SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule looked ‘pretty awesome’ in spacewalk, astronaut says

NASA astronauts got a “pretty awesome” view of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle docked with the International Space Station during a spacewalk on Friday (June 26). Astronauts Chris Cassidy and Bob Behnken got the view of a lifetime when they stepped outside the space station to replace the outpost’s old solar array batteries. The star of that view was Endeavour, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that delivered Behnken and his fellow NASA astronaut Doug Hurley to the station May 30 on their Demo-2 mission.

Cassidy snapped a photo of the sight, with Endeavour clearly straight ahead and JAXA’s HTV-9 cargo vehicle also visible. In the photo, pictured just below the craft, you can see the stunning, blue curvature of the Earth. During a media conference from onboard the space station on June 29, they were asked about the most memorable moments from this spacewalk. Behnken noted this view as one of those moments. “Chris and I had a great event last Friday and a wonderful view of Dragon,” Behnken said. “It was just awesome to be able to look back and snap a picture and I think we got a good daylight shot that kind of showed HTV and Dragon all out there on the front of space station. It was pretty awesome.”

The pair stepped out for this spacewalk to swap out aging nickel-hydrogen batteries for new, more efficient, smaller lithium-ion batteries as part of a series of battery swap spacewalks. Behnken and Cassidy will venture out on another battery swap spacewalk Wednesday (July 1).

UBTECH Scholarship Press Release

Imagine coming home from school and there is a knock on the door. Your mum opens the door and a stranger walks in and gives you a cheque for $4,000 and a robot. This is exactly what happened to Luke Aylmore from Western Australia.

He recently received a wonderful surprise when Andrew Waddington turned up at Luke’s home to present him with an UBTECH scholarship. The scholarship is to assist Luke to achieve a long-held dream to go with One Giant Leap Australia on their Space Camp USA Tour in 2021. Andrew also presented Luke with one of UBTECH’s robot kits. Andrew said, “It was wonderful to see the excitement in Luke’s eyes when we were able to fulfill one of his dreams. It is one of those moments I will never forget!”

Scientists spot flash of light from colliding black holes. But how?

Black holes aren’t supposed to make flashes of light. It’s right there in the name: black holes. Even when they slam into each, the massive objects are supposed to be invisible to astronomers’ traditional instruments. But when scientists detected a black holes collision last year, they also spotted a weird flash from the crash. On May 21, 2019, Earth’s gravitational wave detectors caught the signal of a pair of massive objects colliding, sending ripples cascading through spacetime. Later, an observatory called the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) caught a blast of light. As scientists looked at the two signals, they realized both came from the same patch of sky, and researchers started wondering whether they had spotted the rare visible black hole collision.

Here’s what scientists think happened in this strange case. The two black holes that merged were locked in the disk surrounding a quasar, a supermassive black hole that shoots out blasts of energy. “This supermassive black hole was burbling along for years before this more abrupt flare,” Matthew Graham, an astronomer at Caltech and the project scientist for ZTF, said in a university statement. That in and of itself isn’t so strange, according to his colleague. “Supermassive black holes like this one have flares all the time,” co-author Mansi Kasliwal, an astronomer at Caltech, said in the statement. “They are not quiet objects, but the timing, size and location of this flare was spectacular.”

Scientists suspect, based on the pairing of gravitational waves and light, that the flare sprang from two small black holes merging within the accretion disk of the supermassive black hole. The supermassive black hole’s incredibly strong gravity affects the smaller stuff in the disk, even other black holes. The flash of light doesn’t come from the merger itself, the scientists think. Instead, the force of the merger sends the now-a-little-larger black hole flying off, through the gas surrounding it in the supermassive black hole’s accretion disk. The gas, in turn, produces the flare after a delay of days or weeks, the theory goes according to the statement. In the case of this event, scientists detected the flare about 34 days after the gravitational wave signal.

That’s not a guarantee that this explanation fits what happened, the researchers said. “The flare occurred on the right timescale, and in the right location, to be coincident with the gravitational-wave event,” Graham said. “We conclude that the flare is likely the result of a black hole merger, but we cannot completely rule out other possibilities.”

Launch of NASA’s next Mars rover delayed again by ‘contamination concern’ on the ground

The launch of NASA’s next Mars rover has been delayed to no earlier than July 22 due to a contamination issue with ground support equipment, the space agency said on June 24.

NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance was scheduled to launch toward the Red Planet on July 20 from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. But a problem cropped up as engineers worked to encapsulate the rover in the nosecone of its Atlas V rocket, which was built by United Launch Alliance. “NASA and United Launch Alliance are now targeting Wednesday, July 22, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission due to a processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft,” NASA officials said in an update. “Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF).”

The contamination issue marks the second delay in as many weeks for the Mars rover Perseverance. The mission was originally scheduled to launch July 17, but slipped three days to July 20 due to a ground system equipment issue that involved a faulty crane.

