Friday, March 22, 2019

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🚀 New Plans for Space Launch System, SpaceX Starship Tests, Asteroid Ejecting Material into Space and More...


Asteroid Bennu Surprises Everyone With its Outbursts. Ryugu is Weird too

NASA released an update on their OSIRIS-REx mission this week, showing images of material being blasted off the surface of asteroid Bennu. In fact, during the single month that the spacecraft was approaching Bennu, it kicked off material 11 times, some of which actually escaped the asteroid's gravity well. Nobody ever expected an asteroid to be this, uh, active.

Not only that, but it turns out that Bennu is covered in enormous boulders. So many large boulders that mission planners are actually having a rough time finding a safe landing spot that's free of large hazards. It looks like the actual sample collection maneuver is going to be a nailbiter.

Across the Solar System at another space rock, Hayabusa2 turned up some surprises at asteroid Ryugu. It turns out the asteroid is completely parched, almost devoid of the water they were expecting to see. The asteroid has a surprisingly low density, however, which means that it probably has a lot of empty space in between crushed up rocks. It's not a single solid rock as we originally believed,, and could force astronomers to reconsider how water got to the early Earth. Fascinating.

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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Mars Landing

The Incredible Challenge of Landing Heavy Payloads On Mars

It's too bad Mars is such an interesting place, because it's actually one of the most difficult places to visit in the Solar System, especially if you want to bring along a lot of luggage. That planet is a graveyard of missions that didn't quite make it.

As our ambitions grow, and we think about exploring Mars with humans - maybe even future colonists - we're going to need to solve one of the biggest problems in space exploration.

Successfully landing heavy payloads on the surface of Mars is really really hard to do.

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Progress for the Skylon. Europe Agrees to Continue Working on the Air-Breathing SABRE Engine

One of the most exciting ideas is spaceflight is the Skylon, with its revolutionary air-breathing SABRE engine. It would take off from a regular runway like an airplane, use oxygen from the atmosphere to combust its fuel, and then switch to a traditional rocket engine once it gets to a high enough altitude. Then it could return to Earth and land on a regular runway. And good news, Europe has agreed to continue working on this vehicle.

Dust Devils

Look at the Paths of all These Dust Devils Crisscrossing the Martian Surface

I love this photograph taken by the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. It shows a region of Mars that's crosscrossed by dust devils. Of course, they're not actually blue, but the colors have been enhanced to show the paths the dust devils take. ExoMars arrived at Mars in 2016, and performed aerobraking to get into its final science orbit almost a year ago. 


SLS Rocket Promises To Do Better

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made the stunning announcement last week that NASA was considering other launchers to send humans back to the Moon instead of the budget gobbling Space Launch System. Scott Manley explains what the changes are being proposed to SLS to match its evolving mission, and what other launchers could actually send humans to the Moon.

Habitable zone

Which Habitable Zones are the Best to Actually Search for Life?

Around every star there's a region where the temperatures are just right where liquid water could be present. But all habitable zones aren't created equally. Some are more, um, habitable than others. When we do start finding more planets in the habitable zones of their parent stars, which ones should we be studying the most?

Big Bounce

If The Universe Ends In A Big Crunch, Will All Of Space Recollapse?

One idea for the end of the Universe is that the mutual gravity of everything will pull everything together into a "Big Crunch". But will this also include spacetime itself? And will it lead to another Big Bang? Ethan Siegel from Starts with a Bang explains.


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.


SpaceX Tests the Starship's Hexagonal Heatshield. Starhopper Tests Could Come as Early as This Week

It looks like we're getting closer and closer to a live fire test of the new SpaceX Starhopper spacecraft. The scaled down prototype of the Starship heavy lift rocket. A methane-powered raptor engine has been attached to the prototype, and we could see tests this week. SpaceX also released videos of its heat tiles getting tested, demonstrating how the stainless steel acts under high heat.

Comet impact

Almost 13,000 Years Ago, a Comet Impact Set Everything on Fire

12,800 years ago, the Earth went through a cold snap that wasn't connected to an ice age. There's new evidence now that a comet smashed into the Earth, lighting 10% of the world's forests on fire. The ash from this event went into the atmosphere and caused a global winter that lasted for years. That must have been a very bad day.

Moon mission

Six People Have Begun a 122-Day Simulated Mission on the Moon

The race to return to the Moon is heating up, with several missions in the planning stages. To help work on the logistics of a long-term stay on the Moon, a team of 6 cosmonauts have been sealed into a simulated Moon base in Russia. For the next 122 days they'll live and work as if they're on the Moon, including a 3-day simulated journey to the simulated base.


Pulsar Seen Speeding Away from the Supernova that Created it

I guarantee that this photograph is going to blow your mind. You're looking at the expanding bubble of a supernova remnant that detonated about 10,000 years ago. At the lower left you can see a pulsar speeding away from the explosion, leaving a trail in its wake as it passes through the interstellar medium. AMAZING.


LIGO Just Got a Big Upgrade, Will Begin Searching for Gravitational Waves Again on April 1st

Have you noticed that we haven't heard news about gravitational wave discoveries recently? That's because the twin LIGO observatories have been down for a much-needed upgrade. When they do return to service on April 1st, the observatories could detected gravitational waves on an "almost daily" basis.

Landing site

This is where Israel's Beresheet mission is going to land

Beresheet, the first privately built lunar lander from Israel is continuing its journey to the Moon. It just made a successful course correction, putting it right on target to land on the Moon in a region that's both safe and scientifically interesting. If everything continues to go well, it'll enter orbit in early April and then prepare for its final landing on the surface of the Moon.

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday


Spring is here! Are you ready to say goodbye to Orion and other Winter constellations? Here's one last amazing look at the Orion constellation, including bright Betelgeuse and the Orion Nebula taken by @nathaniel_child.

We have featured nearly 1,000 astrophotographers on our Instagram page, which has more than 162,000 followers. Want to do a takeover? Use the hashtag #universetoday and I'll check out your photos.


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