Please see below selected recent space-related change.
Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight up - Fred Hoyle
- Many space missions are scheduled for blast-off in 2021. To tweak the orbit of an asteroid’s moon that is nearly as big as a stadium, America’s NASA plans to launch a car-sized craft to smash into it the following year. Neither the asteroid, Didymos, nor its moon, Dimorphos, threatens Earth, but the collision should yield potentially handy “planetary defence” know-how. NASA also plans an uncrewed flight around the Moon, and, with help from the space agencies of Canada and Europe, the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the biggest and priciest ever. India may put three astronauts into orbit. India and Russia aim to launch lunar landers. And China will begin launching parts of its next and biggest space station, Tiangong-3.
- Saturn and Jupiter met up on the 21st December. The last time both planets orbited as closely and were visible in the sky was in 1226.
- NASA selected 18 astronauts who will head to the moon. The group, which will blast off in 2024, includes the first woman who will set foot on the lunar surface.
- Researchers from several institutions across the globe are developing the means to extract solar energy from power stations based in space. Solar cells in space can shift so they face the sun 24 hours a day, a massive advantage over solar cells based on Earth. Such power stations could be assembled in space incrementally, with thousands of smaller solar cells adding up to one big power station.
- Quartz reported that China successfully landed a spacecraft full of lunar surface samples in Mongolia, completing the Chang’e 5 mission that launched in November. Assuming the samples are safe and sound, it’s the first time humans have brought back anything from the moon since 1976. The roughly 2 kg of rocks, which come from a previously unexplored lunar region, promise to give scientists new information about the history of the solar system and how the moon formed. The mission also demonstrates the increasing sophistication of China’s space technology. As the globe gears up for a new season of moon exploration, China next plans to sample a different moon location in 2024, while the US is plotting its own fleet of private moon robots.
- Big Think reported that humanity could be making its way through the Solar System much faster thanks to the discovery of a new superhighway network among space manifolds. Researchers believe the new pathways can eventually be used by spacecraft to get to the outer reaches of our Solar System with relative haste. The celestial highway could get comets and asteroids from Jupiter to Neptune in less than a decade. Compare that to hundreds of thousands or even millions of years it might ordinarily take for space objects to traverse the Solar System.
- A new US Air Force satellite could send solar power to Earth. The Helios project will test beaming solar energy to other spacecraft, and maybe terrestrial receivers.
- Throughout its nine-year tour of duty that concluded in 2018, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope produced a massive amount of observational data. Among its revelations were 2,800 confirmed exoplanets, with thousands more still being analysed. A new study of its data suggests that there may be as many as 300 million inhabitable planets in our galaxy. It finds that several of these could be relatively close by, within 30 light years from here, reported Big Think.
- The Hubble telescope spotted an asteroid worth 70,000 times more than the entire global economy. Psyche 16 is made of iron and nickel and valued at $10,000 quadrillion, claimed New World, Same Humans.
- SpaceX launched four astronauts into space. The successful lift-off marked the first operational flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which was scheduled to dock with the International Space Station after a nearly 28-hour trip. The mission marked a major step towards commercialising space travel.
- The Milky Way, the galaxy that contains our Solar System, is estimated to be about 13.6 billion years old. What was there before is a loaded question that scientists are getting closer to answering. A team of astrophysicists reconstructed the cosmic ancestry of our galaxy. To dive deep into the prehistory of our galaxy, the researchers directed their AI to study global clusters that they suspected were formed in the progenitor galaxies. The orbital motion of the clusters informed their predictions. The AI was able to pinpoint the masses of the stars and the details of the mergers with great precision, reported Big Think.
- A study of a Martian meteorite suggests that most water may not come from space at all, but that it's a natural byproduct of rocky-planet formation. If true, this could mean water is everywhere, which would greatly increase the chances of extraterrestrial life. The research is based on a meteorite from Mars called "Black Beauty" that was found in the Moroccan desert. Black Beauty is 4.45 billion years old and comes from the Martian crust, providing a rare window into the early days of Mars and the solar system, reported Big Think.
- Astronomers at Washington State University identified 24 planets that may be even more habitable than Earth. The planets are warmer, wetter, larger and older than our own, and so make promising targets in the search for complex life.
- Big Think noted that the odds are that if Earth has the right conditions for the development of life, other places probably do, too. Scientists have identified two dozen planets that match some items on the list of desirable traits. All of these planets are too far away to reach with current tech, but may be valuable research targets. "With the next space telescopes coming up, we will get more information, so it is important to select some targets. We have to focus on certain planets that have the most promising conditions for complex life. However, we have to be careful to not get stuck looking for a second Earth because there could be planets that might be more suitable for life than ours".
- For the first time, scientists confirmed the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the moon, a discovery with major implications for future moon missions. Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday, researchers examined the lunar surface using NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Using SOFIA, the team took a close look at two sites near, one near the lunar equator and another near the Clavius crater, one of the largest craters on the moon. The researchers observed light signals that could only have come from molecular water.
- Researchers used advanced computer simulations to study the effect of meteoroid impacts on the Moon's surface. The study showed that such impacts were unlikely to cause the magnetisation observed in the lunar crust. An ancient core dynamo is the most likely explanation for the Moon's magnetic field from about 4 billion years ago.
- Astronomers had their best view yet of a star being ripped to shreds by a black hole. A flash of light close to a known black hole 215 million light years away alerted researchers at the European Southern Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile to what’s known as a “tidal disruption event”. The powerful gravitational pull of the black hole “spaghettified” the star, tearing it into ribbons of dust and gas.
