Hubble telescope’s water discovery on exoplanet

This 11 September 2019 video from NASA in the USA says about itself:

With data from the Hubble Space Telescope, water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet within the habitable zone of its host star.

K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is the only planet orbiting a star outside the solar system (or “exoplanet”) within the habitable zone.

This may be the first known exoplanet with rain and clouds of water droplets. Two teams have detected signs that K2 18b has a damp atmosphere: here.

See also here.

Researchers have described a new, lower size limit for planets to maintain surface liquid water for long periods of time, extending the so-called Habitable or ‘Goldilocks” Zone for small, low-gravity planets. This research expands the search area for life in the universe and sheds light on the important process of atmospheric evolution on small planets: here.


Sunset timelapse video from space

This 3 June 2019 NASA video says about itself:

Sunset Timelapse from the International Space Station

Enjoy this sped-up Earth view, captured by the Expedition 59 astronauts currently onboard the International Space Station. The station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes — meaning this sunset you see is actually one of 16 the station residents see each day!

Astronomical and spaceflight update

This video says about itself:

JAXA’s Asteroid Explorer “Hayabusa2” collected a sample from asteroid Ryugu on 22 February 2019. The touchdown was captured using the onboard small monitor camera (CAM-H). The image of the site immediately after touchdown was taken with the Optical Navigation Camera – Wide angle (ONC-W1) on 22 February 2019.

Ryugu is probably a chip off one of these two other asteroids. Japan’s Hayabusa2 team has narrowed down the asteroid’s origins based on its color. By Lisa Grossman, 3:20pm, March 20, 2019.

This video says about itself:

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission returned the first scientific observations, revealing that asteroid Bennu is an active asteroid. OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) is the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid (near-Earth asteroid Bennu), retrieve surface material and return it to Earth for study in September 2023. Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, explained the findings in a media teleconference.

Surprising astronomers, Bennu spits plumes of dust into space. It’s the first time astronomers have seen such activity on an asteroid. By Lisa Grossman, 2:55pm, March 19, 2019.

X-ray ‘chimneys’ connect the Milky Way to mysterious gamma-ray bubbles. Two glowing columns hundreds of light-years long extend from the center of the galaxy. By Emily Conover, 2:00pm, March 20, 2019.

Dwarf planet Ultima Thule flatter than thought

This 8 February 2019 video says about itself:

Ultima Thule is Flatter Than Previously Thought

NASA New Horizons‘ imagery of the Kuiper Belt Object has revealed its true shape.

Ultima Thule is shaped like two lumpy pancakes. New images reveal the skinny side of the Kuiper Belt object. By Emily Conover, 6:00pm, February 8, 2019.

Ultima Thule may be a frankenworld, Astronomers are closer to uncovering the distant space rock’s origin story. By Lisa Grossman, 5:35pm, March 18, 2019.

Dwarf planet Ultima Thule first photos

This 2 January 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

New Horizons probe sends back first images of Ultima Thule

NASA says it will release new images Wednesday of Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever explored by humans, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. Scientists believe the icy world, more than a billion miles beyond Pluto, will reveal clues about the origins of the solar system. Mark Strassmann reports.

New Horizons shows Ultima Thule looks like a snowman, or maybe BB-8. The Kuiper Belt object is probably two rocks stuck together. By Lisa Grossman, 5:42pm, January 2, 2019.

See also here.

The latest picture of Ultima Thule reveals a remarkably smooth face. The object’s lack of craters suggests the Kuiper Belt isn’t filled with lots of space hazards. By Lisa Grossman, 11:17am, January 29, 2019.

The moon, science and militarisation

This video from the USa says about itself:

Trump Presents ‘Space Force: Episode Dumb’

Today Donald Trump is calling for a space military. Tomorrow he’ll be calling for a space military parade.

By Henry Allan and Bryan Dyne in the USA:

Moon targeted for further exploration, orbiting space stations and militarization

27 December 2018

Earlier this year, NASA announced plans to build a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, which is slated to be humanity’s tenth space station and the first that will orbit the Moon. The Gateway is projected to be operational by the mid-2020s, with the first initial component of the outpost ready to launch in 2022. Congress has already provided $504 million for the initial planning and design of the space station and the project, if it goes forward, is estimated to cost $3 billion a year.

NASA is promoting the Gateway as a lunar-orbiting station with scientific instruments attached externally as well as internally in order to conduct scientific experiments, control lunar rovers, or even act as a jumping off point for further ventures into space, including possible launches towards deep space.

“I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions”, said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington, earlier this year. “The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system.”

Whatever its potential achievements, however, the development of the Gateway cannot be seen outside the context of the plan to create a “Space Force” as the sixth branch of the US military and the growing militarization of space in general.

When US President Donald Trump announced his intent to form the “Space Force” in June, he made it clear that the move was part of the war plans directed against Russia and China. “Our destiny beyond the Earth is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security”, Trump declared, adding that the United States should not have “China and Russia and other countries leading us.” He further emphasized, “It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space; we must have American dominance in space.”

House Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin, a Texas Republican, echoed the national-chauvinist line of Trump, declaring, “Under the president’s leadership, we are now on the verge of a new generation of American greatness and leadership in space—leading us to once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”

The Gateway would inevitably be a part of these efforts. A US space station orbiting the Moon immediately raises the possibility of policing of the space between Earth and the Moon, whether by manned or unmanned vehicles. These in turn would need a broader support network of spy satellites and other infrastructure necessary for such an undertaking, including space-based weapons.

It would no doubt also be used as an attempt to counter the influence of China, which is currently planning on building its own base on the surface of the Moon. It is not far-fetched to consider a “freedom of navigation” provocation, like those conducted repeatedly by the US military in the South China Sea, carried out against Chinese vessels in space. The Gateway might also be used as the pretext for attacking a craft that simply went too close to the station, violating its “territorial waters”, so to speak. Any of these could be used to start a war.

Such moves in the direction of new wars of aggression came into sharp focus when Trump announced the unilateral US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, which prohibited Washington and Moscow from developing short- and medium-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The withdrawal will set the stage for a further development of the US nuclear arsenal. It also poses the possibility of placing strategic weapons in space, perhaps even as part of the proposed space station.

The Gateway has also drawn criticism from scientists and astronauts who oppose the project as a drain on the already limited resources for space exploration. While the total cost of the Gateway is not fully worked out, it is already known that it will take twenty launches from currently available rockets to get the planned modules for the station to the Moon. This would eliminate twenty launches that could otherwise be dedicated to different unmanned interplanetary missions. While this could be reduced to as little as four if the Gateway was built with either NASA’s Space Launch System or SpaceX’s Super Heavy Starship, [both] of those rocket designs have yet to be built.

Opponents of the Gateway have also pointed out that, unlike the currently operational International Space Station (ISS), because there are no agreements to share any benefits that might be gained from the Gateway, there are no cost-sharing agreements for the station’s operation. If US unilateralism on trade is an example of what will be demanded in space, then other nations will probably stick to the ISS or even begin developing their own, similar projects, with the same inherent risks—the danger of disaster in space and war on Earth.

It is also not clear that the Gateway would actually be a “stepping stone” to missions elsewhere in the Solar System. To arrive at the station, a spacecraft would have to enter orbit around the Moon, which costs fuel. As of now, a trip to the surface of the Moon that first stopped at the Gateway would require thirty percent more fuel. A trip to an asteroid, Mars or elsewhere faces similar problems.