June 21-27, 2016
Black Holes and Their Huge Appetites:
The University of Michigan, the University of Maryland, and NASA’s Goddard have witnessed a black hole consume a nearby star. Typically, these types of observations are difficult, if not impossible, to detect because black holes are usually dormant and we still can’t directly see them...But researchers DID observe the blackhole “shred the material of the star into an accretion disk as it feasted.” Coooooool.
Brexit and the Impacts on Space Travel:
As anyone following the news knows, the Brexit is negatively impacting the world’s economies, and the space travel economy is no different. The European Space Agency (ESA) was established long before the European Union (EU), so the UK’s exit from the EU doesn’t necessary mean they will withdraw from the ESA...but because the pound has lost significant value in the past week, it might mean their contributions to the ESA are going to slip, if not stop completely.
Colonizing Mars Just Got a Little Harder:
There is a TON of perchlorate (salt) on Mars. Most of the time, salt is a miracle worker. It allows water to exist on the Red Planet, it’s one of the main components of rocket propellants, and when broken down, it can even release oxygen. But too much salt is a bad thing...it can lead to an under active thyroid, which would be a real problem for anyone living on Mars. Just one more hurdle to jump in the Great Mars Colonization Plan of the 2030’s.
Deciphering Gravitational Wave Lengths:
The detection of gravitational wavelengths is still the biggest space news of the year...and now we understand a little more about the event that caused the first one back in December. We now have a theory that two giant stars “wormed as binaries and both exploded as supernovae.”
Driverless Cars? Not So Fast:
Driverless cars are all the tech rage in Silicon Valley, but maybe everyone is getting a little ahead of themselves. Driverless cars mean that a computer is operating the machine, and computers need to be programmed. Designers and engineers have come to a standstill over a moral dilemma: in the event of an emergency, who should the car try to save first, the passenger or the pedestrian?
Elizabethkingia Anopheles - Now Deadly:
A bacteria typically found in soil and water, is in on a rampage. Elizabethkingia anopheles has never before caused damage, but with outbreaks in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, it has now killed 30% of those infected. Scientists are puzzled and still don’t know how the disease is transmitted. Bacteria are taking over the world!
Fire in Space:
Using an unmanned cargo bay, NASA is purposefully setting fires in space. Why? To study how flames act, and react, in the great void of outer space. This will give NASA the ability to make more fire-safety friendly decisions, both in regards to flight design and equipment.
Hubble’s Five Year Extension:
Don’t expect Hubble to go dormant anytime soon! The space telescope's mission contract was just extended five years which will keep it active until June 30, 2021. “This contract extension covers the work necessary to continue the science program of the Hubble mission by the Space Telescope Science Institute.”
On July 4th, Juno is heading to Jupiter. The little spacecraft that could has been making its way toward the gas giant for almost five years, and when it gets there, will orbit Jupiter for 20 months. Juno will be the first spacecraft to fly less than 3,000 miles above the planet’s surface, meaning it will have to suffer the planet’s powerful magnetic field, an extremely harsh radiation environment.
The Laplace Equation:
Physics is an area of science that still goes way over my head...maybe I should enroll in a class so articles like this one make sense? But that doesn’t stop me from sharing the info with you!! This article talks about the Laplace Equation, an equation that supposedly explains everything, including space. Check it out!!
Lasers and Nuclear Fusion, Oh My!
Fusion is considered by many to be the energy of the future. Basically, if you get the atoms of an element hot enough, and then squeeze them together hard enough, energy is created. Currently fusion happens naturally in the center of stars - it’s how all elements were formed. But artificially creating nuclear fusion is really REALLY hard and the problem isn’t the level of heat, it’s the amount of pressure. The NIF (National Ignition Facility) is currently using lasers to try and solve the problem...but so far, have been unsuccessful.
Let’s Go Swimming on Pluto!
The Geophysical Research Letters has published evidence of oceans on Pluto. New Horizons, NASA’s spacecraft dedicated to the dwarf planet, observed tectonic activity on the surface, but contraction was missing, something that would have been present had the planet consisted totally of ice. The lack of contraction suggests that there is liquid, or at least slush, beneath its frozen outer shell.
Mysterious Little Chondrules:
“Chondrules are among the oldest pieces of planetary building blocks, formed roughly 4.6 billion years ago during the solar system’s first few million years.” For decades, scientists theorized that chondrules formed from lightning flashes in planet creating dust, but now researchers believe they were created by shock waves “triggered by collisions of embryonic planets, gas waves spiraling around the sun, or strong solar flares.”
