Space News & Blog Articles

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Perseverance Mars rover photographs its own landing debris

As the Mars rover traverses the planet, it's come across pieces of its entry, landing, and descent hardware.

The dark matter hypothesis isn't perfect, but the alternatives are worse

It's true that the dark matter hypothesis has its shortcomings — and, of course, we haven't found any dark matter particles yet. But the truth is that the alternatives are much worse.

Interstellar Meteorite, Shortest Day Ever, Magnetosphere Collapse

An interstellar meteorite could be hiding in the ocean. Why doesn’t Jupiter have rings like Saturn. The time when Earth’s magnetic field almost collapsed. The shortest day on Earth, and Planet 9 is running out of places to hide. All this and more in this week’s episode of Space Bites.

If you prefer to watch the most exciting space and astronomy news of this week, here’s a video version. They come in a bite-size format, so you can relax and watch them being videoed at you.

Why Jupiter Doesn’t Have Massive Rings

Saturn has vast rings made of water ice, while the rest of the giant planets have faint rings made of dust grains. Jupiter has icy moons and enough gravity to catch comets, so why doesn’t it have even more fabulous rings than Saturn? Jupiter has four large moons with enough gravity to disrupt a sizeable icy ring, while Saturn’s moon Titan accounts for almost all the moon mass in the system. Can you imagine what Jupiter would look like with Saturn-like rings? With more gravity and closer to us in the Solar System, they’d be spectacular.

More about Jupiter’s rings.

Searching for Interstellar Meteor Underwater

In 2014, an object crashed into the ocean off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Newly released data from the US Department of Defense confirmed that the object was following an interstellar trajectory, meaning it could have formed in another star system and traveled to the Solar System. A team of scientists has proposed that fragments of the meteorite could still be sitting on the bottom of the ocean and could be found by a coordinated search.

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Artificial light at night can change the behavior of all animals, not just humans

Nocturnal behaviors have been evolved to take advantage of the darkness of night. Yet today, they are under an increasing threat from the presence of artificial lighting.

New mapping method could aid exploration of moon, Mars and beyond

Researchers have discovered a method for making high-resolution maps of planetary surfaces like the moon's by combining available imagery and topography data.

Jupiter Missions Could Also Help Search for Dark Matter

In a recent study published in the Journal of High Energy Physics, two researchers from Brown University demonstrated how data from past missions to Jupiter can help scientists examine dark matter, one of the most mysterious phenomena in the universe. The reason past Jupiter missions were chosen is due to the extensive amount of data gathered about the largest planet in the solar system, most notably from the Galileo and Juno orbiters. As stated, dark matter is one of the most mysterious phenomena in the universe. One reason is because it’s invisible and does not emit any light. So why study it?

“Because it is there and we don’t know what it is!” Dr. Lingfeng Li, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University and lead author on the paper, exclaims. “There are strong pieces of evidence coming from very different datasets pointing to dark matter: Cosmic Microwave Background, stellar motions inside galaxies, gravitational lensing effects, and so forth. In brief, it behaves like some cold, non-interactive (therefore dark) dust at large length scales, while its nature and possible interactions within a smaller length scale are still unknown. It must be something brand new: something distinct from our baryonic matter.”

A brilliant image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot along with its violent southern hemisphere taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it passed close to the gas giant planet. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Southwest Research Institute/Malin Space Science Systems/Kevin M. Gill)

In the study, the researchers discussed how trapped electrons within Jupiter’s massive magnetic field and radiation belt can be used to examine dark matter and dark mediator that exist between what is known as the dark sector and our visible world. They deduced three scenarios for trapped electrons within Jupiter’s radiation belts: fully trapped, quasi-trapped, and untrapped electrons. Their results showed that recorded measurements from the Galileo and Juno missions indicate produced electrons can be either fully- or quasi-trapped within the innermost radiation belts of Jupiter, ultimately contributing to energetic electron fluxes.