- The near-collision of an old Soviet satellite and the body of a Chinese rocket renewed concerns about junk cluttering Earth's orbit. Axios reports space debris poses a near-term threat to weather, security, communications and other satellites. Long-term, it threatens future exploration. The CEO of startup Rocket Lab told CNN it’s already facing safety challenges launching clients' satellites, having to "weave their way up in between these [satellite] constellations." The U.S. military has tracked 25,000 space objects, but millions of smaller pieces are out there.
- Mars shone brighter in October 2020 than at any time until 2035.
- Astronomers discovered signs of what could be life not in the outer reaches of the solar system but on Venus, our closest planet, long overlooked by astrobiologists because of its acidic atmosphere and scorching surface temperatures of more than 400 degrees. In a pair of papers astronomers describe the chemical phosphine in Venus's upper clouds. There are no known non-biological ways of making phosphine and it generally has a short lifespan.
- The mysterious dark vacuum of interstellar space is finally being revealed by two spacecraft that have become the first human-made objects to leave our Solar System. Far from the protective embrace of the Sun, the edge of our Solar System would seem to be a cold, empty, and dark place. Until recently, it was somewhere that humankind could only peer into from afar. Astronomers paid it only passing attention, preferring instead to focus their telescopes on the glowing masses of our neighbouring stars, galaxies and nebula. But two spacecraft, built and launched in 1970s, have for the past few years been beaming back our first glimpses from this strange region we call interstellar space. As the first man-made objects to leave our Solar System, they are venturing into uncharted territory, billions of miles from home. No other spacecraft have travelled as far.
- Big Think reported how, in May 2019, a ripple of gravitational waves passed through Earth after traveling across the cosmos for 7 billion years. The ripple came in four waves, each lasting just a fraction of a second. Although the ancient signal was faint, its source was cataclysmic: the biggest merger of two black holes ever observed. It occurred when two mid-sized ("intermediate-mass") black holes — 66 and 85 times the mass of our Sun — drifted close together, began spinning around each other and merged into one black hole roughly 142 times the mass of our Sun. "It's the biggest bang since the Big Bang observed by humanity," Caltech physicist Alan Weinstein, who was part of the discovery team, told The Associated Press.
- A study from Japanese researchers confirmed the possibility of panspermia, the possible spread of life throughout the universe via microbes that attach themselves to space bodies. The scientists showed that bacteria on the outside of the International Space Station can survive in space for years. The team also concluded that the Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria used in the experiment could even make the journey from Earth to Mars, hinting at the likelihood of our own extraterrestrial beginnings.
- Imagine the energy of eight Suns released in an instant. This is the gravitational "shockwave" that spread out from the biggest merger yet observed between two black holes. The signal from this event travelled for some seven billion years to reach Earth but was still sufficiently strong to rattle laser detectors in the US and Italy in May 2019. Researchers say the colliding black holes produced a single entity with a mass 142 times that of our Sun.
- A study reported by Big Think shed light on the final supernovae of the Universe. Matt Caplan, the theoretical physicist from Illinois State University who conducted the study, said the end-times universe will be "a bit of a sad, lonely, cold place." Most scientists expect not much will be around to witness the proceedings of this "heat death" - just black holes and burned-out stars. But Caplan also sees something else happening then. As the universe functions now, massive stars die in supernova explosions that follow an over-accumulation of iron in their cores. The smaller stars will meet their demise by burning through all their nuclear fuel and turning into white dwarfs.
- Situated 77,000,000 kilometres from Earth, roughly halfway to the Sun, the cameras on the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter have taken high-quality images from a closer vantage point than any camera ever.
- In a video, former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, educator Bill Nye, science journalist Stephen Petranek, astronomer Michelle Thaller, and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku considered mankind's fascination with Mars and explain why the planet may be the most viable option for colonisation. They also shared difficult truths about what it will take for this expensive dream to become a reality. From finding a way to protect against radiation and adjusting to the difference in atmospheric pressure, to mining for ice and transporting food, to significantly lowering the cost of space travel, it certainly won't be easy, noted Big Think.
- NASA astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico. The successful return to Earth of two astronauts from the International Space Station in a SpaceX capsule, two months after blasting off from Florida, made it the first commercial spacecraft to carry people to and from orbit.
- When astronauts return to the moon or travel to Mars, how will they shield themselves against high levels of cosmic radiation? A recent experiment aboard the International Space Station suggested a surprising solution: a radiation-eating fungus, which could be used as a self-replicating shield against gamma radiation in space.
- A tiny meteorite may shed light on evolution, reported Quartz. Asuka 12236 is the size of a golf ball, but its amino acid concentration could help researchers understand how life developed.
- Astrophysicists unveiled the largest-ever 3D map of the universe, reported Quartz. It’s the product of a joint effort of hundreds of researchers around the world, who analysed several million galaxies and quasars.
- Galileo Galilei was the first person to point a telescope at the night sky. Having gazed – heretically – upon very large and distant celestial bodies, he realised he could use the same technology to magnify smaller terrestrial ones closer to home. Lenses with a shorter focal length enabled Galileo to squint at insects as well as planets. He called the new device his occhiolino, or “little eye”. We call it the microscope. Today scientists apply technology across similarly vast differences of scale. By observing how the light of distant stars passes through interstellar gas and dust, astronomers have been able to interpret what exists in the outer reaches of space. Now, researchers from Exeter University are using the same technique to detect breast cancer.
- New pictures of the Sun taken just 77 million km from its surface were the closest ever acquired by cameras. They came from the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter (SolO) probe, which was launched earlier in 2020.
