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Inside the 3D-printed box in Texas where humans will prepare for Mars

The four crew members will live in a small housing unit that was constructed using a huge 3D printer to simulate how Nasa may create structures on the Martian surface with Martian soil. They’ll conduct experiments, grow food and exercise – and be tested regularly so scientists can learn what a year on Mars could do to the body and mind.

Watching four people spend a year in a 3D-printed box is Nasa’s next small step toward landing humans on the surface of Mars. Nasa says it hopes to send humans to the red planet as early as the 2030s. The first mission could be a nine-month trip one-way, and could leave the astronauts on the surface for two and a half years before starting the long trip back home.

“No matter how challenging or large or expensive something like this is, it’s easier than doing it in spaceflight,” said Scott Smith, who leads the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory at Nasa Johnson Space Center. “So when we want to look at bone loss and muscle loss, we put people to bed. When we want to look at vitamin D and people that don’t see the sun, we go to Antarctica. When we look at oxidative stress, we go to the bottom of the ocean. And when we want to look at closed environments and stress, we build chambers like this.”

The 1,700 sq ft home for the next year includes four private quarters and a shared bathroom with a shower and toilet. There are dedicated workstations, a medical station and lounge area – complete with board games like Settlers of Catan: Starfarers edition and Monopoly, and a Play Station 3 and Super Nintendo console. Using indoor greenhouses, the crew members will grow ready-to-eat food like tomatoes and leafy greens, which will also let Nasa evaluate the quality and efficacy of its plan to grow crops on Mars.

Their trash will be analyzed by Nasa scientists working to design products that can be reused in space. There will even be a 22-minute communication delay between the Chapea inhabitants and the outside world, just like astronauts will experience when communicating with Earth.

“The whole experience is impacting the human, and what we’re looking at is the response to the human,” Smith said. “All that will likely show up in the data we’re collecting.”

The most striking feature in the Chapea habitat is the 1,200-sq ft sandbox outside. The crew will don pseudo space suits and go through a fake airlock to enter the “outdoor” portion of the habitat – an inflatable bubble filled with sand and a simulated Martian landscape.

It’s here that the participants will complete simulated missions – Nasa’s calling them “Marswalks” – which will be completed in pairs, complete with virtual-reality technology to make it seem like they’re actually traversing the red planet’s surface.

Some of those traverses will use basic geology skills – identifying rocks of interest, photographing them and bringing a sample inside for analysis – or site evaluation skills for possible construction of other structures as our footprint on Mars expands. Other missions will involve maintenance to the Chapea structure or dusting sand off of the habitat’s outdoor solar panels. Using treadmills and the VR simulations, they could hike for hours, like real astronauts may need to, to conduct research and gather resources on Mars.

But Nasa won’t just be collecting data from the experiments conducted by the Chapea participants, they’ll also be monitored closely for signs of physical and mental stress.

Nasa says it wants to make the experiment as Mars-like as possible, which means not just isolation, but extra manufactured stressors like resource limitation, equipment failure and heavy workloads.

The crew members will have a limited food supply, for example, and will need to allocate resources carefully. They’ll need to submit regular blood samples and conduct psychological surveys.

“We are very interested in the stress response to a situation like that, particularly in that long-term isolation and confinement,” Bell said. “We don’t have a lot of data about what happens to someone in isolation for a year.”

Douglas said the participants are allowed to leave the habitat and the experiment if they wish and two alternates have also been selected just in case. “We’ve set the team up for success,” Bell said, “but we still need that data before we actually send people to Mars.”

Advanced Civilizations Could be Using Dyson Spheres to Collect Energy From Black Holes. Here’s how we Could Detect Them

Black holes are more than just massive objects that swallow everything around them – they’re also one of the universe’s biggest and most stable energy sources.  That would make them invaluable to the type of civilization that needs huge amounts of power, such as a Type II Kardashev civilization.  But to harness all of that power, the civilization would have to encircle the entire black hole with something that could capture the power it is emitting. 

