Tag Archives: Space

Where’s the Dark Matter? Look for Suspiciously Warm Planets

WIRED

Physicists calculated that these mysterious particles will betray their location with heat. To prove it, they’ll need the most powerful telescopes in the cosmos.

WE’RE BATHING IN an uncertain universe. Astrophysicists generally accept that about 85 percent of all mass in the universe comes from exotic, still-hypothetical particles called dark matter. Our Milky Way galaxy, which appears as a bright flat disk, lives in a humongous sphere of the stuff—a halo, which gets especially dense toward the center. But dark matter’s very nature dictates that it’s elusive. It doesn’t interact with electromagnetic forces like light, and any potential clashes with matter are rare and hard to spot.

Physicists shrug off those odds. They’ve designed detectors on Earth made out of silicon chips, or liquid argon baths, to capture those interactions directly. They’ve looked at how dark matter may affect neutron stars. And they’re searching for it as it floats by other celestial bodies. “We know we have stars and planets, and they’re just peppered throughout the halo,” says Rebecca Leane, an astroparticle physicist with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. “Just moving through the halo, they can interact with the dark matter.”

For that reason, Leane is suggesting that we look for them in the Milky Way’s vast collection of exoplanets, or those outside our solar system.

Read the full story in WIRED

NASA Lands Ingenuity, the First-Ever Mars Helicopter

WIRED

The copter safely whirled its way up and back down, demonstrating the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

VERY EARLY THIS morning, NASA flew a small drone helicopter that its latest rover had toted to Mars, marking humankind’s first controlled and powered flight on another planet. Ingenuity stuck the landing—and space engineers are stoked.

“We’re ecstatic, of course,” said Matthew Golombek, a senior research scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, during a call with WIRED shortly after the Ingenuity team learned of the success. The data that trickled into JPL computers early Monday morning was “nominal,” he said—NASA-speak for a best-case scenario. “Anytime you’ve successfully landed a spacecraft, it’s a pretty good moment,” Golombek said.

Ingenuity ascended about 1 meter per second, until it rose 3 meters—about 10 feet above Mars. The helicopter hung as evenly as its state-of-the-art electronics could allow, and then landed where it had been 40 seconds before. Then, Ingenuity pinged its Earth-bound engineers a message they’ve sought for almost a decade: Mission accomplished. The hovering drone sent back a black-and-white video of its own shadow, and the Perseverance rover’s high-resolution camera snapped shots of the flight and landing from a distance.

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” MiMi Aung, the project manager, told her team after the flight as she stood in front of giant wall art that read “DARE MIGHTY THINGS,” the message that had also been encoded into the rover’s descent parachute.

Read the full story in WIRED

Twinkling Black Holes Reveal an Invisible Cloud in Our Galaxy

WIRED

Cosmic radio backlights are helping scientists size up “missing” forms of matter and might offer clues about what makes up the universe.

AT FIRST, YUANMING Wang was not excited. More relieved, maybe. The first -year astrophysics PhD student at the University of Sydney sat in front of her computer, looking at images in which she’d found the signs of radio waves from distant galaxies twinkling, just as she had hoped. But because Wang’s discovery relied more on scouring ones and zeros than peering through a telescope—and the discovery itself was just plain weird—it took awhile for the moment to hit.

Read the full story in WIRED

How and Why to Watch NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Landing

WIRED

NASA’s biggest and boldest rover attempts a momentous landing on February 18

On Thursday afternoon, Perseverance, NASA’s most ambitious self-driving rover, will attempt the agency’s most challenging Mars landing. Perseverance is carrying a suite of science experiments that will search for signs of life, launch a drone helicopter, and record the planet’s audio for the first time. But conducting those experiments relies solely on whether “Percy” can stick the landing.

Read the full story in WIRED

Chemist by Training, Explorer by Heart | Q&A with NASA Materials Chemist

ACS CHEMMATTERS MAGAZINE

Yajaira Sierra-Sastre is always looking for new worlds to explore. As a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico, she gazed at stars through a clear night sky. “My first passion was for anything related to astronomy and planets and stars and space,” she says. Sierra-Sastre fell in love with science during childhood, and went on to study chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez.“I could see chemistry all around me,” Sierra-Sastre says. After graduating, she started on a path to connect her studies with the real world in as many new ways as possible. “I had this desire of just going out on an adventure.”

In the 20 years since, she has used her degree to teach high school chemistry; earn a PhD making nanomaterials for space experiments; help create new types of textiles and batteries; spend months living in a Mars simulation; and oversee the research projects that keep printed money secure.

Read the full story and Q&A in ACS ChemMatters Magazine (Printed in February 2021 Issue)

Scientists Discover Exposed Bacteria Can Survive in Space for Years

SMITHSONIAN

An experiment conducted outside the International Space Station leads to a controversial theory about how life might travel between planets

Framed by an infinite backdrop of dark, lifeless space, a robotic arm on the International Space Station in 2015 mounted a box of exposed microbes on a handrail 250 miles above Earth. The hearty bacteria had no protection from an onslaught of cosmic ultraviolet, gamma, and x-rays. Back on Earth, scientists wondered whether the germs might survive these conditions for up to three years, the length of the experiment, and if they did, what the results might tell the researchers about the ability of life to travel between planets.

Microbiologists have spent decades studying extremophiles, organisms that endure extreme conditions, to tug at the mysterious threads of how life blossomed on Earth. Some extremophiles can live unprotected in space for several days; others can endure for years, but only by carving out a home inside rocks. These findings underpin the theory that life as we know it can transfer between planets within meteorites or comets. Now, new findings published today in Frontiers in Microbiology, based on that experiment on the International Space Station, show that the bacteria Deinococcus radiodurans can survive at least three years in space. Akihiko Yamagishi, a microbiologist at Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences who led the study, says the results also suggest that microbial life could travel between planets unprotected by rock.

Read the full story in Smithsonian

To Make Oxygen on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance Rover Needs MOXIE

SMITHSONIAN

A new tool from the space agency may produce the gas, completing the next step for planning a round trip voyage

Putting boots on Mars isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than bringing them back.

This week, NASA launches its Perseverance rover on a one-way trip to the surface of Mars. Among many other tools, the craft carries an experimental instrument that could help astronauts in the future make roundtrip voyages to the planet. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, is small, about the size of a car battery. It’s designed to demonstrate a technology that converts carbon dioxide into oxygen with a process called electrolysis. Mars’ thin atmosphere is 95 percent carbon dioxide, but sending anything back into space requires fuel, and burning that fuel requires oxygen. NASA could ship liquid oxygen to the planet, but the volume needed takes up a good deal of space.

MOXIE could show the way to a solution.

Read the full story in Smithsonian