- With thousands of planned spacecraft launches astronomers are warning that our view of the sky, and our ability to research the cosmos, is under threat. Scientists have voiced concern that mega-constellations of microsats and cubesats will not only obstruct their view, but that they could also interfere with radio astronomy equipment. Some commercial spacecraft manufacturers, including SpaceX, are developing new coatings that would minimise reflection and other sources of interference. noted Future Today Institute.
- The FTI also warned that space is our next dumping ground. As many as 170 million fragments of metal and astro debris necklace Earth. That includes 20,000 pieces larger than a softball, and 500,000 about the size of a marble, according to NASA.
- Last but not least, the FTI added that while printing muscle tissue, such as a heart, is difficult on Earth because the delicate tissues required tend to collapse under their own weight, space-based organ printing using bio-inks and gels would be possible in microgravity. The first bioprinter was sent to the ISS in 2019 and printed a tiny portion of a heart muscle. Similar techniques could be used in microgravity to culture meats more easily. Another candidate for space production is fibre-optic cables made from fluoride glass, which is difficult to work with terrestrially because our gravity can cause crystals to form when the glass is being heated and stretched. Researchers believe that in space, the necessary fibres could be created more easily.
- Quartz claimed that governments see Mars as a unique target. Even if the Moon promises more economic potential and is easier to access, Mars remains novel. “Chinese space policymakers are clear that their long-term space ambition is to continuously develop capacity for a cislunar presence (in space between Earth and the Moon), they keenly realise that for global prestige and reputation purposes, a Mars landing is a coveted prize to capture,” according to an article in The Diplomat.
- Kosmos-2543, a small satellite contained inside a larger satellite, Kosmos-2542, and 'birthed’ into orbit in late 2019, recently came under scrutiny in January 2020 when it was reportedly caught ‘buzzing’ US spy satellites in Low Earth Orbit. By releasing a small projectile from the Kosmos-2543 sub-satellite, the US claims that Russia has launched a new projectile into orbit with relatively high speed – estimated at around 500 km per hour – leading to concerns about the potential of Russia to develop this technology as a weapon to target foreign satellites,
- It might be possible to set up a Mars colony with only 110 people. Researchers concluded that was the minimum number of humans required to viably settle on a different planet.
- SpaceX's Crew Dragon successfully docked at the International Space Station Monday, marking a historic moment in NASA's push to end the U.S. reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry astronauts to the lab. It also marked the first privately owned and operated spacecraft since the start of the space age.
- China has spent $10 billion on its own satellite navigation network, known as Bei-Dou-3. Beijing put the last of the system's 35 satellites in orbit in mid-2020, capping a major leap forward in China's bid to become a premier space power.
- NASA needs toilet ideas. The US space agency is soliciting thoughts from the public on the best way to build a bathroom on the Moon.
- Astronomers said that they found a black hole that’s only 1,000 light years away, the closest yet discovered. Though each light year represents a sizeable distance of almost 5.9 trillion miles, the newly-discovered black hole is a close neighbour by cosmic standards - our Milky Way galaxy alone is about 100,000 light years across.
- NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed on Twitter that the space agency and the company SpaceX are working with Tom Cruise to shoot an action-adventure film aboard the International Space Station. The project would be the first narrative film ever shot in space.
- Monica Grady, a professor of Planetary and Space Science and Chancellor at Liverpool Hope University, thinks there's a great likelihood of undiscovered life somewhere in our galaxy, specifically on Jupiter's moon, Europa. "When it comes to the prospects of life beyond Earth, it's almost a racing certainty that there's life beneath the ice on Europa," she said in recent address, adding that these life forms on Europa, 390 million miles from Earth, could be higher in sophistication than the Martian bacteria, possibly having "the intelligence of an octopus."
- Astronomers got lucky with photographing Jupiter. They snapped some of clearest photos of the fiery planet using the lucky imaging technique, which involves shooting lots of short exposure images.
- The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves. The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again." There is no sound in space which means there is no music, but if there was, this is what it might sound like, reported Big Think.
- During the pandemic, astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, US used out-of-work citizens to analyse pictures from the Hubble space telescope to help build an image similarity database that other astronomers could search. According to Wired, the scientists who founded this project realised that instead of just asking strangers on the internet to help out for free, they could create short-term work for their neighbourhood. Which also meant that unlike most citizen science projects, it was paid.
- California Institute of Technology professor Konstantin Batygin embarked on a journey of discovering what lurked beyond Neptune. What he and his collaborator discovered was a strange field of debris. This field of debris exhibited a clustering of orbits, and something was keeping these orbits confined. The only plausible source would be the gravitational pull of an extra planet—Planet Nine. While Planet Nine hasn't been found directly, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together, notes Big think, adding that Batygin is confident we'll return to a nine-planet solar system within the next decade.
- By comparing data derived from gravitational lensing and gamma ray observations by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, a study by researchers Simone Ammazzalorso at the University of Turin in Italy, Daniel Gruen at Stanford University, and their colleagues showed that certain regions of the sky emit more gamma rays. While the main cause of this phenomenon may be supermassive black holes, the researchers think that some of the emissions may be because of dark matter. It's a so-far-undetected substance that supposedly takes up as much as 27% of all matter in the Universe, with dark energy taking up another 68%.
