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SpaceX

SpaceX To Begin Training Astronauts For First Private Spacewalk

This month, the four-person crew for SpaceX’s next mission — Polaris Dawn — will begin training for the first ever commercial extravehicular activity (EVA), set to take place 500 kilometers above Earth. The flight will also see the debut of SpaceX’s new spacesuits, which are upgraded to help better protect the wearers during their spacewalk.

Hubble Space Telescope Captures Most Distant Star Ever Recorded; 28 Billion Light-Years Away

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a single star that is 28 billion light-years away, the furthest it’s ever captured a glimpse of. The star could be between 50 to 500 times bigger than our sun, and is likely millions of times brighter, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

Astronomers Discover New Type Of ‘Freak Star’ Formed By Rare Stellar Event 

Astronomers have discovered a new type of “freak star” covered in helium-burning ashes, which is believed to have formed by a rare stellar merger event. 

A German team of experts were looking for “hot stars” in Arizona using a Large Binocular Telescope when they came across two stars with unusual properties. The stars are known as PG1654+322 and PG1528+025, and are about 10,000 and 25,000 light years away from Earth within our galaxy. 

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The experts reported “while normal star surfaces are composed of hydrogen and helium, these newly-found stars are covered in great quantities of carbon and oxygen – the by-product of helium nuclear fusion. Astonishingly high abundances of both carbon and oxygen – each accounting for around 20 percent of surface composition for both stars.”

“Stars that are covered in this much carbon and oxygen usually have finished nuclear fusion reactions that take place at their core. However, temperatures and diameters of the two newly-discovered stars indicate that helium nuclei continue to fuse inside them – an unprecedented finding,” the experts reported. 

The research was conducted by a team of astronomers, led by Professor Klaus Werner of the University of Tübingen, and published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

“We normally expect stars with the chemical surface composition of the stars discovered to have completed the helium fusion in their centers and to be in the final stages of becoming white dwarfs,” said Professor Werner. 

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“These new stars are a severe challenge to our understanding of stellar evolution. Carbon and oxygen are normal in old stars that are fusing helium, but only in their cores. So it is extremely unusual to see them in large quantities at their surface.” 

“We believe that the stars discovered by our German colleagues were formed by a very rare type of merging between two white dwarfs,”said Miller Bertolami, author of a second companion paper by astronomers, also published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

“White dwarfs are the remnants of larger stars that have exhausted their nuclear fuel, and are typically very small and dense,” he explained. 

There are currently no stellar evolutionary models that can fully explain how exactly these new stars were formed and why, which could create a whole new binary for scientists to work off of when it comes to new star discoveries. 

The two stars will continue to be monitored as a part of the larger-scale research the team is doing to track down short-lived, hot stars. This research should also help the team better understand what exactly these stars endured in order to evolve into what they are currently.

Object Discovered In The Milky Way Is ‘Unlike Anything Astronomers Have Ever Seen’ 

Australian scientists and researchers have discovered a strange object spinning in the Milky Way, which they claim to be unlike anything astronomers have ever seen before. 

The object was first discovered by a university student who was working on his undergraduate thesis. The initial discovery showed that the object releases a huge burst of radio energy three times every hour. 

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“The pulse comes every 18.18 minutes, like clockwork,” said astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the investigation after the student’s discovery, using a telescope in the Western Australian outback known as the Murchison Widefield Array.

Pulsars are an example of other objects in the universe that are known for switching on and off when they release energy, however, Hurley-Walker states that 18.18 minutes is a frequency that has never been recorded before. 

“Finding this object was kind of spooky for an astronomer because there’s nothing known in the sky that does that.” 

The research team is currently working on understanding what exactly it is that they discovered. As they continued to compile and observe data, they came to the conclusion that the object is about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, is incredibly bright, and has an incredibly strong magnetic field. 

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“If you do all of the mathematics, you find that they shouldn’t have enough power to produce these kinds of radio waves every 20 minutes. It just shouldn’t be possible,” Hurley-Walker said.

The object could potentially be something known as an “ultra-long period magnetar,” which researchers have only theorized about existing in the past. It could also be a white dwarf, which would make it a remnant of a collapsed star. 

“But that’s quite unusual as well. We only know of one white dwarf pulsar, and nothing as great as this,” Hurley-Walker said.

“Of course, it could be something that we’ve never even thought of—it could be some entirely new type of object.”

“I was concerned that it was aliens. But the research team was able to observe the signal across a wide range of frequencies. That means it must be a natural process, this is not an artificial signal. More detections will tell astronomers whether this was a rare one-off event or a vast new population we’d never noticed before,” Hurley-Walker said.