One potential solution would be a Dyson sphere – a type of stellar mega engineering project that encapsulates an entire star (or, in this case, a black hole) in an artificial sheath that captures all of the energy the object at its center emits.  But even if it was able to capture all of the energy the black hole emits, the sphere itself would still suffer from heat loss.  And that heat loss would make it visible to us, according to new research published by an international team led by researchers at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. 

Obviously, no such structure has yet been detected. Still, the paper proves that it is possible to do so, despite no visible light making it past the sphere’s surface and a black hole’s reputation for being light sinks rather than light sources.  To understand how we would detect such a system, first, it would be helpful to understand what that system would be designed to do.

Image of the large-scale structure of the Universe, showing filaments and voids within the cosmic structure. Credit: Millennium Simulation Project
The Largest Rotating Objects in the Universe: Galactic Filaments Hundreds of Millions of Light-Years Long

We’ve known for a while about the large-scale structure of the Universe. Galaxies reside in filaments hundreds of millions of light-years long, on a backbone of dark matter. And, where those filaments meet, there are galaxy clusters. Between them are massive voids, where galaxies are sparse. Now a team of astronomers in Germany and their colleagues in China and Estonia have made an intriguing discovery.

These massive filaments are rotating, and this kind of rotation on such a massive scale has never been seen before.

By mapping the motion of galaxies in these huge cosmic superhighways using the Sloan Digital Sky survey – a survey of hundreds of thousands of galaxies – we found a remarkable property of these filaments: they spin.” says Peng Wang, first author of the now published study and astronomer at the AIP (Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam).

“Despite being thin cylinders – similar in dimension to pencils – hundreds of millions of light years long, but just a few million light years in diameter, these fantastic tendrils of matter rotate,” added Noam Libeskind, initiator of the project at the AIP. “On these scales the galaxies within them are themselves just specs of dust. They move on helixes or corkscrew like orbits, circling around the middle of the filament while travelling along it. Such a spin has never been seen before on such enormous scales, and the implication is that there must be an as yet unknown physical mechanism responsible for torquing these objects.”

However, the researchers caution, their results don’t imply that every filament in the Universe is rotating. That would be an over-reach. “This work does not predict that every single filament in the Universe is rotating,” they write, “rather that there are subsamples—intimately connected to the viewing angle end point mass—that show a clear signal consistent with rotation. This is the main finding of this work.”

“Taken together,” the team writes in their conclusion, “the current study and Xia et al. (2021) demonstrate that angular momentum can be generated on unprecedented scales, opening the door to a new understanding of cosmic spin.

This graphic shows the spot where the spacecraft touched down on the asteroid.
This graphic shows the spot where the spacecraft touched down on the asteroid.
NASA spacecraft carrying history-making asteroid sample now heading toward Earth

After spending two-and-a-half years together, a NASA spacecraft bid farewell to its asteroid companion Monday and began the long journey back to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, and it carries a generous amount of material collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

It’s the culmination of years of hard work by the mission’s team, which was fueled by a common sense of purpose and unity, said Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Although the team is thrilled to examine the asteroid sample once it returns to Earth, they’re bittersweet to be leaving Bennu after spending so much time studying the asteroid up close.

This thruster burn lasted for seven minutes. This departure sequence was a big step for the spacecraft. The thrusters had to shift the spacecraft’s velocity by 595 miles per hour (958 kilometers per hour) to put OSIRIS-Rex on a course to catch up with Earth. The spacecraft is now moving away from Bennu at over 600 mph.

The spacecraft will swing by Earth on September 24, 2023 and drop the sample, containing 2.1 ounces of material from the surface of Bennu, at the Utah Test and Training Range. If the spacecraft is still in good health, it will then start on a new expedition to study other asteroids.

It was the first NASA mission sent to a near-Earth asteroid and performed the closest orbit of a planetary body by a spacecraft. Bennu became the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.

The unprecedented close views of Bennu afforded the mission team insights about the asteroid, which included the discovery of water ice locked within Bennu’s rocks and carbon in a form that is largely associated with biology.