- A recent study proposed an answer to the mystery of what powers gamma-ray bursts – the brightest and most powerful explosions in the universe that take place when a star goes supernova. Research from an international team of astrophysicists indicates that the specific reason for this phenomenon, when two gigantic jets of light-emitting plasma shoot out materials at ultra-high speeds, might lie in the collapse of a star's magnetic field.By examining data from the collapse of a large star in a galaxy that's 4.5 billion light-years away, the team of researchers (led by scientists at the University of Bath) found evidence to support the magnetic model, a hypothesis that says that when a star explodes, its large magnetic field collapses, unleashing a tremendous amount of energy that powers gamma ray bursts.
- Astronomers captured an image of a black hole spitting fire. It’s the first time scientists have seen a jet of plasma powered by a distant quasar.
- Combining old maps with new data, the U.S. Geological Service's Astrogeology Science Centre(USGS) has produced a definitive blueprint of the lunar surface. Made in collaboration with NASA and the Lunar and Planetary Institute, USGS combined six 'regional' maps of the Moon made during the Apollo era (1961-1975) with input from more recent unmanned lunar missions. This included data on the polar regions from NASA's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) and close-ups of the equatorial zone from the Japanese Space Agency's recent SELENE mission. The colours on the map refer to different types of surface features, grouped together according to their age
- When it rains on at least one distant planet, it rains iron. That’s what astronomers have observed on Wasp-76b, whose days are hot enough to vaporise metals.
- Astronomers observed the biggest explosion in the universe. The record-breaking blow up was caused by a black hole 390 million light years away from Earth.
- If all goes according to plan, NASA and ESI will return samples from Mars by the year 2031. The scientists hope that the samples contain signs, if not examples, of microbial life from the Red Planet. While the possibility is exciting, there is also the question of whether or not we are ready for what they might discover. Sheri Klug Boonstra of Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility recently sounded an alarm: it's time to start consciously preparing the public to definitively learn we're not alone.
- When the last person left the moon in 1972, few could have predicted that humans wouldn’t return for another 50 years. But NASA says this time around things will be different. The agency is planning a crewed mission to the moon in 2024, and this time it wants to stick around. The idea of the Artemis mission is to lay the foundation for a permanent human presence on and around the moon, which will then serve as a jump-off point for the agency’s journey to Mars.
- A new telescope in Hawaii captured the most detailed image yet of the solar surface.
- Mars has water an inch below its surface. A newly released ice map could steer future missions to get humans on the red planet.
- Europe launched its space telescope Cheops. The European Space Agency will use the instrument to study the formation and composition of far-off planets. A Russian rocket launched from French Guiana carried it into orbit.
- While it seems we are making great strides in unlocking the mysteries of the Universe, there is a sizable hole in what we know – up to 95 percent of the cosmos appears to be missing. In an article, one astrophysicist provided a novel explanation for dark energy and dark matter: He believes the universe is actually filled with a "dark fluid" possessing "negative mass".
- China mulled a new "Earth-moon space economic zone" that would create $10 trillion of new economic value by 2050. For context, that's nearly double China's current GDP. Beijing has been pumping money into its rocket programme and even landed a probe on the dark side of the moon in 2019.
- Space tourism will soon be a reality. Virgin Galactic, for one, expects to fly over 60 paying customers in 2020 and 700-plus in 2021. But who are they? The Washington Post, profiled some. The future astronauts form an exclusive fraternity of sorts, their bonds strengthened by the unexpectedly long wait to experience the “overview effect,” or seeing Earth from space.
- NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir recorded history with world's first all-female spacewalk in October 2019. Koch and Meir fixed the broken part of the International Space Station during the spacewalk.
- A new age of space exploration is underway - this one driven by companies, billionaires, and new players like China and India.
- Scientists discovered 20 new moons orbiting Saturn, bringing the total to 82, three more than Jupiter. The public was invited to name the new moons.
- Astronomers caught an interstellar object on camera. The comet is just the second visitor we’ve ever seen from another star.
- A survey of 3000 American children showed that more kids there now aspire to be a YouTube star than an astronaut.
- There are about 22,000 large objects orbiting the Earth, including working and broken satellites and bits of old rocket from past space expeditions. A long-term solution is needed to clean up space. The Gateway Earth Development Group is a collection of academics from universities around the world who propose turning this potential catastrophe into a resource. By 2050, Gateway Earth – a fully operational space station with a facility to recycle old satellites and other junk – could be up and running.
- July 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of astronaut Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. On July 16, 1969 Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins aboard. Four days later, the lunar module Eagle, staffed by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module where Collins was stationed. The Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:17 pm it touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston with his now-famous message: "The Eagle has landed." Six hours later, Armstrong took his first steps on the moon and famously said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." (listen to the audio).
- The next 50 years in space will look very different (see The Economist's Science section). Falling costs, new technologies, Chinese and Indian ambitions, and a new generation of entrepreneurs promise a bold era of space development. It will almost certainly involve tourism for the rich and better communications networks for all; in the long run it might involve mineral exploitation and even mass transportation. Space will become ever more like an extension of Earth—an arena for firms and private individuals, not just governments. But for this promise to be fulfilled the world needs to create a system of laws to govern the heavens—both in peacetime and, should it come to that, in war.
- According to Future Today Institute FTI), at least 58 companies are planning to return to the moon, according research by SpaceFund, which tracks such ventures. There's even a group called the Moon Village Association, which is plotting out the necessities to colonisation there. Meanwhile, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk's SpaceX are progressing toward a new era of space tourism. Virgin Galactic partnered with Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya to potentially be the first publicly-listed human spaceflight company.
