Friday, September 27, 2019

🚀 Starhopper Gets Fins, How Feasible is a Warp Drive? Was Venus Habitable? NASA Orders 6 Orion Capsules, and More...



We'll Learn More About Starhopper Tomorrow

We watched in awe as the first Starhopper prototype lifted off last month, flew to a height of 150 meters and then landed again using its methane-powered Raptor engine. 

Now SpaceX is building two bigger prototypes, to continue testing the technologies that will enable this fully reusable two-stage rocket. 

On Saturday, September 28th, Elon Musk is planning to make an announcement about the status of Starhopper and how the next set of tests are going to move forward. 

Next week, I'll tell you how it went. 

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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Superhabitable worlds

Better Than Earth? Are There Superhabitable Worlds In The Milky Way?

I've said many times in the past that the Earth is the best planet in the Universe. No matter where we go, we'll never find a planet that's a better home to Earth life than Earth. Of course, that's because we, and all other Earth life, evolved in this environment. Evolution adapted us to this planet, and it's unlikely we could ever find another planet this good for us.

However, is it the best planet? Are there places in the Universe which might have the conditions for more diversity of life?

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SpaceX Starship Gets Some Fins

Everything's better with fins, right? This week, the construction of the SpaceX Starship continued with the addition of two fins on the giant rocket's sides. According to Elon Musk via Twitter, these fins will provide stability during takeoff and landing of the rocket. This is different from the three fins that were in the original drawings, so you'll have to read the article and see what Musk is planning.

Warp drive

Just How Feasible is a Warp Drive?

We don't spend a lot of time at Universe Today thinking about warp drives. That's because it's science fiction right now, and we're focused on what's right around the corner. But a recent presentation by Joseph Agnew from the University of Alabama went into the details of what it might actually take to make faster than light travel a reality. Spoiler alert: it won't be easy.


Venus Could Have Supported Life for Billions of Years

Venus is terrible today, but it's been long assumed that the planet was more habitable in the ancient past and then a runaway greenhouse effect made the planet hellish. But a new simulation indicates that the planet might actually have been habitable for billions of years, and could even be habitable today if it wasn't for a cataclysmic event that completely resurfaced the planet, releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide.

Black hole safety

NASA's Guide To Black Hole Safety


This is adorable. NASA took some time out of their busy science schedule to create this cute video about black hole safety for tourists. Their preference is that you don't go; otherwise, you'll get turned into a noodle. But if you do want to go, here are some handy tips.



Planet Mars, From Pole to Pole

The European Space Agency released a beautiful picture of Mars this week, captured by the Mars Express Orbiter. It shows the planet from the northern polar region all the way down to the southern polar region. With its carbon dioxide ice caps, and heavily cratered surface in amazing detail. Seriously, check out the full picture and you'll be staring at it for hours.



Hayabusa 2 Has One Last Lander it's Going to Throw at Ryugu

JAXA's Hayabusa 2 has been working hard to study the surface of asteroid Ryugu, and it's deployed rovers, shot it with an antitank weapon, and even collected a sample from the surface. And last week it deployed the last landers - target markers - which landed on the surface of the asteroid to act as navigation aides as Hayabusa sets off for home again.

Asteroid near miss

This Summer's Asteroid Near-Miss Helped Greenlight NASA's NEOCam Mission to Search the Skies for Killer Spacerocks

In July 2019, a dangerous asteroid came uncomfortably close to Earth, slipping within 0.19 lunar distances. Its trajectory was in a blind spot that was very difficult for astronomers to detect. But there's a spacecraft that's been in the planning stages for a while to be able to detect these kinds of asteroids - NEOCam - and this event might be what finally gets Congress to approve its budget.


Lockheed Wins the Contract to Build Six More Orion Capsules

With the plans for Project Artemis moving ahead, NASA is going to need more Orion capsules to carry the astronauts to and from the Moon. This week NASA announced that they had selected Lockheed Martin to build 6 more Orions, with the possibility of 12 overall. Orion will be the spacecraft that'll take humans to the Moon by 2024 (in theory).

Saturn's rings

Take a 250,000 Kilometer-Long Tour of Saturn's Rings

We've seen Saturn's rings from many angles, but NASA's Cassini spacecraft studied the rings in great detail. And now you can take a 250,000-kilometer journey along the rings of Saturn, seeing all the strange bumps, gaps, moonlets and more. You really get a sense of what a strange place it must be out there.


Views of Earth From DSCOVR and EPIC

NASA's DSCOVR satellite has been hanging out at the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange Point for a few years now, capturing non-stop daytime images of Earth. Unfortunately, the spacecraft has been experiencing problems, but Scott Manley has stitched together some of its images into animations that show the Earth from this unique vantage point in space.


Shape-shifting Robots Like These Could Be Just What We Need to Explore Titan

Titan is a unique environment with a thick atmosphere, dunes made of frozen water, and seas of liquid methane. In order to navigate this place, a group of NASA researchers are working on a series of rovers that'll look very different from anything sent to Mars. Called the Shapeshifter, it's actually a collection of smaller bots that can work together or break apart to explore regions autonomously on Titan.



WFIRST Gets its Coronagraph, to Block the Light of Stars and Reveal Their Planets

After James Webb comes WFIRST, an infrared wide-field observatory with a Hubble-sized mirror. One of its tasks will be to find planets orbiting other stars and to do this, it's going to use a coronograph that perfectly blocks the light from the star, revealing the dimmer planets. This week engineers attached the coronograph to WFIRST, bringing it closer to its mid-2020s launch date.

Other Interesting Space Stuff


Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday


Viewers in South America were treated to a total solar eclipse on July 2, 2019. And @luis_astrofoto made the long journey to be there in person to watch this happen and experience one of the most incredible astronomical events.

We have featured over 1,000 astrophotographers on our Instagram page, which has more than 187,000 followers. Want to do a takeover? Use the hashtag #universetoday and I'll check out your photos.

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