Mars’ Past Life:
NASA’s Curiosity Rover has discovered some manganese-oxide minerals in the Martian soil, minerals that need copious amount of water in order to form. In addition, atmospheric conditions containing oxygen and/or microbes are required. This evidence supports long-standing theories that Mars was once as lush, in both liquid water and vegetation, as Earth.
NASA’s New X-57 Electric Plane:
NASA is developing an electric plane!! It looks really funny (it’s lined with 12 small electric motors), but if it works, it may help solve the planet’s climate change problem! Well, SOLVE is a strong word, but electric planes would greatly reduce the amount of emissions. (Currently, the biggest offenders are airplanes because they use generous amounts of fuel.)
Neptune’s Got a New Look:
Hubble is, by far, my favorite telescope. Its discoveries continue to astound me, and its newest is no exception. There is a new dark spot on Neptune, y’all. The “Great Dark Spot” on the blue gas giant was discovered in 1989 by NASA’s Voyager 2, but then “cleared up” by 1994. Like the spot discovered in 1989, scientists think this new spot is weather related and indicates a high level storm “clearing” to reveal another storm a few layers below.
Newly Discovered - Magnetar Wind Nebula:
Using the XMN-Newton observatory, the European Space Agency has discovered something new: a magnetar with a wind nebula. A magnetar is a pulsar with “an intense magnetic field around it, making these supernova remnants the most powerful magnets in the universe.” Only 29 magnetars have been discovered to date...but astronomers have never before seen one with a wind nebula, “where the gasses expelled by a supernova are then whipped around to velocities approaching the speed of light by the pulsar at the "heart" of the former massive star.”
The Overview Effect and Virtual Reality:
Viewing the Earth from space is supposedly life changing...and I don’t doubt it. I can only imagine how awesome our planet must look against the black background of space, and how insignificant it would make me feel. Would it inspire me to change the world? Would it create a feeling of unity among my fellow man, despite race, nationality, or political differences? The Overview Institute certainly thinks so. They are planning “to scan the brains of space tourists, to try to map what happens when they emotionally encounter Earth-as-orb. And then they’ll try to replicate the neuro-experience with virtual reality.”
Qatar Discovers a Few Hot Jupiters:
Using the old-fashioned transit method, the Qatar Exoplanet Survey has discovered three new “hot jupiters,” growing their total count to five since 2011. The new planets are approximately four to five times larger than our Jupiter, with parent stars about the same size as our Sun. Naturally, because they are classified as “hot jupiters,” they are hanging very close to their home star, completing full orbits in just a few Earth-days time.
Rockets and Mars, A Necessary Partnership:
NASA is working hard to test rockets needed to send men to Mars. Their Space Launch System (SLS) has “twin five-segment solid rocket boosters, four liquid propellant engines, and a minimum of 70 metric tons of lifting power,” and with Tuesday’s successful launch, is now the the strongest in the world. This concludes the second of two qualification tests, making us one step closer to a manned landing on the Red Planet.
Simulated Black Hole Universe:
The scientific community cannot stop talking about LIGO’s gravitational wave detection. One university went so far as to create a simulated universe in order to study black holes. Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology has constructed “huge cosmological simulations that can be used to predict the rate at which gravitational waves caused by collisions between the monster black holes might be detected.”
Theory: Milky Way’s Missing Galaxies
Based on what we know of galaxy formation, the Milky Way should be surrounded by galactic neighbors...but it isn’t. This has puzzled astronomers for a while, especially Caltech astrophysicist, Philip Hopkins. Together with a team of scientists, Hopkins has developed a computer simulation to “track the growth of galaxies.” His new theory? Supernovas pushed the “matter surrounding our galaxy deep into space.”
The Truth About Cats and Dogs:
A few cases of untreatable urinary tract infections have been detected...in cats and dogs. Scientists now believe the furry little critters may be passing these bacteria-resistant microbes on to humans. Or is it the other way around? Researchers aren’t sure which species carried the resistant organisms first, simply that now, all are. Like I said earlier, BACTERIA ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD.
Venus, Too Hot to Trot:
Life on Venus would be a nightmare. Its surface is barren and dry and its skies are an angry cacophony of thunder and lightning. And of course it’s hot, very very hot. Even though the planet lives in the “habitable zone” of our solar system, its temperatures are unlivable. We believe the heat is locked in by greenhouse gases, but a recent discovery points to a co-conspirator. Electric winds in Venus’ upper atmosphere supposedly nuke water molecules as soon as they appear. What a witchy woman!
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine