Mars may still be volcanically active, study finds

May 12th, 2021


Evidence of what may be the youngest eruption seen yet on Mars suggests the Red Planet may still be volcanically active, raising the possibility it was recently habitable, a new study finds.

Most volcanism on Mars occurred between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago, leaving behind giant monuments such as Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the solar system. At 16 miles (25 km) high, Olympus Mons is about three times as tall as Mount Everest, Earth's highest mountain.

Previous research suggested the Red Planet may still have flared with smaller volcanic eruptions as recently as 2.5 million years ago. Now scientists have found evidence that Mars may still be volcanically active, with signs of an eruption within the past 50,000 years or so.

"This being the youngest documented volcanic eruption on Mars, the potential that Mars could potentially be volcanically active at present is exciting," study lead author David Horvath, a planetary scientist now at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, told

Fireball meteor burns up over South Florida

April 13th ,2021

A sparkling fireball zoomed across the sky near West Palm Beach, Florida on Monday night (April 13), and local news teams and home security systems caught footage of its dramatic descent.

The meteor was spotted at about 10 p.m. EDT, when it tumbled from the sky and disintegrated in a sudden flash of light, NPR reported.

Soon after, Jay O'Brien, a reporter for CBS News in West Palm Beach, tweeted a video of the fireball exploding in midair. His colleague Zach Covey, a meteorologist for CBS, responded saying that the fireball was likely a "chunk of an asteroid known as 2021 GW4," a space rock that was due to pass by Earth that night.

WOAH! Big flash and streak across sky in West Palm Beach. Happened moments ago while we were on Facebook Live for a @CBS12 story. Working to figure out what it was.

The asteroid, estimated to be about 14 feet (4 meters) across, passed the planet about 16,300 miles (26,200 kilometers) away, according to The asteroid will now make a two-year loop around the sun, eventually swinging back around to Earth; however, NASA predicts that it won't come nearly as close as it did on April 12 for at least another century.

Although 2021 GW4 made a relatively close pass by the planet, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, disagreed with Covey's theory, tweeting that "It's a normal fireball and nothing to do with GW4."

Generally speaking, fireballs include any meteor that shines at least as brightly as the planet Venus in the sky, according to; fireballs actually fall to Earth every day but most go unnoticed, falling over uninhabited areas, during the day or under cloud cover, according to the International Meteor Organization, an international non-profit.

NASA's Mars helicopter is slowly unfolding beneath the Perseverance rover

March 30th, 2021

NASA's Perseverance rover is slowly getting ready to deploy the first helicopter on Mars even as it takes a look back at the litter it's dropping on the Red Planet.

The rover, which was carefully sterilized on Earth to avoid contaminating Mars with microbes, dropped a protective debris shield onto the planet's surface on March 21. The shield is no longer needed as it was designed to protect Ingenuity during the "seven minutes of terror" landing in February.

An image from the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and engineering) camera on the rover's robotic arm shows the debris shield safely on the surface of Jezero Crater, between the rover's six wheels. It's the second thing Perseverance dropped in recent weeks, after an unneeded belly pan relating to its sampling system.

SpaceX may try to launch its Starship SN11 rocket prototype today

March 29th, 2021

The 5-hour launch window opens at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).

SpaceX may attempt to launch its newest Starship rocket prototype today (March 29) and you'll be able to watch it live if it happens.

The Starship SN11 rocket could try to launch from SpaceX's Starbase test site near Boca Chica Village in South Texas between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. EDT (1700-2200 GMT), according to Texas officials. The rocket is expected to launch to an altitude of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) and then attempt a landing.

"Possible Starship flight tomorrow afternoon," SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk wrote on Twitter Sunday. If SpaceX does attempt a launch, you'll be able to watch it here and on the homepage, courtesy of SpaceX. You can also watch it directly from SpaceX here and on YouTube. SpaceX's webcast usually begins about 5 minutes before a Starship launch attempt.

Today's potential Starship SN11 launch follows an earlier attempt on Friday (March 26), when SpaceX test-fired the rocket's three Raptor engines but opted not to attempt a launch in order to allow time for extra checks on the vehicle.

"Doing our best to land & fully recover," Musk said at the time.

NASA Provides $45M Boost to US Small Businesses

March 29th, 2021

Small businesses are vital to NASA’s mission, helping expand humanity’s presence in space and improve life on Earth. NASA has selected 365 U.S. small business proposals for initial funding from the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, a total investment of more than $45 million.

