using Net Technology

Watch: Satellite Collects Space Junk Using Net Technology

A UK Satellite has performed the first test of a net designed to capture space debris, and the footage was captured in orbit.

In this video, you can see the Net experiment successfully capturing a deployed cubesat.

The Remove Debris mission comprises of a main satellite platform (~100kg) that once in orbit will deploy two CubeSats as artificial debris targets to demonstrate some of the technologies (net capture, harpoon capture, vision-based navigation, dragsail de-orbitation). The project is co-funded by the European Commission and the project partners, and is led by the Surrey Space Centre (SSC), University of Surrey, UK.


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Saturn’s Famous Hexagon May Tower Above The Clouds

A new long-term study using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has revealed a surprising feature emerging at Saturn’s northern pole as it nears summertime: a warming, high-altitude vortex with a hexagonal shape, akin to the famous hexagon seen deeper down in Saturn’s clouds.

The finding, published Sept. 3 in Nature Communications, is intriguing, because it suggests that the lower-altitude hexagon may influence what happens above, and that it could be a towering structure hundreds of miles in height.

When Cassini arrived at the Saturnian system in 2004, the southern hemisphere was enjoying summertime, while the northern was in the midst of winter. The spacecraft spied a broad, warm high-altitude vortex at Saturn’s southern pole but none at the planet’s northern pole. The new study reports the first glimpses of a northern polar vortex forming high in the atmosphere, as Saturn’s northern hemisphere approached summertime. This warm vortex sits hundreds of miles above the clouds, in the stratosphere, and reveals an unexpected surprise.

“The edges of this newly-found vortex appear to be hexagonal, precisely matching a famous and bizarre hexagonal cloud pattern we see deeper down in Saturn’s atmosphere,” said Leigh Fletcher of the University of Leicester, lead author of the new study.

This colorful view from NASA’s Cassini mission is the highest-resolution view of the unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn’s north pole known as “the hexagon.”
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University
Full image and caption


Saturn’s cloud levels host the majority of the planet’s weather, including the pre-existing north polar hexagon. This feature was discovered by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in the 1980s and has been studied for decades; a long-lasting wave potentially tied to Saturn’s rotation, it is a type of phenomenon also seen on Earth, as in the Polar Jet Stream.

Its properties were revealed in detail by Cassini, which observed the feature in multiple wavelengths — from the ultraviolet to the infrared — using instruments including its Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS). However, at the start of the mission this instrument could not peer farther up into the northern stratosphere, where temperatures were too cold for reliable CIRS infrared observations, leaving these higher-altitude regions relatively unexplored for many years.


“The mystery and extent of the hexagon continue to grow, even after Cassini’s 13 years in orbit around Saturn,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist. “I look forward to seeing other new discoveries that remain to be found in the Cassini data.”

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SpaceX Announces Identity Of World's First Private Lunar Passenger

SpaceX Announces Identity Of World’s First Private Lunar Passenger

At a Monday evening press conference held at the SpaceX Los Angeles headquarters, Elon Musk announced who will be the world’s first ever lunar passenger.

Not only did this person purchase their own seat, they also purchased seats for six to eight musicians, photographers, architects, and other artists who want to join the mission to the moon.

Our hero in question? Entrepreneurial billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. Maezawa’s fortune stems from founding China’s largest online fashion mall ZozoTown, and it appears he wants to share that fortune with interested artist parties. Maezawa did not disclose how much the trip has cost him, but he has stated it will be free for all selected attending artists. Musk estimates the trip cost at roughly $5 billion.


“Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the moon. Just staring at the moon filled my imagination. It’s always there and it’s continued to inspire humanity. That is why I could not pass up this opportunity to see the moon up close, and at the same time I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself.” say Maezawa.

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Hubble Uncovers Never-Before-Seen Features Around A Neutron Star

An unusual infrared light emission from a nearby neutron star detected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope could indicate new features never before seen. One possibility is that there is a dusty disk surrounding the neutron star; another is that there is an energetic wind coming off the object and slamming into gas in interstellar space the neutron star is plowing through.

Although neutron stars are generally studied in radio and high-energy emissions, such as X-rays, this study demonstrates that new and interesting information about neutron stars can also be gained by studying them in infrared light, say researchers.

The observation, by a team of researchers at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania; Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, could help astronomers better understand the evolution of neutron stars — the incredibly dense remnants after a massive star explodes as a supernova. Neutron stars are also called pulsars because their very fast rotation (typically fractions of a second, in this case 11 seconds) causes time-variable emission from light-emitting regions.

