Space News & Blog Articles

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The GOES-U satellite will catch a ride to space on SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket

NOAA's GOES-R series constellation will be complete in space with the launch of its GOES-U satellite at the end of June. This will mark the first time a NOAA satellite will be transported to space using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

NASA reschedules ISS spacewalk after astronaut experiences 'spacesuit discomfort'

NASA has rescheduled last week's EVA, which was called off only an hour before the astronauts were set to exit the station.

NASA, Boeing delay Starliner astronaut landing to June 26 amid thruster issues

Boeing's Starliner will come back to Earth with its two astronauts no earlier than June 26. The four-day extension will allow for more thruster testing at the ISS.

SpaceX launching European TV satellite today on 1st leg of doubleheader

SpaceX plans to launch two missions today (June 18), sending the SES Astra 1P telecom satellite and 20 of its own Starlink broadband satellites to orbit.

Lego Art The Milky Way Galaxy review

According to Lego, the Milky Way Galaxy is made up of love hearts, frogs, flowers and coffee mugs — and it's absolutely fabulous.

Doctor Who 'The Legend of Ruby Sunday': Who is Susan Triad?

Why does this mysterious woman keep popping up in the Doctor's timeline? And what's her connection to the season's Big Bad?

There’s Chang’e-6 on the Far Side of the Moon

The newest phase of China’s lunar exploration project is soon coming to an end. On June 20th, the Chang’e 6 sample return mission starts its journey back to Earth from the far side of the Moon, having already collected samples and blasted itself back into lunar orbit. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s look at some of the more memorable images that have come out of this mission so far.

China’s National Space Agency (CNSA) released up close and personal images of the Chang’e-6 landers/ascender system on June 14th. They were taken by a small, autonomous rover that descended from the lander, maneuvered to a suitable position, framed a photograph, and took one, all without input from its human overlords. 

Weighing in at only 5 kg, the rover showed what is possible for autonomous operation with relatively light hardware. It also shows an impressive amount of autonomy for a lunar rover, especially one operational only on the “far” side of the Moon.

Shot of the Chang’e-6 lander/ascender taken by its companion autonomous rover.
Credit – CNSA

It wasn’t the only observer that captured an interesting image of China’s sixth mission in a series named after Chang’e, the Chinese Moon goddess. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured the orbiter from overhead space and showed a dramatic change in its surroundings. 

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How 2 quasars at the dawn of time could be a Rosetta stone for the early universe

The two active supermassive black holes are the most distant pair of quasars ever seen and shed more light on how the universe transformed into what it is today.

Dwarf Star Caught Speeding; Could Escape the Galaxy

Citizen scientists discovered a star speeding through the Milky Way. Now, astronomers are trying to track down its origins.

The post Dwarf Star Caught Speeding; Could Escape the Galaxy appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

If we really want people living on the moon, we need an astronaut health database

Scientists have started building a space medicine biobank as humans look to the moon and beyond.

A New Way to Survive the Harsh Lunar Night

The Moon is a tough place to survive, and not just for humans. The wild temperature extremes between day and night make it extremely difficult to build reliable machinery that will continue to operate. But an engineering team from Nagoya University in Japan have developed an energy-efficient new way to control Loop Heat Pipes (LHP) to safely cool lunar rovers. This will extend their lifespan, keeping them running for extended lunar exploration missions.

How do you keep a rover insulated well enough to survive the frozen lunar nights, without cooking it during the day? A team of engineers led by Dr Masahito Nishikawara of Nagoya University may have found an answer. By combining a loop heat pipe (LHP) with an electrohydrodynamic pump (EHP), they have created a mechanism to cool machinery efficiently in the vacuum of space, but in a form which can also be turned off at night. Crucially, it is so efficient that it uses practically no power at all.

The Moon is an extraordinarily harsh environment for machinery. Aside from the highly abrasive regolith, which sticks to everything and is found everywhere, the Moon has no atmosphere and a very slow rotational period. This means that days and nights on the moon last 14 Earth days each, and reach extreme temperatures. With no atmosphere to insulate and transport heat around the Moon, night-time temperatures can drop all the way down to -173º Celsius, while the unfiltered heat from the Sun causes daytime temperatures to climb as high as 127º Celsius.

It is very difficult to design complex machinery to work reliably under such conditions. The long nights mean that the energy harvested from solar panels needs to be stored in very large batteries, but batteries do not cope well with low temperatures. They can be electrically warmed, but heaters need a constant flow of electricity, draining the batteries. Alternatively, a machine can be heavily insulated to keep it functional when idle, but this leads to overheating when it is active, and when the Sun rises.

