NASA is developing its first planetary-defense mission called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART. DART will carefully study a near-Earth asteroid and then collide with it, giving scientists the data they need to develop a plan should they ever need to redirect a truly threatening asteroid.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is sounding the alarm that an asteroid strike is not something to be taken lightly and is perhaps Earth’s biggest threat.
Speaking at the International Academy of Astronautics’ 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Md., on Monday, Bridenstine said the space agency and other asteroid scientists need to make sure people understand that the threat is very real and not just the imagination of big-budget blockbuster movie directors.
“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about movies,” Bridenstine said at the conference, according to Space.com. “This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth.”
“We know for a fact that the dinosaurs did not have a space program. But we do, and we need to use it,” Bridenstine added, attempting to portray planetary defense on the same level as a return trip to the Moon. The Trump administration wants to see astronauts return to the Moon by 2024, with or without the help of NASA.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testifies before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on April 2, 2019, during a hearing to review NASA’s fiscal year 2020 budget request.
Bridenstine knows the perils of asteroid strikes all too well. In February 2013, he had been a Congressman in Oklahoma for just a month when a devastating asteroid streaked across the Russian sky.
Known as the Chelyabinsk Event, it was the largest known meteor strike in over a century and it injured more than 1,600 people. It “released the energy equivalent of around 440,000 tons of TNT,” according to NASA.
“I wish I could tell you these events are exceptionally unique,” Bridenstine said during the presentation, noting they have occurred three times in the past 100 years. “But they are not.”
Bridenstine highlighted the scientific importance of both of these missions but added that planetary defense is also an important component. “Yes, it’s about science, it’s about discovery, it’s about exploration, but one of the reasons we do those missions is so that we can characterize those objects to protect, again, the only planet we know to host life.”
“We have to use our systems, use our capabilities to ultimately get a lot more data, and we have to do it faster,” Bridenstine said.
When it comes to planetary defense, NASA is not sitting on its haunches, having taken several steps to protect Earth by detecting and tracking near-Earth Objects, also known as NEOs.
Last June, NASA unveiled a 20-page plan that details steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for NEOs, asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of Earth. Lindley Johnson, the space agency’s planetary defense officer, said at the time that the country “already has significant scientific, technical and operational capabilities” to help with NEOs, but implementing the new plan would “greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected.”
NASA will launch its first asteroid defense mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, in 2022. Earlier this month, NASA awarded a $69 million contract to SpaceX, the space exploration company led by Elon Musk, to help with DART.
Currently, asteroid scientists from around the world are conducting a drill showing what the various global agencies would do about a potential asteroid collision. For the first time, the drill is being played out over social media. Updates of the hypothetical event are being shared on the ESA Operations Twitter account until May 3.
The 3D rocket-printing company Relativity announced its second partnership ever, this time with the Thai satellite company mu Space, to launch a satellite into low Earth orbit in about three years.
Los Angeles-based Relativity is a small launch vehicle developer fully funded by venture capital. Investors backing the 3.5-year-old company includes Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital, Mark Cuban and Phillip Spector, who was formerly with Intelsat.
The mu Space satellite would launch in 2022 on what Relativity officials call the first 3D-printed rocket ever built. According to them, this vehicle — Terran 1 — is designed to carry up to 2,756 lbs. (1,250 kilograms) into low Earth orbit, with a cost of $10 million per launch.
Relativity officials say their Stargate machine is the largest metal 3D printer in the world, with the capacity to transform raw materials into a rocket, like Terran 1, in less than 60 days.
“Stargate is constantly getting smarter and faster by using sensors and reward function-based learning,” officials state on Relativity’s website. ”We are creating an entirely new type of evolvable production line.” The company aims to disrupt decades of global aerospace manufacturing, according to their recent announcement about the new partnership.
Relativity signed its first contract earlier this month, with the Canadian satellite communications company Telesat.
This is just the beginning of Relativity’s ambitions. While currently striving to deploy and resupply satellite constellations into orbit around Earth, Relativity is also making bold statements about its future. By scaling rockets quickly, company officials hope to ”build the future of humanity in space,” according to the website. ”We believe the future of humanity is interplanetary.”
The little spacecraft would clean up debris on the cheap.
A little spacecraft could soon make a big contribution in the fight against space junk.
Researchers are developing a cleanup cubesat called OSCaR (Obsolete Spacecraft Capture and Removal), which would hunt down and de-orbit debris on the cheap using onboard nets and tethers. And OSCaR would do so relatively autonomously, with little guidance from controllers on the ground.
“We tell OSCaR what to do and then we have to trust it,” project leader Kurt Anderson, a professor of mechanical, aerospace and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, said in a statement.
“That’s why this problem actually gets very hard, because we are doing things that a big, expensive satellite would do, but in a cubesat platform,” Anderson added.
Space junk is a big problem, and it’s only getting worse. Nearly 129 million pieces of debris are zooming around Earth at the moment, about 34,000 of which are at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide, according to European Space Agency estimates.
These objects are moving so fast — 17,500 mph (28,200 kilometers/h) in low-Earth orbit, for example — that even the smallest of them could damage a satellite.
“There’s a real problem,” said Anderson, who’s developing OSCaR with his students. “The amount of observed debris is increasing faster now than the rate that we’re actually putting more objects into space. This is an indication that [the] earliest stages of the Kessler Syndrome may be upon us.”
The Kessler Syndrome is a crippling cascade of collisions that could occur if the concentration of orbital debris becomes dense enough. Each collision would produce more debris, increasing the frequency of future smash-ups, and so on, potentially making wide swathes of Earth orbit unusable.
There’s growing recognition in the spaceflight community that we need to tackle the space-junk problem, and soon. Scientists and engineers are devising ways to de-orbit satellites efficiently after they finish their missions — through the use of friction-increasing “drag sails,” for example.
Researchers are also studying ways to remove some of the most dangerous junk cluttering up Earth’s orbit. That’s where OSCaR comes in.
The spacecraft is a 3U cubesat, meaning that it measures about 12 inches long by 4 inches wide by 4 inches high (30 centimeters by 10 cm by 10 cm). OSCaR will be very capable for its small size, featuring onboard navigation and communication gear; power, propulsion and thermal-control systems; and four net-launching gun barrels.
Each OSCaR craft will be capable of capturing and removing four pieces of debris, Anderson said. When that work is done, the cleanup cubesat will de-orbit itself within five years.
“There’s an informal agreement that’s been in place for a few years that people who put space objects up there should be practicing good citizenship,” Anderson said. “We envision a day where we could send up an entire flock, or squadron, of OSCaRs to work jointly going after large collections of debris.”
The team aims to test OSCaR on the ground sometime this year, Anderson added. A test in space will follow at some point, if all goes according to plan.
The universe is expanding faster than expected, suggesting that astronomers may have to incorporate some new physics into their theories of how the cosmos works, a new study reports.
The revised expansion rate is about 10% faster than that predicted by observations of the universe’s trajectory shortly after the Big Bang, according to the new research. The study also significantly reduces the probability that this disparity is a coincidence, from 1 in 3,000 to just 1 in 100,000.