They also witnessed particles from the asteroid releasing into space. And then there was TAG, the historic Touch-and-Go sample collection event that occurred on October 20.

It’s also crucial to understand more about the population of near-Earth asteroids like Bennu that may be on an eventual collision course with Earth. A better grasp of their composition and orbits is key in predicting which asteroids may have the closest approaches to Earth and when, as well as developing methods of deflecting these asteroids.

After the Bennu sample lands on Earth, it will be brought to a new lab currently in development at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The sample will be divided up and sent to laboratories around the globe — and 75% of it will remain pristine in storage so future generations with better technology can learn even more than what is currently possible.

Data from MOXIE’s first oxygen production test. The two minor reductions in oxygen production, labelled ‘Current sweeps’, were carried out purposefully to assess the instrument’s status.
Perseverance Successfully Extracts Oxygen From the Martian Atmosphere. About 10 Minutes of Breathing Time for an Astronaut

“Humanity achieved an incredible series of new milestones on Mars this week. It began on Monday April 19th, when the Ingenuity helicopter demonstrated the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another world. And now, for the first time, the Perseverance rover has used ingredients from the Martian atmosphere to create breathable oxygen, in a test that might pave the way for future astronauts to ‘live off the land’ on the Red Planet.

MOXIE works by sucking in carbon dioxide (which makes up about 96% of Mars’ thin atmosphere) while filtering out unwanted particles. The compressed carbon dioxide is then heated, breaking the molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide. Further heating is required to separate the two new gasses, releasing the unwanted carbon monoxide back into the atmosphere, and leaving behind the breathable oxygen. MOXIE’s gold plated exterior is designed to protect the other instruments on the rover from the process’s extreme heat, which reaches over 800 degrees Celsius/1470 Fahrenheit.

Like Ingenuity, MOXIE is a technology demonstration: neither has any impact on Perseverance’s primary science goals. Instead, they are meant to provide proofs of concept for future missions. Future Ingenuity-like drones might be able to explore places a rover can’t go, like a cliff edge or a fissure, for example. Similarly, future missions could use MOXIE-like technology to enable long-term exploration.

Creating a breathable atmosphere for humans isn’t the only application. It could also be used to refuel a rocket for its return journey home. As MOXIE’s principal investigator Michael Hecht explains, “To get four astronauts off the Martian surface on a future mission would require 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel and 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen…The astronauts who spend a year on the surface will maybe use one metric ton between them to breathe.” In other words, most of the oxygen created by future MOXIE-like gadgets won’t be for life-support, but rather for propulsion.”

A comparison of alien raindrops
What Would Raindrops be Like on Other Worlds?

“Precipitation is much more widespread throughout that solar system than commonly assumed.  Obviously it rains water on Earth.  But it snows carbon dioxide on Mars, rains methane on Titansulfuric acid on Venus, and could potentially rain diamonds on Neptune.  The type of material falling out of the sky is almost as varied as the planets themselves.  New research from a team led by Kaitlyn Loftus at Harvard found a similarity for all of the liquid materials that constitute rain throughout the solar system – all of the drops, no matter the material, are roughly the same size.

There are two main causes for this: small raindrops evaporate while large raindrops separate into smaller ones.  To determine what those levels might be, the scientists looked at what size droplets could be on planets similar to Earth, such as Mars or Venus. 

Understanding that relationship is not the only beneficial outcome of further study in this area.  Understanding how raindrops form on other planets could help exoplanetologists understand the atmospheres of exoplanets, which is going to become a much more prescient topic with the launch of much more powerful exoplanet observing satellites in the near future.”

This artist's conception shows the brilliant light of two quasars residing in the cores of two galaxies that are merging.
This artist’s conception shows the brilliant light of two quasars residing in the cores of two galaxies that are in the chaotic process of merging.
Hubble Spots Double Quasars in Merging Galaxies

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is “seeing double.” Peering back 10 billion years into the universe’s past, Hubble astronomers found a pair of quasars that are so close to each other they look like a single object in ground-based telescopic photos, but not in Hubble’s crisp view.

