While there’s a vast amount of space yet to be explored, it’s easy to forget how much we’ve already learned. And this video shows you how small our little planet actually is.
Note that the true sizes of most stars outside of the Sun and Betelgeuse are not known by direct observation, but rather inferred by measurements of their perceived brightness, temperature, and distance.
For the first time in history, the U.S. government has approved a private company’s plans to visit the moon.
The lunar mission will be undertaken by Cape Canaveral, Florida-based Moon Express, Inc., an aerospace startup founded in 2010 by space entrepreneurs Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards, Naveen Jain and Dr. Barney Pell.
The landmark approval was given to Moon Express after meetings with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the White House, the State Department NASA and other federal agencies.
The company plans to send a 20-pound, unmanned spacecraft beyond Earth’s orbit to the surface of the moon in 2017. If everything goes to plan, Moon Express will become only the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon following the U.S., USSR and China, as TechCrunch noted.
Jain enthusiastically described the ambitious moon-landing project to the Wall Street Journal:
If the maiden trip proves successful, the company plans to mine and retrieve rare elements and metals from the moon in future missions.
“This breakthrough U.S. policy decision provides authorization to Moon Express for a maiden flight of its robotic spacecraft onto the Moon’s surface, beginning a new era of ongoing commercial lunar exploration and discovery, unlocking the immense potential of the Moon’s valuable resources,” the venture’s press release states.
Unsurprisingly, this unprecedented commercial space mission opened up a can of interstellar worms—space regulation is under jurisdiction of the United Nations. As TechCrunch described, Moon Express bought its lunar craft from Rocket Lab on October 2015 before it even had government permission to launch it. The company also did not have the approval to keep what they find on the moon.
But then in November, President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law that allows private companies to keep any resources taken from outer space.
Still, the company did not have clearance to make the trip. To get around this regulatory hurdle, according to TechCrunch, “Jain explained that representatives from multiple federal agencies, including the State Department and the NSA worked together to determine that the FAA, which is already responsible for granting launch licenses to rocket companies, should be the official point of contact for this type of activity.”
To get final government approval for the mission, Moon Express had to ensure it was not breaking space law, as The Verge explained:
Moon Express tried to address three critical provisions of the Outer Space Treaty. First, nations must continually supervise all of the space missions that happen within their borders. Moon Express told the FAA it would frequently update the agency with information on the 2017 trip, so that the government could oversee it.
The second rule is not messing with other nations’ spacecraft or space operations. On the Moon, that mostly means respecting the Apollo sites, and Moon Express assured the government that it wouldn’t disturb these areas.
“Don’t do wheelies over Neil’s footprint,” joked Richards.
Finally, Moon Express had to show the State Department it would abide by the Outer SpaceTreaty’s provision that is meant to prevent people from contaminating other worlds, called planetary protection. If companies like Moon Express want to land on a body in outer space, they have to be careful not to spread too many bacteria on the surface.
Fortunately the Moon doesn’t host life, so Moon Express doesn’t have to worry too much about contamination. In its voluntary disclosures to the federal government, Moon Express gave the FAA all its data about how it would adhere to the rules of planetary protection.
“The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth’s orbit,” Richards said.
“We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity.”
“The sky is not the limit for Moon Express—it is the launchpad. This breakthrough ruling is another giant leap for humanity. Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children,” Jain said in the release.
“In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals, and Moon rocks back to Earth. In 15 years, the Moon will be an important part of Earth’s economy, and potentially our second home. Imagine that.”
The company has a long-term mission of exploring and developing lunar resources for the benefit of humanity and a short-term mission of providing lunar transportation and services for government and commercial customers.
Moon Express hopes to win $30 million from the Google Lunar X-Prize to fuel their lunar mission.
Asteroid 2016 HO3 has an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A small asteroid has been discovered in an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth, and it will remain so for centuries to come.
As it orbits the sun, this new asteroid, designated 2016 HO3, appears to circle around Earth as well. It is too distant to be considered a true satellite of our planet, but it is the best and most stable example to date of a near-Earth companion, or “quasi-satellite.”
“Since 2016 HO3 loops around our planet, but never ventures very far away as we both go around the sun, we refer to it as a quasi-satellite of Earth,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “One other asteroid — 2003 YN107 — followed a similar orbital pattern for a while over 10 years ago, but it has since departed our vicinity. This new asteroid is much more locked onto us. Our calculations indicate 2016 HO3 has been a stable quasi-satellite of Earth for almost a century, and it will continue to follow this pattern as Earth’s companion for centuries to come.”
In its yearly trek around the sun, asteroid 2016 HO3 spends about half of the time closer to the sun than Earth and passes ahead of our planet, and about half of the time farther away, causing it to fall behind. Its orbit is also tilted a little, causing it to bob up and then down once each year through Earth’s orbital plane. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a game of leap frog with Earth that will last for hundreds of years.
The asteroid’s orbit also undergoes a slow, back-and-forth twist over multiple decades.
“The asteroid’s loops around Earth drift a little ahead or behind from year to year, but when they drift too far forward or backward, Earth’s gravity is just strong enough to reverse the drift and hold onto the asteroid so that it never wanders farther away than about 100 times the distance of the moon,” said Chodas. “The same effect also prevents the asteroid from approaching much closer than about 38 times the distance of the moon. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth.”
Asteroid 2016 HO3 was first spotted on April 27, 2016, by the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, operated by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy and funded by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. The size of this object has not yet been firmly established, but it is likely larger than 120 feet (40 meters) and smaller than 300 feet (100 meters).
The Center for NEO Studies website has a complete list of recent and upcoming close approaches, as well as all other data on the orbits of known NEOs, so scientists and members of the media and public can track information on known objects.
An enhanced-color view, this image covers a 350 by 750 kilometer swath across the surface of Jupiter’s tantalizing moon Europa. The close-up combines high-resolution image data with lower resolution color data from observations made in 1998 by the Galileo spacecraft.
Galileo’s Europa image data has been newly remastered here, using improved new calibrations to produce a color image approximating what the human eye might see. Europa’s long curving fractures hint at the subsurface liquid water. The tidal flexing the large moon experiences in its elliptical orbit around Jupiter supplies the energy to keep the ocean liquid. But more tantalizing is the possibility that even in the absence of sunlight that process could also supply the energy to support life, making Europa one of the best places to look for life beyond Earth.
Smooth ice plains, long fractures, and jumbled blocks of chaos terrain are thought to hide a deep ocean of salty liquid water beneath. Though the ice-covered alien ocean world is outside the Solar System’s habitable zone, new studies show the potential chemistry driving its oxygen and hydrogen production, a key indicator of the energy available for life, could produce amounts comparable in scale to planet Earth.
Hydrogen would be generated by chemical reactions of the salty water in contact with the rocky ocean floor. Oxygen and other compounds that react with hydrogen would come from Europa’s surface. There water ice molecules would be split apart by the intense flux of high-energy radiation from Jupiter and cycled into the Europan ocean from above.
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Earth’s gravity is so strong we only see one side of the orbiting moon. Modern exploration to the mysterious dark side revealed dramatic surprises and revised theories about the moon’s formation.
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