- Some estimates put the projected growth of the space economy to more than $1 trillion in the next two decades, and FTI points to three possible scenarios between now and 2039:
- Optimistic: Off-planet territory is reaffirmed as a public good (at least from our Earthling perspective). Before new land/ surfaces/ airspaces are claimed and developed, we model longer-term outcomes. We learn from our mistakes on Earth. Off-planet exploration is about curiosity, not commercialisation.
- Pragmatic: Our geopolitical fighting extends off-planet. What begins as China, Russia and the US competing to be the first explorers on the far side of the Moon sets the pace for an unwieldy race to space. Without meaningful coordination or planning, we flood our thermosphere and exosphere with satellites and sensors. We rush to establish colonies on Mars. And we leave Earth with all of our political, social and emotional baggage in tow. Wars of the future are fought on multi-dimensional battlefields.
- Catastrophic: A new wealth divide emerges. Wealthy families send their kids to space training courses and camps in preparation for space travel. But these families have an additional advantage: should we need to live off-planet in the farther future, wealthy families will already have the experience and training to survive whatever cataclysm befalls us on Earth. The training has a spillover effect: these families are able to fully participate in the space economy, earning the best jobs, startup funding, and leadership positions. Poorer families don't have that option and are forced to stay on planet and fight for resources.
- Foam could be the key to life on Mars. Nicknamed “solid smoke,” silica aerogel could help warm the planet’s frozen soil enough to grow plants.
- Virgin Galactic aims to become the first publicly listed company to send people to space, beating out Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Bezo’s Blue Origin. A specially designed acquisitions company called Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. will invest about $800 million in Virgin Galactic to gain a 49 percent share and take Virgin Galactic public. While Virgin Galactic has sold $80 million worth of seats to over 600 individuals in future private spaceflights and raised over $1 billion in 2004, taking the company public is a strategy to ensure that it generates enough revenue to cover its expenses prior to becoming profitable.
- Scientists are reportedly looking for "moons on the run". “Ploonets” are exomoons that have escaped their planets to orbit their stars instead.
- See also:
- 50 years since man first set foot on the moon, the business opportunity presented by space travel has morphed from science-fiction to reality. UBS Global Research predicts the space industry to rocket - becoming an $800bln plus industry by the end of 2030.
- According to Big Think, the universe has a very strange structure that cosmologists call the “cosmic web”. So-named for its resemblance to a spider’s web, the cosmic web is made of massive structures such as the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall - 10 billion light years long - and the Keenan, Barger, and Cowie void, inside of which is our own Milky Way galaxy. The cosmic web came into existence because of small quantum fluctuations that were stretched out during the Big Bang. These became discrepancies in density, and so, over time, more dense regions attracted more matter, creating the "web" of the cosmic web, and less dense regions became voids.
- A paper published in the Journal of Geology put forth a new idea: a pair of supernovae ionised our atmosphere to such an extent that lightning became exceptionally common, and burned down the trees in which our ancestors lived.
- IFTF reported that even though the millions of pieces of human-made debris in orbit around the Earth are tiny, they are moving so fast that even a speck could cause catastrophic damage if it were to collide with a satellite or humanned spacecraft. Engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are building a device called OSCaR (Obsolete Spacecraft Capture and Removal) that will capture the junk in a net then drop out of orbit so the debris safely burns up in the atmosphere.
- An ancient star collision gave us precious metals, claimed Quartz. The violent meetup of two neutron stars 4.6 billion years ago showered our solar system with gold, platinum, and plutonium.
- Inside a meteorite NASA retrieved from the LaPaz icefield in Antarctica, researchers uncovered a grain of stardust that formed before even our own sun had come into existence. What's more, this grain of material sheds insight into how solar systems like our own form. Specifically, by studying the inclusion's composition, researchers were able to glean new insights into the thermodynamics of white dwarf novae.
- Of the 60,000 objects of meteoritic origin that have fallen on Earth and been catalogued, only 36 were observed with enough fidelity as they arrived to allow scientists to calculate the original meteor’s orbit before it entered the atmosphere. Now a network of cameras is making it easier to track meteors. By showing where the rocks came from, more data could cast light on the composition of the solar system and help move orbiting spacecraft out of danger, noted The Economist.
- Scientists believe there are oceans buried under thick crusts of ice on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. Finding them would raise hopes for life beyond Earth, The Economist added.
- An interstellar meteor hit Earth a few years ago. The trajectory of the 1.5-foot-wide object’s 2014 crash landing suggests it originated outside our solar system.
- The Universe’s first molecule was spotted just a week after the first sighting of a black hole.
- Many want to believe that ‘Oumuamua is an alien spaceship. The first interstellar object mankind has ever observed is oddly shaped and suspiciously fast, and resembles physicists’ ideas for solar-radiation-powered “lightsails.” But there are less profound theories too, it could be a space “snowflake,” skeleton, or a comet with an invisible tail, according to Quartz,
- We are more linked to the moon than we've realised, found Big Think. It turns out that the outer part of the Earth's atmosphere stretches considerably past the lunar orbit. In fact, it goes as far as twice the distance to the Moon. This discovery is a product of observations by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) — a spacecraft launched in 1995 to study the sun, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.
- China planned to put a solar power station in space. The energy it generates would be beamed back to Earth via a microwave or laser.
- A Japanese spacecraft touched down on an asteroid… The Hayabusa2 craft landed on Ryugu, which is about 900 meters (3,000 feet) in diameter. It will collect samples that will be sent back to Earth,
- Opportunity, one of two rovers of the Mars Exploration Rover programme to land on the planet in January 2004, has been declared missing. Its mission was due to last three months, but it survived for 15 years on the red planet, photographing, measuring, exploring. One day a human may follow in the tracks of a pioneer who travelled far and provided insight after insight into the history of Mars, noted The Economist.