“This mismatch has been growing and has now reached a point that is really impossible to dismiss as a fluke,” study lead author Adam Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said in a statement.
“This is not what we expected,” said Riess, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2011 (along with Brian Schmidt and Saul Perlmutter) for showing, in the late 1990s, that the universe’s expansion is accelerating. It’s unclear what’s driving this surprising acceleration, but many astronomers invoke a mysterious, repulsive force called dark energy.
In the new study, Riess and his colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to study 70 Cepheid variable stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies. Cepheid variables dim and brighten at predictable rates and are therefore “standard candles” that allow astronomers to calculate distances.
(Another kind of standard candle, the star explosions known as Type 1a supernovae, enables scientists to measure distances even farther out into space. Riess, Schmidt and Perlmutter’s studies of Type 1a supernovae led to their Nobel-winning discovery.)
Riess and his team also incorporated observations made by the Araucaria Project, a collaboration involving researchers in the United States, Europe and Chile, who studied various LMC binary star systems, noting the dimming that occurred when one star passed in front of its neighbor. This work provided additional distance measurements, helping the study team to improve their understanding of the Cepheids’ intrinsic brightness.
The researchers used all of this information to calculate the universe’s present-day expansion rate, a value known as the Hubble constant, after American astronomer Edwin Hubble. The new number is about 46.0 miles (74.03 kilometers) per second per megaparsec; one megaparsec is roughly 3.26 million light-years.
The uncertainty attached to this number is just 1.9%, the researchers said. That’s the lowest uncertainty value to date that has been calculated using this approach — down from about 10% in 2001 and 5% in 2009.CLOSEVolume 0%
“This is not just two experiments disagreeing. We are measuring something fundamentally different,” Riess said.
“One is a measurement of how fast the universe is expanding today, as we see it. The other is a prediction based on the physics of the early universe and on measurements of how fast it ought to be expanding,” he added. “If these values don’t agree, there becomes a very strong likelihood that we’re missing something in the cosmological model that connects the two eras.”
The Oscar winner said in a video message, “I’m very much looking forward to joining the cast and crew very soon, I will be making sure that Bond does not have an easy ride of it in his 25th outing.”
Billy Magnussen, David Dencik, Lashana Lynch, Dali Benssalah and Ana de Armas will also appear.
Producer Barbara Broccoli said of the as-yet-untitled flick, “Bond is not on active service when we start — he’s enjoying himself in Jamaica. We consider it Bond’s spiritual home. He starts his journey here. We’ve built an extraordinary house for him. We’ve got quite a ride in store for Mr. Bond.”
The U.S. Navy is drafting new guidelines for pilots and other employees to report encounters with ‘unidentified aircraft.’
The U.S. Navy is drafting new guidelines for pilots and other employees to report encounters with “unidentified aircraft.”
The new effort comes in response to more sightings of unknown, advanced aircraft flying into or near Navy strike groups or other sensitive military facilities and formations, according to the Navy.
“There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years,” the Navy said in a statement to Politico, which first reported the move.
“For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the [U.S. Air Force] takes these reports very seriously and investigates each and every report.”
“As part of this effort,” it told Politico, “the Navy is updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be made to the cognizant authorities. A new message to the fleet that will detail the steps for reporting is in draft.”
The initiative comes amid increasing interest from lawmakers and the public following the release of classified files from the Defense Intelligence Agency which revealed the funding of projects that investigated UFOs, wormholes, alternate dimensions and other obscure topics that typically leads to the conspiracy-theory fringes of the web.
That research, first reported by The New York Times in 2017, was funded by the Department of Defense under its Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) and reportedly spent $25 million conducting studies and trying to evaluate multiple unexplained events.
Chris Mellon, a former Pentagon intelligence official and ex-staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Politico that establishing a more structured, official means of reporting what the military now calls “unexplained aerial phenomena” (UAP) — rather than “unidentified flying objects” — would be a “sea change.”
“Right now, we have a situation in which UFOs and UAPs are treated as anomalies to be ignored rather than anomalies to be explored,” he added. “We have systems that exclude that information and dump it.”
The Navy also said it’s taking a more proactive approach in briefing lawmakers.
“In response to requests for information from Congressional members and staff, Navy officials have provided a series of briefings by senior Naval Intelligence officials as well as aviators who reported hazards to aviation safety,” the service told Politico.
Is the moon all it’s cracked up to be? Yes — and then some. New analysis of the lunar surface reveals that it’s far more fractured than once thought.
Since the moon formed 4.3 billion years ago, asteroid impacts have scarred its face with pits and craters. But the damage goes far deeper than that, with cracks extending to depths of 12 miles (20 kilometers), researchers recently reported.
Though the moon’s craters have been well-documented, scientists previously knew little about the upper region of the moon’s crust, the megaregolith, which sustained the bulk of the damage from space rock bombardment. In the new study, computer simulations revealed that impacts from single objects could fragment the lunar crust into blocks about 3 feet (1 meter) wide, opening surface cracks that extend for hundreds of kilometers. This suggests that much of the fracturing in the megaregolith could have come from single, high-speed impacts, leaving the crust “thoroughly fractured” early in the moon’s history. [When Space Attacks: 6 Craziest Meteor Impacts]
These findings helped to address questions raised by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), a mission that sent twin spacecraft to the moon in 2011 to create the most detailed lunar gravity map to date.
Data gathered by GRAIL showed that the moon’s crust was far less dense than expected, Sean Wiggins, lead author of the new study and a doctoral candidate with the Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences Department at Brown University in Rhode Island, told Live Science.
Wiggins and his colleagues suspected that ancient impacts could have substantially fractured the lunar surface, “adding porosity and therefore lowering the density,” he said.
Using simulations, the study authors found that an impact from an object measuring just 0.6 miles (1 km) in diameter could have opened cracks reaching depths of 12 miles (20 km) in the lunar surface. After impacts from objects measuring 6 miles (10 km) in diameter, cracks yawned to similar depths, but also extended laterally to distances up to 186 miles (300 km) from the impact crater.
“There’s quite a lot of damage outside of the main crater area,” Wiggins said. “Material is still very broken up, farther away than we would have predicted.” Over time, networks of cracks grew and connected, creating a fragmented lunar crust, the researchers reported.
The researchers also used the simulations to explore how similar impacts could affect Earth, which has also been pummeled by asteroids, and they found that gravity played an important role in the quantity and severity of the fractures.
Under conditions with higher gravity — such as on Earth — the surface in simulations suffered less damage from impacts, while lower gravity meant that the surface experienced more damage, the simulations showed. This explains why impacts on the moon created surface cracks that penetrated deeper than cracks from asteroid impacts on Earth.
Piecing together a more detailed picture of the megaregolith will help scientists to better understand how that region conducts heat; this could reveal important clues about the formation of other moons and even planets, Wiggins said.
“It definitely opens doors for further investigation into lots of different processes — not just on the moon, but on other bodies as well, like Mars or Earth,” he added.
Scuba divers and snorkelers have been cruising the surface waters for decades, but very few explorers have dared to venture deeper and explore what lies at the bottom.