This animation depicts a neutron star (RX J0806.4-4123) with a disk of warm dust that produces an infrared signature as detected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The disk wasn’t directly photographed, but one way to explain the data is by hypothesizing a disk structure that could be 18 billion miles across. The disk would be made up of material falling back onto the neutron star after the supernova explosion that created the stellar remnant.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and N. Tr’Ehnl (Pennsylvania State University)


A paper describing the research and two possible explanations for the unusual finding appears Sept. 17, 2018, in the Astrophysical Journal.

“This particular neutron star belongs to a group of seven nearby X-ray pulsars — nicknamed ‘the Magnificent Seven’ — that are hotter than they ought to be considering their ages and available energy reservoir provided by the loss of rotation energy,” said Bettina Posselt, associate research professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Pennsylvania State and the lead author of the paper. “We observed an extended area of infrared emissions around this neutron star — named RX J0806.4-4123 — the total size of which translates into about 200 astronomical units (approximately 18 billion miles) at the assumed distance of the pulsar.”

This is the first neutron star in which an extended signal has been seen only in infrared light. The researchers suggest two possibilities that could explain the extended infrared signal seen by Hubble. The first is that there is a disk of material — possibly mostly dust — surrounding the pulsar.

“One theory is that there could be what is known as a ‘fallback disk’ of material that coalesced around the neutron star after the supernova,” said Posselt. “Such a disk would be composed of matter from the progenitor massive star. Its subsequent interaction with the neutron star could have heated the pulsar and slowed its rotation. If confirmed as a supernova fallback disk, this result could change our general understanding of neutron star evolution.”

The second possible explanation for the extended infrared emission from this neutron star is a “pulsar wind nebula.”

Hubble Uncovers Never-Before-Seen Features Around A Neutron Star

This is an illustration of a pulsar wind nebula produced by the interaction of the outflow particles from the neutron star with gaseous material in the interstellar medium that the neutron star is plowing through. Such an infrared-only pulsar wind nebula is unusual because it implies a rather low energy of the particles accelerated by the pulsar’s intense magnetic field. This hypothesized model would explain the unusual infrared signature of the neutron star as detected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and N. Tr’Ehnl (Pennsylvania State University)


“A pulsar wind nebula would require that the neutron star exhibits a pulsar wind,” said Posselt. “A pulsar wind can be produced when particles are accelerated in the electrical field that is produced by the fast rotation of a neutron star with a strong magnetic field. As the neutron star travels through the interstellar medium at greater than the speed of sound, a shock can form where the interstellar medium and the pulsar wind interact. The shocked particles would then emit synchrotron radiation, causing the extended infrared signal that we see. Typically, pulsar wind nebulae are seen in X-rays and an infrared-only pulsar wind nebula would be very unusual and exciting.”

Using NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers will be able to further explore this newly opened discovery space in the infrared to better understand neutron star evolution.

In addition to Posselt, the research team included George Pavlov and Kevin Luhman at Pennsylvania State; Ünal Ertan and Sirin Çaliskan at Sabanci University; and Christina Williams at the University of Arizona. The research was supported by NASA, The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, the U.S. National Science Foundation, Pennsylvania State, the Penn State Eberly College of Science, and the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington, D.C.

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New Video Showing Construction Of The World's Largest Telescope - eso elt telescope rndering

New Video Showing Construction Of The World’s Largest Telescope

Construction is underway at Cerro Armazones – the future home of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). When construction is done the ELT will be the largest optical telescope​ ever built — a dome the size of a cathedral.

The ESOcast Light is a series of short videos bringing you the wonders of the Universe in bite-sized pieces. The ESOcast Light episodes will not be replacing the standard, longer ESOcasts, but complement them with current astronomy news and images in ESO press releases.

Present and future observatories compared to a marvel from the past. The E-ELT dome will be 100 metres in diameter, about the size of the Colosseum in Rome, but atop a 3000-metre mountaintop. For comparison, each of the four VLT unit telescopes are 25 metres high, about the size of an eight-storey building. This picture is based on a preliminary design for the E-ELT.


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FBI Mysteriously Shuts Down And Evacuates Observatory In New Mexico

Sunspot Solar Observatory Re-Opened, And Here’s Why It Closed

Last week a solar observatory was shut down by the FBI without notice, and we’re just learning about the facts today.

According to a press release from the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the closure was related to a security issue in the area.

Below, you can find the release from AURA:


On September 6th, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) made the decision to temporarily vacate the Sunspot Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue. The facility closed down in an orderly fashion and is now re-opening. The residents that vacated their homes will be returning to the site, and all employees will return to work this week. 

AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location. 

The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety. 


In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment. 

We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.

