Friday, November 8, 2019

🚀 November 8, 2019: New Glenn in LEGO, Mars 2020 Stands Up, New Pluto Orbiter Mission, the Universe is a Sphere? And More...


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Boeing's Starliner Performed its Abort Test Today. One Parachute Failed to Deploy

We've heard a lot about SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle, which will be carrying astronauts to the space station, but there's another vehicle in the works, Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. This week Boeing performed a pad abort test, to demonstrate that the vehicle has the ability to carry astronauts to safety in the event of a disaster with their rocket. The test went well, except only two of its three parachutes deployed.


Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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Can Life Spread From Star to Star? The Theory of Galactic Panspermia

The race is on to find life in other places in the Solar System, from underground reservoirs on Mars to the subsurface oceans on Europa and Enceladus. If spacecraft, rovers or even astronauts make the momentous discovery of life on another world, that'll just open up new questions. Did it originate all on its own, completely independently from Earth, or are we somehow related? And if we are related, how long ago did our evolutionary trees branch away from each other.

Even though Mars is millions of kilometers away, it could be possible that we're still related thanks to the concept of Panspermia; the idea that meteor impacts could transfer rocks and maybe even living creatures from world to world. But could you go one step further? If we find life on another star system, could we discover that we're actually related to them too?

Is Galactic Panspermia possible?

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Return to the Moon with Blue Origin's Rockets and Lunar Lander Made Out of LEGO

There's a natural connection between spaceflight and LEGO. I'm not sure what it is, but so many spacecraft have been immortalized in little plastic blocks. The latest vehicle to get the LEGO treatment is Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket. This set includes the launch tower, the rocket as well as the Blue Moon lunar lander and rovers. This isn't an official LEGO set yet, it's still getting votes on the LEGO Ideas website. 


Mars 2020 Stands Up on its Wheels For The First Time

Thanks to a live camera in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we're able to watch every step in the construction of the Mars 2020 rover. This week, the mostly assembled rover tested out its ability to support its full weight on its 6-wheels, and you can watch a timelapse video of exactly this. We're getting closer and closer to that 2020 launch date, where the rover blasts off from Cape Canaveral to join its twin Curiosity on the surface of Mars, searching for evidence of past life.


NASA is Now Considering a Pluto Orbiter Mission

New Horizons gave us our first view of Pluto, but it was a brief flyby, only showing one side of the world in any detail. It's time to go back, this time to stay. NASA is considering a new orbiter mission out to Pluto, one which might spend time in orbit and study it in detail, but also fly off to examine other objects in the Kuiper Belt. This isn't certain, it's just one of 10 missions being considered as part of the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey.


Asteroid Hygiea is Round Enough That it Could Qualify as a Dwarf Planet, the Smallest in the Solar System

Ceres was thought to be the only object with enough mass to be considered a "dwarf planet" in the main Asteroid Belt. But new observations of asteroid Hygeia show that this much smaller object is also quite round and might meet the qualifications for a dwarf planet. It's believed that Hygeia suffered a catastrophic impact in its early history, completely shattering it. Then the mutual gravity pulled all the pieces back together into a rough spere just 430 kilometers across.


The Lowest Mass Black Hole has Been Found, only 3.3 Times the Mass of the Sun

Astronomers think they've found the lowest mass black hole ever discovered, with just 3.3 times the mass of the Sun. The object was found in a binary system with a red giant star. Using the Doppler technique, astronomers were able to calculate the mass of the companion black hole so precisely. This is the first of a new class of extremely low-mass black holes, pretty much the lowest mass that a black hole can be, as well as a powerful new technique for finding more of them.


Our Guide to the November 11th, 2019 Transit of Mercury Across the Sun.

On Monday, November 11th, Mercury is going to pass directly in front of the Sun from our perspective, performing a rare transit of our star. This is the last time it'll happen in more than decade, so if you want to see it live, you'll want to get your plan organized. Of course, observing objects passing in front of the Sun can be dangerous, so read our guide to tell you when and where to look.