In the winter of 2018, a crew from Aquatica Submarines ventured to the bottom of the Great Blue Hole and made some unexpected discoveries.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: There’s a massive underwater sinkhole off the coast of Belize that extends 125 meters into the Earth’s crust. It’s called the Great Blue Hole. Scuba divers and snorkelers have been cruising the surface waters for decades, but few have dared to venture deeper and explore what lies beyond the blackness.
In the winter of 2018, a crew from Aquatica Submarines started their descent to the bottom of the Blue Hole. Their mission was to create a 3D map of the sinkhole’s interior, but along the way, they came across some common and not-so-common sights.
As the crew started, they found the usual suspects: reef sharks, turtles, and giant corals. But as they pushed 90 meters, life started to vanish. The culprit was a thick layer of toxic hydrogen sulfide spanning the width of the entire sinkhole like a floating blanket.
Erika Bergman: Underneath that there’s no oxygen, no life, and down there we found conchs and conch shells and hermit crabs that had fallen into the hole and suffocated, really.
Narrator: Past the conch graveyard and toward the bottom of the hole, around 120 meters deep, the team found something they did not expect: small stalactites. The surprise gave scientists clues to the hole’s ancient past.
Bergman: Stalactites can only form because water is dripping down stone. And so we know that this was a big, dry cave, and it was during a really prolific era on Earth, so there were probably lots of stuff living in it.
Narrator: Scientists think the cave formed during the last Ice Age, which ended about 14,000 years ago. That’s when sea levels began to rise, and the cave flooded and collapsed, leaving behind the Blue Hole we see today. Researchers think that other marine sinkholes, like Dragon Hole in South China Sea, and Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas probably formed the same way.
As the scientists continued down the hole, they found another clue to the past: a light buildup of silt on top of the conch graveyard.
Bergman: The silt itself on the bottom is a pretty good record of all of the different hurricanes and storm cycles and glaciations that have happened, so we can see that right around the time of the Mayan collapse, there were huge, huge storm cycles followed by very significant droughts.
Narrator: As the team continued to explore the bottom of the hole, they found a 2-liter Coke bottle and a lost GoPro containing some vacation photos. But that wasn’t all.
Bergman: We did encounter two of the probable three people who have been lost in the Blue Hole, so we found kind of the resting place of a couple folks, and we just sort of very respectfully let the Belize government know where we found them, and everyone decided that we would just not attempt any recovery. It’s very dark and peaceful down there, just kind of let them stay.
Narrator: Scientists predict this hole won’t be around forever to explore. Every day, waterfalls of sand fall into it, slowly filling it up like an underwater hourglass. But as for now, we can still admire its beauty and study its many mysteries.
In this photo provided by NASA, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, center left, works outside the International Space Station, Monday, April 8, 2019. (NASA via AP)
It turns out astronauts aren’t alone on the International Space Station.
A new study reported by Gizmodo found that a “diverse population of bacteria and fungi” populate the ISS based on 14 months of research.
The results, published in the Microbiome Journal, conclude that “intact/viable bacteria and fungi found on surfaces in closed space systems” have been effectively cataloged for the first time, which could be used to create safer and cleaner conditions for future space missions, including those to Mars.
Additionally, the findings might be vital in the understanding of “confined built environments” on our own planet, such as medical and pharmaceutical clean rooms, according to the study.
For the experiment, eight different locations aboard the ISS were tested over three flight sample sessions in an effort to determine which microorganisms can populate in a closed space.
To find this, surface wipes from each room were treated with propidium monoazide (PMA), a chemical compound that helps determine the DNA of the bacteria present in the microbiome. Other wipes were left untreated.
Many of the organisms detected were seen as harmful to astronauts because they contain properties that resist antibiotics.
Some of these bacteria include Acinetobacter, Sphingomonas and Bacillus — and fungi such as Aspergillus, Cryptococcus, and Rhodotorula.
Unsurprisingly, astronauts were to blame for some of the bacteria and fungal cultures on the ISS.
An abundance of human-associated organisms discovered include Staphylococcaceae — which originate in the skin and in the nasal passage — and Enterobacteriaceae, which comes from the gastrointestinal tract.
Prior to this study, many of the bacterial cultures on the ISS were largely unknown — most could not be determined by traditional methods such as petri dish growth.
On its final flyby of Saturn’s largest moon in 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft gathered radardata revealing that the small liquid lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere are surprisingly deep, perched atop hills and filled with methane.
The new findings, published April 15 in Nature Astronomy, are the first confirmation of just how deep some of Titan’s lakes are (more than 300 feet, or 100 meters) and of their composition. They provide new information about the way liquid methane rains on, evaporates from and seeps into Titan – the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface.
Scientists have known that Titan’s hydrologic cycle works similarly to Earth’s – with one major difference. Instead of water evaporating from seas, forming clouds and rain, Titan does it all with methane and ethane. We tend to think of these hydrocarbons as a gas on Earth, unless they’re pressurized in a tank. But Titan is so cold that they behave as liquids, like gasoline at room temperature on our planet.
Scientists have known that the much larger northern seas are filled with methane, but finding the smaller northern lakes filled mostly with methane was a surprise. Previously, Cassini data measured Ontario Lacus, the only major lake in Titan’s southern hemisphere. There they found a roughly equal mix of methane and ethane. Ethane is slightly heavier than methane, with more carbon and hydrogen atoms in its makeup.
“Every time we make discoveries on Titan, Titan becomes more and more mysterious,” said lead author Marco Mastrogiuseppe, Cassini radar scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “But these new measurements help give an answer to a few key questions. We can actually now better understand the hydrology of Titan.”
Adding to the oddities of Titan, with its Earth-like features carved by exotic materials, is the fact that the hydrology on one side of the northern hemisphere is completely different than the that of other side, said Cassini scientist and co-author Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
“It is as if you looked down on the Earth’s North Pole and could see that North America had completely different geologic setting for bodies of liquid than Asia does,” Lunine said.
On the eastern side of Titan, there are big seas with low elevation, canyons and islands. On the western side: small lakes. And the new measurements show the lakes perched atop big hills and plateaus. The new radar measurements confirm earlier findings that the lakes are far above sea level, but they conjure a new image of landforms – like mesas or buttes – sticking hundreds of feet above the surrounding landscape, with deep liquid lakes on top.
The fact that these western lakes are small – just tens of miles across – but very deep also tells scientists something new about their geology: It’s the best evidence yet that they likely formed when the surrounding bedrock of ice and solid organics chemically dissolved and collapsed. On Earth, similar water lakes are known as karstic lakes. Occurring in in areas like Germany, Croatia and the United States, they form when water dissolves limestone bedrock.
Alongside the investigation of deep lakes, a second paper in Nature Astronomy helps unravel more of the mystery of Titan’s hydrologic cycle. Researchers used Cassini data to reveal what they call transient lakes. Different sets of observations – from radar and infrared data – seem to show liquid levels significantly changed.