The researchers believe the quasars are very close to each other because they reside in the cores of two merging galaxies. The team went on to win the “daily double” by finding yet another quasar pair in another colliding galaxy duo.

The observations are important because a quasar’s role in galactic encounters plays a critical part in galaxy formation, the researchers say. As two close galaxies begin to distort each other gravitationally, their interaction funnels material into their respective black holes, igniting their quasars.

Over time, radiation from these high-intensity “light bulbs” launch powerful galactic winds, which sweep out most of the gas from the merging galaxies. Deprived of gas, star formation ceases, and the galaxies evolve into elliptical galaxies.

“Quasars make a profound impact on galaxy formation in the universe,” Zakamska said. “Finding dual quasars at this early epoch is important because we can now test our long-standing ideas of how black holes and their host galaxies evolve together.”

Artist’s concept depicting the early Martian environment (right) versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left). Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Maybe Mars Didn’t Lose its Water After All. It’s Still Trapped on the Planet

Roughly 4 billion years ago, Mars looked a lot different than it does today. For starters, its atmosphere was thicker and warmer, and liquid water flowed across its surface. This included rivers, standing lakes, and even a deep ocean that covered much of the northern hemisphere. Evidence of this warm, watery past has been preserved all over the planet in the form of lakebeds, river valleys, and river deltas.

For some time, scientists have been trying to answer a simple question: where did all that water go? Did it escape into space after Mars lost its atmosphere, or retreat somewhere? According to new research from Caltech and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), between 30% and 90% of Mars’ water went underground. These findings contradict the widely-accepted theory that Mars lost its water to space over the course of eons.

The research was led by Eva Scheller, a Ph.D. candidate at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She was joined by Caltech Prof. Bethany Ehlmann, who is also the associate director for the Keck Institute for Space Studies; Caltech Prof. Yuk Yung, a senior research scientist with NASA JPL; Caltech graduate student Danica Adams; and JPL research scientist Renyu Hu.

This illustration depicts the metal-rich asteroid Psyche, which is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Exploring the Metal-Rich Asteroid Psyche

Set to launch next year, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft will explore a metal-rich asteroid of the same name in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

major component of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft has been delivered to the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the phase known as assembly, test, and launch operations is now underway. Over the next year, the spacecraft will finish assembly and undergo rigorous checkout and testing before it’s shipped to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for an August 2022 launch to the main asteroid belt.

Space hotel concept that is orbiting Earth.
World’s first space hotel scheduled to open in 2027

Back in 2019, Californian company the Gateway Foundation released plans for a cruise ship-style hotel that could one day float above the Earth’s atmosphere.

Then called the Von Braun Station, this futuristic concept — comprised of 24 modules connected by elevator shafts that make up a rotating wheel orbiting the Earth — was scheduled to be fully operational by 2027.

Fast forward a couple years and the hotel has a new name — Voyager Station — and it’s set to be built by Orbital Assembly Corporation, a new construction company run by former pilot John Blincow, who also heads up the Gateway Foundation.

Supermassive black hole’s swirling magnetic field pictured.
New image reveals supermassive black hole’s swirling magnetic field

Astronomers have a new, more complete picture of the supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy 55 million light-years from Earth — the first black hole ever to be imaged.

While the first image of this black hole and its shadow was released in 2019, the new image released Wednesday shows the cosmic body in polarized light.

In this case, analyzing how the light around this black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy is polarized allowed astronomers a sharper view and the ability to map magnetic field lines near its inner edge. The scientists also discovered that a significant amount of light around the black hole is polarized.

The supermassive black hole that is spotted wandering through space.
Supermassive black hole spotted wandering through space

Supermassive black holes usually sit like stationary engines at the centers of galaxies, sucking in everything around them.

Now astronomers have detected a highly unusual case of one wandering through space.

Astronomers previously believed it was possible for supermassive black holes to be actively on the move, but it has been difficult to gather evidence for that theory.