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Five Hazards Of Human Spaceflight

5 Hazards Of Human Spaceflight

A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, NASA’s Human Research Program has organized hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis into five classifications. Pooling the challenges into categories allows for an organized effort to overcome the obstacles that lay before such a mission. However, these hazards do not stand alone. They can feed off one another and exacerbate effects on the human body. These hazards are being studied using ground-based analogs, laboratories, and the International Space Station, which serves as a test bed to evaluate human performance and countermeasures required for the exploration of space.

Various research platforms give NASA valuable insight into how the human body and mind might respond during extended forays into space. The resulting data, technology and methods developed serve as valuable knowledge to extrapolate to multi-year interplanetary missions.

1. Radiation

The first hazard of a human mission to Mars is also the most difficult to visualize because, well, space radiation is invisible to the human eye. Radiation is not only stealthy, but considered one of the most menacing of the five hazards.

Above Earth’s natural protection, radiation exposure increases cancer risk, damages the central nervous system, can alter cognitive function, reduce motor function and prompt behavioral changes. To learn what can happen above low-Earth orbit, NASA studies how radiation affects biological samples using a ground-based research laboratory.

The space station sits just within Earth’s protective magnetic field, so while our astronauts are exposed to ten-times higher radiation than on Earth, it’s still a smaller dose than what deep space has in store.

To mitigate this hazard, deep space vehicles will have significant protective shielding, dosimetry, and alerts. Research is also being conducted in the field of medical countermeasures such as pharmaceuticals to help defend against radiation.

2. Isolation and confinement

Behavioral issues among groups of people crammed in a small space over a long period of time, no matter how well trained they are, are inevitable. Crews will be carefully chosen, trained and supported to ensure they can work effectively as a team for months or years in space.

On Earth we have the luxury of picking up our cell phones and instantly being connected with nearly everything and everyone around us. On a trip to Mars, astronauts will be more isolated and confined than we can imagine. Sleep loss, circadian desynchronization, and work overload compound this issue and may lead to performance decrements, adverse health outcomes, and compromised mission objectives.

To address this hazard, methods for monitoring behavioral health and adapting/refining various tools and technologies for use in the spaceflight environment are being developed to detect and treat early risk factors. Research is also being conducted in workload and performance, light therapy for circadian alignment, phase shifting and alertness.

3. Distance from Earth

The third and perhaps most apparent hazard is, quite simply, the distance. Mars is, on average, 140 million miles from Earth. Rather than a three-day lunar trip, astronauts would be leaving our planet for roughly three years. While International Space Station expeditions serve as a rough foundation for the expected impact on planning logistics for such a trip, the data isn’t always comparable. If a medical event or emergency happens on the station, the crew can return home within hours. Additionally, cargo vehicles continual resupply the crews with fresh food, medical equipment, and other resources. Once you burn your engines for Mars, there is no turning back and no resupply.

Planning and self-sufficiency are essential keys to a successful Martian mission. Facing a communication delay of up to 20 minutes one way and the possibility of equipment failures or a medical emergency, astronauts must be capable of confronting an array of situations without support from their fellow team on Earth.

4. Gravity (or lack thereof)

The variance of gravity that astronauts will encounter is the fourth hazard of a human mission. On Mars, astronauts would need to live and work in three-eighths of Earth’s gravitational pull for up to two years. Additionally, on the six-month trek between the planets, explorers will experience total weightlessness.

Besides Mars and deep space there is a third gravity field that must be considered. When astronauts finally return home they will need to readapt many of the systems in their bodies to Earth’s gravity. Bones, muscles, cardiovascular system have all been impacted by years without standard gravity. To further complicate the problem, when astronauts transition from one gravity field to another, it’s usually quite an intense experience. Blasting off from the surface of a planet or a hurdling descent through an atmosphere is many times the force of gravity.

Research is being conducted to ensure that astronauts stay healthy before, during and after their mission. NASA is identifying how current and future, FDA-approved osteoporosis treatments, and the optimal timing for such therapies could be employed to mitigate the risk for astronauts developing premature osteoporosis. Adaptability training programs and improving the ability to detect relevant sensory input are being investigated to mitigate balance control issues. Research is ongoing to characterize optimal exercise prescriptions for individual astronauts, as well as defining metabolic costs of critical mission tasks they would expect to encounter on a Mars mission.

5. Hostile/closed environments

A spacecraft is not only a home, it’s also a machine. NASA understands that the ecosystem inside a vehicle plays a big role in everyday astronaut life. Important habitability factors include temperature, pressure, lighting, noise, and quantity of space. It’s essential that astronauts are getting the requisite food, sleep and exercise needed to stay healthy and happy.

