BOOKING NOW FOR 2023....Join LOCAL astronomer Dave Reneke on an amazing tour of the beautiful night skies of Norfolk Island. It's just been named a Gold Level Dark Sky registered site... and there's plenty of time for sightseeing & Island Tours as well. Single travelers or couples OK. Probus, Rotary Lions Club etc. groups welcome. Email for more information or a  Brochure 

Webb spots swirling, gritty clouds on remote planet

“No other telescope has identified so many features at once for a single target,
“No other telescope has identified so many features at once for a single target,

Researchers observing with the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope have pinpointed silicate cloud features in a distant planet's atmosphere. The atmosphere is constantly rising, mixing, and moving during its 22-hour day, bringing hotter material up and pushing colder material down. The resulting brightness changes are so dramatic that it is the most variable planetary-mass object known to date. The science team also made extraordinarily clear detections of water, methane and carbon monoxide with Webb's data, and found evidence of carbon dioxide. This is the largest number of molecules ever identified all at once on a planet outside our Solar System.

Catalogued as VHS 1256 b, the planet is about 40 light-years away and orbits not one, but two stars over a 10 000-year period. "VHS 1256 b is about four times farther from its stars than Pluto is from our Sun, which makes it a great target for Webb," said science team lead Brittany Miles of the University of Arizona. "That means the planet's light is not mixed with light from its stars." Higher up in its atmosphere, where the silicate clouds are churning, temperatures reach a scorching 830 degrees Celsius.

Within those clouds, Webb detected both larger and smaller silicate dust grains, which are shown on a spectrum. "The finer silicate grains in its atmosphere may be more like tiny particles in smoke," noted co-author Beth Biller of the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. "The larger grains might be more like very hot, very small sand particles."

VHS 1256 b has low gravity compared to more massive brown dwarfs [1], which means that its silicate clouds can appear and remain higher in its atmosphere where Webb can detect them. Another reason its skies are so turbulent is the planet's age. In astronomical terms, it's quite young. Only 150 million years have passed since it formed — and it will continue to change and cool over billions of years.

In many ways, the team considers these findings to be the first 'coins' pulled out of a spectrum that researchers view as a treasure chest of data. In many ways, they've only begun identifying its contents. "We've identified silicates, but a better understanding of which grain sizes and shapes match specific types of clouds is going to take a lot of additional work," Miles said. "This is not the final word on this planet — it is the beginning of a large-scale modelling effort to fit Webb's complex data."

Although all of the features the team observed have been spotted on other planets elsewhere in the Milky Way by other telescopes, other research teams typically identified only one at a time. "No other telescope has identified so many features at once for a single target," said co-author Andrew Skemer of the University of California, Santa Cruz. "We're seeing a lot of molecules in a single spectrum from Webb that detail the planet's dynamic cloud and weather systems."

The team came to these conclusions by analysing data known as spectra gathered by two instruments aboard Webb, the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) and the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). Since the planet orbits at such a great distance from its stars, the researchers were able to observe it directly, rather than using the transit technique [2] or a coronagraph [3] to take this data.

There will be plenty more to learn about VHS 1256 b in the months and years to come as this team — and others — continue to sift through Webb's high-resolution infrared data. "There's a huge return on a very modest amount of telescope time," Biller added. "With only a few hours of observations, we have what feels like unending potential for additional discoveries."

What might become of this planet billions of years from now? Since it's so far from its stars, it will become colder over time, and its skies may transition from cloudy to clear.

How long does it take to get to the Moon?

At its closest (perigee), the Moon is 363,104 km (225,623 miles) from the Earth, and the farthest away (apogee) it gets is 405,696 km (252,088 miles) so an average distance of 384,400 km (238,855 miles). On average, if you could drive in a straight line at 100mph (160 kph) it would take you around 99 days, or if you walked at 3.7 mph (6 kph) it would take you 2,669 days or about 7.3 years.

But how long does it take crewed missions and robotic probes to get to the Moon?

The average time is about three days, but mission length varies depending on the route, the propulsion system used, the mission profile, whether crewed or not, and whether the plan is to land, orbit or fly by. Crewed missions tend to take longer. The fastest Apollo mission (Apollo 8) took 69 hours and 8 minutes to reach the Moon, while the slowest (Apollo 17) took 86 hours and 14 minutes.

