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Last week, NASA unveiled some of the science and technology payloads that will head into deep space with the agency’s Artemis I lunar mission. In the same week, a Russian cosmonaut had to cut short his journey into space due to a spacesuit battery failure. Here’s our roundup of an exciting week for space news.
Artemis I: Sending yeast into space with BioSentinel
NASA’s Artemis I mission may be grounded, but that doesn’t mean there’s no life on board. A shoebox-sized satellite called BioSentinel will carry microorganisms in the form of yeast into deep space to help scientists fill critical gaps in knowledge about the health risks of deep space radiation.
BioSentinel’s primary goal is to monitor yeast vital signs to see how the microorganism responds to radiation in deep space. Examining yeast in space will help us better understand the risks of cosmic rays to humans, because yeast has many of the same biological mechanisms as human cells, including mechanisms for DNA damage and repair. This will help us better prepare for manned missions to the Moon and beyond.
Artemis I: NASA hits the launch pad
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) spacecraft and Orion spacecraft arrived at the launch pad on Wednesday (August 17). The rocket took nearly 10 hours to complete the six-kilometer journey from its assembly building at Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. When the rocket launches, there will be no crew inside the rocket. Instead, there will be three dummies on board with various sensors to measure radiation and vibrations.
After launch, the capsule will fly around the moon in a distant orbit before heading back to the Pacific Ocean. NASA’s first Artemis mission will last about six weeks in total. After Artemis I, NASA aims to fly astronauts into lunar orbit within two years and land humans on the moon as early as 2025
Using colliding black holes to explore the universe
Scientists have developed a method to use pairs of colliding black holes to measure the age of the universe and its rate of expansion. The study, published in Physical Review Letters, will help scientists understand how the universe evolved and where it is headed.
Scientists can use the cosmic background radiation to look at the earliest moments of the universe and look around at galaxies near our own to study its recent history. But it’s the period in between, known as the “adolescence” of the universe, that is difficult to study. Scientists hope that the newly developed “spectral siren” method can help them do just that.
NASA Explores ‘Planetary Photobombers’
Although 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 scientists at the space agency, when a telescope is pointed at an exoplanet, the light reflected from the planet could be “contaminated: by light from other planets in the same system.
A research paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters models how this photobombardment effect would affect the space telescope’s ability to observe habitable exoplanets. This photobombardment could complicate or even prevent the detection and confirmation of potential Earth-like planets outside our solar system or exo-Earths.
The closest pair of black holes discovered
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope has captured an image of NGC 7727, a massive galaxy formed by the merger of two galaxies. And at the center of NGC 7727 lies 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 spots in the center of the galaxy are signs of a dramatic galactic merger with the galactic core consisting of the original nuclei of both galaxies. Galactic mergers are very violent and spectacular events, but in general individual stars do not collide with each other because the distances between them are very large compared to their size.
The malfunctioning space suit of a Russian cosmonaut
A Russian cosmonaut had to be rushed back to the International Space Station when the battery voltage suddenly dropped in his spacesuit. Oleg Artemyev, the station commander, was ordered by Russian mission control to return to the airlock so he could connect his suit to power the station. Meanwhile, the hatch remained open while Denis Matveev, Artemyev’s spacewalk partner, cleaned up outside.
Russian mission control cut short the spacewalk, even though Matveev’s suit worked as intended due to flight rules. The pair managed to install the cameras on the European Space Agency’s new robotic arm before trouble arose, about two hours into the planned six-thirty spacewalk.
Potential landing areas for the Artemis III crewed mission
NASA has identified 13 potential landing sites for manned missions to the Moon. Each of these areas has several potential landing sites for Artemis III, which will return humans to the Moon for more than half a century. The mission will also witness the first woman to walk 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 areas. The team took into account many criteria, including the slope of the terrain, ease of communication with Earth and light conditions, to determine the ability of these areas to provide a safe landing.