The best explanation is that there was some seasonally driven change in the surface liquids, said lead author Shannon MacKenzie, planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “One possibility is that these transient features could have been shallower bodies of liquid that over the course of the season evaporated and infiltrated into the subsurface,” she said.
These results and the findings from the Nature Astronomy paper on Titan’s deep lakes support the idea that hydrocarbon rain feeds the lakes, which then can evaporate back into the atmosphere or drain into the subsurface, leaving reservoirs of liquid stored below.
Cassini, which arrived in the Saturn system in 2004 and ended its mission in 2017 by deliberately plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, mapped more than 620,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers) of liquid lakes and seas on Titan’s surface. It did the work with the radar instrument, which sent out radio waves and collected a return signal (or echo) that provided information about the terrain and the liquid bodies’ depth and composition, along with two imaging systems that could penetrate the moon’s thick atmospheric haze.
The crucial data for the new research were gathered on Cassini’s final close flyby of Titan, on April 22, 2017. It was the mission’s last look at the moon’s smaller lakes, and the team made the most of it. Collecting echoes from the surfaces of small lakes while Cassini zipped by Titan was a unique challenge.
“This was Cassini’s last hurrah at Titan, and it really was a feat,” Lunine said
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries.
In August of 2016, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced the discovery of an exoplanet in the neighboring system of Proxima Centauri. The news was greeted with considerable excitement, as this was the closest rocky planet to our Solar System that also orbited within its star’s habitable zone.
Since then, multiple studies have been conducted to determine if this planet could actually support life.
Unfortunately, most of the research so far has indicated that the likelihood of habitability are not good. Between Proxima Centauri’s variability and the planet being tidally-locked with its star, life would have a hard time surviving there.
However, using lifeforms from early Earth as an example, a new studyconducted by researchers from the Carl Sagan Institute (CSI) has shown how life could have a fighting chance on Proxima b after all.
Artist’s impression of Proxima b’s surface, orbiting the red dwarf star. (ESO)
The study, which recently appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, was conducted by Jack O’Malley-James and Lisa Kaltenegger – a research associate and the director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University.
Together, they examined the levels of surface UV flux that planets orbiting M-type (red dwarf) stars would experience and compared that to conditions on primordial Earth.
The potential habitability of red dwarf systems is something scientists have been debating for decades. On the one hand, they have a number of attributes that are encouraging, not the least of which is their commonality.
Essentially, red dwarfs are the most common type of star in the Universe, accounting for 85 percent of the stars in the Milky Way alone.
They also have the greatest longevity, with lifespans that can last into the trillions of years. Last, but not least, they appear to be the most likely stars to host systems of rocky planets.
Artist’s impression of the planets orbiting the ultra-cool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. (ESO)
However, red dwarf stars also present a lot of impediments to habitability, not the least of which is their variable and unstable nature. As O’Malley-James explained to Universe Today via email:
“The chief barrier to the habitability of these worlds is the activity of their host stars. Regular stellar flares can bathe these planets in high levels of biologically harmful radiation. Furthermore, over longer periods of time, the onslaught of X-ray radiation and charged particle fluxes from the host stars places the atmospheres of these planets at risk of being stripped away over time if a planet cannot replenish its atmosphere fast enough.”
For generations, scientists have struggled with questions regarding the habitability of planets that orbit red dwarf stars.
Unlike our Sun, these low-mass, ultra-cool dwarf stars are variable, unstable and prone to flare-ups. These flares release a lot of high-energy UV radiation, which is harmful to life as we know it and capable of stripping a planet’s atmospheres away.
This places significant limitations on the ability of any planet orbiting a red dwarf star to give rise to life or remain habitable for long. However, as previous studies have shown, much of this depends on the density and composition of the planets’ atmospheres, not to mention whether or not the planet has a magnetic field.
To determine if life could endure under these conditions, O’Malley-James and Kaltenegger considered what conditions were like on planet Earth roughly 4 billion years ago.
At that time, Earth’s surface was hostile to life as we know it today. In addition to volcanic activity and a toxic atmosphere, the landscape was bombarded by UV radiation in a way that is similar to what planets that orbit M-type stars experience today.
To address this, Kaltenegger and O’Malley-James modeled the surface UV environments of four nearby “potentially habitable” exoplanets – Proxima-b, TRAPPIST-1e, Ross-128b and LHS-1140b – with various atmospheric compositions. These ranged from ones similar to present-day Earth to those with “eroded” or “anoxic” atmospheres – i.e. those that don’t block UV radiation well and don’t have a protective ozone layer.
Artist’s impression of an exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)
These models showed that as atmospheres become thinner and ozone levels decrease, more high-energy UV radiation is able to reach the ground. But when they compared the models to what was present on Earth, roughly 4 billion years ago, the results proved interesting. As O’Malley-James said:
“The unsurprising result was that the levels of surface UV radiation were higher than we experience on Earth today. However, the interesting result was that the UV levels, even for the planets around the most active stars, were all lower than the Earth experienced in its youth. We know the young Earth supported life, so the case for life on planets in M star systems may not be quite so dire after all.”
What this means, in essence, is that life could exist on neighboring planets like Proxima b right now despite being subjected to harsh levels of radiation. If you consider the age of Proxima Centauri – 4.853 billion years, which is roughly 200 million years older than our Sun – the case for potential habitability may become even more intriguing.
The current scientific consensus is that the first lifeforms on Earth emerged a billion years after the planet formed (3.5 billion years ago). Assuming Proxima b formed from a protoplanetary debris disk shortly after Proxima Centauri was born, life would have had enough time to not only emerge, but get a significant foothold.
While that life may consist solely of single-celled organisms, it is encouraging nonetheless. Aside from letting us know that there could very well be life beyond our Solar System, and on nearby planets, it provides scientists with constraints on what type of biosignatures may be discernible when studying them. As O’Malley-James concluded:
“The results from this study builds the case for focusing on life on Earth a few billion years ago; a world of single-celled microbes – prokaryotes – that lived with high UV radiation levels. This ancient biosphere may have the best overlaps with conditions on habitable planets around active M stars, so could provide us with the best clues in our search for life in these star systems.”
As always, the search for life in the cosmos begins with the study of Earth, since it is the only example we have of a habitable planet. It is therefore important to understand how (i.e. under what conditions) life was able to survive, thrive and respond to environmental changes throughout Earth’s geological history.
For while we may know of only one planet that supports life, that life has been remarkably diverse and has changed drastically over time.
Be sure to check out this video about these latest findings, courtesy of the CSI and Cornell University:
But just because ‘Oumuamua was the first detected interstellar object, doesn’t mean it was the first ever. Just five years ago, in fact, Earth’s atmosphere was struck by something that may have originated far outside our own Solar System – and we never even realised it.
In a new paper, a pair of Harvard researchers propose that a meteor that collided with Earth’s atmosphere in January 2014 was actually another interstellar traveller with distant, mysterious origins.
But unlike the hurtling ‘Oumuamua – which is on a 20,000-year trajectory that will see it eventually exit our Solar System – this meteor’s long journey was fated to be a one-way ticket, ending with a fiery finale five years ago, as the object burnt up in the skies above Papua New Guinea.
