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Blue Origin resumes passenger flights, carries crew of six and 90-year-old aerospace pioneer to space

An elated Ed Dwight, at 90 the oldest person to fly in space, shows his emotion after finally reaching space more than 60 years after he was denied the opportunity to become the first African American astronaut. Image: Blue Origin.

Ed Dwight, a 90-year-old artist and former Air Force test pilot who was denied a chance to become the first African American astronaut six decades ago, finally rocketed into space Sunday, fulfilling a cherished dream in a brief up-and-down flight out of the lower atmosphere.

“Absolutely fantastic!” he exclaimed after touchdown. “A life-changing experience. Everybody needs to do this!”

Strapped into a Blue Origin New Shepard capsule, Dwight and five crewmates — a retired accountant, an Indian pilot and adventurer, a software engineer, a French entrepreneur and a venture capitalist — blasted off from company owner Jeff Bezos’ west Texas launch site just after 10:35 a.m. EDT, climbing away into a cloudless sky.

It was the company’s first New Shepard flight with passengers aboard since a booster failure two years ago that derailed an unpiloted research flight. A successful repeat mission late last year, also without a crew on board, cleared the way for the resumption of passenger flights.

“There was a part of my career that wasn’t quite fulfilled, and here’s a grand opportunity at this late date to fulfill that for self-satisfaction, yes,” Dwight said in a pre-launch interview with CBS News.

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Stunning meteor captured by ESA's fireball camera in Cáceres, Spain

Video: 00:00:16

ESA's fireball camera in Cáceres, Spain, captured this stunning meteor during the night of 18—19 May 2024 (00:46 CEST 19 May / 22:46 UTC 18 May).

The camera is operated by ESA’s Planetary Defence Office and is part of the AllSky7 fireball network.

ESA’s planetary defenders began investigating the impact shortly after it was first reported. Their analysis of the object’s trajectory has revealed that it is likely to have been a small piece of a comet.

They estimate that it flew over Spain and Portugal travelling at roughly 45 km/s (162 000 km/h) before burning up over the Atlantic Ocean at an altitude of approximately 60 km.

Using data on the amount of energy released during the impact, they estimate that the object was roughly 1 m in size and had a mass of 500—1000 kg.

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Astronomers Reopen the Mystery of a Planet That Shouldn’t Exist

New research may have revived the mystery of 8 Ursae Minoris b, a seemingly doomed exoplanet that shouldn’t exist.

The post Astronomers Reopen the Mystery of a Planet That Shouldn’t Exist appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

Blue Origin launches 1st crewed spaceflight since August 2022 (video)

Blue Origin sent six people to the final frontier today (May 19) on the company's first crewed spaceflight since August 2022.

'Star Wars: The Phantom Menace' at 25: Who are the angels on the moons of Iego?

An examination of the angels of the moons of Iego from "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" on the iconic film's 25th anniversary.

Everything we know about 'A Quiet Place: Day One'

A Quiet Place is expanding its universe with an ambitious prequel.

Bright green fireball lights up the skies over Portugal and Spain (photos)

On the evening of Saturday (May 18) a bright fireball lit up the skies over Portugal and Spain in stunning green and blue as it streaked through Earth's atmosphere.

Why a giant 'cold spot' in the cosmic microwave background has long perplexed astronomers

Leftover light from the young universe has a major flaw, and we don't know how to fix it. It's the cold spot. It's just way too big and way too cold.

NASA-funded pulsed plasma rocket concept aims to send astronauts to Mars in 2 months

NASA is studying innovative rocket system developed by Howe Industries that could reducing travel time to the Red Planet to just a few months.

More Evidence for the Gravitational Wave Background of the Universe

The gravitational wave background was first detected in 2016. It was announced following the release of the first data set from the European Pulsar Timing Array. A second set of data has just been released and, joined by the Indian Pulsar Timing Array, both studies confirm the existence of the background. The latest theory seems to suggest that we’re seeing the combined signal of supermassive black hole mergers. 

Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime caused by violent processes in the Universe. They were predicted by Einstein back in 1916 as part of his General Theory of Relativity. It is thought the waves are generated by accelerating masses such as merging black holes, colliding neutron stars and the like. They are expected to be able to travel through space, largely unimpeded by anything in their way.  Their existence was first detected in September 2015 by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. They are thought to have come from a gravitational merger between tow black holes 1.3 billion light years away. 

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory is made up of two detectors, this one in Livingston, La., and one near Hanford, Wash. The detectors use giant arms in the shape of an “L” to measure tiny ripples in the fabric of the universe. Credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

The gravitational wave background is a random distribution of gravity waves that permeate the Universe and it is this that was detected in the European Pulsar Timing Array. The background is thought to occur from multiple, superimposed gravity waves generated from supermassive black hole binaries for example. The observation of the gravity wave background can give us a great opportunity to study the Universe at large much like the Cosmic Background Radiation. The achievement would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the European Pulsar Timing Array, the Indian PTA, the North American Nanohertz Observatory and the Parkes PTA. 