Overheating can damage batteries, but it’s equally bad for electronic components. Active cooling systems are the traditional answer. They work similarly to the radiator in a car by pumping coolant through a large radiator, but these require power to run. This is a problem when you need your batteries to last 14 days before the next recharge. Passive systems, such as LHPs, are effective and don’t require power, but they run continuously, even when you would prefer heating.

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Life after stellar death? How life could arise on planets orbiting white dwarfs

Stellar death need not be the end for orbiting planets, which could see their ice melt as they move closer to the white dwarf that their star evolves into.

Can't stop won't stop: Solar Orbiter shows the Sun raging on

The hyperactive sunspot region responsible for the beautiful auroras earlier in May was still alive and kicking when it rotated away from Earth’s view. Watching from the other side of the Sun, the ESA-led Solar Orbiter mission detected this same region producing the largest solar flare of this solar cycle. By observing the Sun from all sides, ESA missions reveal how active sunspot regions evolve and persist, which will help improve space weather forecasting.

Ariane 6 launches Curium One: space for all

Europe’s newest rocket soon launches, taking with it many space missions each with a unique objective, destination and team at home, cheering them on. Whether into Earth orbit to look back and study Earth, peer out to deep space or test important new technologies, Ariane 6’s first flight will showcase the versatility and flexibility of this impressive, heavy-lift launcher. Read on for all about Curium One, then see who else is flying first.

Will climate change turn the Arctic green?

Live coverage: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch SES’s Astra 1P television satellite from Cape Canaveral

SES’s Astra 1P satellite is encapsulated in a pair of payload fairings ahead of its planned launch onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on June 18, 2024. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX is preparing to launch a satellite to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) on behalf of one of its oldest customers: Luxembourg-based SES. The prolific launch company aims to bounce back from an unusually quiet period in its launch cadence, accented by a last-second abort as the engines on another one of its Falcon 9 rockets began to fire.

Liftoff of the mission is set for 5:35 p.m. EDT (2135 UTC). The mission is set to be the 45th orbital flight from Florida’s Space Coast in 2024.

Spaceflight Now will have live coverage beginning about an hour prior to liftoff.

The Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission, tail number B1080 in the SpaceX fleet will launch for a ninth time. It previously supported the launches of two private astronaut missions for Axiom Space (Ax-2 and Ax-3), the European Space Agency’s Euclid observatory and four Starlink missions.

About 8.5 minutes after liftoff, B1080 will land on the SpaceX droneship, ‘Just Read the Instructions.’ If successful, this will make the 84th booster landing for JRTI and the 250th droneship landing for SpaceX to date.

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The Great Red Spot Probably Formed in the Early 1800s

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS) is one of the Solar System’s defining features. It’s a massive storm that astronomers have observed since the 1600s. However, its date of formation and longevity are up for debate. Have we been seeing the same phenomenon all this time?

The GRS is a gigantic anti-cyclonic (rotating counter-clockwise) storm that’s larger than Earth. Its wind speeds exceed 400 km/h (250 mp/h). It’s an icon that humans have been observing since at least the 1800s, possibly earlier. Its history, along with how it formed, is a mystery.

Its earliest observations may have been in 1632 when a German Abbott used his telescope to look at Jupiter. 32 years later, another observer reported seeing the GRS moving from east to west. Then, in 1665, Giovanni Cassini examined Jupiter with a telescope and noted the presence of a storm at the same latitude as the GRS. Cassini and other astronomers observed it continuously until 1713 and he named it the Permanent Spot.

Unfortunately, astronomers lost track of the spot. Nobody saw the GRS for 118 years until astronomer S. Schwabe observed a clear structure, roughly oval and at the same latitude as the GRS. Some think of that observation as the first observation of the current GRS and that the storm formed again at the same latitude. But the details fade the further back in time we look. There are also questions about the earlier storm and its relation to the current GRS.

New research in Geophysical Research Letters combined historical records with computer simulations of the GRS to try to understand this chimerical meteorological phenomenon. Its title is “The Origin of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” and the lead author is Agustín Sánchez-Lavega. Sánchez-Lavega is a Professor of Physics at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain. He’s also head of the Planetary Sciences Group and the Department of Applied Physics at the University.