“At NASA, we recognize that small businesses are facing unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “This year, to get funds into the hands of small businesses sooner, we accelerated the release of the 2021 SBIR/STTR Phase I solicitation by two months. We hope the expedited funding helps provide a near-term boost for future success.”

NASA selected 289 small businesses and 47 research institutions to receive Phase I funding this year. More than 30% of the awards will go to first-time NASA SBIR/STTR recipients. “We are excited to have a large cohort of new small businesses join the NASA family via the SBIR/STTR program,” Reuter said.

Through the program, NASA works with U.S. small businesses and research institutions to advance cutting-edge technologies. The agency provides up to $125,000 for companies to establish the merit and feasibility of their innovations. Phase I SBIR contracts are awarded to small businesses and last for six months, while Phase I STTR contracts are awarded to small businesses in partnership with a research institution and last for 13 months. Based on their progress during Phase I, companies may submit proposals to subsequent SBIR/STTR opportunities and receive additional funding.

NASA selected proposals to receive funding based on their technical merit and commercial potential. The selections span the breadth of NASA missions to empower the agency’s work in human exploration, space technology, science, and aeronautics. Some examples include:

  • Syrnatec Inc., a woman-owned small business and first-time NASA SBIR awardee based in Middletown, Connecticut, will develop radiation tolerant, high-voltage, high-power diodes. This power management and distribution technology could enable the next generation of efficient high-power green technology in space and on Earth.
  • Innoveering LLC, a Hispanic American-owned small business and first-time program awardee based in Ronkonkoma, New York, will use its SBIR award to develop a wind sensor to enable a flight path control system for high-altitude scientific balloon operations. Outside of NASA, this technology could aid in providing more accurate weather predictions.
  • Under an STTR award, Qubitekk of Vista, California, will partner with the University of New Mexico, a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Together, they will develop a cheaper and more compact hardware package that provides a reliable calibration tool for detectors of quantum-sized information. This technology could be applied to secure satellite communication networks, deep-space laser communications, cybersecurity, and computing.


First image of a black hole gets a polarizing update that sheds light on magnetic fields

March 24th, 2021


black hole

Following the mind-boggling release of the first image ever captured of a black hole, astronomers have done it again, revealing a new view of the massive celestial object and shedding light on how magnetic fields behave close to black holes.

In 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration produced the first-ever image of a black hole, which lies at the center of the M87 galaxy 55 million light-years from Earth. The image showed a bright ring with a dark center, which is the black hole's shadow. In capturing this image, astronomers noticed a significant amount of polarized light around the black hole. Now, the collaboration has revealed a new look at the black hole, showing what it looks like in polarized light.

Polarized light waves have a different orientation and brightness compared with unpolarized light. And, just like how light is polarized when it passes through some sunglasses, light is polarized when it's emitted in magnetized and hot areas of space.

As polarization is a signature of magnetic fields, this image makes it clear that the black hole's ring is magnetized. This polarized view "tells us that the emission in the ring is most certainly produced by magnetic fields that are located very close to the event horizon," Monika Moscibrodzka, coordinator of the EHT Polarimetry Working Group and assistant professor at Radboud Universiteit in the Netherlands, told

This is the first time that astronomers have been able to measure polarization so close to the edge of a black hole. Not only is this new view of this black hole spectacular to look at, but the image is revealing new information about the powerful radio jets shooting from M87.

"In the first images, we showed intensity only," Moscibrodzka said about the first-released image of the object. "Now, we add polarization information on the top of that original image."

"The new polarized images mark important steps towards learning more about the gas near the black hole, and in turn how black holes grow and launch jets," Jason Dexter, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and coordinator of the EHT Theory Working Group, told in an email.

On This Day in Space! March 8, 1979: Volcanoes spotted on Jupiter's moon

March 8th, 2021

On March 8, 1979, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft discovered active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io.

Before Voyager 1 flew by Io, scientists believed the moon to be a dead world much like Earth's moon. The mission discovered the volcanoes somewhat by accident.

Three days after Voyager 1 made its closest approach to Jupiter, mission controllers took pictures of Jupiter's moons to help determine the spacecraft's exact location. This process is known as optical navigation.

While looking at the photos, a NASA engineer noticed a huge cloud protruding almost 200 miles above Io's surface. Scientists determined that this plume likely erupted from a volcano. Then the team went back to earlier Voyager images of Io and found seven more plumes.