The team’s paper on the object has been published in the latest edition of the journal Nature.

Planets in Sky

Planet 10 Times As Massive As Jupiter Discovered Orbiting Around Two Giant Stars

The boundlessness and mystery of space always opens up the possibilities of new discoveries at any moment – and the newest one is changing the way scientists are looking at planet-hosting stars.

A study in the journal Nature revealed a giant planet has been found orbiting a young binary star system, called b Centauri, about 325 light-years away from Earth. The newly found planet, named b Centauri (AB)b or b Centauri b, is about 10 times as massive as Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system.

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“Finding a planet around b Centauri was very exciting since it completely changes the picture about massive stars hosting planets,” the study’s lead author Markus Jansen, an astronomer at Stockholm University, said.

b Centauri b was discovered using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), along with the mounted Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE). According to the ESO, b Centauri has six times the mass of the Sun, which makes it the most massive system where a planet has been discovered. It also becomes the hottest planet-hosting system, and is three times as hot as the Sun.

The discovery is notable, as it disapproved a belief that B-type stars — which possess surface temperatures between 10,000 to 30,000k — couldn’t support a sizeable planet due to their nature. “B-type stars are generally considered as quite destructive and dangerous environments. It was believed that it should be exceedingly difficult to form large planets around them,” Jansen explained.

The observatory said that b Centauri b’s orbit is one of the widest that have ever been discovered – it has a distance 100 times greater than Jupiter from the sun. Taking into account the binary B-Star’s harshness, b Centauri b’s orbital distance could be necessary for it in order for it to avoid the intense emitted radiation.

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This isn’t the first time that b Centuari has been captured – Imaging of it was actually done nearly 20 years ago by another telescope, but it was not recognized as a planet at the time.

b Centuari b now becomes the latest exoplanet, or a planet outside of the Solar System, to be discovered. To date, 4,576 exoplanets have been located, while there have been 3,393 systems with confirmed planets found.

Speaking to ESO, study co-author and Stockholm University PhD student Gayathri Viswanath emphasized just how different the environment of b Centauri b is from what we know and experience on Earth and in our system.

“It’s a harsh environment, dominated by extreme radiation, where everything is on a gigantic scale: the stars are bigger, the planet is bigger, the distances are bigger.”

Jansen noted that it’s currently a mystery as to how b Centauri b formed, but said that finding out the answer will be an “intriguing task.” ESO explained that with upgrades to the VLT and the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) to start making observations within the decade, more about b Centauri b, such as its formations and features, will be studied.

Jasen said in an email to NBC News that the discovery has motivated him and his team to expand on a survey titled BEAST, which is currently examining 85 similar stars. Jasen also acknowledged his belief that the field will see an increased search intensity for high-mass stars in order to confirm planets and characterize them.

Space Debris Could ‘Completely Wipe Out’ International Space Station 

This week a Russian missile test blasted a decommissioned Kosmos spy satellite into more than 1,500 pieces of space debris, alerting the seven-person crew on the International Space Station (ISS), who were woken up to an alarm for potential emergency collision with the debris. 

The astronauts aboard the ISS were told to shelter in transport capsules that initially brought them to the ISS, while the station passed by the debris several times within multiple hours. Luckily the ISS was left damage-free after the incident, however, NASA is calling out Russia after the potentially fatal event. 

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Space debris like the kind floating in the atmosphere from Russia’s recent missile test can travel at speeds of more than 17,500 miles-per-hour, and even scrap metal the size of a pea could be potentially deadly when it’s that close to the Earth. 

“It doesn’t take a very large hole to basically explode the space station. In fact, a hole measuring just 0.5 inches (1.3 centimeters) wide could cause irreparable structural damage that could completely wipe out the space station,” said John Crassidis, a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the University at Buffalo in New York who works with NASA to monitor space debris.

NASA currently is tracking more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris that measure larger than a softball. It uses computer models to estimate the positions of millions of smaller pieces of junk that are too tiny to be seen. 

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The ISS has changed courses 25 times since 1999 specifically to avoid debris. The craft is covered in more than 100 impact shields known as Whipple Shields, to protect it from any smaller unknown pieces of clutter. 

“However, where the ISS itself is well protected from incoming projectiles, the astronauts who crew and maintain it are not — and that is where the biggest risk lies. Even an encounter with the smallest piece of orbital debris could kill an astronaut on the spot. Space suits are not protected at all,” Crassidis said.

“Imagine a marble going 17,000 miles per hour at you — it would go right through you, like a bullet.”