Before the 1980s, the usual trajectory was called a direct transfer. It was faster but used more fuel. In 1969 Apollo 11 took 75 hours and 49 minutes, while Artemis 1 took five days to reach the Moon in 2022. Uncrewed missions to the Moon vary considerably in length.

New Horizons in 2006 took just 8 hours and 35 minutes to reach the Moon on its way to Pluto, while SMART-1, the European Space Agency's first mission to the Moon, used ion propulsion and took one year and six weeks in 2004. They take longer to save fuel by using their thrusters as little as possible, aiming past the Moon and using its gravitational pull to bring them into orbit. Missions often release piggyback satellites as well to save on launch costs.

Russia's Space Program Is in Big Trouble

Roscosmos is facing a host of challenges, including the loss of Soyuz launch revenues and the looming end of its partnership on the International Space Station-Cr NASA
Roscosmos is facing a host of challenges, including the loss of Soyuz launch revenues and the looming end of its partnership on the International Space Station-Cr NASA

Crippled by war and sanctions, Russia now faces evidence that its already-struggling space program is falling apart. In the past three months alone, Roscosmos has scrambled to resolve two alarming incidents. First, one of its formerly dependable Soyuz spacecraft sprang a coolant leak. Then the same thing happened on one of its Progress cargo ships. The civil space program's Soviet predecessor launched the first person into orbit, but with the International Space Station (ISS) nearing the end of its life, Russia's space agency is staring into the abyss.

"What we're seeing is the continuing demise of the Russian civil space program," says Bruce McClintock, a former defense attaché at the US embassy in Moscow and current head of the Space Enterprise Initiative of the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. Around 10 years ago, Russian leaders chose to prioritize the country's military space program—which focuses on satellite and anti-satellite technologies—over its civilian one, McClintock says, and it shows.

Russia's space fleet is largely designed to be expendable. The history of its series of Soyuz rockets and crew capsules (they both have the same name) dates back to the Soviet era, though they've gone through upgrades since. Its Progress cargo vessels also launch atop Soyuz rockets. The cargo ships, crewed ships, and rockets are all single-use spacecraft. Anatoly Zak, creator and publisher of the independent publication RussianSpaceWeb, estimates that Roscosmos launches about two Soyuz vehicles per year, takes about 1.5 to 2 years to build each one, and doesn't keep a substantial standing fleet.

While Roscosmos officials did not respond to interview requests, the agency has been public about its recent technical issues: The Soyuz MS-22 docked at the ISS suffered a coolant leak on December 14, 2022, and astronauts inspected it with the space station's robotic arm, Canadarm2. The incident canceled a planned spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts, and the agency later blamed the leak on a micrometeoroid impact.

On February 11, the agency reported another coolant leak, this time on a Progress MS-21 cargo ship, that caused it to depressurize. Roscosmos also attributed the leak to an "external impact." That spacecraft cast off from the ISS in late February, and Roscosmos disposed of the ship, allowing it to burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

Micrometeoroid strikes can be a danger to any spacecraft, no matter who operates them or what shape they're in. But experts remain unconvinced by Russia's explanation for the incidents—and worry that Roscosmos is hiding deeper problems. McClintock calls the agency's explanation plausible but points out that it hasn't been confirmed. And these are not Russia's only malfunctions: In 2018, a Soyuz crew spacecraft sprang a tiny hole, which astronauts patched up. Two months later, a Soyuz rocket suffered a booster failure in an unrelated incident. The three leaks within a few years, says McClintock, "point to an overall decline of the Russian civil space program."

Zak points out that micrometeoroid impacts in Earth orbit have been exceedingly rare. He thinks the odds of meteors damaging two spacecraft cooling systems—but nothing else on the ISS—in such a short period of time are "very close to zero."

Rolls-Royce gets funding to develop miniature nuclear reactor for moon base

Artist's illustration of a moon base powered by Rolls-Royce microreactors. (Image credit: Rolls-Royce Holdings)
Artist's illustration of a moon base powered by Rolls-Royce microreactors. (Image credit: Rolls-Royce Holdings)

The U.K. Space Agency has decided to continue funding a project by Rolls-Royce to create a small nuclear-powered reactor that could serve as a long-term energy source for lunar bases.

