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NASA, Boeing and ULA announce June 1 as new target date for Starliner’s Crew Flight Test

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket was fueled for launch May 6, 2024 for the Starliner Crew Test Flight. Image: NASA TV

NASA is looking at the start of June for its next attempt to launch its astronauts, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, on board Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The announcement came last Wednesday night in a blog post, stating that June 1 will be the earliest that the Crew Flight Test of Starliner can begin.

The new launch date has a T-0 liftoff of 12:25 p.m. EDT (1625 UTC). There are also backup opportunities available on Sunday, June 2; Wednesday, June 5; and Thursday, June 6.

The May 6 launch date was originally scrubbed about two hours prior to launch due to an issue with an oxygen pressure release valve on the upper stage of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. That issue was resolved on May 11 after rolling the rocket back to ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility and swapping it out.

However, the launch delay persisted as Boeing was assessing a helium leak connected to a flange on one of the reaction control thrusters on the Starliner spacecraft’s service module. There are a series of thrusters within four chambers on the exterior of the service module called “doghouses.”

The cryogenic helium is used to pressurize the propulsion system on the service module and ensure that the propellant and oxidizer flow as needed to their respective thrusters and the launch abort engines.

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This is the Largest Planet-Forming Disk Ever Seen

Roughly 1,000 light-years from Earth, there is a cosmic structure known as IRAS 23077+6707 (IRAS 23077) that resembles a giant butterfly. Ciprian T. Berghea, an astronomer with the U.S. Naval Observatory, originally observed the structure in 2016 using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS). To the surprise of many, the structure has remained unchanged for years, leading some to question what IRAS 2307 could be.

Recently, two international teams of astronomers made follow-up observations using the Submillimeter Array at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Hawaii to better understand IRAS 2307. In a series of papers describing their findings, the teams revealed that IRAS 23077 is actually a young star surrounded by a massive protoplanetary debris disk, the largest ever observed. This discovery offers new insight into planet formation and the environments where this takes place.

The first paper, led by Berghea, reports the discovery that IRAS 23077 is a young star located in the middle of what appeared to be an enormous planet-forming disk. In the second paper, led by CfA postdoc Kristina Monsch, the researchers confirm the discovery of this protoplanetary disk using data from Pan-STARRS and the Submillimeter Array (SMA). The first paper has been accepted for publication, while the second was published on May 13th in The Astrophysical Journal Letters (respectively).

An illustration of a protoplanetary disk. The solar system formed from such a disk. Astronomers suggest this birthplace was protected by a larger filament of molecular gas and dust early in history. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

Protoplanetary disks are basically planetary nurseries consisting of the gas and dust that have settled around newly formed stars. Over time, these disks become rings as material coalesces into protoplanets in certain orbits, where they will eventually become rocky planets, gas giants, and icy bodies. For astronomers, these disks can be used to constrain the size and mass of young stars since they rotate with a specific signature. Unfortunately, obtaining accurate observations of these disks is sometimes hampered by how they are oriented relative to Earth.

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Maybe Ultra-Hot Jupiters Aren’t So Doomed After All

Ultra-hot Jupiters (UHJs) are some of the most fascinating astronomical objects in the cosmos, classified as having orbital periods of less than approximately 3 days with dayside temperatures exceeding 1,930 degrees Celsius (3,500 degrees Fahrenheit), as most are tidally locked with their parent stars. But will these extremely close orbits result in orbital decay for UHJs eventually doom them to being swallowed by their star, or can some orbit for the long term without worry? This is what a recent study accepted to the Planetary Science Journal hopes to address as a team of international researchers investigated potential orbital decays for several UHJs, which holds the potential to not only help astronomers better understand UHJs but also the formation and evolution of exoplanets, overall.

Here, we discuss this research with study lead author, Dr. Elisabeth Adams, who is a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, regarding the motivation behind the study, significant results, follow-up studies, and the importance of studying orbital decay for UHJs and UHJs, overall. So, what was the motivation behind this study regarding the orbital decay of UHJs? 

“Ever since the first exoplanet, 51 Peg b aka Dimidium, was announced in a 4-day orbit, scientists have been deeply concerned about the long-term stability of these giant planets,” Dr. Adams tells Universe Today. “We’ve known for a while that objects the size of Jupiter can’t exist with orbits shorter than about 19 hours (that’s the Roche limit), but even giant planets with orbits of a few days are unstable over the long term because the tidal forces will inexorably cause their orbits to decay. The big unknown is what ‘long-term’ means: will the planet decay while the star is still on the main sequence, or will the process take so long that the star dies first?”