“Unfortunately, there are no international laws preventing nations from conducting low-orbit missile tests like the one Russia just did. It may take an astronaut getting seriously injured or even killed before the world takes the space junk problem seriously,” Crassidis added.

NASA will continue to monitor the debris cloud as closely as possible.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Makes Second Launch, With William Shanter In Tow

William Shatner, the actor who portrayed Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, took method acting to another level by becoming the latest celebrity to reach space – albeit just for around 10-15 minutes.

The Enterprise commander caught a ride on a Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, which launched Wednesday morning at 10 a.m ET. Shatner was joined by former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen, Dassault Systemes executive Glen de Vries, and Blue Origin vice president Audrey Powers.

According to Yahoo! News, Boshuizen and de Vries reportedly spent more than $250,000 on tickets, while Shatner was invited to join the flight by Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The flight, named NS-18, was originally intended to launch on Tuesday morning, but was postponed due to forecasted winds as Blue Origin explained in a press release. Cnet gave a brief overview of how a flight like this operates after launch.

“A few minutes into the flight, the capsule will separate from the booster and continue on to suborbital space, where the crew will get to experience weightlessness and an epic view of Earth before reentering the atmosphere for a parachute-assisted soft landing in the desert.”

The flight took the crew about 62 miles above Earth. At 90 years old, Shatner now becomes the oldest person to reach space. In a statement, Shatner explained that he’s “heard about space for a long time now” while calling his opportunity a miracle.

This is the second Blue Origin launching, with the first occurring back on July 20. That trip included Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, progressive aviator Wally Funk (who briefly held the title of the oldest person to reach space), and 18-year-old Oliver Daemon, Blue Origin’s first paying customer.

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Shatner’s trip is just the latest in what has essentially become the one percent’s space race. Prior to Bezos’ flight, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, along with five other passengers, launched in SpaceShipTwo — a winged plane instead of a rocket — on July 12.

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX is making progress, and Musk has already voiced his desire to colonize Mars.

This kind of space exploration has become a heavily debated topic. Many would argue that prioritizing space and science helps to spark a new generation’s interest, answer questions, provide us with new and greater resources, and possibly lead us to untouched horizons.

However, critics have scolded Bezos and Branson for their tone-deafness — Bezos bizarrely thanked Amazon workers for making him enough money to fly to space after his launch — and their spending of over $200 billion that could be better used by helping those going through unprecedented crises on Earth.

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Speaking to Salon, University of California-Berkeley professor of psychology Dacher Keltner explained that the reason millionaires and billionaires have become so absorbed with space is due to them trying to reach a “mystical” status.

Keltner also states that throughout history, there have been similar trends such as this (although certainly not comparable to the magnitude of money or technology happening here).

“They love to gravitate to things that give them this singular status in the world, and I think that’s one of the massive problems of privilege.”

Additionally, University of North Carolina associate professor Joseph Czabovsky told NPR that this kind of zealous marketing attempt, while successful, runs the risk of alienating the public’s view into thinking that space is only for the privileged and wealthy.

While space tourism has been hotly pursued by Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and other companies, the average person might have to wait longer before they can hope on a rocket and see the boundless space and stars for themselves.

18-Year-Old To Become Youngest Person In Space Alongside Jeff Bezos On Blue Origin Trip 

Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, has announced its first paying customer. Oliver Daemen is an 18-year-old Dutch teenager who is about to be the youngest person to ever travel to space. 

Daemen will be joining Jeff and his brother Mark Bezos, as well as pilot Wally Funk on July 20th.

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Funk will also be breaking the record for oldest individual to go to space at 82-years-old. Funk is famous for being a member of Mercury 13, a group of all female pilots who, in the 1960’s, underwent testing to determine whether women could handle space travel or not. Even though the group of women performed just as well as NASA’s Mercury 7, the male counterpart to Mercury 13, they were rejected for being women. 

Funk is breaking the age record previously set by astronaut and senator John Glenn who traveled to space in 1998 at the age of 77. Daemen will be breaking the record previously set by Ghermon Titov, who was just 25 when he went into space for a four month mission. 

The Federal Aviation Administration approved of the Blue Origin launch this Monday, just one say after billionaire Richard Branson flew to the edge of space aboard his rocket-powered vehicle developed by Virgin Galactic. 

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Virgin Galactic, like Blue Origin, plans to start flying paying customers up to the edge of space. Daemen was able to secure his spot on Blue Origin after the individual who won an auction for a seat on the rocket had to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts. The original individual paid $28 million for the oppurtunity. 

