Friday, December 14, 2018

🚀 China is Off to the Far Side of the Moon, InSight's First Selfie, Virgin Galactic Reaches Space (Maybe) and More...

Chang'e 4

Chinese Lander is off to the Far Side of the Moon

Another week, another exciting space mission. This time it's the Chinese Chang'e 4 lander, which blasted off on December 7th, headed to the far side of the Moon. It's not the dark side, of course, every side of the Moon gets illuminated over the course of its journey around the Earth.

But the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth, so it always shows only one face to us. The far side looks very different from the near side, and because there's no direct line of communication, no landers or rovers have ever been sent to the far side. China already sent a relay satellite to a region beyond the Moon, so they'll be able to control Chang'e-4 from Earth.

The spacecraft reached lunar orbit a few days ago, and it's believed that it will attempt a landing in January, 2019.

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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Future of Astronomy

John Michael Godier Interviews Me About the Future of Astronomy

I'm on the Big Island of Hawaii right now and not able to release my own videos, but I was able to take the time to chat with John Michael Godier on this wide ranging podcast about the future of astronomy, colonizing Mars, and how to become an amateur astronomer.

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NASA InSight

Of Course You Want to See InSight's First Selfie

Not to be outdone by Curiosity, NASA's InSight Lander captured its own selfie photo this week using its robotic arm. You're looking at a mosaic image made up of 11 different photos taken by the lander. These were then stitched together on computer at NASA. Of course, the goal here is to see how well the spacecraft fared during its dangerous landing on the surface of Mars.


And Here's InSight Seen From Space

It's not enough for a selfie photo, this new Martian celebrity lander needs to be captured from all angles, including from space. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped these pictures of the lander from orbit on November 26th, showing the lander, parachute and heat shield. Unfortunately, it wasn't able to capture the lander descending to the surface like it had with Curiosity.

White dwarf feeding

You're Looking at an Actual Image of a White Dwarf Feeding on Material from a Larger Red Giant, 650 Light Years from Earth

Have I ever mentioned how impressive ground-based telescopes are becoming? Of course I have. Seriously, though, this is absolutely stunning work released by the European Southern Observatory that shows an actual photograph of a white dwarf feeding on material from a red giant. This could lead to a rare type of supernova called a Type 1a, which astronomers use to measure the rate of the Universe's expansion.

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Reaches Space (Maybe)

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reached an impressive altitude of 82.7 km on a test flight Thursday, reaching what may or may not be space (depending on your definition). But whatever the case, it was an incredible test flight, and showed that the technology is almost ready to take paying passengers on a short flight to the edge of space for the low cost of only $250,000.

Parker Probe

Here's the First Image of the Sun from the Parker Solar Probe

Here's a picture we've all been waiting for. It's the first image of the Sun captured by NASA's Solar Probe, still working its way closer and closer to the Sun. This image shows a solar streamer, blasting out of the Sun's atmosphere. And that bright white dot in the picture is the planet Mercury, seen through the atmosphere. Nice work Parker, I can't wait to see the final closeups.


A Batch of Tiny Cubesats for NASA are About to Be Launched on a Rocket from New Zealand

The next Electron rocket launch from New Zealand-based Rocket Labs is due for December 16, 2018. On board are 13 tiny cubesats for NASA's ELaNA-19 mission. Each one of these tiny satellites will be testing out space science and technology, like measuring the Earth's magnetosphere or new methods of propulsion in space. The weather already delayed the launch, hope it doesn't delay it any further.

Interstellar probe

Exactly How We Would Send our First Laser-Powered Probe to Alpha Centauri

Sending a spacecraft to another star system is theoretically possible using a laser-powered solar sail. But there are a lot of details to get this done. A new study proposes using a 100 gigawatt laser to propel a 2750 kg space probe to 5% the speed of light, completing the journey to Alpha Centauri in a mere 100 years.

Moon landings

Hey Steph Curry, Here's Proof That We Landed on the Moon

Did you hear that basketballer Steph Curry thinks that humans didn't land on the Moon. The reality, of course, is that there's an enormous amount of evidence for the Apollo landings if you're willing to just look at it, instead of listening to baseless assertions from conspiracy theorists. Ethan Siegel goes through some compelling evidence on his blog.

Lunar Impact

Every Few Hours There's a Flash of Light Coming From the Moon. Another Impact

For decades amateur astronomers reported seeing brief flashes of light coming from the Moon, but scientists didn't take it seriously: transient lunar events. But now it's accepted science that a space rock crashes into the Moon every few hours and releases a brief blast of energy visible even from Earth. Specially built telescopes now observe these events and remind us that the Solar System still has a lot of leftover debris; it's a cosmic shooting gallery out there.


A Supernova 2.6 Million Years Ago Could Have Wiped Out the Ocean's Large Animals

The Universe has all kinds of ways of reminding us that it's a deadly hostile place that doesn't care about us at all. For example, scientists recently dug up evidence that a nearby supernova explosion 2.6 million years ago might have blasted the Earth with enough radiation to wipe out the large animals in the oceans. Thanks again Universe.



A Rapid Rise in Temperature Led to the Worst Extinction in our Planet's History

Speaking of extinctions, the most deadly loss of life on Earth happened about 250 million years ago during the Permian extinction event. During this time, 70% of vertebrates on land and 98% in the oceans died off suddenly. Paleontologists now think that a rapid rise in the Earth's temperature from volcanic eruptions was to blame. 


OSIRIS-REx Has Already Found Water on Bennu

Last week I showcased the OSIRIS-REx mission's arrival at asteroid Bennu. And already the mission can cross off one item on its to-do list. NASA scientists announced that the spacecraft has already found evidence of water on Bennu. This is great news for future asteroid missions, which could extract water from asteroids for fuel or atmosphere for astronauts to breathe.



InSight Uses its Seismometer to "Hear" the Sound of Wind on Mars

I've been waiting, like, forever to actually hear what it sounds like on Mars, but no spacecraft sent to the red planet has been equipped with a microphone. But NASA's InSight did the next best thing, using its seismometer to detect wind buffeting the lander. NASA scientists then converted this to sound, to let you imagine standing on the surface of Mars and feel the wind on your spacesuit.

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday

This week we've got a widefield view of the Milky Way, with all the dark nebula regions and the amazing Rho Ophiuchus region. This photo was captured by @total_environment 

We have featured nearly 1,000 astrophotographers on our Instagram page, which has more than 146,000 followers. Want to do a takeover? Use the hashtag #universetoday and I'll check out your photos.


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