The full-sky image of the temperature fluctuations (shown as color differences) in the cosmic microwave background, made from nine years of WMAP observations. These are the seeds of galaxies, from a time when the universe was under 400,000 years old. Credit: NASA/WMAP

A pulsar timing array (PTA) consists of a network of galactic pulsars that are monitored and analysed to detect patterns in their pulse arrival times on Earth. Essentially, PTAs function as galaxy-sized detectors. While pulsar timing arrays have various applications, they are most well-known when employing an array of millisecond pulsars to detect and analyse the long-wavelength gravitational wave background.

The paper, authored by a team led by J.Antoniadis from the Institute of Astrophysics from Greece explore the implications of the common low frequency signal observed int he latest data released from the pulsar timing array systems. Assembling data from the four different datasets, the team look for a signal comprising only high quality data. 

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When Uranus and Neptune Migrated, Three Icy Objects Were Crashing Into Them Every Hour!

The giant outer planets haven’t always been in their current position. Uranus and Neptune for example are thought to have wandered through the outer Solar System to their current orbital position. On the way, they accumulated icy, comet-like objects. A new piece of research suggests as many as three kilomerer-sized objects crashed into them every hour increasing their mass. Not only would it increase the mass but it would enrich their atmospheres.

Uranus and Neptune are the two outermost planets in our Solar System. They differ from Jupiter and Saturn and share a number of characteristics based upon their composition. Atmospheres rich in ammonia and methane ice and also volumes of water distinguish them from the the other gas giants. Both have a distinctive blue hue to them, due to their composition  but Uranus is unique for its extreme axial tilt of 98 degrees. Observed from afar, it seems to orbit the Sun on its side. Neptune has wind speeds in excess of almost 2,000 kilometres. 

Image of Uranus from Webb

Observe the Solar System today and it seems a largely calm place but the Nice model (named after the location of the Cote d’Azure Observatory in Nice, France where it was developed) suggests the giant planets migrated from an initial location into their present position, long after the protoplanetary disk had dissipated. The idea became popular when it became clear that very long periods of time were required for Uranus and Neptune to form in their current location. 

In observations taken on 7 September 2021, researchers found that Neptune’s dark spot, which recently was found to have reversed course from moving toward the equator, is still visible in this image, along with a darkened northern hemisphere. There is also a notable dark, elongated circle encompassing Neptune’s south pole. The blue colour of both Neptune and Uranus is a result of the absorption of red light by the planets’ methane-rich atmospheres.

The model proposes that all the gas giants; Jupiter through to Neptune began their lives between 5 and 20 astronomical units from the Sun (one astronomical unit is equivalent to the average distance between Sun and Earth.) By comparison, Neptune is now at 30 astronomical units from Sun but some sort of catastrophic, chaotic event caused the planets to migrate out to their current positions. 

The simulations run by the team from the University of California suggests that it’s even possible that Neptune started out closer to the Sun than Uranus. The higher mass of Neptune seems to suggest this may be the case. Running through the simulations, the team estimate the amount of accretion on the planetesimals as they migrated out. 

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Astronomers Discover the Second-Lightest “Cotton Candy” Exoplanet to Date.

The hunt for extrasolar planets has revealed some truly interesting candidates, not the least of which are planets known as “Hot Jupiters.” This refers to a particular class of gas giants comparable in size to Jupiter but which orbit very closely to their suns. Strangely, there are some gas giants out there that have very low densities, raising questions about their formation and evolution. This is certainly true of the Kepler 51 system, which contains no less than three “super puff” planets similar in size to Jupiter but is about one hundred times less dense.

These planets also go by the moniker “cotton candy” giants because their density is comparable to this staple confection. In a recent study, an international team of astronomers spotted another massive planet, WASP-193b, a fluffy gas giant orbiting a Sun-like star 1,232 light-years away. While this planet is roughly one and a half times the size of Jupiter, it is only about 14% as massive. This makes WASP-193b the second-lightest exoplanet observed to date. Studying this and other “cotton candy” exoplanets could provide valuable insight into how these mysterious giants form.

The research team consisted of astronomers from the Astrobiology Research Unit and the Space Sciences, Technologies, and Astrophysics Research (STAR) Institute at the Université de Liège, the Oukaimeden Observatory at Cadi Ayyad University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC), the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the Center for Space and Habitability at the University of Bern, the Center for Computational Astrophysics, the Cavendish Laboratory, and the British aerospace company Space Forge. The paper that describes their findings recently appeared in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Artist’s impression of the Kepler 51 system. Credits: NASA/ESA/L. Hustak, J. Olmsted, D. Player and F. Summers (STScI)

The new planet was initially spotted by the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP), an international collaboration that operates two observatories (SuperWASP-North and WASP-South) and searches for exoplanets using the Transit Method (aka. Transit Photometry). Between 2006 and 2008, and again in 2011/2012, the WASP-South observatory detected periodic dips in WASP-193’s brightness. These dips were consistent with an exoplanet with an orbital period of 6.25 days and provided estimates of the planet’s size.