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Giant Magellan Telescope project casts sixth mirror

March 8th, 2021

The GMT keeps coming together.

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The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) project has started crafting another mirror segment.

A big furnace containing 20 tons (17.5 metric tons) of pure borosilicate glass began rotating on Friday (March 5) at the University of Arizona's Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, kicking off the spin-casting process for the sixth of seven elements that will make up the GMT's 82-foot-wide (25 meters) primary mirror.

"The spin-casting is undeniably the most spectacular part of the manufacturing process," Buddy Martin, polishing scientist at the mirror lab, said in a statement.

The furnace began heating the glass on Monday (March 1) and reached a peak temperature of 2,129 degrees Fahrenheit (1,165 degrees Celsius) on Saturday afternoon (March 6). At such high temperatures, the melted glass flows like honey, pushed outward by centrifugal force to create a curved shape that would take months to achieve by grinding, Martin explained during a call with reporters on Friday.

Up next is a lengthy "annealing" process, which will cool the glass in stages over the next few months. Around June 1, the team will take apart the furnace "and finally get a look at this mirror," Martin said in Friday's call.

But the 27.6-foot-wide (8.4 m) mirror won't be done at that point. Far from it; technicians will still need to grind and polish it with mind-boggling precision, ensuring that its surface is perfect to within one millionth of an inch.

"If the mirror were expanded to the size of North America, 3,500 miles [5,630 kilometers] in diameter, then the average hill would be two-thirds of an inch [1.7 centimeters] tall and the average valley two-thirds of an inch deep," Martin said. "That's how smooth this mirror has to be for it to make the sharpest images that nature will allow."

NASA's Perseverance rover takes its first test drive on Mars

March 5th, 2021

Percy is on the move!

Perseverance, a car-sized rover that landed successfully on the Red Planet Feb. 18, just made its first short drive on Thursday, NASA officials said. The rover moved a total of 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) across the Martian terrain on a drive that took about 33 minutes, during which Perseverance moved forward, turned in place and backed up. The rover drives with a top speed of .01 miles per hour (.016 kilometers).

"Our first drive went incredibly well," NASA's Anais Zarifian, a Perseverance mobility test bed engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Zarifian added that the rover "works beautifully, we were so excited."

"This is really just the beginning," Zarifian said.

During the briefing, mission team members also announced that they are naming Perseverance's landing site in Jezero Crater "Octavia E. Butler Landing" after the famed science fiction author; the first science fiction author to receive the MacArthur Fellowship.

While Perseverance has the same body design as NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, improvements to its mobility system mean that it can drive for much longer in the same amount of time. While the two rovers have the same top speed, Perseverance's new cameras and improved navigation software allow it to think about where it's going while in motion.

So, while Curiosity had to essentially stop to think, Perseverance can "walk and chew gum at the same time," Zarifian said. This allows the rover to cover more ground more quickly, despite having the same "speed."

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A giant black hole suddenly went dark, and no one knows why

Feb 7th, 2021

What blotted out GRS 1915+105's bright light?

Beginning in 2018, one of the brightest X-ray lights in the sky went dark, and scientists still aren't sure why.

The black hole responsible for creating the lights-out mystery lives in GRS 1915+105, a star system 36,000 light-years from Earth containing both a normal star and the second-heaviest known black hole in the Milky Way. That heavyweight is 10 to 18 times the mass of the sun and second in mass only to Sagittarius A* (or SgrA*), the supermassive black hole in the galactic center. The region around the GRS 1915+105 black hole typically shines with an intense X-ray light, as it feeds on its companion star. As the material circles the cosmic drain, the particles within rub together, generating energy before dropping into the darkness at the black hole's center. That swirling material is the black hole's accretion disk, which lights up with X-rays as the black hole devours more and more sustenance.

But researchers saw something surprising beginning in July 2018: The light from the GRS 1915+105 system began to dim. Then, in early 2019, the light dimmed even more, and no one had ever seen anything like it before.

The International Space Station will fly over Super Bowl 2021 stadium for the big game

Feb 7, 2021

An astronaut has spotted the home of Super Bowl LV from space.


Astronauts on the International Space Station just might have the ultimate nosebleed seats for the Super Bowl.