The new boost to Rolls-Royce's research pot follows a previous $303,495 (£249,000) study funded by the U.K. Space Agency in 2022. With the new funds, the company hopes to have a demonstration model for a modular micro-reactor ready to deliver to the moon by 2029.

In a March 17 press release (opens in new tab), Rolls-Royce and the U.K. Space Agency state that the micro-reactor program will help to "develop technology that will provide power needed for humans to live and work on the moon."

The continuing research will focus on three critical aspects of the micro-reactor: generating heat, transferring that heat and converting that heat into usable energy.

"This innovative research by Rolls-Royce could lay the groundwork for powering continuous human presence on the moon," Paul Bate, chief executive of the U.K. Space Agency, said in the press release.

There is also the matter of outfitting the micro-reactor to operate in the lunar environment. Currently, a majority of space travel is powered by solar energy. A nuclear power source allows for more versatility in missions, and less reliance on the sun.

To help Rolls-Royce scientists and engineers, the company has partnered with the University of Oxford, University of Bangor, University of Brighton, the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Nuclear AMRC.

"Partnerships like this, between British industry, the U.K. Space Agency and government, are helping to create jobs across our £16 billion space tech sector and help ensure the U.K. continues to be a major force in frontier science," George Freeman, Minister of State at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, said in the March 17 press release.

Head of NASA visit to Australia highlights space partnership

The Trailblazer program will help further develop Australia's robotics and automation capability, aligning with the development of the Australian Government's National Robotics Strategy.
The Trailblazer program will help further develop Australia's robotics and automation capability, aligning with the development of the Australian Government's National Robotics Strategy.

In a continuing sign of the close co-operation between Australia and the United States, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy are visiting Australia this week, in the first visit of a sitting NASA Administrator to our shores since 2014. Australia has a long history of collaboration in space with the US dating back to the 1950s, including helping to broadcast the Apollo 11 Moon landing to the world and tracking the most recent Artemis mission.

Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic said, "It's fantastic to welcome the head of NASA to Australia. We have been working with the US in space for more than 65 years, and I look forward to meeting Senator Nelson later this week to discuss how that continues long into the future". To mark the visit, Minister Husic announced grants for two successful Australian consortiums under the Government's Moon to Mars Trailblazer initiative.

The AROSE consortium and the EPE and Lunar Outpost Oceania consortium will each receive $4 million to design early-stage prototypes of a semi-autonomous rover, as part of stage one of the Trailblazer program. Minister Husic said, "Drawing on Australia's world leading remote operations, the rover will collect lunar soil known as regolith from the Moon and deliver it to a NASA payload, which will attempt to extract oxygen from the sample".

The rover, which aims to launch by 2026, is part of the NASA Moon to Mars mission which will be a major step towards a sustainable human presence on the Moon and supporting future missions to Mars. Each winning consortium is made up of a mixture of Australian industries, space start-ups, major resources companies, universities, and other research partners.

The Trailblazer program will help further develop Australia's robotics and automation capability, aligning with the development of the Australian Government's National Robotics Strategy. "It is great that, with this announcement, Administrator Nelson will get to witness first-hand the extensive knowledge and capability in our space sector, as well as robotics and automation more broadly.

"From those selected to be part of the Trailblazer program, to other industry success stories and our impressive universities and research organisations, Australia has much to be proud of. "Programs like Trailblazer are important to growing our space sector, as well as our know-how in robotics and automation. It also has an important role to play in inspiring more young Australians to consider STEM careers," Minister Husic said.

Quotes attributable to NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson:

"I'm excited to be working with Australia on this important lunar mission. "It's cooperation like this that will enable NASA and our international partners to uncover more discoveries. In this new era of space exploration, every advancement is not an achievement for one country - but for all of humanity".

Spacecraft With One-fifth the Speed of Light Could Reach Another Solar System in 20 Years, Experts Say

Scientist and investor Yuri Milner (L) speaks during the New Space Exploration Initiative "Breakthrough Starshot"
Scientist and investor Yuri Milner (L) speaks during the New Space Exploration Initiative "Breakthrough Starshot"

Breakthrough Starshot Initiative researchers have discovered a technique to create a spacecraft that can travel at one-fifth the speed of light and reach another solar system in just 20 years. Alpha Centauri is a triple-star system and the closest one to Earth at about 4.2 to 4.4 light-years.

