Today, January 14, 2017, SpaceX achieved another commercial launch success with the delivery of ten Iridium satellites to orbit—the first of 70 that will comprise the next generation IridiumNext constellation—as well as a new milestone in its ongoing trek toward reusable launch capability: the first successful landing of a Falcon 9 first-stage booster on its Pacific-based autonomous drone ship, Just Read the Instructions.
During his 340-day-long One-Year Mission in 2015-2016 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly conducted—and was the subject of—countless experiments on the effects of long-duration space travel aboard the ISS. But he did manage to have a little fun too; the video above shows what happens to a blob of water free-floating in microgravity (that’s the technical term for zero-g in orbit) when Kelly adds some food coloring and a piece of Alka-Seltzer. The results are interesting to say the least as well as quite beautiful…be sure to watch in high-definition to catch the castoff watery “meteors!”
Florida’s Space Coast is anticipating 32 rocket launches in 2017, according to the USAF’s 45th Space Wing which manages Patrick AFB and the launch region around Cape Canaveral. This is nine more than the amount that launched from the Cape in 2016 (two of which I was lucky enough to be present for) but still just a few short of the 2021 goal of 48 launches annually. Still, with launch providers like ULA, OrbitalATK, and SpaceX all increasing their services for NASA, the U.S. military, and commercial companies—and newcomer Blue Origin ready in the wings—the Space Coast is rapidly becoming a busy place again…undoubtedly a welcome development nearly six years after the last shuttle flight.
Turns out the Moon is even older than we thought—if just by a few dozen million years. Using samples of lunar material collected by Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Ed Mitchell in February 1971, a team of researchers from UCLA, the University of Chicago, and Princeton have determined that the Moon must have formed within the first 60 million years after the birth of the Solar System, based on dating of uranium-lead isotopes inside fragments of lunar zircons. Their findings put the age of our Moon at at least 4.51 billion years old (give or take a few million years)…about 40-50 million years older than even some of the oldest previous estimates. That’s a lot more candles for Luna’s birthday cake!
When you think of spacecraft landings on other worlds, you probably first think of Mars, the Moon, Venus, and comet 67P (if you’ve been following along over the past couple of years.) But—in addition to the asteroid Eros and hard impacts on a comet and Mercury—Saturn’s moon Titan was also visited by an alien (i.e., Earthly) spacecraft back in January of 2005. ESA’s Huygens probe, which traveled to Saturn onboard the Cassini orbiter, was deployed to the surface of Titan six months after Cassini arrived in orbit at Saturn. Huygens took 20 days to reach the cloud-covered moon, and during its two-and-a-half hour descent on Jan. 14, 2005 transmitted our first—and last—views from below Titan’s clouds and even from its methane-slush-covered surface. It was the first landing on a moon other than our own and the farthest landing from the Sun, but hopefully not the final time we’ll visit the fascinating surface of this icy moon.
Read more and watch the video of the Huygens probe landing on the Cassini mission site: Huygens: ‘Ground Truth’ from an Alien Moon
For the past couple of years the astronomy world has been abuzz with news of the strange and randomly-occurring dimming of the star KIC 8462852—aka Tabby’s Star—located 1,276 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus and recently observed by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Hypotheses about the cause range from conservative (a transiting cloud of comets) to quite speculative (an “alien megastructure” constructed around the star) but to date nothing seems to perfectly fit the observations. Now, researchers from Columbia University and UC Berkeley are proposing a new idea: the dimming of Tabby’s Star is being caused by debris left over from a planet that was consumed by the star thousands of years ago, the orbiting scraps from a case of stellar infanticide.
Read more in a Universe Today article by Matt Williams: Finally, An Explanation for the Alien Megastructure?