For the study, the researchers used a combination of ground- and space-based telescopes to conduct stellar photometry and exoplanet light curve analyses of 43 UHJs with orbital periods ranging from 0.67 days (TOI-2109 b) to 3.03 days (TrES-1 b) with the goal of ascertaining their orbital period rate of change (i.e., increasing orbital period or decreasing orbital period (orbital decay)) measured in milliseconds per year (ms/yr). This study consisted of both previously measured and new transit light curve data with the team performing some calculations to determine the orbital period rate of change for each of the 43 UHJs. Additionally, more than half of the 43 UHJs for this study have observational data of more than a decade with one exceeding 20 years of data (WASP-18 b at 32 years). So, what were the most significant results from this study?

Dr. Adams tells Universe Today, “The interesting thing is not only that this study didn’t find any new cases of orbital decay, but also that we are starting to see several orders of magnitude difference in how long orbital decay takes. The two best cases for decaying planets (WASP-12 b and Kepler-1658 b) are decaying at rates that are >10-1000 times faster than the planets that we don’t find decay around (e.g., WASP-18 b, WASP-19b, and KELT-1b); if those latter planets were decaying as fast as WASP-12 b, we definitely would have detected it by now.”

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Safety first: NASA pledges to use AI carefully and responsibly

NASA will keep safety front of mind while harnessing the ever-growing power of artificial intelligence, agency officials stressed.

Could Alien Solar Panels Be Technosignatures?

If alien technological civilizations exist, they almost certainly use solar energy. Along with wind, it’s the cleanest, most accessible form of energy, at least here on Earth. Driven by technological advances and mass production, solar energy on Earth is expanding rapidly.

It seems likely that ETIs (Extraterrestrial Intelligence) using widespread solar energy on their planet could make their presence known to us.

If other ETIs exist, they could easily be ahead of us technologically. Silicon solar panels could be widely used on their planetary surfaces. Could their mass implementation constitute a detectable technosignature?

The authors of a new paper examine that question. The paper is “Detectability of Solar Panels as a Technosignature,” and it’ll be published in The Astrophysical Journal. The lead author is Ravi Kopparapu from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

In their paper, the authors assess the detectability of silicon-based solar panels on an Earth-like habitable zone planet. “Silicon-based photovoltaic cells have high reflectance in the UV-VIS and in the near-IR, within the wavelength range of a space-based flagship mission concept like the Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO),” the authors write. The HWO would search for and image Earth-like worlds in habitable zones. There’s no timeline for the mission, but the 2020 Decadal Survey recommended the telescope be built. This research looks ahead to the mission or one like it sometime in the future.

This figure from the research shows the planet-star contrast ratio as a function of wavelength for
2.4 % land coverage with PVs (blue solid), 23 % PVs (red solid) and 0% (green dashed) land coverage of solar panels. "This suggests that the artificial silicon edge suggested by Lingam & Loeb (2017) may not be detectable," the authors write. Image Credit: Kopparapu et al. 2024.
The Bhadla Solar Park is a large PV installation that aims to generate over 2,000 MW of solar energy. Image Credit: (Left) Google Earth. (Right) Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2020, Attribution,
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Live coverage: SpaceX to launch Starlink satellites on Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral

A Falcon 9 stands ready for a Starlink mission at Cape Canaveral’s pad 40. File photo: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now.

SpaceX will continue the expansion of its Starlink internet satellite mega-constellation with two planned Falcon 9 launches from Florida this week as the company boasts hitting more than three million users.

First up to bat is the Starlink 6-62 launch from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 10:35 p.m. EDT (0235 UTC). It will add 23 additional satellites to the thousands currently in low Earth orbit.

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

The Wednesday night launch comes later in the day after the company successfully launched a classified number of satellites supporting the National Reconnaissance Office’s so-called “proliferated architecture” constellation.  It was the first of what the NRO described as approximately half a dozen such launches anticipated in 2024.

“Over the next decade, we will continue to increase the number of satellites operating across multiple orbits — complementing the NRO’s cutting-edge, highly-capable satellites that are the traditional hallmark of the NRO — by adding responsive, proliferated systems,” said Dr. Troy Meink, principal deputy director of the NRO, in a statement. “Our proliferated systems will increase timeliness of access, diversify communications pathways, and enhance our resilience.”