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NASA's PREFIRE mission is ready to unlock the mysteries of Earth's poles

A pair of cubesats will measure far-infrared radiation from Earth's poles to improve climate predictions.

This Week In Space podcast: Episode 111 —The Big Glass Wars

On Episode 111 of This Week In Space, Rod and Tariq talk with John Mulchaey, Director of the Carnegie Observatories, about the threat to completing two new giant astronomical observatories.

Why we're one step closer to understanding how Earth got its oceans (op-ed)

Earth may have gotten some of its water from 'dark comets,' and the forthcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory could uncover key clues about these mysterious cosmic bodies.

How to watch Blue Origin's NS-25 private space tourist mission online May 19

Blue Origin is scheduled to launch a crewed mission for the first time in nearly two years on Sunday (May 19). Here's how to watch the action live.

James Webb Space Telescope sees Orion Nebula in a stunning new light (images)

The Orion Nebula may be a familiar astronomical sight over Earth but that hasn't stopped the James Webb Space Telescope from seeing this star-forming region in a stunning new light.

Did Earth’s Multicellular Life Depend on Plate Tectonics?

How did complex life emerge and evolve on the Earth and what does this mean for finding life beyond Earth? This is what a recent study published in Nature hopes to address as a pair of researchers investigated how plate tectonics, oceans, and continents are responsible for the emergence and evolution of complex life across our planet and how this could address the Fermi Paradox while attempting to improve the Drake Equation regarding why we haven’t found life in the universe and the parameters for finding life, respectively. This study holds the potential to help researchers better understand the criterion for finding life beyond Earth, specifically pertaining to the geological processes exhibited on Earth.

Here, Universe Today discusses this study with Dr. Taras Gerya, who is a Professor of Earth Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Zurich) and co-author of the study, regarding the motivation behind the study, significant results, follow-up studies, what this means for the Drake Equation, and the study’s implications for finding life beyond Earth. So, what was the motivation behind this study?

Dr. Gerya tells Universe Today, “It was motivated by the Fermi Paradox (“Where is everybody?”) pointing out that the Drake Equation typically predicts that there are from 1000 to 100,000,000 actively communicating civilizations in our galaxy, which is too optimistic of an estimate. We tried to figure out what may need to be corrected in this equation to make the prediction with the Drake Equation more realistic.”

For the study, the research duo compared two types of planetary tectonic processes: single lid (also called stagnant lid) and plate tectonics. Single lid refers to a planetary body that does not exhibit plate tectonics and cannot be broken into separate plates that exhibit movement by sliding towards each other (convergent), sliding past each other (transform), or slide away from each other (divergent). This lack of plate tectonic activity is often attributed to a planetary body’s lid being too strong and dense to be broken apart. In the end, the researchers estimated that 75 percent of planetary bodies that exhibit active convection within their interiors do not exhibit plate tectonics and possess single lid tectonics, with Earth being the only planet that exhibits plate tectonics. Therefore, they concluded that single lid tectonics “is likely to dominate the tectonic styles of active silicate bodies in our galaxy”, according to the study.

Additionally, the researchers investigated how planetary continents and oceans contribute to the evolution of intelligent life and technological civilizations. They noted the significance of life first evolving in oceans due to them being shielded from harmful space weather with single-celled life thriving in the oceans for the first few billion years of Earth’s history. However, the researchers also emphasize how dry land provides a myriad of benefits for the evolution of intelligent life, including adaptations to various terrains, such as eyes and new senses, which contributed to animals evolving for speed to hunt among other biological assets that enabled life to adapt to the various terrestrial environments across the planet.

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NASA astronauts practice 'moonwalking' in the Arizona desert (photos)

NASA astronauts headed to Arizona desert to rehearse moonwalks and test technology for the Artemis mission.

NASA, Boeing further delay Starliner Crew Flight Test launch amid ongoing helium leak review

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 N22 rocket with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on top as seen the day before its planned May 6 launch. A problematic valve caused the mission to scrub two hours before liftoff. Image: Michael Cain/Spaceflight Now

Ongoing analysis of a helium leak on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft forced NASA and Boeing to delay the Crew Flight Test mission further.

A blog post, issued late on Friday afternoon, announced a new target launch date for Starliner CFT with NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams of no earlier than Saturday, May 25, at 3:09 p.m. EDT (1909 UTC).

The spacecraft will launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket from United Launch Alliance to dock with the International Space Station for a roughly eight-day stay before returning to Earth.

Heading into a May 6 launch attempt, a leak was detected in the pressurization system that allows the fuel and oxidizer on the Starliner’s Service Module (SM) to flow correctly to their designated thrusters when called upon. The SM features 28 reaction control system (RCS) thrusters and 20 orbital maneuvering and attitude control (OMAC) thrusters.

The helium leak was connected to a single RCS thruster and was determined to be within flight limits on May 6.

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