Space news weekly recap: Artemis program, colliding black holes and more

Last week, NASA revealed some of the science and technology payloads that will hitchhike into deep space with the agency’s Artemis I moon mission. In the same week, a Russian cosmonaut had to interrupt his spacewalk due to a space suit battery malfunction. Here’s our recap of an exciting week for space news.

Artemis I: sending yeast into space with BioSentinel

NASA’s Artemis I mission may be unmanned, but that doesn’t mean there’s no life on the board. A shoebox-sized satellite called BioSentinel will transport microorganisms, in the form of yeast, into deep space to help scientists fill critical gaps in knowledge of the health risk of radiation in deep space.

The main goal of BioSentinel is to monitor the vital signs of the yeast to see how the microorganism responds to radiation in deep space. Peering yeast into space will help us better understand the risks of space radiation to humans as 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 manned missions to the Moon and beyond.

A rendering of the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft taking off for the Artemis I mission. A rendering of the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft taking off for the Artemis I mission. (Image credit: NASA)

Artemis I: NASA was launched on the launch pad

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft arrived on the launch pad on Wednesday (Aug.17). It took nearly 10 hours to complete the rocket’s six-kilometer journey from its assembly building to Launch Complex 39B at Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center. When the rocket is launched, there will be no crew inside the rocket. Instead, there will be three mannequins on board with a variety of sensors to measure radiation and vibration.

After launch, the capsule will fly around the moon in a distant orbit before turning back for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. NASA’s first mission under the Artemis program will last around six weeks in total. After Artemis I, NASA aims for a lunar orbit flight with astronauts within two years and a lunar landing with a human crew as early as 2025.

Two black holes colliding Sometimes, two black holes collide in spectacular collisions. Such powerful events send space-time ripples across the universe called gravitational waves. (Image credit: Simulation of the eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project via the University of Chicago)

Using colliding black holes to learn about the universe

Researchers have developed a method to use colliding pairs of black holes to measure the age of the universe and how fast it is expanding. The study published in Physical Review Letters it will help scientists understand how the universe has evolved and where it is going.

Scientists can use the cosmic microwave background to observe the first moments of the universe and look around galaxies close to ours to study their recent history. But it is the in-between period, known as the “adolescence” of the universe that is difficult to study. Scientists hope that the newly developed “ghostly siren” method can help them do exactly that.

A cartographic illustration of planetary photobombing A cartoon illustrating the concept of planetary photobombing. Photobomber like Mars and the Moon could sneak into an image of the Earth. (Image credit: NASA / Jay Friedlander / Prabal Saxena)

NASA searches for “planetary photobombers”

While photobombing is annoying enough when it happens in our daily lives, NASA research has found that the same phenomenon occurs on a cosmic scale: “planetary photobombing”. According to a study by scientists from the space agency, when a telescope is pointed at an exoplanet, the light reflected by the planet could be ‚Äúcontaminated: by the light of other planets in the same system.

The research article published in Letters from the astrophysical diary model how this photobombing effect would impact a space telescope’s ability to observe habitable exoplanets. This photobombing could complicate or even prevent the detection and confirmation of potential Earth-like planets outside our solar system, or exo-Earths.

NGC 7727’s spectacular galactic dance as seen from ESO’s VLT. (Image credit: ESO)

The closest pair of black holes discovered

The Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory has captured an image of NGC 7727, a huge galaxy created 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 huge objects are destined to merge into a single even more massive black hole.

The two bright spots in the center of the galaxy are signs of the dramatic galactic merger with the galaxy’s core consisting of the original cores of the two galaxies. Galactic mergers are very violent and spectacular events but generally single stars do not collide with each other since the distances between them are very large, compared to their size.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev are seen during their spacewalk on the International Space Station In this photo taken from footage released by the Roscosmos Space Agency, Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev are seen during their spacewalk on the International Space Station (ISS), Wednesday 17 August 2022. Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev takes a spacewalk to the space station to continue installation work on the European Space Agency’s robotic arm in the new Russian laboratory. (Image credit: Roscosmos Space Agency via AP)

The Russian cosmonaut’s malfunctioning spacesuit

A Russian cosmonaut had to be rushed back inside the International Space Station when the battery voltage in his spacesuit suddenly dropped. Oleg Artemyev, the station commander, was ordered by Russian mission control to return to the airlock so that he could hook his suit to the station’s power supply. Meanwhile, the hatch remained open while Denis Matveev, Artemyev’s spacewalk companion, tidied it out.

Russian mission control disrupted the spacewalk even though Matveev’s suit was working as intended due to flight rules. The duo managed to install the cameras on the European Space Agency’s new robotic arm before problems occurred, about two hours after a planned six-and-a-half-four spacewalk.

NASA renderings of potential landing sites for manned Artemis II moon missions a rendering of 13 candidate landing regions for Artemis III. Each region is approximately 15 by 15 kilometers. A landing site is a place within those regions with a radius of about 100 meters. (Image credit: NASA)

Potential landing regions for the manned Artemis III mission

NASA has identified 13 potential locations for manned mission landing on the Moon. Each of these regions has multiple potential landing sites for Artemis III, which will bring humans back to the moon after more than half a century. The mission will also see the first woman to set foot on the moon.

A team of NASA scientists and engineers used decades of publications, lunar science findings, and data from the space agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to select these regions. The team considered many criteria, including the slope of the terrain, the ease of communication with the Earth, and the lighting conditions to ascertain the ability of these regions to allow for a safe landing.

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