Science

Spectacular aurora photos: Skies dazzle in vivid colors around the world

The aurora put on a spectacular celestial show Friday night. Bright pink, swirling greens, and splashes of purple lit up the night skies over much of the globe. Earlier in the day, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center noted that “extreme (G5) geomagnetic conditions have been observed.” G5 is the most intense level for a geomagnetic storm (on a scale from G1 to G5) and has not been seen since October 2003. [Related: We finally know what sparks the Northern…

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In the race for space metals, companies hope to cash in

This article was originally featured on Undark. In April 2023, a satellite the size of a microwave launched to space. Its goal: to get ready to mine asteroids. While the mission, courtesy of a company called AstroForge, ran into problems, it’s part of a new wave of would-be asteroid miners hoping to cash in on cosmic resources. Potential applications of space-mined material abound: Asteroids contain metals like platinum and cobalt, which are used in electronics and electric vehicle batteries, respectively.…

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How ‘safe mode’ protects space telescopes like Hubble and TESS

What could bears and space telescopes possibly have in common? Last month, both the Hubble Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (known as TESS) ended up in a sort of hibernation. When faced with some kind of threat, these telescopes shut down all non-essential systems, doing only the bare minimum to keep themselves alive and prevent further damage if possible—sort of like how a bear makes it through a long winter. For telescopes, their hibernation is known as…

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SpaceX reveals new sleek spacesuits ahead of upcoming historic mission

SpaceX has revealed its new Extravehicular Activity (EVA) suits that could make their low-Earth orbital debut by summer’s end. The new uniform is described as an evolution of the spacesuits currently worn by astronauts aboard Dragon missions, which are designed solely for remaining within pressurized environments. In contrast, the EVA suits will allow astronauts to work both within and outside their capsule as needed thanks to a number of advancements in materials fabrication, joint design, enhanced redundancy safeguards, as well…

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Why Venus is so dry

Despite being Earth’s sister planet in terms of size, Venus is pretty parched compared to our watery world. New computer simulations may hold clues about exactly how our neighbor became so dry.  Hydrogen atoms in the planet’s atmosphere may fling off into space due to a dissociative recombination–where electrons are removed. Venus may be losing roughly twice as much water every day than previous estimates. The findings are detailed in a study published May 6 in the journal Nature and…

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China is en route to collect first-ever samples from the far side of the moon

China launched its uncrewed Chang’e-6 lunar spacecraft at 5:27 PM local time (5:27 PM EST) on Friday from the southern island province of Hainan, accelerating its ongoing space race with the US. If successful, a lander will detach upon reaching lunar orbit and descend to the surface to scoop up samples from the expansive South Pole-Aitken basin impact crater. Once finished, the lander will launch back up to Chang’e-6, dock, and return to Earth with the first-of-its-kind samples in tow.…

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‘Lucy’s baby’ asteroid is only about 2 to 3 million years old

A newly discovered asteroid is a toddler–in space years. The moonlet circling the small asteroid Dinkinesh named Selam is about 2 to 3 million years old. Scientists arrived at this age estimate using new calculation methods that are described in a study published April 19 in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. Selam is nicknamed “Lucy’s baby,” after NASA’s Lucy spacecraft discovered it orbiting another asteroid in November 2023. The Lucy mission is the first set to explore the Trojan asteroids.…

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NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission has a shaky future

This article was originally featured on The Conversation. A critical NASA mission in the search for life beyond Earth, Mars Sample Return, is in trouble. Its budget has ballooned from US$5 billion to over $11 billion, and the sample return date may slip from the end of this decade to 2040. The mission would be the first to try to return rock samples from Mars to Earth so scientists can analyze them for signs of past life. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a press…

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Space Force finds a dead Cold War-era satellite missing for 25 years

The US Space Force located a tiny experimental satellite after it spent two-and-a–half decades missing in orbit. Hopefully, they’ll be able to keep an eye on it for good—unlike the last time. The S73-7 Infra-Red Calibration Balloon (IRCB) was dead on arrival after ejecting from one of the Air Force’s largest Cold War orbital spy camera systems. Although it successfully departed the KH-9 Hexagon reconnaissance satellite about 500 miles above Earth in 1974, the S73-7 failed to inflate to its…

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China compiled the most detailed moon atlas ever mapped

If we want to establish a permanent human presence on the moon, we need more detailed maps than the existing options, some of which date back to the Apollo missions of 1960’s and 1970’s. After more than ten years of collaboration between more than 100 researchers working at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the newest editions of lunar topography are rolling out for astronomers and space agencies around the world. As highlighted recently by Nature, the Geologic Atlas of…

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Rare quadruple solar flare event captured by NASA

Earlier this week, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recorded a rarely seen event—four nearly-simultaneous flare eruptions involving three separate sunspots, as well as the magnetic filament between them. But as impressive as it is, the event could soon pose problems for some satellites and spacecraft orbiting Earth, as well as electronic systems here on the ground. It may seem like a massive ball of fiery, thermonuclear chaos, but there’s actually a fairly predictable rhythm to the sun. Similar to Earth’s…

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NASA will unfurl a 860-square-foot solar sail from within a microwave-sized cube

NASA hitched a ride aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron Launcher in New Zealand yesterday evening, and is preparing to test a new, highly advanced solar sail design. Now in a sun-synchronous orbit roughly 600-miles above Earth, the agency’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3) will in the coming weeks deploy and showcase technology that could one day power deep-space missions without the need for any actual rocket fuel, after launch. The fundamentals behind solar sails aren’t in question. By capturing the…