The Perseverance rover and its Atlas V rocket are in good health, according to NASA, and ULA successfully performed a “wet-dress rehearsal” (a test that included fuelling the Atlas V rocket) on Monday (June 22). But the new delay cuts deeper into a limited window in which to launch the mission.

WINNER: NASA Scientist for a Day Competition – Jordan Klos

Charon (discovered in 1978) is the largest satellite of the five known moons of the dwarf planet Pluto. The name Charon originated from Rome, meaning the mythological ferryman of the Underworld, who carried souls across Acheron a mythic river surrounding Pluto. Charon is the most compelling satellite of the three moons Miranda, Triton and Charon due to its distinct geological features and possibility for existence of life. If a spacecraft were to orbit Charon’s surface or potentially disembark, the rover could find an undiscovered landscape consisting of many exotic and pristine land factors that may result in life inaugurated.

Scientists just found the biggest neutron star (or smallest black hole) yet in a strange cosmic collision

Whatever it is, scientists are excited. Astrophysicists have spotted the strangest gravitational-wave signal yet, an observation that could force scientists to rewrite what they know about the cosmos. Gravitational waves form when massive objects distort spacetime surrounding them and send ripples out across the universe. Scientists caught the first-ever detection of such waves, formed by two colliding black holes, in 2015.

Since then, gravitational wave detections have only gotten stranger — and scientists have only gotten more excited. Now, a group of researchers has announced the first detection of a gravitational-wave signal created by a collision involving an object larger than the largest known neutron star but smaller than the smallest known black hole. Although the detection is too complicated for scientists to ever hope to pin down precisely what happened, the signal raises hopes for more strange observations to come. This detection could even herald a new understanding of how massive stellar explosions called supernovas happen. “It’s a fantastic event, it will really change how we understand the formation of black holes and neutron stars,” Christopher Berry, a gravitational wave astronomer at Northwestern University and the University of Glasgow and co-author on the new research, told “It will remain a mystery until we can get more observations, but that doesn’t mean it’s not informative.”

WINNERS: NASA Scientist for a Day Competition

We believe that NASA should pick Charon, the largest moon of Pluto to explore further and to gain a greater understanding of the evolution of outer space. Specifically, how did the moon form and continue to evolve after (we think) it collided with Pluto? There might be life on this fascinating moon that we have not discovered yet. Perhaps not life as we know it as being so far away from the sun it is very cold, but where there is ice there is water! The discovery of water on Charon means that it could sustain forms of life, but further exploration is needed to confirm if any liquid water is actually available.

As we all know, the necessary ingredients (or building blocks for life) are: 1) water, which we know is there 2) gases (oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus) and 3) some kind of energy source. Also, if there is water on Charon, we could possibly be able to use the water on Earth and we would be able to fill up all water systems. From the pictures taken from Voyager 2 there is a reddish-brown cap on the north pole of Charon. This organic material is believed to be produced from gases released from the atmosphere of Pluto. Again, this shows that Charon could sustain life and suggests the second building block is already working. The third building block for life is energy. Charon is too far away from the sun to get heat and solar energy, but scientists could look into other ways to produce energy on Charon through movement or friction. Let us explore this great moon and find out new and exciting energy sources that may increase our understanding of outer space.

Surprise! Pluto may have had an underground ocean from the very beginning

Pluto may be a more habitable world than scientists had thought. Though Pluto is now famously frigid, it may have started off as a hot world that formed rapidly and violently, a new study finds. This result suggests Pluto may have possessed an underground ocean since early on in its life, potentially improving its chances of hosting life, researchers said.

Previous work assumed Pluto originated from cold and icy rock clumping together in the distant Kuiper Belt, the ring of objects beyond Neptune’s orbit. Although there is evidence that Pluto currently possesses a liquid ocean beneath its thick frozen shell, researchers have suggested this subsurface ocean developed long after Pluto formed, after ice melted due to heat from radioactive elements in Pluto’s core. Now scientists argue that instead of a cold formation, Pluto had a hot start, one full of explosive force. “When we look at Pluto today, we see a very cold frozen world, with a surface temperature of about 45 Kelvin [minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit, and minus 228 degrees Celsius],” study lead author Carver Bierson, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told “I find it amazing that by looking at the geology recorded in that surface, we can infer Pluto had a rapid and violent formation that warmed the interior enough to form a subsurface water ocean.”

WINNER: NASA Scientist for a Day Competition

Triton, Neptune’s largest moon contains many mysteries yet to be discovered. Its attributes have long been unknown to scientists. Photographic images taken by Voyager 2 in 1989 showed glimpses of its true uniqueness. However, still to this day, further investigation is required to greater our understanding. Therefore, it would be the most suitable moon to send a robotic spacecraft to.