When the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers face off in Super Bowl LV today (Feb. 7) in Tampa Bay, Florida, the space station — currently home to seven space travelers — will soar over the Raymond James Stadium stadium hosting the epic football game. If the weather is clear, station astronauts could try to spot the stadium from space. In fact, one astronaut already has spotted the game's host city from orbit.

"Tampa, Florida, host city of Super Bowl LV," wrote astronaut Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on Friday (Feb. 5) as he shared the photo on Twitter.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk is now the richest person in the world

January 7th, 2020

The SpaceX and Tesla chief just overtook Jeff Bezos.

Elon Musk just became the world's richest person, nudging fellow space tycoon Jeff Bezos from the top spot.

The SpaceX founder and CEO is now worth more than $185 billion, thanks in large part to the ongoing surge in the stock price of his electric-car company, Tesla, according to media reports. Bezos, who runs as well as the spaceflight outfit Blue Origin, is currently worth $184 billion, according to CNBC.

Bezos had held the world's-richest title since 2017.

Musk began 2020 worth $27 billion, then padded his pocketbook in historic fashion during the year, CNBC reported.

"Musk's wealth surge over the past year marks the fastest rise to the top of the rich list in history — and is a dramatic financial turnaround for the famed entrepreneur, who just 18 months ago was in the headlines for Tesla's rapid cash burn and his personal leverage against the company's stock," CNBC wrote. "Tesla's rocketing share price — which has increased more than ninefold over the past year — along with his generous pay package have added more than $150 billion to his net worth."

SpaceX — which, unlike Tesla, isn't a publicly traded company — had a big 2020 as well. For example, SpaceX launched two crewed missions to the International Space Station last year, the first orbital human spaceflights to lift off from the U.S. since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.

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SpaceX's Starship SN9 prototype fires its engines for the 1st time

January 6th, 2020

SN9 has roared to life. A test launch could follow soon.

SpaceX has fired up its newest Starship prototype for the first time.

The SN9 vehicle's three engines lit up for about one second today (Jan. 6) at 5:07 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) during a static-fire test at SpaceX's South Texas facilities, near the Gulf Coast village of Boca Chica.

Static fires, in which rocket engines blaze while a vehicle remains anchored to the ground, are a routine preflight checkout. And SN9 ("Serial No. 9") will indeed get off the ground soon, if all goes according to plan: SpaceX is prepping the vehicle for a test flight that's expected to be similar to the epic one made last month by its predecessor.

On Dec. 9, SN8 — which was powered by three of SpaceX's next-generation Raptor engines, as SN9 is —  performed the Starship program's first-ever high-altitude hop, soaring about 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) into the South Texas skies. (Three previous single-engine prototypes have flown as well, but they all reached a maximum altitude of about 500 feet, or 150 meters.)

SN8 didn't stick its landing and exploded in a dramatic fireball. But the vehicle hit pretty much every other milestone that SpaceX had laid out, leading company founder and CEO Elon Musk to declare the flight a big success.

SpaceX is developing Starship to take people and payloads to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations — and, eventually, to take over all of the company's spaceflight needs. The system consists of two elements: a 165-foot-tall (50 m) spacecraft called Starship and a giant first-stage booster known as Super Heavy.


The largest solar telescope on Earth snaps the most detailed image of a sunspot we've ever seen

Dec 14th, 2020

Scientists just released the most striking and detailed image of a sunspot humans have ever seen.

The image, taken Jan. 28 by the Inouye Solar Telescope, shows magnetic structures as small as 20 kilometers on the surface of the sun, Thomas Rimmele, the associate director at NSF's National Solar Observatory (NSO) said in a National Science Foundation statement. The NSF built and operates the telescope that captured this picture, which was released Dec. 3. The solar telescope is the largest dedicated to observing the sun.

While the image of this sunspot measures only a small portion of the sun, at just 10,000 miles (16,100 kilometers) across it's large enough that the Earth could easily fit inside. Looking at the sunspot, you'll notice a dark center that looks like it feathers out into the brighter outside.

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China's Chang'e 5 poised for historic moon landing to collect lunar samples

Nov 30th, 2020

China has reached a major milestone in its quest to bring home moon rocks, with its Chang'e 5 mission spacecraft separating into two pairs of vehicles in preparation for a lunar landing.

The Chang'e 5 spacecraft launched on Nov. 23 intent on becoming the first mission to bring lunar samples to Earth since 1976; the mission reached lunar orbit on Nov. 28. According to China's state-run news agency Xinhua, the mission's orbiter/return vehicle and its lander/ascender vehicle separated in lunar orbit  yesterday (Nov. 29) at 3:40 p.m. EST (2040 GMT; 4:40 a.m. Beijing time on Nov. 30). That move sets the stage for a landing near the peak of Mons Rümker, a mountain in the Oceanus Procellarum ("Ocean of Storms") region of the moon.

"The spacecraft is performing well and communication with ground control is normal," officials with China's National Space Administration (CNSA) said according to Xinhua.

beaver moon

On This Day in Space! Nov. 26, 2011: NASA's Curiosity rover launches to Mars

Nov 26th, 2020

On Nov. 26, 2011, the NASA Curiosity rover launched to Mars.

Curiosity was the biggest and most powerful rover anyone had ever sent to the Red Planet. The two-ton science laboratory is about the size of a small SUV. The mission's goal was to search for habitable environments on Mars, or evidence that the planet could have been habitable in the past.

It launched on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. About nine months later, Curiosity made a challenging landing on Mars. It successfully used a new landing technology called a sky crane to gently lower it to the surface.


Chang'e 5: China launches sample return mission to the moon

Nov 24th, 2020

China has been the only country to land on the Moon for over 40 years – since the Soviet Luna programme. Its recent Chang’e missions (1-4) demonstrated that China could not only orbit and land on the Moon, but also successfully operate a rover. On November 24, the Chinese National Space Administration launched Chang’e 5 – the latest in the series.

This mission to collect and return samples is impressive. Recent failed landings on the Moon by an Israeli privately funded mission and the Indian Vikram lander show just how challenging such missions still are.

So is this solely a case of China using space exploration to show the world that it's new scientific and technological capabilities rival those in the west? And if so, what are the consequences?

Chang’e 5 (named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon) is intended to collect samples from Mons Rümker, a 70km-wide, 500 metre- high dome made of basalt in the Oceanus Procellarum Mare region of the Moon’s nearside.

The plan is to then bring back 2kg of drilled and scooped samples to Earth. If the mission succeeds, planetary scientists will be able to test some key theories about the origin of the Moon and the inner Solar System’s rocky planets, which date back to the Apollo era


On This Day in Space! Nov. 22, 1989: Space Shuttle Discovery launches classified military satellite on STS-33

Nov 22nd, 2020

On Nov. 22, 1989, the space shuttle Discovery launched on a  classified mission: STS-33. It lifted off from Kennedy Space Center and up into the dark of night.

This was the third nighttime launch of the shuttle program and the 32nd shuttle mission overall. Discovery had five astronauts on board. The crew included commander Frederick D. Gregory, commander; pilot John E. Blaha; and mission specialists Kathryn C. Thornton, Manley L. (Sonny) Carter, and F. Story Musgrave.

Their mission was to deploy a classified payload for the U.S. Department of Defense. NASA and the military launched several secret shuttle missions to deploy military satellites. The satellite that launched with STS-33 is believed to be a type of spy satellite called Magnum. But exactly what Magnum was doing in orbit remains classified.

The astronauts also spent Thanksgiving in space during this mission. But the holiday was off to a "crappy" start when the shuttle's toilet broke first thing in the morning. After spending most of the day fixing it, they got to enjoy their Thanksgiving turkey together.

Watch live tonight: Rocket Lab to attempt booster recovery in 'Return to Sender' flight

Nov 18th, 2020

Rocket Lab will use an Electron rocket to launch 30 small satellites and payloads from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The company will also attempt to recover the rocket's first stage using a parachute for the first time.

The mission, nicknamed "Return to Sender," is scheduled to lift off during a 2-hour, 50 minute launch window that opens Thursday, Nov. 19, at 8:44 p.m. EST (0144 Nov. 20 GMT). Watch it live in the window above, courtesy of Rocket Lab. The mission will also be carried live on Rocket Lab's YouTube page here.

Long Beach, California. November 5, 2020 – Rocket Lab has today revealed that it will attempt to recover the first stage of its Electron rocket during its next mission, the ‘Return to Sender’ launch, scheduled for lift-off in mid-November. The test will see Rocket Lab attempt to bring Electron’s first stage back to Earth under a parachute system for a controlled water landing before collection by a recovery vessel.

The mission will be the first time Rocket Lab has attempted to recover a stage after launch and is a major milestone in Rocket Lab’s pursuit to make Electron a reusable rocket to support an increased launch cadence for small satellite missions.