“Instead of looking far out into space, and given the fact that there should be a higher abundance of interstellar objects smaller than ‘Oumuamua, we thought, ‘Why not look locally and find these smaller interstellar objects as they collide with the Earth’s atmosphere?'” first author, astronomer Amir Siraj told Newsweek.
Hidden in the CNEOS data, there lurked a remarkable outlier: a 2014 fireball that rushed Earthwards at a velocity of around 60 kilometres per second (37 mps) as it passed the Sun.
We can be grateful that this object was quite small – less than a metre across in total – because if it were significantly larger, it could have made for a disastrous impact with Earth’s surface, rather than the harmless atmospheric fizzle that eventuated.
But that happy anti-climax isn’t the primary takeaway of the meteor’s blistering speed.
When Siraj and Loeb calculated the meteor’s orbital trajectory based on its velocity, their numbers suggested the object wasn’t orbitally bound to the Sun: it was travelling so fast before its fiery end, it slipped straight through the Sun’s gravitational pull.
For that to be possible, the researchers suggest, the meteor had to originate from somewhere else, far beyond our Solar System.
Per their calculations, the meteor’s speed “implies a possible origin from the deep interior of a planetary system or a star in the thick disk of the Milky Way galaxy”.
It’s a wild idea, but while the findings remain purely hypothetical for now, Siraj and Loeb’s paper – which has not yet been peer-reviewed – has been welcomed by some in the astronomy community.
“I think it is reasonable to conclude that this very high speed impactor came from the population of interstellar objects,” theoretical astrophysicist Kat Volk from the University of Arizona, who wasn’t involved with the study, told National Geographic.
“I expect interstellar objects to be common enough – both from theoretical considerations and from the implications of ‘Oumuamua – that I think an interstellar origin is the simplest explanation for this bolide.”
But while ‘Oumuamua’s discovery has definitely shifted the landscape, helping to make real the previously theoretical underpinnings of interstellar migrations, not everybody is yet convinced that this 2014 bolide held such a fantastic passport.
“The result is interesting, but rests upon measurements for a single event,” astronomer Eric Mamajek from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told Science News.
“Was the event a statistical fluke or an actual interstellar meteor?”
The jury is still out on that one, but the hypothetical possibilities in this area of science are as beguiling as an invitation to trek beyond the stars.
Per Siraj and Loeb’s calculations, these interstellar bolide events would have already occurred countless times in Earth’s history, and by looking out for future visits, we could learn much about these distant travellers’ backgrounds.
“Future meteor surveys could flag incoming objects with excess heliocentric velocities for follow-up pre-impact observations,” the researchers write.
“Spectroscopy of gaseous debris from these objects as they burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere would reveal their composition… Potentially, interstellar meteors could deliver life from another planetary system and mediate panspermia.”
Any way you look at it, amazing things are coming our way.
The findings are available on the pre-print website arXiv, and have been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
It was the first molecule to form after the Big Bang.
A flying observatory has pinpointed the first type of molecule that formed in the universe after the Big Bang.
Helium hydride — a combination of helium and hydrogen — was detected roughly 3,000 light-years from Earth by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The molecule was found in a planetary nebula, NGC 7027, which is the dusty remnant of a sun-like star.
For hundreds of thousands of years after the Big Bang, the universe was too hot and too full of radiation for atoms to bond together. At that time, only a few types of atoms existed, including hydrogen, helium and lithium. However, the new study shows that 100,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe cooled enough for helium and hydrogen to combine, forming the molecule known as helium hydride.
While helium hydride has been produced and tested in a laboratory setting, this discovery marks the first time that the molecule has been detected in space — which sheds light on the chemistry of the early universe, according to a statement from NASA.
“This molecule was lurking out there, but we needed the right instruments making observations in the right position — and SOFIA was able to do that perfectly,” Harold Yorke, director of the SOFIA Science Center in California’s Silicon Valley, said in the statement.
Once the universe cooled down, hydrogen atoms started to interact with helium hydride, creating molecular hydrogen, which set the stage for star formation. From that point on, stars created the other elements of the cosmos, according to the statement.
“The lack of evidence of the very existence of helium hydride in interstellar space was a dilemma for astronomy for decades,” Rolf Guesten, lead author of the study from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, said in the statement.
NGC 7027 has been a location of interest for helium hydride since the late 1970s. Ultraviolet radiation and heat from the aging star led scientists to believe that its environment would be suitable for helium hydride to form. However, astronomers were unable to confirm this theory until now.
The SOFIA instrument is a telescope that is flown on a Boeing 747-SP airplane at up to 45,000 feet, where its observations are not impacted by interference from Earth’s atmosphere. SOFIA returns to Earth after every flight, allowing scientists to regularly update the instrument with the latest technology. One of the most recent upgrades included adding a specific channel to detect signatures of helium hydride, which previous telescopes did not have.
“This flexibility allows us to improve observations and respond to the most pressing questions that scientists want answered,” Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA deputy project scientist, said in the statement.
A preliminary investigation into what caused Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft to crash-land on the moon April 11 puts the apparent blame on a “manual command” that was entered into the spacecraft’s computer.
“This led to a chain reaction in the spacecraft, during which the main engine switched off, which prevented it from activating further,” according to a statement released today (April 17) by Beresheet’s handlers, the nonprofit group SpaceIL and the company Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Teams continue to investigate further, in order to understand the full picture of what occurred during the mission, the statement says. “In the coming weeks, final results of the investigation will be released.”
Meanwhile, researchers are on the lookout for a NASA piggyback experiment that may have survived Beresheet’s destructive April 11 crash landing.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will target the crash site repeatedly, eyeing the area with its high-powered cameras. In addition, LRO will use its onboard Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) in an attempt to detect a NASA-provided laser retro-reflector array in the Beresheet wreckage zone.
The size of a computer mouse, LRA is composed of eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners that are set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame. That array is lightweight, radiation-hardened and long-lived.
From the high-flying LRO, laser beams generated by LOLA would strike the device and then bounce back to the orbiter. For each laser beam, LOLA measures its time of flight, or range.SpaceIL’s Beresheet Took Selfie Minutes Before Crashing Into MoonVolume 0%
While there will be many attempts to target the wreckage, LRO is directly over the site only twice per month, and one of those passes occurs in darkness (which is not an issue for the laser), explained the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s David Smith, the principal investigator for LOLA and an emeritus researcher at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“But the site can be viewed on several passes around the ‘overhead’ pass by looking off to the side or forward or backward. This requires the spacecraft to slew or roll to see the target,” Smith said.
“That’s a decision that LRO makes to ensure there are no issues with regard to constraints on pointing close to the sun or star cameras being able to see the stars (and not the lunar surface),” he added., So, the process requires requests for slew and role magnitudes and directions to the LRO project for a specific observation time.‘Return to the Moon: Seconds to Arrival’ – Science Channel ClipVolume 0%
This is normal procedure, Smith said, but typically researchers need to submit pointing requests about a week in advance. That allows the LRO project to check on pointing abilities (there are limits) of LRO and on thermal effects and spacecraft solar array pointing for charging the batteries.