- Quartz noted that while earthly politics may be chronically in crisis but there’s one place international cooperation has prevailed for decades: space. The United Arab Emirates' science minister claimed that space is a testing ground for a better way of doing politics.
- Earth is starting to feel more like Mars, claimed Quartz. Temperatures on the Red Planet vary widely, and, due to climate change, those on our home planet now do too.
- Saturn’s rings haven’t always been there. Scientists now believe the rings of the 4.5 billion-year-old planet formed less than 100 million years ago, noted Quartz.
- Seeds taken up to the Moon by China's Chang'e-4 mission have sprouted, said China National Space Administration. It marks the first time any biological matter has grown on the Moon, and was seen as a significant step towards long-term space exploration. The Chang'e 4 was the first mission to land on and explore the Moon's far side, facing away from Earth. However, the cotton seed that sprouted did not survive the lunar sundown, when temperatures fall as low as -170°C (-274°F).
- The Big Bang didn't just result in our familiar universe, according to a new theory reported in Science Alert - it also generated a second "anti-universe" that extended backwards in time, like a mirror image of our own. A story in Physics World explored the new theory, which was proposed by a trio of Canadian physicists who say that it could explain the existence of dark matter. The theory, laid out in a paper in the journal Physical Review of Letters, aims to preserve a rule of physics called CPT symmetry. In the anti-universe before the Big Bang, it suggests, time ran backwards and the cosmos were made of antimatter instead of matter.
- Water is driving lunar exploration. The existence of water - a major resource for life support and rocket fuel - has become a major reason to go to the moon. Access to H20 could make what we are already doing in space cheaper and more efficient, and enable far more ambitious future missions, according to Quartz.
- China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the moon. The lunar lander and rover took off on Dec. 8 and spent 26 days in space before landing this morning in the Von Kármán crater, a 186-km-wide (110 miles) region.
- NASA visited the farthest object ever explored. Just after midnight Eastern time on New Year's Day, the New Horizons space probe flew by celestial object 2014 MU69, a mysterious hunk of reddish rock 4 billion miles from Earth. New Horizons will spend 20 months transmitting data and imagery on the object, nicknamed “Ultimate Thule”.
- We’re going back to the moon, and need to know why, claimed Quartz. We might see something akin to the gold rush, hundreds of thousands of miles in space - see more facts about our lunar future.
- China’s space probe moved into position over the moon. The Chang’e-4 entered a planned orbit “to prepare for the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon,” the official Xinhua news agency reported. It didn’t say when the landing would occur.
- Two black holes became one. Scientists are now picking up the gravitational ripples of a stellar merger 5 billion light-years from Earth, noted Quartz.
- Virgin Galactic tried to send a rocket-powered plane up to 50 miles (80 km) into the atmosphere, to what’s considered the edge of space, closer to leaving Earth than ever before.
- NASA released the first sounds ever captured on Mars. NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet in December 2018.
- Further reading:
- Since Newton, we have assumed that the universe is governed by unchanging laws, and Stephen Hawking once even argued that we were close to uncovering them in their entirety. But are these laws really eternal features of the universe, asked an iai debate? If so, how do they emerge and how do they act? Or are they merely human ways of codifying the world, which remains somehow unknowable and inexplicable?
- Does the Universe around us have a fundamental structure that can be glimpsed through special numbers, asked Big Think? The physicist Richard Feynman thought so, saying there is a number that all theoretical physicists of worth should "worry about". He called it "one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man". That magic number, called the fine structure constant, is a fundamental constant, with a value which nearly equals 1/137. Or 1/137.03599913, to be precise.
- From Dark Energy to Quantum Gravity, the cosmos remains mysterious. How should we approach the puzzles that remain? Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek argued in an iai course that, in science, beauty will lead us to truth. Meanwhile theoretical physicist John Ellis asked in another iai course: where did the universe come from and what don’t we understand about its future?
- Is information fundamental to reality? Did the universe emerge from a bundle of bits? Oxford constructor theorist Chiara Marletto outlined in an iai course the new theory which seeks to explain life, the universe and everything in it.
- In New Adventures in Spacetime, King’s College philosopher of physics Dr Eleanor Knox revealed how Einstein’s work has radical implications for past, present and future.
- An odd-shaped visitor from beyond our solar system, 'Oumuamua (Hawaiian for "scout"), has been fascinating from the moment it arrived: It's a spaceship, it's a rock, it's a comet, it's not a comet. But is it a spaceship, asked Big Think? That's where its behaviour has some scientists at Harvard leaning; they suggest it may be a device of some kind powered by a lightsail, or a piece of one. What's got experts so puzzled about 'Oumuamua is, as an about-to-be-published paper says: "'Oumuamua showed deviations from a Keplerian orbit at a high statistical significance." In English: It sped up as it approached the Sun. Comets can do this, but 'Oumuamua has been disqualified as an active comet, as it has no tail. The authors of the paper propose that the increase in speed could be due to "solar radiation pressure." The bottom line, they say, is that the discrepancy "is readily solved if 'Oumuamua does not follow a random trajectory but is rather a targeted probe."
- Earth has more than one 'moon', claimed Big Think. Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist. Hungarian astronomers have reportedly proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth. These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then. The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
- NASA successfully landed its Mars explorer. After “seven minutes of terror,” the InSight lander used heat shields, parachutes, and thrusters to safely touch down on Mars soil. After unfurling its solar panels, the probe will drill into the surface to measure tremors and heat flow to study the planet’s origins.