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Finding The Age Of A Contact Binary “Moon”

There are millions of asteroids floating around the solar system. With so many of them, it should be no surprise that some are weirdly configured. A recent example of one of these weird configurations was discovered when Lucy, NASA’s mission to the Trojan asteroids, passed by a main-belt asteroid called Dinkinesh. It found that Dinkinesh had a “moon” – and that moon was a “contact binary”. Now known as Selam, it is made up of two objects that physically touch one another through gravity but aren’t fully merged into one another. Just how and when such an unexpected system might have formed is the subject of a new paper by Colby Merrill, a graduate researcher at Cornell, and their co-authors at the University of Colorado and the University of Bern.

The paper, in particular, looks at when the system might have formed and does so through modeling. A theory in asteroid formation called the binary Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack effect, which, since no one wants to say the full name, is shortened to the acronym BYORP. This model explains how binary asteroid systems happen in the first place. 

Essentially, the asteroid speeds up its rotation due to radiation pressure. Eventually, due to those rotational forces, it gets to a point where its gravity is no longer capable of holding all of its material on its surface, and some of that material is ejected out into space, eventually coalescing into a “moon” for the slightly larger asteroid.

Video from NASA Goddard showing the image from Lucy that found Selam.
Credit – NASA Goddard YouTube Channel

Dinkinesh isn’t a “large” asteroid by any measure – at its widest point, it only measures about 790 meters in diameter. It’s also named after the Amharic word for Lucy; the fossil remains of a potential human ancestor found in Ethiopia and the namesake of NASA’s mission. Its satellite, Salem, is the Amharic word for “peace,” but another fossil set found in 2000 which, though that of a child, predated Lucy’s by 100,000 years. But it is even smaller than Dinkinesh – only about 220 m at its widest point.

But Selam actually has two widest points because it is shaped in what is technically called a bilobate but is more commonly thought of as a “dumbbell” shape. This might be partially due to another force that influences the formation of asteroids—tides. 

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SpaceX launching 23 Starlink satellites tonight on 2nd leg of spaceflight doubleheader

SpaceX is set to launch 23 of its Starlink satellites from Florida tonight (May 22), the second mission in less than 24 hours for the company.

Sega Toys Homestar Matataki star projector review

The Sega Toys Homestar Matataki star projector will bring twinkling stars and 'natural sounds' into your room.

Satellites capture smoke pouring from hundreds of wildfires across North America (photos)

NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites have captured the smoke pouring out of hundreds of wildfires blazing across Canada and Mexico since last week.

Webb Telescope Finds Most Distant Black Hole Merger

A new JWST study has found evidence of two galaxies colliding 740 million years after the Big Bang.

The post Webb Telescope Finds Most Distant Black Hole Merger appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

Russian space weapon ban shot down by UN Security Council

The United Nations Security Council has voted against a resolution introduced by Russia and China that would ban member states from placing weapons of any kind in outer space.

AI finds hidden galactic evolution clues in over 100 galaxies. Here's how

Scientists enlisted AI to help peruse a massive dataset in search of neutral carbon absorbers in galaxies, which can reveal lots about galaxy evolution.

First Space Station missions for new ESA astronauts

Video: 00:18:15

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher announces the first two astronaut missions for the new ESA astronaut class of 2022 on the first day of the Space Council, held in Brussels on 22 and 23 May 2024.

ESA's most recent class of astronauts selected in 2022 includes Sophie Adenot, Pablo Álvarez Fernández, Rosemary Coogan, Raphaël Liégeois, and Marco Sieber. They recently completed one year of basic training and graduated as ESA astronauts on 22 April at ESA's European Astronaut Centre in Germany, making them eligible for spaceflight. During their missions aboard the International Space Station, ESA astronauts will engage in a diverse range of activities, from conducting scientific experiments and medical research to Earth observation, outreach and operational tasks.

Why Did Galileo Get Such a Puny Crater?

Galileo was one of the first people to study the Moon through a telescope. You'd think he'd get more than 10-mile-wide crater for his efforts. But of course, there's more to the story.

The post Why Did Galileo Get Such a Puny Crater? appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

Scientists find weird link between a solar mystery and feeding black holes

The solar dynamo that drives sunspots and solar flares could be located near the surface of the sun scientists find, solving a 400-year-old solar mystery and providing a weird link to black holes.

Churning spacetime and destroyed stars help reveal how fast supermassive black holes spin

Black holes are such a drag! Especially for the guts of stars they've destroyed and the fabric of spacetime they pull along with them.

ESA signs contracts for commercial space cargo return service

ESA has signed two contracts with European industry to develop a commercial service capable of transporting cargo to and from the International Space Station in low Earth orbit by 2030.