Friday, February 22, 2019

🚀 Touchdown for Hayabusa2! Landing Heavy Payloads on Mars, SpaceX Starship Challenges, Dust Devils on Mars, and More...


Touchdown! Hayabusa2 Successfully Touched Down on Asteroid Ryugu

The Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft reported on Thursday night that it had successfully made contact with Asteroid Ryugu, and fired a bullet into the surface to try and collect a sample. The spacecraft had been orbiting the asteroid for around 6 months, and had already delivered other smaller landers to the surface.

Mission operators said that the whole operation actually went more quickly than they were expecting, and went without a hitch. With the first bullet fired, the spacecraft backed up, and now it will do this two more times before returning back to Earth in 2020, delivering the asteroid samples to scientists here on Earth.

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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Farewell Opportunity

Farewell Opportunity. A History Of The Mars Exploration Rovers

On February 13, 2019, NASA tweeted out a sad message:

To the robot who turned 90 days into 15 years of exploration: You were, and are, the Opportunity of a lifetime. Rest well, rover. Your mission is complete.

It's strange to get choked up a little saying these words. To feel sad about a robot on another planet. 

But I'm guessing you feel the same way. And today I wanted to look back at the history of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. To take you through their creation, launch to Mars, the amazing discoveries they made, and of course, how they finally died.

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Mars capsule

Land Heavier Payloads on Mars. Aim for the Ground and Then Pull up at the Last Moment

Landing heavy payloads on Mars is surprisingly difficult to do. The atmosphere is too thin for aerodynamic entry, but too thick for a propulsive landing. NASA has been trying to figure out new strategies to land on the Red Planet. Well, here's an idea. Aim for the ground and then pull up at the last minute where the atmosphere is most dense. What could go wrong?

Space junk harpoon

British Satellite Tests its Space Junk Harpoon

The problem of space junk is big and it's getting bigger with every new launch. A British Satellite recently did its part to help clean up space by deploying a harpoon to snag a chunk of space junk. This was actually the third test of different techniques to try and grab space junk. Engineers will now study how all the different systems performed for future missions that could actually get to work cleaning up space.

SpaceX Starship

SpaceX's Fuel Bleeding Starship Will Be Incredibly Difficult to Pull Off

Elon Musk called the new design for the SpaceX Starship "delightfully counterintuitive", but according to NASA engineer Walk Engelund, it's going to be an incredibly difficult challenge to make it successfully to the surface of Mars in one piece. The innovative stainless steel hull that bleeds droplets of fuel to keep it cool during re-entry has never been tried before. Read this fascinating piece from Dave Mosher.


This Star Has Been Going Nova Every Year, for Millions of Years

Novae occur when a white dwarf steals material from a companion star, and then this material ignites in a blast of energy. They typically explode every 10 years or so, but astronomers have found one object that's been detonating every year or so and it's been doing this for millions of years. Every time it explodes, it increases in brightness by a factor of a million times, and releases a huge amount of material into a vast cloud around it.

Weather on Mars

What's the Weather Like on Mars? Ask the InSight Lander

Thinking of spending a few days at Elysium Planitia on Mars? You might want to check the weather first. Apparently there's a light wind and bone chilling cold according to NASA's Mars InSight Lander. The spacecraft is equipped with an air pressure sensor, thermometers and a wind sensor, so it's the perfect weather station on Mars.

51 Pegasi B

Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space

Preserving humanity might be one of the best reasons to colonize space, or would it? According to Phil Torres, a scientist who thinks about existential risks, it might actually increase the likelihood of the annihilation of the human race. When we migrate to space, we'll take our problems with us, including our ability to wipe ourselves out.

Dust devil on Mars

This is a Dust Devil… on Mars

Mars is an alien world, but every now and then it does something that makes it feel a little more like home. You're looking at a photograph of a dust devil (a tiny tornado), zipping across the surface of Mars, seen from the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In fact, these kinds of weather phenomena show up more often than you'd think.

Gateway Foundation

Gateway Foundation Shows off Their Plans for an Enormous Rotating Space Station

2001 told us that some day we'd be living in enormous rotation space stations. Well, where are they? Apparently somebody's trying to get them built. The Gateway Foundation recently showed off a trailer video teasing us about what a giant rotating space station might actually look like. Of course, the scale and scope of this thing boggles the imagination. 

Earth's atmosphere

Did You Know the Earth's Atmosphere Extends Beyond the Orbit of the Moon?

You might be surprised to know that the Earth's atmosphere actually extends out to a distance of more than 630,000 km into space; more than twice the distance from the Earth to the Moon. A new study from Russia's Space Research Institute studied the Earth's geocorona, a vast cloud of hydrogen atoms that extends out from the Earth. Of course, it's incredibly sparse, so don't try to breathe it.


Antarctica is About to Unleash an Iceberg Twice the Size of New York City

A huge ice shelf in Antarctica is about to give birth... to an iceberg. There are huge cracks running through the Brunt Ice Shelf, and the way they're intersecting shows that they're about unleash an enormous iceberg, twice the size of New York City. It'll be 1700 square kilometers, which sounds huge, but that's medium-sized for Antarctica. The bad news is that it's coming from a region that we've never seen produce an iceberg this big.

Martian river

Signs that Ancient Rivers Flowed Across the Surface of Mars, Billions of Years Ago

Mars is cold and dead today, but billions of years ago, it was probably warmer and wetter, with rivers and streams. And some of the evidence of this is carved into the Martian landscape. In a recent photograph taken by the European Space Agency, you can see rivers that once flowed on Mars, with smaller tributaries that feed into the larger rivers. It must have looked amazingly different back then.

Falcon 9 launch

A Private Lunar Lander is On Its Way to the Moon

A thrice-used SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off on Thursday night carrying an Indonesian telecommunications satellite into orbit. On board the spacecraft was the smaller SpaceIL Beresheet lunar lander, which is now on its way to the Moon. If all goes well, it'll touch down on the surface of the Moon in 40 days, completing the challenge set out by the Google Lunar X Prize (although, the prize has since been cancelled).

Other Interesting Space Stuff

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Just look at the stunning details in this photograph of the Tadpole Nebula captured by @redstickastro. Most impressive is how this image was shot in fairly light-polluted skies and bad seeing in Louisiana. 

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