Monday, January 17News That Matters

Tag: Space and Astronomy

The James Webb Telescope Finishes Deployment in Space

The James Webb Telescope Finishes Deployment in Space

Technology
Astronomers are starting to breathe again.Two weeks ago, the most powerful space observatory ever built roared into the sky, carrying the hopes and dreams of a generation of astronomers in a tightly wrapped package of mirrors, wires, motors, cables, latches and willowy sheets of thin plastic on a pillar of smoke and fire.On Saturday, the observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, completed a final, crucial step around 10:30 a.m. by unfolding the last section of its golden, hexagonal mirrors. Nearly three hours later, engineers sent commands to latch those mirrors into place, a step that amounted to it becoming fully deployed, according to NASA.It was the most recent of a series of delicate maneuvers with what the space agency called 344 “single points of failure” while speeding far away ...

Watch Live: James Webb Space Telescope Finishes Unfolding

Technology
The most powerful telescope ever launched into space is nearing the end of a meticulous assembly process that has kept astronomers on edge for weeks.Since its Christmas morning launch, the James Webb Space Telescope has made all the right moves. Now it is entering the final stretch of its complex deployment phase.In these terminal steps, two panels on either side of the telescope’s array of 18 gold-plated hexagonal mirrors, folded back during launch, must snap into place to complete Webb’s honeycomb-like reflector. The 21-foot-wide mirror sends light from the cosmos into a secondary mirror, which then bounces the light into the telescope’s main infrared sensor.Unfolding the mirrors is a crucial milestone along the way to using the telescope for scientific studies of the Big Bang, exoplanet...
Chinese Rover Finds Moon Cube Is Just Rabbit-Like Rock

Chinese Rover Finds Moon Cube Is Just Rabbit-Like Rock

Technology
Last November, China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover spotted something curious on the far side of the moon. The image was blurry, but it was unmistakable: The object looked like a cube sitting on the moon’s surface. Its shape looked too precise to be just a moon rock — perhaps something left by visiting aliens like the monolith in Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”China’s space authorities called it the “mystery hut.” Others called it the “moon cube.” Yutu-2 was sent for a closer look, and at the leisurely speed the rover is capable of traveling, it took weeks to get up close.On Friday, Our Space, a Chinese language science channel affiliated with China National Space Administration, posted an update. There is no monolith, no secret base on the rim of a lunar crater. Close up, it turns out t...
Why a Comet’s Head Is Green, but Its Tail Is Not

Why a Comet’s Head Is Green, but Its Tail Is Not

Technology
The head of a comet often glows green; the tail mostly does not. That includes Comet Leonard, which made its closest pass to the sun on Monday and is heading away again.A team of scientists have now come up with a detailed explanation for this multi-chromatic behavior. The molecule responsible for the emerald hue gets blown apart by sunlight within a couple of days of being created near the comet’s core, leaving almost nothing to glow green in the tail.“We showed exactly how that happens in the lab by using UV lasers, measuring exactly how the molecule blows apart,” said Timothy W. Schmidt, a professor of chemistry at the University of New South Wales in Australia.As a comet — a clump of ices and dust — approaches the sun, it heats up and its ices turn to gas, producing a fuzzy atmosphere ...
Jim Green, NASA’s Retiring Top Scientist, Says We Can Terraform Mars

Jim Green, NASA’s Retiring Top Scientist, Says We Can Terraform Mars

Technology
Oh, yeah, I would love to have seen it earlier, but it wasn’t going to happen. There are certain series of missions that are so big they’re called strategic missions. For them to actually happen, the stars have to align. You have to propose it, have a solid case work, go to the NASA administration and then pitch it to Congress. Every year, I proposed a Europa mission. Every year. The administration was not interested in going to Europa.The plumes on Europa are what made the Europa mission happen. I was at an American Geophysical Union meeting in 2013. Several of the scientists were going to give a talk on finding a plume with Hubble on Europa, and I go, “Oh, my God.” I said this is fantastic, I want to do a press conference. I call back to NASA headquarters, and they pulled it off. I took ...

Big Rockets, Massive Asteroids and More Space Highlights for 2022

Technology
Spaceflight offered unceasing spectacles in 2021.At times, it was overwhelming. Two new rovers landed on Mars, one of them shadowed by an experimental helicopter. Two billionaires launched themselves to the edge of space, and a third billionaire flew himself higher up into orbit. Then William Shatner flew to space, and a fourth billionaire enjoyed a stay aboard the International Space Station.It didn’t end there. China started building a fully operational space station, but relied on a large rocket that reached orbit and then could not be controlled when part of it re-entered the atmosphere. Aboard the International Space Station, a pair of mishaps sent the outpost into unplanned flips in orbit. NASA said goodbye to one asteroid and headed back to Earth carrying samples of it. But NASA als...

Meteor Showers That Peak in 2022: How and Where to Watch

Technology
On any given night, far from bright city lights, there’s a chance you’ll see a beautiful streak shoot across the sky as a meteor flies overhead. But on special dates scattered throughout the year, skywatchers can catch a multitude of flares as meteor showers burst in the darkness.Meteor showers occur when our planet runs into the debris field left behind by icy comets or rocky asteroids going around the sun. These small particles burn up in the atmosphere, leading to blazing trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any given meteor shower happens at roughly the same time each year, with the changing phases of the bright moon being the main variable affecting their visibility. Subscribe to The Times Space and Astronomy Calendar to get a reminder ahead of these events....

What’s Launching to the Moon in 2022

Technology
Robotic missions to Mars and advances in space tourism dominated the space activities of 2021. But in 2022, the moon is likely to stand out, as companies and governments launch various moon-bound spacecraft.Most of those missions revolve around Artemis, NASA’s multibillion dollar effort to return astronauts to the moon later in the decade and conduct routine science missions on its surface in preparation for farther treks to Mars (a far more ambitious endeavor that will likely not happen in this decade). But before astronauts make the moonshot, a series of rocket tests and science missions without humans will need to be completed.2022 is the year for those initial steps toward the moon. Two new rockets central to NASA’s lunar plans will launch to space for the first time, each with more po...

A Divided World United to Launch the James Webb Space Telescope

Technology
America was a nation divided, but that did not stop it from building parts of the James Webb Space Telescope in a red state and testing them in a blue one.The European Union and Russia were facing off over Ukraine and other issues this year, but scientists from both sides will benefit greatly from the discoveries that could soon be within reach.And while the pandemic snarled supply chains around the world, no lockdown could derail the telescope’s trajectory to the stars: Parts were assembled across multiple nations, then tested in the United States and the final product ended up on a launchpad in French Guiana before being hurtled into outer space on Christmas Day.In some ways, the James Webb Space Telescope told a story seldom heard these days: the tale of nations coming together for a co...
You Don’t Need a Spaceship to Grow ‘Weird Little’ Martian Radishes

You Don’t Need a Spaceship to Grow ‘Weird Little’ Martian Radishes

Technology
In the historical imagination, astronomers look through telescopes, and photonic wisdom pours in at the speed of light. Taking what they can get, they passively receive information about far-off stars and planets. These objects are fixed, and their conditions cannot be tweaked.But that’s not how all astronomy works. Planetary and exoplanetary scientists, for instance, don’t just wait for data to come to them: They also construct miniature versions of other places using convenient geological landscapes, gravel crushers and simulation chambers on Earth. In these simulacra, they see, feel and control worlds — or at least metaphors for them — in an attempt to decipher parts of the universe they’ll likely never visit.In making the untouchable physical and the abstract concrete, they are creatin...