In the past, we have only been able to see half of what this moon contains. Through the eyes of Voyager 2 passing by on its mission to study the outer planets, images of a grey, brown moon were taken. In these photos, we saw that the surface contained a thin layer of frozen nitrogen with occasional volcanic plains. It also had scattered geysers which erupted nitrogen gas. Data sent back by Voyager 2 showed that the atmosphere contained mainly nitrogen, although there was a small percentage of methane, mainly due to its volcanic activity. Its mantle is made of ice with a core believed to be a combination of rock and metal; however, this is still undetermined.

‘Ring of fire’ solar eclipse of 2020 dazzles sky watchers across Africa and Asia

During the solar spectacle, known as an annular solar eclipse, the moon covered most — but not all — of the sun. During this type of eclipse, a bright “ring of fire” of the sun remains visible around the edge of the moon. The eclipse began at 11:45 p.m. EDT Saturday, June 20 (0345 GMT Sunday) and went until 5:34 a.m. EDT (1034 GMT) this morning. The crown jewel of the event, the “ring of fire” section of the eclipse when the moon, sun and Earth lined up just so to create the brilliant effect (also known as maximum eclipse), occurred at around 2:40 am EDT (0640 GMT).

While not everyone around the world was able to view the event, it was visible either in its entirety or as a partial solar eclipse to potentially millions of spectators across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Red Sea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Gulf of Oman, Pakistan, India, China, Taiwan, the Philippine Sea (south of Guam) and northern Australia had a front-row seat for the stellar performance. The eclipse, crossing two continents and 14 total countries, covered a wide path but the path of greatest visibility was actually quite narrow. Unfortunately, especially with travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people will not be able to witness the extravagant display in person. Luckily, a number of webcasts held live, online watch parties so that people could enjoy the event remotely.

While most eclipse seasons typically have two eclipses — one lunar and one solar — this eclipse season actually has three. This solar eclipse was the second of that trio. The first, a lunar eclipse, came on June 5, and the final of the three, another lunar eclipse, will happen late on the night of July 4-5. These lunar eclipses are what are known as penumbral lunar eclipses. These types of eclipses are very slight and not as flashy as, say, the “ring of fire.”

Count the stars in the Southern Cross during winter solstice and map light pollution in your suburb

Winter is the best time to see the rich beauty of the sky when we look straight into the centre of the Milky Way. And Sunday night is the longest night of the year in the Southern Hemisphere, which makes it perfect for counting the stars in the Southern Cross. If you do, you’ll contribute to a world record attempt to map light pollution across Australia.

Whether or not you get to see full beauty of the Milky Way — or even the Southern Cross — depends upon where you live, says astronomer Fred Watson. If you’ve struggled to find the Southern Cross from your backyard during COVID you’re not alone. In areas that have high levels of light pollution you can see only four — or even three — of the constellation’s main stars. While satellites can detect raw points of light across the globe, there is very little data about how Australians are affected by light at ground level.

But if you count how many stars you can see in the Southern Cross this Sunday night, during the winter solstice you could help fill in some of the gaps. The information collected contributes to the Globe At Night international citizen science program, which measures light pollution around the globe. There were only six readings from Australia until April, when the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance, ran its first star count during lockdown. Now there are 770. The idea is to do the star count again on a much larger scale to get a baseline across Australia and New Zealand, says Marnie Ogg, who heads the Alliance.

Counting stars in the Southern Cross for this weekend’s world record attempt is easy and no special equipment is needed. All you need to do is count how many stars you can see using just your eyes (not binoculars or a telescope) and match it to the maps on the website that best represents what you can see. These maps provide an approximation for the star’s magnitude, and the Bortle Scale. You can also note cloud conditions and nearby light sources. And don’t let any cloud cover — even rain — put you off. “Even if your sky is cloudy … it doesn’t negate the entry,” Professor Watson says.

Solar Orbiter spacecraft makes its 1st flyby of the sun

Solar Orbiter, a joint mission by NASA and the European Space Agency, has hit its first big milestone of its sun-watching mission — and the spacecraft will soon have pictures to prove it.

The probe is designed to give scientists a view of our sun unlike any they’ve ever seen before. That’s because Solar Orbiter carries technology to gather images of our star, and its trajectory will allow it to study the poles of the sun, which never align toward Earth. And the science starts now, with the spacecraft executing its first flyby of the sun, or perihelion, today (June 15). The orbital manoeuvre brought the probe to about half the distance between the Earth and the sun, or about 48 million miles (77 million kilometres).

Solar Orbiter launched in February and carries a total of 10 instruments: six telescopes and four instruments designed to study the spacecraft’s immediate surroundings. Mission team members have been powering up and checking each instrument since shortly after the spacecraft’s launch, but this week’s data-gathering will be a new test for the probe. According to the statement, the spacecraft’s first imaging campaign will occur in the week following this close approach, or perihelion. It will take the spacecraft another week to beam those images back to Earth given its current distance from home, and the mission team expects to publish the resulting images in mid-July.