“We thank the auction winner for their generous support of Club for the Future and are honored to welcome Oliver to fly with us on New Shepard. This marks the beginning of commercial operations for New Shepard, and Oliver represents a new generation of people who will help us build a road to space,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said.

“I am super excited to be going to space and joining Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk on the first Blue Origin crewed flight.”

A Blue origin spokesperson told the media that Daemen “was a participant in the auction and had secured a seat on the second flight. We moved him up when this seat on the first flight became available,” the spokesperson said.

NASA Researching Bigger Helicopter For More-Detailed Exploration Of Mars

NASA currently uses the Mars helicopter known as Ingenuity to capture images and data on the Red Planet. Now, the agency has announced that they are quietly researching a bigger and better helicopter to navigate through Mars’s rough terrain. Teddy Tzanetos, a NASA robotics technologist, discussed the new spacecraft in a recent interview:

“We’re trying to look at building on the success of Ingenuity, and what we could accomplish with a larger, more capable aircraft to Mars in terms of the science we could do and the distances we could go.”

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The new aircraft is set to be a larger version of Ingenuity, which has two rotors while the new version is equipped with a much larger helicopter that contains six rotors. NASA is continuously studying the limits of Ingenuity in terms of its speed and distance. 

A larger helicopter could be beneficial due to the fact that it could carry more equipment to analyze the composition of Mars. 

The research paper on the new aircraft lists three possible destinations: “Mawrth Vallis, a valley in which NASA has detected evidence of water movement in the past; Milankovič Crater, which could harbor large water ice deposits, and Lucus Planum, a relatively flat area around which some researchers believe a helicopter could help determine when Mars lost its magnetic field and also survey volcanic flows.”

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NASA is planning on sending another aircraft to Mars in 2026 to collect rock samples that are currently being drilled by the Perseverance rover. The next time Mars will be close enough to Earth for a rocket launch will be December 2022. 

“Many people who study Mars exploration say waiting much longer than that would be a shame. I think they would be very foolish to stall it that long. I think a few years from now, people will ask why are you sending something to Mars that can’t fly, since we know it’s possible now,” said Robert Zubrin, president of the non-profit Mars Society, which advocates for exploration of the Red Planet.

NASA also recently announced that Ingenuity has so far provided valuable tools that engineers can use to navigate where to send Perseverance. Zubrin believes that NASA should specifically sent an aircraft through the Valles Marineris, the largest known canyon in the solar system.

“The Valles Marineris has a lot of deposits that were probably ancient lakes on the bottom. A helicopter could explore the walls of the canyon vertically and laterally. That would serve science and build public fascination. I think this opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities. You’d want to go to exciting places geologically that you couldn’t get to with the rovers, which is a lot of terrain,” said Ray Arvidson, a professor of Earth and Planetary Services.

Abstract Outer Space

Bidder Pays $28 Million To Go To Space With Jeff Bezos 

Jeff Bezos made headlines last week when he announced that he would be going into space with his brother as a part of his space company’s first mission into the atmosphere. Now, one lucky bidder has paid their way to share a seat on the Blue Origin spacecraft set to launch into space on July 20th. 

The bidder, whose identity has not been announced, ended up paying $28 million for a seat on Blue Origin. Initially, 20 active bidders started fighting for the seat with an opening bid of $4.8 million, but bids didn’t really escalate until the final three minutes of the sale. 

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Around 7,600 people from 159 different countries initially registered to bid for the seat. The automated flight is set to be 11-minutes and will be the company’s 16th flight into space. This is, however, the first time the Blue Origin craft will be carrying humans. The capsule will carry up to 6 passengers and will lift off from Van Horn, Texas in July. 

It has not yet been revealed who else would be on the flight besides Bezos and his brother Mark. Bezos made the announcement that he would be entering into space after he steps down as Amazon’s chief executive officer.

“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space. On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

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Bezos has spent approximately $1 billion a year to fund Blue Origin, which initially was founded in 2000. This most recent development in travel marks the first step in what is likely to become a major sector of our economy for the world’s wealthiest in the future; space tourism. 

Bezos has been competing with the likes of Elon Musk and his company SpaceX who has also made it clear that he would like to bring humans to the moon within the next decade. 

In order to take flight on the Blue Origin flight. Passengers must be between 5 foot and 6 foot 4 inches tall, and must weigh between 110 – 223 pounds. They need to be able to climb seven flights of stairs at the launch tower within 90 seconds and be able to stay strapped in the vehicle for up to 90 minutes without access to a bathroom. 

Blue Origin announced that the $28 million bid will be donated to the company’s charity foundation, Club For The Future, which has a mission to “inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and the help invent the future of life in space.”