- In The space race is dominated by new contenders ,The Economist argued that private businesses and rising powers are replacing the cold-war duopoly.
- The Economist also examined how the space industry has changed since the cold war. Some 4,500 satellites circle the Earth. Putting them there was once the job of the superpowers’ armies and space agencies; now developing countries and companies like SpaceX are leading the charge. In 2003 China became the third country to put a person into orbit. India plans to follow suit in 2022.
- The discovery of many potentially habitable planets beyond the solar system and a growing understanding of the variety of life on Earth provides NASA an opportunity to advance the field of astrobiology, according to a new National Academy of Sciences report.
- A mission to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft was aborted. The Soyuz system is presently the only way to get humans into orbit. (America’s space shuttle programme closed in 2011.) Three astronauts still on the ISS are likely to return by December, after which their descent craft will be unusable. A probe into the recent failure is likely to extend beyond then. There is a strong chance no human will reach the ISS again until 2020, reported The Economist.
- In late 2018. a few American satellites, each no bigger than a brick, will enter the atmosphere of Mars, 33.9 million miles away - demonstrating a powerful new technology that will undoubtedly shape our futures. These miniature satellites, called CubeSats, were designed to follow NASA’s Mars robotic lander, InSight, as it attempts to land on the red planet in November, and they will relay information back to Earth. The goal is to demonstrate how low-cost CubeSat technology can be used in deep space and travel farther than any miniature satellite before.
- But, for the Future Today Institute, NASA’s small experimental crafts reveal something truly exciting about our futures: the dawn of miniature satellites whose data will be mined and refined instantly for lots of different purposes. It’s a space revolution that’s moving ahead at warp speed. Thousands of these tiny, cost-effective high-value satellites will be launched into space during the next three years - and not just by government space agencies like NASA.
- A supermassive black hole at the core of our galaxy destroys stars that stray too close. The Event Horizon Telescope aims to photograph it. The New York Times explained the challenges and uncertainties involved and speculated upon what we’ll learn from the first results.
- Given that the laws of nature supported the emergence of intelligent life on Earth, the universe, with its zillions of stars, should be full of alien civilisations, said The Economist. So why, wondered Enrico Fermi, have astronomers never seen extraterrestrials? By considering how far away any putative aliens might be, and the sensitivity of radio-telescopes, scientists at Pennsylvania State University have come up with a new answer: sky-watchers have not been looking hard enough.
- Further reading:
- Heads of state, NGOs and UN officials discussed how international cooperation in space can translate into peace on earth.
- Where did everything come from? Where are we heading? Big History claims to tell the story of the Universe starting from the Big Bang, the formation of stars, planets, life on Earth, modern civilisation - and what might exist in the future.
- Observing Earth from space can help governments manage water resources, mitigate man-made contributions to climate change and prepare for natural disasters, claimed Raconteur.
- A Japanese space exploration mission landed two small rovers on an asteroid. It’s the first to ever visit a “C-type” asteroid, one that scientists believe includes significant amounts of carbon and water as well as metals.
- Elon Musk’s space company said Yusaku Maezawa, founder and CEO of online fashion retailer Zozo, will take a trip around the moon planned for 2023 on its Big Falcon Rocket, which is still in development. The last time a person traveled to the moon was on a US Apollo mission in 1972.
- Voyage to the bottom of an alien sea explored the idea that the next step in space exploration may be replacing rovers with underwater robots.The solar system is awash with oceans. Unlike the majority of Earth’s seas, these ubiquitous seas are locked away beneath ice crusts.
- A ninth planet could be lurking behind Neptune, reported Quartz. Scientists searching for the mysterious “Planet Nine” believe it could weigh up to 20 times the Earth’s mass.
- Further reading:
- Going to space is not something to take for granted, warned Big Think, as it can actually become impossible. There is a scenario, called the Kessler Syndrome, that can cause the end of all space exploration and dramatically impact our daily lives. In 1978, the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler proposed that a chain reaction of exploding space debris can end up making space activities and the use of satellites impossible for generations. He predicted that the number of objects that we keep launching into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) can create such a dense environment above the planet that inevitable collisions could cause a cascading effect.
- The Perseids are arguably the most famous annual meteor shower, silently streaking across the mid-August heavens each year, However, the often-exquisite shooting stars come from a comet that’s drawing ever closer to Earth. Dangerously close, actually, claimed Big Think. Radio astronomer Gerrit Verschuur has called Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle "the single most dangerous object known to humanity".
- For nearly four billion years, Earth and the Moon have been inseparable as they’ve journeyed together through the cosmic void. It’s our only permanent satellite we’ll ever know. But new research suggests that our planet occasionally captures “mini-moons” every once in a while. These tiny asteroids zoom around our planet as temporary natural satellites
- The biggest hurdle to mounting an interstellar mission may be humanity's short attention span, warned Space.com, adding that it will take several decades of sustained, focused, coordinated and costly work to pull off a project such as Breakthrough Starshot, which plans to blast fleets of sail-equipped robotic nanocraft toward potentially life-supporting exoplanets at tremendous speeds using powerful, Earth-based lasers.
- In 2012, a group of astrophysicists concluded that black holes featured firewalls on their outer edges, potentially burning up anything that may end up caught inside. The idea that the event horizon had a ring of fire, swarming with high-energy particles, was startling and added to the potential paradoxes scientists have proposed in relation to black holes. Now, physicists have found that there may be no firewalls after all. Instead, they think black holes work like growing balls of strings or “fuzzballs”.
