Featured Space news

Hubble dates black hole's last big meal

For the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, it’s been a long time between dinners. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found that the black hole ate its last big meal about 6 million years ago, when it consumed a large clump of infalling gas. After the meal, the engorged black hole burped out a colossal bubble of gas weighing the equivalent of millions of suns, which now billows above and below our galaxy’s center.

The immense structures, dubbed the Fermi Bubbles, were first discovered in 2010 by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. But recent Hubble observations of the northern bubble have helped astronomers determine a more accurate age for the bubbles and how they came to be.

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Emergency medicine in space: Normal rules don't apply

Experts at this year’s Euroanaesthesia Congress in Geneva (3-5 June) will discuss the unusual and challenging problem of how to perform emergency medical procedures during space missions.

“Space exploration missions to the Moon and Mars are planned in the coming years. During these long duration flights, the estimated risk of severe medical and surgical events, as well as the risk of loss of crew life are significant.” according to Dr. Matthieu Komorowski, Consultant in Intensive Care and Anaesthesia, Charing Cross Hospital, London, UK. “The exposure to the space environment itself disturbs most physiological systems and can precipitate the onset of space-specific illnesses, such as cardiovascular deconditioning, acute radiation syndrome, hypobaric decompression sickness, and osteoporotic fractures.”

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Space X Plans a Private Mission for Two Around the Moon

This has become quite the month for space related announcements!

Yesterday, Elon Musk teased that his agency SpaceX would be making an announcement this afternoon.

An unofficial voting poll was created by NASA asking people to guess what the announcement would be about. Out of the four options given on the poll, ‘Falcon Heavy rocket’ won a majority of 46 percent votes and 'Space Suits - Not Pink’ won the second highest number of votes, with 38 percent. 

Most of the people who took the pool were wrong.

Instead, SpaceX announced today that they have been approached to fly two private citizens, who have already paid a “significant deposit” for a trip around the moon late next year. 

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New 'styrofoam' planet provides tools in search for habitable planets

Fifth-graders making styrofoam solar system models may have the right idea. Researchers at Lehigh University have discovered a new planet orbiting a star 320 light years from Earth that has the density of styrofoam. This “puffy planet” outside our solar system may hold opportunities for testing atmospheres that will be useful when assessing future planets for signs of life.

“It is highly inflated, so that while it’s only a fifth as massive as Jupiter, it is nearly 40 percent larger, making it about as dense as styrofoam, with an extraordinarily large atmosphere,” said Joshua Pepper, astronomer and assistant professor of physics at Lehigh University, who led the study in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University, along with researchers at universities and observatories and amateur astronomers around the world.

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Scientists exit Hawaii dome after yearlong Mars simulation

Six scientists have completed a yearlong Mars simulation in Hawaii, where they lived in a dome in near isolation.  For the past year, the group has lived in the dome on a Mauna Loa mountain and could go outside only while wearing spacesuits.  

On Sunday, the simulation ended, and the scientists emerged.

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Pluto 'paints' its largest moon red

In June 2015, when the cameras on NASA’s approaching New Horizons spacecraft first spotted the large reddish polar region on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, mission scientists knew two things: they’d never seen anything like it elsewhere in our solar system, and they couldn’t wait to get the story behind it.

Over the past year, after analyzing the images and other data that New Horizons has sent back from its historic July 2015 flight through the Pluto system, the scientists think they’ve solved the mystery. As they detail this week in the international scientific journal Nature, Charon’s polar coloring comes from Pluto itself – as methane gas that escapes from Pluto’s atmosphere and becomes “trapped” by the moon’s gravity and freezes to the cold, icy surface at Charon’s pole. This is followed by chemical processing by ultraviolet light from the sun that transforms the methane into heavier hydrocarbons and eventually into reddish organic materials called tholins.

“Who would have thought that Pluto is a graffiti artist, spray-painting its companion with a reddish stain that covers an area the size of New Mexico?” asked Will Grundy, a New Horizons co-investigator from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and lead author of the paper. “Every time we explore, we find surprises. Nature is amazingly inventive in using the basic laws of physics and chemistry to create spectacular landscapes.”

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NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.

The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.

“Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”

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Observable universe contains two trillion galaxies, 10 times more than previously thought

In Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “2001: A Space Odyssey,” astronaut David Bowman exclaims, “My God, it’s full of stars!” before he gets pulled into an alien-built wormhole in space. When the Hubble Space Telescope made its deepest views of the universe, astronomers might have well exclaimed: “My God, it’s full of galaxies!” The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, for example, revealed 10,000 galaxies of various shapes, sizes, colors, and ages, all within an area roughly one-tenth the diameter of the full moon. 

Astronomers came to the surprising conclusion that there are at least 10 times more galaxies in the observable universe than previously thought. This places the universe’s estimated population at, minimally, 2 trillion galaxies.

The results have clear implications for galaxy formation, and also helps shed light on an ancient astronomical paradox – why is the sky dark at night?

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After Pluto, New Horizons set to meet deeper space object

After its historic first-ever flyby of Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons mission has received the green light to fly onward to an object deeper in the Kuiper Belt.

The spacecraft’s planned rendezvous with the ancient object named 2014 MU69 – considered one of the early building blocks of the solar system – is January 1, 2019.

“The New Horizons mission to Pluto exceeded our expectations and even today the data from the spacecraft continue to surprise,” said NASA’s Director of Planetary Science Jim Green.

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