The rock, nicknamed “Rochette,” from which NASA’s Perseverance rover obtained its first core samples, seen with two holes drilled in it.
Two holes are visible in the rock, nicknamed “Rochette,” from which NASA’s Perseverance rover obtained its first core samples. The rover drilled the hole on the left, called “Montagnac,” Sept. 7, and the hole on the right, known as “Montdenier,” Sept. 1. Below it is a round spot the rover abraded.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA’s Perseverance Rover Collects Puzzle Pieces of Mars’ History

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover successfully collected its first pair of rock samples, and scientists already are gaining new insights into the region. After collecting its first sample, named “Montdenier,” Sept. 6, the team collected a second, “Montagnac,” from the same rock Sept. 8.

“It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” said Ken Farley of Caltech, project scientist for the mission, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “It’s a big deal that the water was there a long time.”

The rock that provided the mission’s first core samples is basaltic in composition and may be the product of lava flows. The presence of crystalline minerals in volcanic rocks is especially helpful in radiometric dating. The volcanic origin of the rock could help scientists accurately date when it formed. Each sample can serve as part of a larger chronological puzzle; put them in the right order, and scientists have a timeline of the most important events in the crater’s history. Some of those events include the formation of Jezero Crater, the emergence and disappearance of Jezero’s lake, and changes to the planet’s climate in the ancient past.

What’s more, salts have been spied within these rocks. These salts may have formed when groundwater flowed through and altered the original minerals in the rock, or more likely when liquid water evaporated, leaving the salts. The salt minerals in these first two rock cores may also have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water. If present, they could serve as microscopic time capsules, offering clues about the ancient climate and habitability of Mars. Salt minerals are also well-known on Earth for their ability to preserve signs of ancient life.

But the level of alteration that scientists see in the rock that provided the core samples – as well as in the rock the team targeted on their first sample-acquisition attempt – suggests that groundwater was present for a long time.

This groundwater could have been related to the lake that was once in Jezero, or it could have traveled through the rocks long after the lake had dried up. Though scientists still can’t say whether any of the water that altered these rocks was present for tens of thousands or for millions of years, they feel more certain that it was there for long enough to make the area more welcoming to microscopic life in the past.

Perseverance’s next likely sample site is just 656 feet (200 meters) away in “South Séítah,” a series of ridges covered by sand dunes, boulders, and rock shards that Farley likens to “broken dinner plates.”

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith –broken rock and dust.

Swarms of Robots Could Dig Underground Cities on Mars

Underground habitats have recently become a focal point of off-planet colonization efforts.  Protection from micrometeorites, radiation, and other potential hazards makes underground sites desirable compared to surface dwellings. Building such subterranean structures presents a plethora of challenges, not the least of which is how to actually construct them.  A team of researchers at the Delft University of Technology (TUD) is working on a plan to excavate material and then use it to print habitats.  All that would be done with a group of swarming robots.

The idea stems from a grant opportunity posted by the European Space Agency.  Students at the Robotic Building lab (RB) at TU Delft, led by Dr. Henriette Bier, were enthusiastic to participate in the challenge that focuses on in-situ resource utilization for off-Earth construction.  The RB team, together with experts in material science, robotics, and aerospace engineering submitted an idea that was granted €100k to develop a preliminary proof of concept. 

The proposed approach focuses on the lab’s specialty – robotic building – and has four main components – digging out the regolith, printing a new habitat using an additive manufacturing process, coordinating the work between all the robots that would be needed to complete the tasks, and powering them as well as the habitat.

An example of the "rhizome" habitat that would have a relatively small exposed area on the surface but provide a large habitable space underground.
An example of the “rhizome” habitat that would have a relatively small exposed area on the surface but provide a large habitable space underground.
Credit: Bier et al.

With luck, swarming robots and 3D printed cement-based habitats will play a key role in the future development of what so far is only science fiction – an underground city on Mars.

Image from JunoCam, the visible light camera on board the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter. 
Stare Straight Down Into a Giant Storm on Jupiter

“A new batch of images recently arrived at Earth from JunoCam, the visible light camera on board the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter. The camera has provided stunning views of the gas giant world since the spacecraft’s arrival in 2016.