Four views of Jupiter and its GRS. a is a drawing of the Permanent Spot by G. D. Cassini from 19 January 1672. b is a drawing by S. Swabe from 10 May 1851. It shows the GRS area as a clear oval with limits marked by its Hollow (drawn by a red dashed line). c is a Photograph by A. A. Common from 1879. d is a photograph from Observatory Lick with a yellow filter on 14 October 1890. Each image is an astronomical image of Jupiter with south up and east down. Image Credit: Sánchez-Lavega et al. 2024.
Jupiter Great Red Spot
A different take on Jupiter and its GRS. Image Credit: NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Navaneeth Krishnan S © CC BY
These images from the research show how the GRS formed. a is a drawing by T. E. R. Phillips in 1931–1932 of the STrD. The red arrows indicate the flow direction with the longitude scale indicated. b and c are maps drawn from images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. The yellow arrows mark position-velocity changes in the STrD. The STrD trapped winds and created a long cell that generated the Great Red Spot. Image Credit: Sánchez-Lavega et al. 2024.
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A New Way to Prove if Primordial Black Holes Contribute to Dark Matter

The early Universe was a strange place. Early in its history—in the first quintillionth of a second—the entire cosmos was nothing more than a stunningly hot plasma. And, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), this soup of quarks and gluons was accompanied by the formation of weird little primordial black holes (PHBs). It’s entirely possible that these long-vanished PHBs could have been the root of dark matter.

MIT’s David Kaiser and graduate student Elba Alonso-Monsalve suggest that such early super-charged black holes were very likely a new state of matter that we don’t see in the modern cosmos. “Even though these short-lived, exotic creatures are not around today, they could have affected cosmic history in ways that could show up in subtle signals today,” Kaiser said. “Within the idea that all dark matter could be accounted for by black holes, this gives us new things to look for.” That means a new way to search for the origins of dark matter.

Dark matter is mysterious. No one has directly observed it yet. However, its influence on regular “baryonic” matter is detectable. Scientists have many suggestions for what dark matter could be, but until they can observe it, it’s tough to tell what the stuff is, exactly. Black holes could be likely candidates. But the mass of all the observable ones isn’t enough to account for the amount of dark matter in the cosmos. However, there may be a connection to black holes after all.

Most of us are familiar with the idea of at least two types of black holes: stellar-mass and supermassive. There is also a population of intermediate-mass black holes, which are rare. The stellar-mass objects form when massive stars explode as supernovae and collapse to form black holes. These exist throughout many galaxies. The supermassive ones aggregate many millions of solar masses together. They form “hierarchically” from smaller ones and exist in the hearts of galaxies. The intermediate-mass ones probably form hierarchically as well and could be a hidden link between the other two types.

An image based on a supercomputer simulation of the cosmological environment where primordial gas undergoes the direct collapse to create black holes. Credit: Aaron Smith/TACC/UT-Austin.

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Baby Stars are Swarming Around the Galactic Center

The vicinity of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way’s center, is hyperactive. Stars, gas, and dust zip around the black hole’s gravitational well at thousands of kilometers per hour. Previously, astronomers thought that only mature stars had been pulled into such rapid orbits. However, a new paper from the University of Cologne and elsewhere in Europe found that some relatively young stars are making the rounds rather than older ones, which raises some questions about the models predicting how stars form in these hyperactive regions.

Astronomers have known about the highly mobile stars surrounding Sgr A* for over thirty years now. They even have their own categorization, known as S stars. However, researchers lacked the equipment to analyze the age of some of these stars, and theories pointed to older, dimmer stars being the most likely to survive near a black hole.

But then, as it does so often with science, evidence that challenged the old and dim star theory began to pile up. Twelve years ago, researchers found an object they believed was a cloud of gas that was in the process of being eaten by Sgr A*. More recently, evidence has begun to hint that that gas cloud might surround a newly born star, known as a “Young Stellar Object” (YSO) in astronomy jargon.

Video showing the motion of stars around Sgr A*, from the corresponding author of the new paper.
Credit – Florian Peißker YouTube Channel

As Sgr A* started to receive more observational time with more powerful telescopes over the years, researchers were able to focus in on other interesting objects, the paper describes dozens of potential YSOs in the vicinity of the previously known S stars. Interestingly, they also seem to follow similar orbits.

Those orbits have the new YSOs zipping in front of the black hole at thousands of kilometers per hour, much faster than typical star formation theories allow. Maybe some intricacy of the black hole’s gravitational field is causing this dramatic motion, or maybe there is some other unknown aspect of stellar formation that can account for these fast-moving young stars, but for now, how they are formed remains a mystery.

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NASA's Perseverance Mars rover enters new Red Planet territory: 'Bright Angel'

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has been rerouted across a Red Planet dune field to reach the Marian territory known as "Bright Angel"