The ‘Return to Sender’ mission, which will be Rocket Lab’s 16th Electron launch, will lift-off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula. The 14-day launch window is scheduled to open on November 16 UTC (November 15 PT / ET) with lift-off to take place between 01:44 – 04:34 UTC (17:44 – 20:34 PT / 20:44 – 23:34 ET). The mission will see Electron deploy 30 payloads for a range of small satellite customers to a 500km sun-synchronous orbit, with the recovery attempt a secondary objective of the launch.

The dazzling Blue Ring Nebula puzzled scientists for 16 years — and now they finally understand why

Nov 15th, 2020

Scientists have uncovered new evidence in the mysterious fluorescent debris of the Blue Ring Nebula that may explain how the strange structure formed.

The Blue Ring Nebula harbors a central star, known as TYC 2597-735-1. An unusual ultraviolet ring surrounds the star, which astronomers first observed in 2004 using NASA's now-defunct Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) space telescope. Until now, the formation of this peculiar ring — which is actually invisible ultraviolet light that has been color-coded blue in the telescope images — has largely remained a mystery.

"Every time we thought we had this thing figured out, something would tell us, 'No, that's not right,'" Mark Seibert, an astrophysicist with the Carnegie Institution for Science, a member of the GALEX team and a co-author on the new research, said in a statement. "That's a scary thing as a scientist. But I also love how unique this object is, and the effort that so many people put in to figure it out."

Using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, researchers found that the blue ring is actually the base of a cone-shaped cloud of glowing molecular hydrogen that extends away from the central star, toward Earth. The new observations also show a second cone-shaped cloud that extends from the star in the opposite direction.

The bases of the cone-shaped clouds appear to overlap when viewed from Earth, creating the ring shape around the star, Christopher Martin, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and former principal investigator of GALEX, said in a news conference held digitally on Tuesday (Nov. 17), before the research was made public.

The scientists behind the new research believe that the clouds of fluorescent debris formed after a sunlike star collided with and consumed a smaller stellar companion only a few thousand years ago. The recent observations capture a never-before-seen evolutionary phase of a stellar collision.

On This Day in Space: Nov. 13, 1971: Mariner 9 becomes the 1st spacecraft to orbit Mars

Nov 13th, 2020

On Nov. 13, 1971, Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to orbit Mars. At the time, scientists didn't know much about the Red Planet.

NASA had several Mars flybys before Mariner 9. Those flybys showed that Mars had a cratered surface, so some scientists thought that Mars looked just like the moon. Then Mariner 9 blew blew their minds.

When Mariner 9 got to Mars, it arrived in the middle of a dust storm. It saw some tall structures sticking through the clouds. When the dust settled, images from Mariner 9 revealed that these structures were the tops of huge volcanoes.

One volcano, Olympus Mons, is the tallest in the solar system. Mariner 9 also spotted an enormous canyon called Valles Marineris. This canyon is five times longer than the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Mariner 9 worked for one year in orbit. When it ran out of gas, NASA shut it off. But the spacecraft remains one of the most famous Mars voyagers of all time.

Grand Universe

Grand Uni

WESTFIELD, Ind. —  A massive development is being planned for Westfield, right next door to Grand Park. “Grand Universe” will be a state-of-the-art space center with the goal of encouraging young minds to pursue careers in science and technology.

The development is being led by Birch Dalton with EdgeRock Development, but the space center project is being launched by the Link Observatory Space Science Institute and their director Greg McCauley

“If you look right out there in the middle,” McCauley said as he pointed to an empty 55-acre plot of land, “right in the center of that field right there will be this magnificent 50,000 square foot footprint of this magnificent building.”

The massive space center will not only include the largest public planetarium in the state, but also thousands of square feet of exhibits and a massive observatory with 30-foot domes and telescopes named after Hoosier astronaut David Wolf.

“17 or 18 astronauts came from Purdue university, and yet Indianapolis remarkably is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country that doesn’t have a space center,” McCauley said

Since the Challenger Learning Center in Brownsburg closed about seven years ago, Grand Universe will fill a void left in central Indiana, launching students into STEM careers.

“We have fallen behind in science and technology,” McCauley said. “We believe Grand Universe will help us again take that leap.”

Grand Universe hopes to attract young families who are in town for events at Grand Park, and also attract families from across the state. Westfield sees the project as another reason for people to visit the area.


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