“It may take 10 to 15 minutes for the spacecraft to turn to the desired direction and another 15 minutes to return to its normal nadir mode for just a few seconds of observations,” Smith told Inside Outer Space.
“I am sure the project will start to attempt observations as soon as possible,” Smith said. LRO’s camera system and the laser are co-boresighted, “so when the camera slews to take an image, the laser altimeter automatically goes with it and will attempt to make a range observation at the same time.”
At a speed of over 3,300 mph (5,310 km/h), the whole LRO observation period is over in a few seconds, Smith said.
Leonard David wrote the forthcoming book “Moon Rush: The New Space Race,” to be published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter@Spacedotcom orFacebook.
The Facts:A document published by Wikileaks clearly implies that the United States had a “secret” base on the Moon that was destroyed by Russia. It’s one of many interesting documents that suggest strange things are and have been happening on the Moon.
Reflect On:Is our world really as it’s been presented? There are millions of pages of documents that are classified by multiple countries every single year, how is it possible to really determine what’s going on behind the scenes? Why does secrecy rule?
The Assange arrest is scandalous in several respects, and one of them is the effort of governments, and it’s not just the US government… The efforts to silence a journalist who was producing materials that people in power didn’t want the rascal multitude to know about… That’s basically what happened. Wikileaks was producing things that people ought to know about those in power, people in power don’t like that. So therefore we have to silence it. – Noam Chomsky (source) advertisement – learn more
The idea that something strange may be happening on the Moon is not far fetched at all. In fact, given all of the information that’s now available within the public domain on the subject, it’s hard to see how it’s not a fact. We’ll get to some of that information later in this article; but first, let’s draw our attention to a strange Wikileaks document titled, “Report That UR Destroyed Secret Moon Base.”
Unfortunately, the document is not an electronic document, therefore access to its full contents is not available online. For anybody truly interested in reading the entire thing, a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) may be in order.
Without speculating here, we can conclude that this is what it says it is, a report regarding possible space wars that are taking place in the classified world. The document title alone not only exposes the reality of these alleged wars, but the possibility of a “Secret Moon Base” belonging to the United States that apparently was in operation until it was destroyed by “UR.” (Soviet Union)
You can view it in the Wikileaks archive here. advertisement – learn more
So, what other information exists, besides this document, showing that something strange is and has been happening on the Moon? There’s a lot of information, so it’s hard to know where to begin.
First of all, the idea of bases on the Moon have been an open discussion within the government for a long time, although the information isn’t easy to find, but it’s definitely out there. A document from the government’s own publishing office is a great example. It clearly shows one of the goals of the United States government is to build a base on the Moon, and this is as far back as 1966. (source)
A portion of the document reads, with reference to presidents Kennedy and Johnson in a statement by HON. George P. Miller:
I also believe that we can and will achieve the goal set by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson: a manned landing on the moon before 1970. My own confidence in our rapidly advancing science and technology is such that I can visualize many more dramatic achievements ahead, although I will fix no timetable for them. 1. The exploration of the lunar surface, and possibly the establishment of one or more permanent bases there.
Furthermore, decades old documents have been declassified discussing this topic, showing just how serious and far possible advancements with these intentions have gone.
Take a look at the screen shot below, taken from the CIA electronic reading room in the form of a memorandum that was addressed to the CIA director regarding “Military Thought (Top Secret)” by Lieutenant General Korenevskiy.
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The document above really goes into detail regarding the importance of weaponizing space. This brings to mind another document from Wikileaks, in the form of an email that was sent to politician John Podesta from Dr. Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, and Dr. Carol Rosin. It reads as follows:
Dear John, Because the War in Space race is heating up, I felt you should be aware of several factors as you and I schedule our Skype talk. Remember, our nonviolent ETI from the contiguous universe are helping us bring zero point energy to Earth. They will not tolerate any forms of military violence on Earth or in space. The following information in italics was shared with me by my colleague Carol Rosin, who worked closely for several years with Wernher von Braun before his death. Carol and I have worked on the Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, attached for your convenience.
A declassified report by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center from June 1959 shows just how seriously they considered a plan called Project A119. In general, they wanted to investigate the capability of weapons in space as well as gain further insight into the space environment and the detonation of nuclear devices within it.
Interesting to say the least, but it’s important to recognize the intentions behind the letter, and that is the recognition that humans have brought and will continue to bring their destructive ways into space by weaponizing it or attempting to weaponize it.
With all of this documentation, it’s also interesting to look into witness testimonies from credible sources.
In the 1950s, Colonel Ross Dedrickson was responsible for maintaining the inventory of the nuclear weapon stockpile for the AEC, and for accompanying security teams testing the security of the weapons, among many other duties. When it comes to weaponizing space, which is clearly outlined within multiple documents linked above, this is what he had to say:
“I also learned about incidents involving nuclear weapons, and among these incidents were a couple of nuclear weapons sent into space that were destroyed by the extraterrestrials… At the very end of the 70s and the early 80s, we attempted to put a nuclear weapon on the Moon and explode it for scientific measurements and other things, which was not acceptable to the extraterrestrials. They destroyed the weapon before it got to the Moon.” (source)
Dedrickson is one of hundreds of whistleblowers with verified, credible and impressive backgrounds to speak up about an extraterrestrial presence. In that same interview, he went on to state that:
A spacecraft went to the rescue of Apollo 13, and they accompanied Apollo 13 on their voyage around the Moon back to Earth. And on two occasions they thought they might have to transfer the crew to their spacecraft, but they saw them safely back to Earth.
This may explain why several astronauts have also been quite outspoken about an extraterrestrial presence, like Edgar Mitchell, Brian O’Leary, Story Musgrave, Gordon Cooper and many others.
Another document from 1965 regarding the CIA keeping tabs on Soviet space plans reads as follows:
Keep in mind, this was more than 50 years ago.
Below is an interesting quote from Carl Sagan:
It is not out of the question that artifacts of these visits still exist, or even that some kind of base is maintained (possibly automatically) within the solar system to provide continuity for successive expeditions. Because of weathering and the possibility of detection and interference by the inhabitants of the Earth, it would be preferable not to erect such a base on the Earth’s surface. The Moon seems one reasonable alternative. Forthcoming high resolution photographic reconnaissance of the Moon from space vehicles – particularly of the back side – might bear these possibilities in mind. (source)
George Leonard’s 1976 book, Somebody Else is on the Moon, and Fred Steckling’s 1981 book, We Discovered Alien Bases on The Moon, also come to mind when discussing this subject.
Members of the Society For Planetary SETI Research (SPSR) recently published a paper in the Journal of Space Exploration about certain features on the far side of the Moon that appear in the crater Paracelsus C. Titled “Image Analysis of Unusual Structures on the Far Side of the Moon in the Crater Paracelsus C,” it argues that these features might be artificial in origin.
The study makes a great point when it comes to the extraterrestrial hypothesis:
A decidedly conservative mainstream scientific establishment often rejects anomalies based on subject matter alone, i.e., there cannot be alien artifacts on the moon because there are no alien artifacts on the moon (or other planets). Such a view is an example of circular reasoning, based on the belief that extraterrestrials do not exist, or if they do exist that they could not have traveled to our solar system.
The truth is, “there is abundant evidence that we are being contacted, that civilizations have been visiting us for a very long time.” – Dr. Brian O’Leary, former NASA astronaut and Princeton Physics Professor (source)
When it comes to the Moon, man-made bases may not be the only ones there.
As far as our own bases are concerned, Karl Wolfe, who was a precision electronics photograph technician at Langley Air Force Base, became well-known when he provided his testimony at National Press Club in Washington, D.C. as part of Dr. Steven Greer’s disclosure project.(source)
Wolfe’s testimony revealed that he was taken into a dark room where images from NASA’s Lunar Orbiter were being developed and stitched together into composite images called “mosaics.”
“They were doing 35 mm strips of film at the time which were then assembled into 18 ½ x 11 mosaics. Those strips were from successive passes around the Moon and they would build up a photograph ,” Wolfe said.(source)
“We walked over to one side of the lab and he said, ‘By the way, we’ve discovered a base on the backside of the moon.’”
Dr. John Brandenburg, the Deputy Manager of the Clementine Mission to the Moon, which was part of a joint space project between the Ballistic Missile Defence Organization (BMDO) and NASA, has also made some fascinating revelations. The mission discovered water at the Moon’s poles in 1994 (Source: page 16 of 18)(source)(source). But, according to Dr. Brandenburg, the Clementine Mission had an ulterior agenda:
“The Clementine Mission was a photo reconnaissance mission basically to check out if someone was building bases on the Moon that we didn’t know about. Were they expanding them?… Of all the pictures I’ve seen from the Moon that show possible structures, the most impressive is a picture of a miles-wide recto-linear structure. This looked unmistakably artificial, and it shouldn’t be there. As somebody in the space defence community, I look on any such structure on the Moon with great concern because it isn’t ours, there’s no way we could have built such a thing. It means someone else is up there.” (Quote from the documentary, “Aliens on the Moon.”)
Neanderthals And Woolly Mammoths May Have Shared Genetic TraitsPauseUnmute/Loaded: 0%Fullscreen3D Heart
A team of Israeli researchers has “printed” the world’s first 3-D vascularized, engineered heart.
On Monday, a team of Tel Aviv University researchers revealed the heart, which was made using a patient’s own cells and biological material. Until now, scientists have successfully printed only simple tissues without blood vessels.Read More Related Articles
This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said Prof. Tal Dvir of TAU’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and the Sagol Center for Regenerative Biotechnology, who was the lead researcher for the study.
He worked with Prof. Assaf Shapira of TAU’s Faculty of Life Sciences, and Nadav Moor, a doctoral student. Their research was published in Advanced Science.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. In Israel, it is the second largest cause of death (after cancer). In 2013, heart disease accounted for about 16% of the total number of deaths in Israel, according to the Health Ministry.
Heart transplantation is often the only treatment available to patients with end-stage heart failure. The waiting list for patients in the US can be as much as six months or more. In Israel and the US, many patients die while on the waiting list, hoping for a chance at survival.
“This heart is made from human cells and patient-specific biological materials. In our process, these materials serve as the bio-inks, substances made of sugars and proteins that can be used for 3-D printing of complex tissue models,” Dvir explained.Recommended videosPowered by AnyClipPlayUnmuteCurrent Time 0:02/Duration 0:30Loaded: 22.45% FullscreenUp Next
“People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels. Our results demonstrate the potential of our approach for engineering personalized tissue and organ replacement in the future,” he said.
At this stage, the 3-D heart produced at TAU is sized for a rabbit, but the professors said that larger human hearts could be produced using the same technology.
For the research, a biopsy of fatty tissue was taken from patients, according to a release. The cellular and a-cellular materials of the tissue were then separated. The cells were reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells that could then be efficiently differentiated into cardiac or endothelial cells. The extracellular matrix (ECM), a three-dimensional network of extracellular macromolecules, such as collagen and glycoproteins, was processed into a personalized hydrogel that served as the printing “ink.” The differentiated cells were then mixed with the bio-inks and were used to 3D-print patient-specific, immune-compatible cardiac patches with blood vessels and, subsequently, an entire heart.
According to Dvir, the use of “native” patient-specific materials is crucial to successfully engineering tissues and organs.
The next step, they said, is to teach the hearts to behave like human hearts. First, they will transplant them into animals and eventually into humans. The hope is that within “10 years, there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely,” Dvir said.
An illustration of a lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. The design being proposed by Lockheed Martin is a two-stage vehicle derived from the Orion spacecraft. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin unveiled a design for a human-rated lunar lander that could be built quickly to meet Vice President Mike Pence’s challenge to return humans to the Moon by 2024.
The two-stage lander concept was presented April 10, 2019, during the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where engineers from Lockheed Martin discussed ideas on how to accelerate lunar lander capabilities.
NASA’s current plan to return humans to the Moon is expected in two phases, as outlined by the agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, earlier this week. The first phase is about speed and involves building an initial Lunar Gateway (described as a reusable command module in orbit around the Moon) likely with just a power and propulsion module and a utilization module with docking ports.
Ultimately, the Gateway is being designed to allow for Orion crews to dock and transfer to a reusable lunar lander architecture. It would also be in an orbit that requires little fuel to maintain while allowing for access to a large portion of the Moon’s surface. In the future, the vehicle is envisioned as being a rendezvous location for commercial resupply and refueling ships to replenish a reusable Moon exploration architecture.
NASA envisions a three-part lunar lander system, built via public-private partnerships consisting of a transfer vehicle to travel to low-lunar orbit, a descent vehicle to land on the Moon and an ascent vehicle to return back to the Gateway.
NASA has been working to restart its crewed lunar program for 15 years. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider
However, Lockheed Martin’s lander concept only requires two of those: the descent and ascent vehicles. Moreover, they are expected to be, in part, based off NASA’s Orion crew module, of which Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor.
Orion is currently slated to launch atop NASA’s long-delayed Space Launch System as early as 2020. Known as Exploration Mission-1, it is expected to fly around the Moon before returning to Earth to test much of the spacecrafts systems.
EM-2 is expected to follow as soon as 2022 and will be a full-up human flight, likely utilizing a free-return trajectory around the Moon.
However, Lockheed Martin is proposing that it accelerate development on Orion’s docking hardware and software, including elements of design of the European service module, to allow for EM-2 to dock with the first modules of the Gateway, likely just the power and propulsion module and a utilization module with docking ports.
Those flights would test much of the hardware and software that would go into the proposed lunar lander, which the company would be developing in parallel, another key principle laid out by Bridenstine to allow for a speedy return to the Moon.
EM-3, would then be freed to send a crew in 2024 to the Gateway where its lunar lander could be waiting for them to take at least part of the crew to the surface.
An illustration of the ascent stage of Lockheed Martin’s lunar lander design docked to the Gateway. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin said that for this plan to work on an aggressive five-year schedule, engineers would need to start “bending metal” next year. By late 2020, the focus would be on the avionics and software as a basis for systems testing and the beginning of crew training. Additionally, the company said resources from NASA—money—will be required for this to be built.
According to Lockheed Martin, a robotic tech demo would be planned for between 2021 and 2022 in order to further reduce risk.
Lockheed Martin has also been testing Gateway habitat prototypes at Kennedy Space Center since 2015 as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.
The company’s designs are based based on the Multi-purpose Logistics Modules, which were originally designed to provide logistics for the ISS. The prototype can be reconfigured for numerous missions.
Several companies are contracted under this program, including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Bigelow Aerospace, etc, but Lockheed Martin was the first to turn the prototype to NASA for testing. Engineers are studying how Orion and future habitats could dock with Gateway.
Numerous systems are in the process of being designed and studied—including life support, radiation protection, thermal control, power, rendezvous, proximity, operations and docking, an airlock and communications—in order to determine which would work best in deep space.
Lockheed Martin is using its Habitat Ground Test Article to studying a variety of mission concepts. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy successfully launched its first operational mission today (April 11), sticking a triple-rocket landing more than a year after its demo mission catapulted a cherry-red Tesla and a dummy nicknamed Starman into space.
The megarocket, dubbed the most powerful launcher in operation, blasted off at 6:35 p.m. EDT (2235 GMT). It lifted off here from the same site that once hosted NASA’s Apollo moon missions and its fleet of space shuttles: historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. About 34 minutes later, the rocket deployed Arabsat-6A, an advanced communications satellite that will provide internet and communications services to residents of the Middle East, Africa and parts of Europe.
Falcon Heavy’s second flight went off without a hitch at the beginning of a 2-hour window after high upper level winds thwarted SpaceX’s second launch attempt. A day earlier, Falcon Heavy faced a 24-hour delay due to poor weatherat the launch pad. A dismal weather forecast for Tuesday (April 9) convinced launch officials to issue a delay rather than face just a 30% chance of favorable weather.
Today’s flight was the first of a Falcon Heavy launch featuring souped-up Block 5versions of its component rockets. (A Falcon Heavy rocket is built of three Falcon 9 first stages, which are combined to form the 27-engine megarocket.) As the rocket’s first-stage engines roared to life, they fired in unison and spewed smoke and fire around the launch pad.
SpaceX made the transition to Block 5 for its Falcon 9 flights in May, after the demo flight of Falcon Heavy in February 2018. Today’s Falcon Heavy boasted more than 5 million lbs. of thrust, a 10% increase over its predecessor.
In addition to the added thrust, the Block 5 Falcon 9 now features a plethora of upgrades, all of which are designed to facilitate reusability. Previous versions of the Falcon 9 were meant to fly only two to three times; however, Musk says the Block 5 is capable of flying as many as 10 times with virtually no refurbishment between flights.Touchdowns! SpaceX Lands All 3 Falcon Heavy Boosters After Launching SatelliteVolume 0%
To achieve that goal, engineers developed a suite of upgrades for the company’s flagship rocket. The design changes — including improved engines, a more durable interstage (the piece that connects the rocket’s two stages), titanium grid fins and a new thermal protection system — were developed to help the rocket better handle the stresses of launch. These technological advances have enabled the company to establish a growing fleet of flight-proven rockets.
Falcon Heavy now has two spaceflights under its belt. Its first mission launched on Feb. 6, 2018, ferrying Elon Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster — with a spacesuit-wearing test dummy named Starman sitting in the driver’s seat — into orbit. The nearly flawless first launch, which included successful landings by two of the Falcon Heavy’s three first-stage boosters, earned SpaceX major accolades.
The enthusiasm carried over into today’s flight, as thousands of onlookers gathered in the area to watch the Falcon Heavy fly.
Sonic booms echoed through the sky as the rocket’s two side boosters touched down in unison at SpaceX’s nearby landing sites. The third landed on SpaceX’s drone ship landing pad “Of Course I Still Love You,” stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. (That represents an improvement over the rocket’s first flight, when the core stage missed the drone ship and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after two of three engines did not fire during the descent.)Watch 3 Boosters Put Together to Form Falcon HeavyVolume 0%
With its first operational Heavy flight in the books, SpaceX is ready to forge ahead with a steady schedule of launches. The next Falcon Heavy flight, due to launch this year, will carry the Space Test Program 2 mission for the U.S. Air Force and a solar-sail mission for The Planetary Society.
The Falcon Heavy is part of a growing list of SpaceX launch services and ongoing projects, which could include launching astronauts to the space station later this year during Crew Dragon‘s first crewed test flight. But Falcon Heavy won’t be the most powerful rocket in SpaceX’s arsenal for long. SpaceX is in the early stages of developing a launch system even larger than the Falcon Heavy.
Just days before today’s launch, on April 5, the company hit the end of its tether on Starhopper, a test prototype for that massive rocket. That’s an initial stage of the company’s Starship program to design a fully reusable deep-space launcher for missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. The program already has its first passenger: SpaceX announced last September that Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has booked a trip around the moon that’s slated to fly no earlier than 2023.
SpaceX’s next launch from the Cape is currently scheduled for April 26, when a Falcon 9 rocket will ferry a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station.
Scientists have obtained the first image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87.
Scientists have released the first-ever image of a black hole, revealing the distant object in stunning detail.
The groundbreaking discovery was made by the Event Horizon Telescope, an international project involving telescopes across the globe that describes itself as a “virtual Earth-sized telescope.” Telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, Chile, Mexico, Spain and the South Pole participated in the ambitious research project.
The black hole was spotted in galaxy Messier 87 (M87) that is 55 million light years away. A light year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.
“We’re delighted to report to you today that we have seen what we thought was unseeable,” explained Dr. Shep Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope, during a press conference at the National Science Foundation Wednesday. “We have taken advantage of a cosmic opportunity.”View image on Twitter
“This was a Herculean task,” explained National Science Foundation Director Dr. France Cordova, during the press conference, noting that the Event Horizon Telescope’s findings transform and enhance our understanding of black holes. The National Science Foundation has invested $28 million in Event Horizon Telescope project.
The black hole has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun, according to the researchers, who captured the image of a ring-like structure with a dark central region, which is the black hole’s “shadow.”
“”If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow — something predicted by Einstein’s general relativity that we’ve never seen before,” explained Heino Falcke of Holland’s Radboud University and chair of the EHT Science Council, in a statement. “This shadow, caused by the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon, reveals a lot about the nature of these fascinating objects and allowed us to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole.”
The shadow of a black hole is the closest we can come to an image of the black hole itself, according to the EHT scientists. “The black hole’s boundary — the event horizon from which the EHT takes its name — is around 2.5 times smaller than the shadow it casts and measures just under 40 billion km [24.8 billion miles] across.,” the explain, in the statement.
“Black holes are extremely dense pockets of matter, objects of such incredible mass and miniscule volume that they drastically warp the fabric of space-time,” explains the National Science Foundation, on its website. “Anything that passes too close, from a wandering star to a photon of light, gets captured. Most black holes are the condensed remnants of a massive star, the collapsed core that remains following an explosive supernova.”