One goal of this study was to provide an initial effort into using data from previous, active, and future mission to Jupiter to examine new physics that goes beyond the traditional model of particle physics. While data for this study was gathered from the years-long missions of the Galileo and Juno orbiters at Jupiter, Li doesn’t think this type of study can be carried out using data from other long-term missions to other planets, such as Saturn and its historic Cassini mission.

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I Asked an AI to Dream the Solar System as Food

As soon as I saw these new artificial intelligence image creation tools, like DALL-E, I wanted to see how well they’d work for generating space and astronomy images. I’m still on the waiting list for DALL-E 2, so I don’t have any feedback to give there, but I signed up for Midjourney AI, played around with the free account, and then signed up for a full paid account, so I could test out its capabilities.

How well does it work? It’s okay, I guess. I’m still learning to craft prompts to get the best results, but the biggest issue is that they’re unscientific. If I need a picture of the Space Launch System, it needs to be the actual Space Launch System and not some kind of art deco version of a rocket that looks like it was designed in the 1950s. It’s beautiful, but I can’t use it.

Definitely not the Space Launch System. Credit: Midjourney AI

I was able to generate an image of a meteorite resting on the bottom of the ocean for a recent story, and I’ve tried a few more illustrations. It could work for stories with abstract concepts where there isn’t an existing image we could use.

Okay, fine, but what about images that are unscientific? Images that are fun. Now we’re talking. I’ve been using the AI to generate images for an Ars Magica game I’m playing with my son and his friends.

I asked the Midjourney AI to imagine the Solar System but in the form of food. In each case, I gave the AI the prompt of the planet made out of food. So, “the planet Jupiter made out of a sandwich” or “the planet Neptune made out of a bowl of berries.” You can see the results below.

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NASA's Artemis 1 moon rocket to roll out Aug. 18 for lunar launch

All systems are go so far to roll out the Artemis 1 rocket to the launch pad for a planned liftoff on Aug. 29.

Perseverance Mars rover bags 12th Red Planet rock sample

NASA's car-sized Perseverance Mars rover drilled out and sealed up its 12th rock sample on Wednesday (Aug. 3), its fourth such operation in less than a month.

India ready to debut solid-fueled smallsat launcher

An illustration of India’s 111-foot-tall (34-meter) Small Satellite Launch Vehicle. Credit: ISRO

India’s space agency will debut a new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle Saturday, adding a fourth member to the company’s rocket fleet. The SSLV’s test flight will take off from Sriharikota Island on India’s east coast with a small Earth observation satellite and a CubeSat from an Indian startup focused on science education.

The SSLV test flight, known as SSLV-D1, is set for launch at 0448 GMT Sunday (11:48 p.m. EDT Saturday) from the First Launch Pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center. The three-stage rocket will head southeast from spaceport about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Chennai, aiming for an orbit about 221 miles (356 kilometers) above Earth at an inclination of 37.2 degrees to the equator.

The 111-foot-tall (34-meter) rocket is powered by three solid-fueled motors and a “trimming module” fueled by hydrazine to maneuver satellites into precise orbits. The SSLV’s first stage motor will produce more than a half-million pounds of thrust during its two-minute firing. The second and third stages will complete their burns about seven-and-a-half minutes into the flight.

The rocket’s liquid-fueled trimming module will ignite at T+plus 10 minutes, 42 seconds, to nudge the two payloads into orbit. The EOS-02 spacecraft will separate from the SSLV trimming module at T+plus 12 minutes, 22 seconds, followed by release of the AzaadiSAT nanosatellite about 50 seconds later.

The Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, first proposed development of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle in 2016. The development program has cost about $21 million, according to ISRO. The agency aims to manufacture the SSLV for about $4 million per vehicle, good enough to compete with the stable of commercial smallsat launchers from companies like Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit.

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Florida braces for crowds for NASA's Artemis 1 moon mission launch

Tourism officials in Florida's Space Coast are expecting a massive influx of tourists for the upcoming Artemis 1 moon mission, the first launch for NASA's Space Launch System rocket.

