Friday, March 29, 2019

🚀 NASA on the Moon by 2024? India Destroys a Satellite, SpaceX Starship in all its Glory, Von Neumann Space Battles? And More...


20 Years of Universe Today

On March 22, 1999, I officially started up the Universe Today website, becoming an amateur science journalist. Little did I realize at the time that this would become my actual career, leading to more writing, podcasting, video creation, software development, public speaking, and even book writing and publishing. Eventually I could earn enough revenue from advertising, patrons and sponsorships to actually pay my salary.

It's been an incredible time, and I love my job more and more every day that goes by. I get to talk with astronomers, physicists and even astronauts, many of them on a daily or weekly basis as they work on shows and projects with me.

I haven't done this alone, of course. Dozens of writers, video creators, photographers, and other creators have come along for the journey, helping me with the site, our videos and podcasts. Really there are too many to name, and many have gone on to run their own websites, videos and news. 

Thank you to all the readers, listeners, viewers and fans who have come along on this journey with us. I hope we have been able to bring you entertainment and knowledge about this wonderful Universe around us.

Here's to 20 more years... at least.

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

P.S. Want to see what the website looked like in the beginning? I was able to find an old archive.org snapshot from 1999

As always, if you have comments or questions, or suggestions on how I can improve this newsletter, please don't hesitate to reply this email or email me at info@universetoday.com.

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Mars airplane

Soaring Above Mars. Airplanes, Helicopters and Balloons on the Red Planet

Aircraft make some of the best platforms for science here on Earth. From weather balloons to study the high atmosphere to aircraft that fly into the hearts of hurricanes. From surveys of Antarctic ice sheets to drones. 

So it makes sense to consider missions to any world in the Solar System with an atmosphere. Balloons to Venus and helicopters to Titan.

But one world that's been the most seriously considered for exploration by air is Mars.

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White House Wants Boots on the Moon by 2024

This week US Vice President Mike Pence announced that he'd like NASA to really put in some effort and return humans to the surface of the Moon by 2024. This isn't impossible, but considering the current state of US space exploration hardware like the Space Launch System and Orion Capsule, it's going to be... hard, especially with current NASA funding levels. Phil Plait explains why this is going to be tough, and maybe even dangerous.


But the Current Space Exploration Plans Create a Lot of Jobs

The real problem with such an aggressive schedule of returning to the Moon, of course, is the number of US jobs in many states that rely on NASA contracts: ground launch systems in Florida, rocket testing in Mississippi and Alabama. In fact, there are people in all 50 states that work on various aspects of the current plan. Eric Berger explains why this is a political Gordian Knot that will need to be untied if 2024 stands any chance of succeeding. 


ISS Doesn't Have Enough Smaller Spacesuits on Board

The hope was for an all-female spacewalking team during the current space station mission. But it turns out there's only one medium torso section that will fit Christina Koch and Anne McClain. Until they can get a second suit configured, the astronauts will need to take turns wearing the one suit that fits for their various spacewalking assignments.


SpaceX Releases a New Render of What the All-Steel Starship Will Look Like Returning to Earth

Oooh, shiny. We've had to see those old renders of the Interplanetary Transport System and the Big Freaking Rocket. Finally, SpaceX has revealed what the Starship will look like in all its stainless steel glory. Just look at the glinting steel as the enormous reusable rocket plunges through the Earth's atmosphere, bleeding fuel to carry the heat away. Now we just need to see the thing actually fly.

Bedrest and spin

Bedrest and Spin. Testing the Benefits of Artificial Gravity

In order to deal with the downsides of weightlessness, astronauts need to exercise all the time. ESA and NASA have started a new bedrest study where volunteers spend time in bed, and then time in a centrifuge that mimics Earth gravity. Will this make us healthier in space? No plans to send them to space yet, but it's a good start to learn more about ways to deal with the health issues of spaceflight.


Maybe Self-Replicating Robot Probes are Destroying Each Other. That's Why We Don't See Them

The Universe is big, old and full of stars and yet we don't see any aliens. In fact, we don't see any alien robotic spacecraft - Von Neumann Probes - either. One new theory is that these probes are out there, but there's a battle between competing teams of robotic missions, destroying each other as they travel from star to star. We should keep an eye on that as we launch our own to explore the Milky Way in the future.

Mars river

Rivers on Mars Flowed for More than a Billion Years

Mars is bone dry today, but astronomers think that it was warmer and wetter in the ancient past. But for how long? New evidence published this week is that river activity on Mars was intense, with huge rivers much wider than anything we have on Earth raging at hundreds of locations across the planet. And it looks like they were active for much longer than anyone thought, even a billion years.

Mars house

Your Future Home on the Moon or Mars Might Look like these Winners of a NASA Competition

When we finally return to the Moon or set foot on Mars, future explorers will need a place to live. And what better than to use locally sourced building materials like lunar or martian regolith? NASA recently held a competition where they asked designers to figure out structures that would work well with the stuff on hand. And these were the designs they came up with.


Newly Upgraded LIGO and Virgo are on the Hunt for Gravitational Waves Again

No, this isn't a joke. On April 1, 2019, the newly upgraded LIGO and Virgo facilities will begin searching the Universe for the telltale signs of massive objects crashing into each other: gravitational waves. Their new improvements give the detectors a 40% improvement over their last run, which means that they should make detections much more frequently.

Space station

An Space Experiment Proved Earth Life can Survive on Mars

I know, I say this all the time. Mars is the worst. So bad that Earth life doesn't stand a chance surviving on the Red Planet without some help. Actually, it turns out there are a few forms of life which are able to handle the thin carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars right now. This was proven by an experiment on board the International Space Station, which exposed bacteria to the simulated conditions of Mars. 

Satellite target

India Proves it can Destroy Satellites

India announced this week that it had successfully tested an anti-satellite system, destroying a target as it passed above the country. This makes India the 4th nation capable of destroying a satellite from the ground, after the US, Russia and China. Of course, experts are concerned about the space debris from the destruction, although it's expected to return to Earth fairly rapidly and burn up in the atmosphere.

Space Butterfly

Space Butterfly is a Star Factory

Just an excuse to share an amazing photograph, this time of the star-forming nebula Westerhout 40 (W40) as captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. This is a region located about 1,400 light-years from Earth, about the same distance as the famous Orion Nebula. Stars are forming in this nebula with at least 10 times the mass of the Sun, and will detonate as supernova in the future.

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday


There's something absolutely wonderful about the Pleiades star cluster. It's easy to spot in the sky, it looks great in binoculars or a small telescope, and with a long exposure astrophoto, you get all this subtle nebulosity. Here's a great photo taken by @brett_bkbees

We have featured nearly 1,000 astrophotographers on our Instagram page, which has more than 163,000 followers. Want to do a takeover? Use the hashtag #universetoday and I'll check out your photos.


Our book!

Find your way across the night sky. Choose a variety of astronomy gear. Follow the Moon and the planets. Find deep sky objects across the seasons in both hemispheres. Observe comets, asteroids, satellites and space stations. Learn to do astrophotography.

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ESO — La Silla Observatory turns 50! — Organisation Release eso1906

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ESO News
29 March 2019

Since its inauguration in 1969, ESO's La Silla Observatory has been at the forefront of astronomy. Its suite of state-of-the-art instruments has allowed astronomers to make ground-breaking discoveries and paved the way for future generations of telescopes. Even after 50 years of observations, ESO's telescopes at La Silla continue to push the boundaries of astronomy, discovering alien worlds and unveiling the cosmos in breathtaking detail.

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29 March 2019


Concealing the Cosmos — Why light pollution makes it difficult for astronomers to observe on location

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