- CB Insights published a briefing on the current state of space tech, from on-the-ground virtual reality experiences to space tourism.
- A lake of liquid water has been detected on Mars, according to research published by the Italian Space Agency earlier this week. The lake is located beneath the planet’s southern polar ice cap. It is 12.5 miles across and looks similar to underwater lakes in Greenland and the Antarctic. Wondering if this lake will be a sightseeing location of the future?
- Researchers have found evidence of an existing body of liquid water on Mars. What they believe to be a lake sits beneath the Red Planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km across.Previous research found possible signs of intermittent liquid water flowing on the martian surface, but this is the first sign of a persistent body of water on the planet in the present day.
- By combining observations from both Hubble and the Gaia observatory, astronomers have further refined the value for Hubble's constant, the rate at which the universe is expanding from the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. As the measurements have become more precise, however, the team's determination of this law has become more and more at odds with the measurements from another space observatory – ESA's Planck mission – which is producing a different predicted value for the Hubble constant.
- A new radio telescope in South Africa is already producing brilliant images of the super massive black hole that is at our galaxy’s centre, 25,000 light years away.
- Astronomers discovered 10 more moons orbiting Jupiter. The planet now has 79 moons in total, and one is on a collision coursewith the others.
- Scientists should refocus their search for life, said Quartz, as Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, has confirmed oceans, making it more promising than Jupiter’s Europa.
- Researchers calculated the most likely scenarios that would bring about other intelligent life in the observable universe, and the results are bleak, noted Quartz.
- Astronomers photographed a planet’s birth for the first time. The image of a gas giant forming is. for Quartz, equally beautiful and enlightening.
- Indeed, the object seen by a team led by astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, using a telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, is a planet in the process of formation, and the researchers have actually captured an image of it: a bright blob in the disk of hot gas and dust around a young dwarf star called PDS 70, in the constellation of Centaurus 370 light years away. We’re literally watching worlds in the making, claimed Prospect.
- These many newly discovered worlds come in a variety of material and orbits. NASA and other space agencies are interested in discovering a variety of planets, but one such kind has also sparked their interest – planets within the habitable zone where liquid water oceans could be formed. The boundaries of what’s habitable and what’s even possible in the universe seem to change every day. Strange compositions we thought impossible are being discovered all the time and with an average estimate of 1 trillion planets in just our galaxy alone, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface, concluded Big Think.
- Prospect warned that the theory of a multiverse is extremely controversial, with some scientists publicly voicing the concerns of many by arguing that it is entirely metaphysical. It is really no more than an idea bandied about as a handy way to fill some admittedly significant explanatory gaps in our current theories. In this sense it is used much as the mechanical philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries (such as Isaac Newton) used God. “Multiverse theory” isn’t therefore actually a theory. It doesn’t come with a recognised and accepted set of mathematical equations that can be used to perform calculations and make predictions, and so it offers no prospect of connecting in any meaningful way with empirical data, now or in the future.
- If we ever discover the true size of the universe, we'll likely have galaxies to thank, noted Big Think. The trillions of massive star clusters we've observed are sending light from the early universe back to us. But our measuring instruments - the strongest of which is NASA's Hubble Space Telescope - aren't powerful enough to detect light from furthest points of the universe. But in 2020, the James Webb Telescope should be able to, revealing a truer number of galaxies and perhaps the boundaries of the universe itself.
- Aliens are “probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable,” scientists told Big Think, adding that their distribution shows a 39 percent to 85 percent chance that humans are alone in the universe. But that’s not to say they think scientists should give up on the search for intelligent alien life.
- Scientists need a universal definition for when space begins. The edge of space is less of a barrier and more of a moving target, changing as we achieve new milestones.
- Johannes Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion (quick primer, here) in the early 17th century. Kepler employed the scientific method, and his belief in an underlying and accessible metaphysical structure was a philosophical stance - loosely described as “reductionism” - that drove him not only to fame in physics but also other “interesting” results - such that the universe’s elements could all be reduced to platonic, geometric, solids.
- China’s new Silk Road extends into space. The country reportedly wants to use satellites to build a “Belt and Road spatial information corridor.”
- Travelling to Proxima Centauri? Here is how many crew you need to ensure that a healthy crew arrives.
The cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself - Carl Sagan
- This is claimed to be the definitive photograph of Earth until now. Unlike NASA's Blue Marble—which is a composite made from many different photographs—this is a portrait of Earth taken in one single shot. It's the highest resolution image of our home planet, 121 megapixels. This image was taken by Russia's latest weather satellite, the Electro-L.
- The oldest stars found in the Universe are nearly pristine, where almost 100% of what makes them up is the hydrogen and helium left over from the Big Bang. They come in at over 13 billion years old, with the oldest at 14.5 billion. And this is a big problem, because the Universe itself is only 13.8 billion years old.
- Astronaut Edgar Mitchell talked about the joyous moment in which he sensed that all our molecules are interconnected.
- Two young students in the UK managed to record a video of the Earth from the edge of space, using homemade equipment and on a shoestring budget, suggesting that if they can, anybody who really wants to can.
- On September 15, 2017, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, awaited the final transmission from the Cassini spacecraft as it plunged into Saturn's atmosphere ending its 20-year voyage of discovery.
- The next Venus transit will be in 2117. How likely is it that anyone reading this today will still exist then? Think about that: The next time the orbits of Earth and Venus align just so to create a transit, the world will be almost entirely populated by an entirely unborn generation.