NASA Has a New Method For Cooling Down Electronics Crammed Together in a Spacecraft

You'd think that in the frigid cold of space, heat wouldn't be a big problem for spacecraft. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get rid of waste heat, and that defines how close you can pack together electronics in a spacecraft. NASA has developed a new method, using 3D circuitry, where electronics are stacked on top of each other with interconnecting wiring. It allows them to take up less space, consume less energy and they're easier to regulate heat.


China Targets Late 2020 for a Lunar Sample Return Mission

Everyone's focused on NASA's plans to return to the Moon, but China is sprinting towards that destination too. Recently we learned that the country is planning a sample return mission from the Moon which will fly in late 2020. Designated Chang'e-5, it will attempt to collect 2 kilograms of lunar samples from a site close to Mons Rumker, on the Western edge of the Moon. Additional Chang'e missions were also sketched out for the mid to late 2020s.


The First Stars Formed Very Quickly

How did the Universe go from almost entirely primordial hydrogen and helium left over from the Big Bang to the complex heavier elements we see today. Astronomers have new evidence that the first stars formed very quickly, just 100 million years after the beginning of the Universe itself. These monster stars lived short lives, building heavier elements in their cores before detonating as supernovae and scattering material into the Universe.


It Seems Impossible, But Somehow This Planet Survived its Star's Red Giant Phase

Astronomers have found a planet that shouldn't exist. Somehow, the planet survived the red giant phase, ending up in an orbit that would have had it inside the star when it was fully expanded. Instead of actually being engulfed, astronomers think the planet was pulled closer into the star through tidal interactions as it shrunk back down in its final death throws. This gives more hope that planets can live on, even after their star dies and becomes a white dwarf.


New Research Suggests that the Universe is a Sphere and Not Flat After All

What is the true shape of the Universe? Is it finite or does it go on forever? Until recently, astronomers weren't sure, and observations suggested that it was flat - parallel lines would remain parallel forever. But a new paper published in the journal Nature comes from astronomers who made observations in the cosmic microwave background radiation that suggests with 99% certainty that the Universe is actually closed after all, and not flat.


What Voyager 2 Learned After Spending a Year in Interstellar Space

Voyager 2 has now spent an entire year cruising in interstellar space, outside the region where the Sun's solar wind interacts with the stellar wind from all the other stars in galaxy. This has given scientists an opportunity to study this region independently from the observations made by Voyager 1 which is also in interstellar space. This week astronomers published a half-dozen papers on their findings.


NASA is Testing a Coating to Help Astronauts and Their Equipment Shed Dangerous Lunar Dust

When astronauts return to the Moon, the lunar dust is going to be a big problem. Created by constant micrometeorite bombardments, this dust is jagged and sharp and could cause all kinds of health issues for anyone living and working next to it. NASA is testing out a new kind of coating that might easily shed this clingy dust, reducing the amount that gets into future spacecraft and habitats.


This Artificial Leaf Turns Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

Plants pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, extract the carbon and use it to grow bigger. And now scientists think they've got a way to duplicate that process, creating an artificial leaf that can extract atmospheric carbon dioxide and turn it into something valuable like fuel. This could be another tool for combatting climate change. Although, planting billions of actual trees is another good way.


Could TESS have already seen Planet Nine?

Planet 9 is that mysterious object in the outer Solar System that's affecting other Kuiper Belt Objects with its gravity. But so far its actual location still hasn't been found. But it could be that NASA's TESS mission might be capable of finding it as a side project to its main job of finding exoplanets transiting their stars. Astronomers tested out this idea and were able to find other KBOs in the TESS data, so this might work.

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday


Andromeda Galaxy M31 by @bartn1k

This is a photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy, aka M31, which is currently speeding in our direction and will collide with the Milky Way in a few billion years. It's a tricky subject to photograph because the central core is so bright while you also want to show off the dust lanes and spiral arms. Great work from @bartn1k

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