Technology, as often is the case with out-of-this-world exploration, comes to the rescue in creating a habitable home in a harsh environment. Everything is monitored, from air quality to possible microbial inhabitants. Microorganisms that naturally live on your body are transferred more easily from one person to another in a closed environment. Astronauts, too, contribute data points via urine and blood samples, and can reveal valuable information about possible stressors. The occupants are also asked to provide feedback about their living environment, including physical impressions and sensations so that the evolution of spacecraft can continue addressing the needs of humans in space. Extensive recycling of resources we take for granted is also imperative: oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, even our waste.

Human research essential to space exploration

NASA has already gone beyond simply identifying five challenges of human spaceflight to facilitate a focused and organized effort to reach Mars. Within the agency, there are entities dedicated to the evolution of spaceflight in all five of these areas.

NASA’s Human Research Program remains committed to preserving the health and vitality of the crew that will someday touch down upon Mars. While these five hazards present significant challenges, they also offer opportunities for growth and innovation in technology, medicine and our understanding of the human body. One human challenge explored, one step closer to Mars.

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The US Plan For A Space Force Risks Escalating A ‘Space Arms Race’

Steven Freeland, Western Sydney University

United States Vice President Mike Pence has confirmed overnight plans to create a “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the US military.

He repeated comments from President Donald Trump, who had said that “American dominance in space” was imperative.

Earlier this year, Trump said:

Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea.

These are deeply concerning sentiments coming from (arguably) the most powerful men on Earth. They risk irrevocably skewing the conversation about space away from what it is, to something it should not be, thus distorting the reality of what space largely represents.

We need space

Of course space is strategic, and has always been so – but perhaps in different ways depending on one’s perspective.

Our dependency on space assets has been driven both by the growth of the commercialisation of outer space, but also its increasingly important security and military significance.

As regards the latter, space has in the past been characterised many times as “congested, contested, and competitive”. It’s a description put forward by analysts and (primarily) military commentators who then go on to postulate that war in space is inevitable.

No doubt there are concerns about the impacts of compromised satellite networks on terrestrial military and security activities. But after all that space gives us in terms of improving the lives of so many people, is that to be its defining feature – as a platform for military conduct?

I offer a different perception of the strategic implications of space – one that is equally plausible and much more in accordance with existing law and practice.


Considerations for space

While space is competitive, complex and challenging, it is also many other things. It is cooperative, collaborative, collective, and commercial. These are equally important strategic considerations for the whole of humanity, let alone for Australia.

Undoubtedly space is increasingly a dual-use area – where satellites at the same time offer commercial services to civil and military customers. This raises some interesting questions about the possible classification of certain satellites as legitimate targets of war.

But blithe assertions about the inevitability of war in space risk becoming self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecies.

They represent an increasingly loud voice that threatens to drown out other, more rational ones. They ignore the uniqueness of the space domain and the peaceful purposes and common interest doctrines that underpin it.

A threat of an arms race in space

The fear is that rhetoric like that coming from those raising the inevitability of space war will fuel a race to the bottom, as all major (space) powers dedicate even more energy towards an arms race in space.

This also gives rise to the creeping colonisation of space around claims regarding resource exploitation and possible attempts by countries to establish systems to protect themselves against their vulnerabilities by denying access to space for others.

To ignore this and simply to try to argue that the legal framework supposedly supports war in space relies on an overly simplistic assertion that what is not expressly prohibited (by the treaties and international law) is permitted.

It is crucial that the underlying principles of space law and the practice of States in interpreting those principles continue to apply to preserve space for the “benefit and in the interests of all countries”. This is specified in the Outer Space Treaty, to which virtually all space-faring nations, including the major powers, are bound.

The international rules that govern space dictate responsible behaviour, freedom of access but not lawlessness, and an adherence to well-established international principles and norms of behaviour that serve us well.

Properly respected, these allow for and encourage inspiration and optimism, innovation and development, commerce and science, notwithstanding the pressures of increasing commercialisation.

A militaristic view of space threatens the existing legal regime and can thwart the opportunities for all of us.


The humanity of space

In the end, we must not lose sight of the humanity of space and the need to use it for peaceful purposes underpins our very future. The existing rules recognise and reinforce these imperatives.

Thinking of space as a place to conduct war, dangerously jolts the conversation about space and gives rise to consequences that are too terrifying to contemplate. Asserting the inevitability of war in space simply argues that we should move down that untenable path.

Every effort must be made by all sectors of society to recalibrate those conversations. The countervailing voices must be heard. There are so many positive aspects to how space should be viewed. This is supported by law and practice.

Ironically, a good starting point could also be drawn from the words of President Trump himself:

In every way, there is no place like space.

Let’s ensure that we keep it that way and avoid making the same horrible mistakes that we have made here on Earth.The Conversation

Steven Freeland, Dean, School of Law and Professor of International Law, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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