Space debris is coming down more frequently. What are the chances it could hit someone or damage property?

As the space industry grows, it's safe to say incidents of space debris hurtling back to Earth will only become more frequent – and they could pose a risk. But how much of a risk, exactly?

Masten Space is Building a Lunar Lander for NASA. Also, They Just Filed for Bankruptcy

If you’re a fan of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace), then the name Masten Space Systems is sure to ring a bell. For years, this California-based aerospace company has been developing delivery systems to accommodate payloads to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. This included Xoie, the lander concept that won the $1 million Northrop Grumman Lunar X-Prize in 2009, their Xombie and Xodiac reusable terrestrial landers, and the in-Flight Alumina Spray Technique (FAST) that would allow lunar landers to create their own landing pads.

But perhaps their biggest feat was the Xelene Lunar Lander (XL-1) that they developed in partnership with the NASA Lunar CATALYST program. This lander was one of several robotic systems enlisted by NASA to deliver cargo to the Moon in support of the Artemis Program. This included the Masten-1 mission, which was scheduled to land a payload Moon’s southern polar region in 2023. The company was scheduled to make a second delivery (Masten-2) by 2024, one year before the first Artemis astronauts arrived. But according to a statement issued on July 28th, the company has filed for Chapter 11 and is bankrupt!

This news comes as little surprise, given recent events. In November 2018, Masten was one of nine companies selected by NASA to deliver payloads to the lunar surface as part of their Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). This program awarded contracts of indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity with a total value of $2.6 billion through 2028. In April 2020, NASA awarded Masten a $75.9 million contract to deliver nine scientific payloads using its XL-1 lander. This included the MoonRanger rover and eight scientific instruments to the Hawthorn Crater at the lunar south pole in 2022.

“The $75.9 million award includes end-to-end services for delivery of the instruments, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon’s surface, and operation for at least 12 days,” said NASA in the press statement it issued at the time. “Masten Space Systems will land these payloads on the Moon with its XL-1 lander.” In June 2021, Masten announced that this mission would be delayed until November 2023, citing the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions as the cause. Said company founder Dave Masten in a company statement:

“We’ve been adapting the mission plan to account for COVID-19 supply chain delays and manage conditions as they evolve, but the overall impact on our timeline reached a point where we need to shift to the next window to go (as you know, there’s a limited accessibility window to the south pole due to the orbit of the Moon).”

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Astra cancels Rocket 3 line after multiple launch failures

Astra will cancel production of its current rocket line following multiple launch failures, including one in June that resulted in the loss of two hurricane-tracking NASA cubesats.

SpaceX will launch solar wind mission with space telescope in 2025

Two NASA missions will be launching on a single SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, using a 'carpool' arrangement to overcome supply chain issues affecting PUNCH.

Virgin Galactic pushes 1st commercial passenger flight to spring 2023

Suborbital space tourism provider Virgin Galactic will delay its first commercial flight by about three months due to issues with upgrades to its mothership fleet, which carries spaceships aloft.

Perseids Are Coming, Full Moon or Not

Don't use a full Moon pass to skip this year's Perseid meteor shower. Right here, right now, we're going to help you make the most of it.

The post Perseids Are Coming, Full Moon or Not appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

Skywatchers can see debris from spectacular comet outburst this month

Debris produced by the most spectacular comet outburst ever observed will be visible from Earth later this month even to amateur telescopes. Here is how to look for it.

Chinese space station robot arm tests bring amazing views from orbit

China is testing out its new Wentian space station module aboard the Tiangong space stati, including putting a new robotic arm through its paces.

Korea's Lunar Orbiter Heads for the Moon

South Korea's lunar orbiter has launched successfully for the Moon, joining a growing number of missions there.

The post Korea's Lunar Orbiter Heads for the Moon appeared first on Sky & Telescope.