How big are these storms?

Just the inner core is 3,748km wide

You can find all the raw data plus a gallery of processed images from people all around the world at the JunoCam website. Kevin Gill, one of our favorite image editing gurus, posts regularly on Twitter, and has a Flickr gallery of the work he’s done with data from Juno, the Mars rovers, and more, including his personal astrophotography and landscape images.

The mission recently received an extension, with plans to keep Juno going until September 2025 – or however long the spacecraft can keep operating in the harsh environment around Jupiter.

During it’s time in orbit, Juno has made discoveries about Jupiter’s interior structure, magnetic field, and magnetosphere, and has found its atmospheric dynamics to be far more complex than scientists previously thought.

While Juno has so far focused its attention on the giant planet alone, the mission extension will include observations of Jupiter’s rings and large moons, with targeted observations and close flybys planned of the moons Ganymede, Europa, and Io.”

This 2-dimensional representation shows the flat, unwarped bubble of spacetime in the center where a warp drive would sit surrounded by compressed spacetime to the right (downward curve) and expanded spacetime to the left (upward curve). (Credit: AllenMcC/Wikimedia Commons)
Warp Drives: Physicists Give Chances Of Faster-Than-Light Space Travel A Boost

“If humanity ever wants to travel easily between stars, people will need to go faster than light. But so far, faster-than-light travel is possible only in science fiction.

In Issac Asimov’s Foundation series, humanity can travel from planet to planet, star to star or across the universe using jump drives.

Compression and Expansion

Physicists’ current understanding of spacetime comes from Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. General Relativity states that space and time are fused and that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. General relativity also describes how mass and energy warp spacetime — hefty objects like stars and black holes curve spacetime around them. This curvature is what you feel as gravity and why many spacefaring heroes worry about “getting stuck in” or “falling into” a gravity well. Early science fiction writers John Campbell and Asimov saw this warping as a way to skirt the speed limit.

A negative energy problem

Alcubierre’s warp drive would work by creating a bubble of flat spacetime around the spaceship and curving spacetime around that bubble to reduce distances. The warp drive would require either negative mass — a theorized type of matter — or a ring of negative energy density to work. Physicists have never observed negative mass, so that leaves negative energy as the only option.

A Sci-Fi Future?

Two recent papers — one by Alexey Bobrick and Gianni Martire and another by Erik Lentz — provide solutions that seem to bring warp drives closer to reality.

It is essential to point out that these exciting developments are mathematical models. As a physicist, I won’t fully trust models until we have experimental proof. Yet, the science of warp drives is coming into view. As a science fiction fan, I welcome all this innovative thinking. In the words of Captain Picard, things are only impossible until they are not.

Very deep combined image of ‘Oumuamua (circled)
Interview with Avi Loeb, A Harvard astrophysicist

“The advantage of debris or space junk is that, in principle, you can put your hands on it if you land on such a thing. Or if such a thing enters Earth’s atmosphere and lands as a meteorite on the ground, then you can study what technology is there and maybe import it to Earth. That could save us a million or a billion years in our own technological development.

You can, in principle, be happy just eating good food and having the company of good friends, but to me that, well, that resembles what the dinosaurs used to do.

They used to enjoy eating grass, and that was all fine until 66 million years ago, when a giant rock showed up the size of Manhattan Island, and the fun stopped when it hit the ground.

You can ignore the sky most of the time, but every now and then it comes to haunt you.

Scientific knowledge is always good, you can then decide what to do with it. If you are not prepared, if you don’t know reality well enough, you’re just ignorant. Maybe there are predators out there in space… we want to know about it in advance.”

X-rays from Uranus for the first time, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory
First X-rays from Uranus Discovered

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and has two sets of rings around its equator. The planet, which has four times the diameter of Earth, rotates on its side, making it different from all other planets in the solar system. Since Voyager 2 was the only spacecraft to ever fly by Uranus, astronomers currently rely on telescopes much closer to Earth, like Chandra and the Hubble Space Telescope, to learn about this distant and cold planet that is made up almost entirely of hydrogen and helium.

