Last week, NASA revealed some of the science and technology payloads that will hitch the ride to deep space with the agency’s Artemis I moon mission. That same week, a Russian cosmonaut had to cut short his spacewalk due to a space suit battery failure. Here’s a brief rundown of an exciting week for space news.
Artemis I: Sending yeast into space with the BioSentinel
NASA’s Artemis I mission may remain unsolved, but that doesn’t mean there’s no life on board. A shoebox-sized satellite called BioSentinel will carry microscopic, in the form of yeast, into deep space, helping scientists fill critical gaps in knowledge about the health risks of radiation in deep space.
The primary purpose of BioSentinel is to monitor yeast’s vital signs to see how microorganisms respond to radiation in deep space. Examining yeast in space will help us better understand the risks of space radiation to humans because yeast has many of the same biological mechanisms as human cells, including those for DNA damage and repair. This will help us better prepare for crewed missions to the Moon and beyond.
Artemis I: NASA Launches Launchpad
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft arrive at the launch pad on Wednesday (Aug. 17). It took about 10 hours to complete the rocket’s six-kilometre journey from the rocket’s assembly building to Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. When the rocket will launch, there will be no crew inside the rocket. Instead, there will be three mannequins on board, along with a variety of sensors to measure radiation and vibration.
After launch, the capsule will fly around the Moon in distant orbit before heading back for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. NASA’s first mission as part of the Artemis program will last about six weeks. After Artemis I, NASA is targeting a lunar-orbiting flight with astronauts within two years and a lunar landing with a human crew in early 2025.
Using colliding black holes to learn about the universe
Researchers have developed a method to use pairs of colliding black holes to measure the age of the universe and how rapidly it is expanding. The study, published in Physical Review Letters, will help scientists better understand how the universe evolved and where it is headed.
Scientists can use the cosmic background radiation to see the early moments of the universe, and the galaxies around them to study their recent history. But it is the intervening period, known as the “teenage years” of the universe, that is difficult to study. Scientists are hoping that the newly developed “spectral siren” method can help them do just that.
NASA researches “planetary photobombers”
While photobombing is annoying enough in our daily lives, NASA research has found that the same phenomenon occurs on a cosmic scale: “planetary photobombing.” According to a study by space agency scientists, when a telescope is pointed at an exoplanet, the light reflected by the planet “may be corrupted: by light from other planets in the same system.”
The research article, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, describes how this photobombing effect would affect a space telescope’s ability to observe habitable exoplanets. This photobombing could complicate or even prevent the identification and confirmation of potential Earth-like planets outside our solar system, or exo-Earths.
Closest discovered pair of black holes
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope has captured an image of NGC 7727, a giant galaxy that was formed by the merger of two galaxies. And at the center of NGC 7727 is the closest pair of supermassive black holes ever found. These two massive objects are destined to merge into a single, even more massive black hole.
The two bright points in the center of the Milky Way are indicative of a dramatic galactic merger with the Milky Way that contains the original cores from the two galaxies. Galactic mergers are very violent and spectacular events but generally, individual stars do not collide with each other because the distance between them is very large compared to their size.