That means traveling from one solar system to another could be possible for most people today in their lifetime. The purpose of this endeavor is to investigate a star in a reasonable length of time rather than in a thousand years, which is the current capability of existing spacecraft. The Space Academy, scientists working on the Starshot Project must ensure that the spacecraft can travel between stars at speeds closer to the speed of light. That means the mission will be unsuccessful if it is too far off than the speed of light. But given the current technology that humans have, like ion engines and even theoretical "warp drives," it is impossible.

Starshot Project's ambition is to fly at one-fifth that speed by utilizing a ground station's array of lasers to power a three-meter-diameter solar sail that is only a few microns thick. With that said, sail would transport minuscule sensors to Alpha Centauri, Earth's nearest star system, which is about 4.37 light-years away. The Starshot spacecraft is estimated to arrive at its target in around 20 years if it traveled at a fifth of the speed of light. From there, it would take little under four and a half years for its signal to reach Earth.

Simon Peter Worden, former director of NASA Ames Research Center and now works as the director of the Institute for Theory and Computing at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Avi Loeb, said that Starshot Project is progressing well; but it is only now that they found the solution in making the technique work. Igor Bargatin from the University of Pennsylvania is leading a team of researchers from the initiative and published the results of their research in two papers under the scientific journal Nano Letters, which aims to solve two fundamental problems.

Two Fundamental Problems of the Starshot Project

Breakthrough Starshot Initiative aims to demonstrate that ultra-fast light-driven nanocraft could be possible and may lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri. However, it would need to solve a number of hard engineering challenges before it becomes a reality. 

They listed these fundamental problems on their website for consideration by experts and the public alike, as part of their commitment to be transparent and give open access to everyone. They hope that addressing these engineering challenges will open a path to the stars and spur innovation and new frontiers of exploration.

Scientists wrote that the nanocraft concept combined with light beamer, lightsail, and StarChip is by far the most plausible spacecraft that can be sent to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Its design is based on technology either already available or to be attainable in the near future.



Many thanks to Peter and the crew at ASTRO ANARCHY Queensland. A New business with the amateur astronomer firmly in mind.  Astro Anarchy has the experience, the stock and the knowledge to set up the first timer, to assist in the development of our hobby for the experienced observer OR cater to any other size need or desire in the field of amateur astronomy. 

ATRO ANARCHY AS OUR SPONSOR: My business partner Peter Davies and I have set up a new Astro Tourism business focusing on the recently 'Dark Sky Town' accredited to Norfolk Island. We call it 'Norfolk Island STARGAZING'. When approached, Pete from Astro Anarchy had no hesitation in organizing and supplying all our Telescopes, Binoculars and associated gear to get started. Nothing was any trouble allowing us more than enough time to set up and become fully operational. He and he and his business come highly recommended for anyone wanting any astronomical gear in Australia.

Web:    Sales:   Phone: 0412 085 224

'Stargazing' - Astronomy Nights At Your Place

Ask Yourself Have You Ever...looked through a large telescope? Touched a real space rock? Seen the rings of Saturn, Jupiter's Moon? Viewed star clusters thousands of light years away OR seen huge craters and 'seas' on the Moon up close?  Our special program is unique... a never to be forgotten journey of the night sky.  There is nothing quite like seeing the distant stars and planets with your own eyes through our magnificent telescopes - and it's all done from your backyard with your friends around!  

*See more

 New! Kids Space Activity Pack

Introducing a very affordable hands on 'Space Package' for the young budding astronomer designed as an educational aid as they develop their astronomy knowledge.

EACH PACK CONTAINS Dozens of fun, educational Space and Astronomy activity pages incl. Mazes, Colouring, Dot to Dot, Word Search, Space Stickers, and more! PLUS Our "Welcome To Astronomy" booklet. They are priced at $9.95 each.  To View contents or Buy:

'Astro Dave' Is Radio-Active Heard on 66 Stations Weekly

                   CLICK to listen To Just a Couple Of Past Interviews

**Leave a message or comments on this website or any of the stories in box below: OR Email me direct

NB/ Please Include Your Name and Email address If You Require An Answer.