What could cause Uranus to emit X-rays? The answer: mainly the Sun. Astronomers have observed that both Jupiter and Saturn scatter X-ray light given off by the Sun, similar to how Earth’s atmosphere scatters the Sun’s light. While the authors of the new Uranus study initially expected that most of the X-rays detected would also be from scattering, there are tantalizing hints that at least one other source of X-rays is present. If further observations confirm this, it could have intriguing implications for understanding Uranus.

A paper describing these results appears in the most recent issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research and is available online.

Change of seasons on Saturn
Hubble spies colorful change of seasons on Saturn

Earth isn’t the only planet that experiences a changing of the seasons. The Hubble Space Telescope has revealed the colorful transition from summer to fall in Saturn’s northern hemisphere — a change years in the making.

Saturn, the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest in our solar system, takes about 29 Earth years to complete one orbit around our star. That means that each season on the ringed gas giant lasts more than seven Earth years.

Astronomers have tracked summertime on Saturn for the last few years, capturing images of the planet’s northern hemisphere in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Along the way, they’ve seen changes within Saturn’s turbulent atmosphere at the polar regions and around the equator.

“These small year-to-year changes in Saturn’s color bands are fascinating,” said Amy Simon, planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.

How Mars might have looked like a long time ago.
Mars once had more water than the ARCTIC OCEAN – enough for life to thrive on the red planet
  1. Nasa Goddard scientists in Maryland studied past water on Mars
  2. They found that 3.7 billion years ago it had more than the Arctic Ocean
  3. Most of this would have been in the northern hemisphere of the planet
  4. Since then, 87% has been lost to space and the rest is in ice at the poles
  5. But the scientists now know Mars was wet for more than 1.5 billion years
  6. This is ‘longer than the period of time needed for life to develop on Earth’

Scientists have provided the best estimates yet, claiming it once had more water than the Arctic Ocean – and the planet kept these oceans for more than 1.5 billion years.

The findings suggest there was ample time and water for life on Mars to thrive, but over the last 3.7 billion years the red planet has lost 87 per cent of its water – leaving it barren and dry.

During its wet Noachian period – 4.1 to 3.7 billion years ago – it is estimated that it had enough water to cover the entire surface in a liquid layer 450 feet (137 metres) deep.However, it’s likely that most of the water formed an ocean that occupied the northern hemisphere of Mars, which would have been as deep as one mile (1.6km) in places – comparable to the Mediterranean Sea on Earth.

What a solar panel in space might look like beaming electricity back to Earth.
A solar panel in space is collecting energy that could one day be beamed to anywhere on Earth

Scientists working for the Pentagon have successfully tested a solar panel the size of a pizza box in space, designed as a prototype for a future system to send electricity from space back to any point on Earth.

The panel — known as a Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module (PRAM) — was first launched in May 2020, attached to the Pentagon’s X-37B unmanned drone, to harness light from the sun to convert to electricity. The drone is looping Earth every 90 minutes.

The flight plan for NASA’s Perseverance Mars Landing.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars Landing

The search for signs of ancient life on Mars. The first helicopter fly on another planet. The first recordings of sound on the red planet.

NASA’s most sophisticated rover to date has a packed agenda for the next few years once it lands on the surface of Mars today.

If all goes well — and there is a chance it will not — Perseverance will land around 3:55 p.m. ET.

The rover has been traveling through space since launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at the end of July. When it reaches Mars, Perseverance will have traveled 292.5 million miles on its journey from Earth.

Perseverance is NASA’s first mission that will search for signs of ancient life on another planet to help answer the big question: Was life ever present on Mars? The rover will explore Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient lake that existed 3.9 billion years ago, and search for microfossils in the rocks and soil there.

Along for the ride with Perseverance is an experiment to fly a helicopter, called Ingenuity, on another planet for the first time.

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