Friday, March 15, 2019

🚀 Opportunity's Final Picture, Using Black Holes for Space Travel, New Mass for the Milky Way, and More...


White House Budget Slashes NASA Projects, SLS Might Not Take Astronauts to the Moon

It's been a rough week in space news, but if you're not a policy wonk, you might not have heard what's happening. The White House administration released their proposed budget for 2020, including money for NASA. Several missions were cut, including WFIRST, and NASA's education and STEM outreach. Other projects were scaled back. If you want a more detailed analysis of what happened, I highly recommend you check out this story from Dr. Kim Cartier

But one of the big events this week was the stunning announcement from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine that they're considering using commercial rockets for sending humans to the Moon, and not SLS. At $2 billion/year in development costs and a launch cost of $1 billion, SLS will be a very expensive rocket to produce. Launching a mission like Europa Clipper on a Falcon Heavy could save NASA $700 million. In other words, a free mission.

Needless to say, with this announcement, things are going to get very very interesting in the human launch space.

Stay tuned.

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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Phil Torres

Open Space: Existential Risks With Phil Torres

This was a very different interview, but one of my favorites. I got a chance to speak with one of the few researchers in the world considering the potential of existential risk; events that could wipe out humanity forever. It sounds like a dark conversation, but it was pretty fun and lighthearted considering the subject matter. I think you'll enjoy it.

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Milky Way

A Newer, More Accurate Measurement Sets the Mass of the Milky Way at 1.5 Trillion Solar Masses

How much does the Milky Way, uh, weigh? Thanks to new observations from the Gaia space telescope, astronomers have pegged it at 1.5 trillion times the mass of the Sun within a 125,000 light-year radius distance from the center. This was actually a really difficult number to estimate, requiring data from Gaia as well as the Hubble Space Telescope.

Earth and Jupiter

Jupiter or Earth? Which One's Which and Why do They Look So Similar?

Look at these two pictures side-by-side and marvel at just how similar they look. One is our own familiar home planet Earth and the other is the gas giant Jupiter, with 2.5 times more mass than the rest of the Solar System. But they both have these beautiful swirling structures on their surface. What makes them look so similar?

Dark matter

Massive Photons Could Explain Dark Matter, But Don't

Have you heard the news that photons could explain the missing mass in the Universe, aka dark matter? Well, it's a nice idea, but probably wrong, as Dr. Paul Sutter explains on Universe Today. 


This is What It'll Look Like When the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies Collide Billions of Years from Now

In a few billion years from now, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are going to smash into each other, beginning the process of merging together. What would we expect to see when it happens? Fortunately the Hubble Space Telescope has shown us an example of two other galaxies, millions of light years away, going through this exact process.

Solar System

New Rings of Dust Discovered in the Inner Solar System

Saturn has rings, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune have rings. Well, it turns out the Sun has rings too. Astronomers recently discovered new rings of dust at the same orbits as Mercury and Venus. They're probably caused by crushed up remains of asteroids left over from the formation of the Solar System.


This Star has been Kicked Out of the Milky Way. It Knows What It Did.

Every now and then the Milky Way asks a star to leave. Okay, it doesn't ask, it violently throws it out of the galaxy. Stars like this are known as hypervelocity stars, and they can be travelling more than 500 km/s, beyond the escape velocity of the Milky Way. What causes these kinds of events? They can come from binary pairs of stars, where one goes supernova, or from interactions with the supermassive black hole at the middle of the Milky Way.

Messier cluster

Hubble Photo Confirms that Globular Cluster Messier 28 is Full of Stars

Okay fine, this story is really just an opportunity for me to post an amazing picture of one of my favorite objects in the Universe: a globular star cluster. This amazing photo was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and shows how these ancient structures contain a lot of stars in a relatively dense region. Can you imagine what it would be like to be standing on one of those stars and look up at the night sky?

Iridium Era

The Iridium Flare Era is About to End

Have you ever been watching the sky and seen something brighten up to become one of the brightest stars in the sky and then fade away again? Chances are you were seeing the glint off an Iridium communications satellite. What's most amazing about them is that you can predict when they're going to happen and seem like a magician when you predict one. Except the age of Iridium flares is almost over.

Solar System

Ready to Have Your Mind Blown? On Average, Mercury is the Closest Planet to Earth

Venus is the closest planet to Earth, right? Well actually, if you chart the distance to each of the planets, Mercury is the one that spends the most time closest to Earth. In fact, Mercury is the closest planet (on average) to pretty much everything else in the Solar System. Read this fascinating article to see how the math works.

Surface of the Moon

China's Lunar Rover Wakes Up and Gets to Work for its 3rd Lunar Day

Thanks to the long lunar nights, China's Yutu-2 rover needs to conserve its energy, waking up on every lunar dawn to spend a little more time exploring the surface of the Moon. Lunar dawn came on March 4th, and in its first two days, the rover traveled only 7 meters, bringing its total distance to 127 meters. But it did take a bunch of pictures of rocks and the lunar surface. Keep working Yutu-2.

Black hole

Using Black Holes to Conquer Space: The Halo Drive!

The Voyager missions were able to travel so quickly through the Solar System thanks to gravitational slingshots past the planets. What if we could use a similar technique around some of the most extreme objects in the Universe? Black holes. Columbia University professor Dr. David Kipping has proposed a Halo Drive, which would use the momentum of photons traveling around a black hole to speed up a spaceship.


This is the Final Photograph from Opportunity

Well, this is it. The final image sent home by NASA's Opportunity Rover. It's a huge panorama of the region Oppy was exploring when the global Martian dust storm arrived, taking the rover offline. If you look at the biggest version of the image, you can see the dusty clouds of the incoming dust storm over on the left-hand side of the image. Farewell Opportunity, you will be missed.

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday


What a beautiful picture of a cave in Northern Minnesota taken by @chrisophurous. The illumination for the photo came from the light of Jupiter. Amazing!

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