Space & Physics

NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Perseid meteor shower is at its peak right now. If you’re the super-early-morning type (like 3:00 AM early) it can make for a great light show.

But researchers at NASA keep an eye on events like this for different reasons, not least of which is the risk they can pose to satellites and spacecraft in Earth’s orbit.

A new theory of gravity has been shown to form spiral-shaped galaxies in a computer simulation. This image is the night sky above Paranal taken by astronomer Yuri Beletsky in 2007. The laser points to the galactic center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Yuri Beletsky, https://tinyurl.com/y6nnetk6

Einstein's theory of general relativity was revolutionary when it was introduced. Over the past century, aspects of the theory have been proven in experiment after experiment and much of it has become an assumed underpinning of daily life, even for non-scientists.

Take Einstein’s description of gravity.

Gravity is gravity, right? How strong it is depends on the mass of the objects involved. Or maybe not.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstad/Sean Doran

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. It’s one of the most recognizable features of any planet in our solar system, right up there with Saturn’s rings.

And, remarkably, it’s a storm. A really huge storm that’s been raging for hundreds of years.

This galaxy is one of 10 used in Fermi's dark matter search. Dark matter has been elusive.
NASA. ESO/Digital Sky Survey 2

Dark matter is thought to make up a little over a quarter of the universe. That’s six times more than all the matter ever observed. And, yet, dark matter is called that because it’s a mystery. 

“With 24 candidates, there are 620 billion trillion possible rankings. When there are many candidates, there are many more ways for people to disagree than to agree.”     -Alexander Strang

Eugene A. Cernan, Apollo 17 Commander / NASA

Apollo astronauts brought home nearly 850 pounds of rocks and soil from the moon. Those samples forced scientists to throw out much of what they thought they knew about the moon, and the collection continues to be a staple of lunar research.

Saturn, from images collected shortly after Cassini began its extended equinox mission in July 2008.
NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

Remember back in 2017 when the Cassini space craft dove through Saturn’s rings and plunged to its death in Saturn’s atmosphere? Well, like the Mars rover Opportunity, Cassini’s legacy lives on in the data it sent back.

And now, thanks to that data, scientists have figured out that a day on Saturn lasts 10 hours, 33 minutes, and 38 seconds. Plus or minus a minute or two.

NASA/JPL

NASA announced on Wednesday that the Mars rover Opportunity had not responded to months of messages and the mission is officially over. That news came an astounding 15 years after completing its initial 90-day mission.  

The first color image of MU69 taken on January 1, 2019. It will take up to a year to get all of the data back from New Horizons to get a clear picture of this object, which is the farthest object in the solar system to be visited by a spacecraft.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL), and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)

Despite the government shutdown, NASA was live streaming on New Year’s Day as the New Horizons space craft made a flyby of the most distant object humanity has ever explored – an icy, red, snowman-shaped object known as 2014 MU69. You may have heard it referred to by its nickname Ultima Thule.   

NASA/JPL, https://tinyurl.com/y79nxbvg

As we sit here at the start of the year, we’re reflecting on where we are and where we are headed – as individuals, as a society, and as a planet. 

Vadim Kurland, https://tinyurl.com/ya98oszq

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that stands nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. The highest peak in Hawaii, it is a sacred place for native Hawaiians. It is also a sought-after location for astronomical observatories. There are currently 13 telescopes on the mountain, and there are plans for a fourteenth.

The proposed telescope, called the "Thirty Meter Telescope," would be massive and it’s the focus of intense controversy. Some native Hawaiians are strongly opposed to the project for spiritual, cultural, and environmental reasons. There have been years of protests.

On August 13, 2018, NASA published this mosaic of photos taken by Cassini.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini space probe spent 13 years circling Saturn, sending back data and stunning images of the planet and its moons.

The 1957 International Geophysical Year helped build bridges between American and Russian scientists, even as Cold War tensions continued.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Designed by Ervine Metzl. / U.S. Postal Service; National Postal Museum

To say that global nuclear politics is in flux is an understatement. President Trump has announced that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Meanwhile, he is planning a summit with North Korea in June. Scientific collaboration and cooperation has played an important part in nuclear diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia for decades, and could be a tool in our shifting relationships with Iran and North Korea. 

Two different forms of light have showed up in recent science headlines. Nature multi-media editor Shamini Bundell explains: light from first stars hints at dark matter. Astronomers have detected the fingerprint of light from a period known as the Cosmic Dawn, when the earliest stars were forming.

A total solar eclipse is seen on August 21, 2017 above Madras, Oregon.
NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The March for Science drew thousands of science supporters, but the science event of the year was the Great American Eclipse, with millions of viewers highlighting an unexpected enthusiasm. Missions to Jupiter and Saturn also grabbed headlines. Gravitational wave researchers scored a Nobel Prize, and then announced an even bigger accomplishment – both seeing and hearing a neutron star collision. And President Trump calls for a return to deep space, at the expense of earth science.

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