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'Once-in-a-lifetime event': Explosion in space to look like new star, NASA says

A celestial spectacle not seen since 1946 is about to grace our skies once more—a dazzling nova event, a cosmic explosion that occurs roughly every 80 years. NASA predicts this upcoming event will be so brilliant that it will be visible to the naked eye.

"This once-in-a-lifetime event will captivate a new generation of astronomers, offering them a firsthand cosmic phenomenon to observe, question, and study," remarked Rebekah Hounsell, an assistant research scientist at NASA specializing in nova events. This particular event involves two stars—a red giant and a white dwarf—that orbit each other closely. The interaction between them will culminate in a spectacular eruption, adding what appears to be a "new star" to our night sky, according to NASA.

Typically, nova events are distant and faint, making detailed study challenging. However, this event, known as the "Blaze Star" or T Coronae Borealis, is anticipated to be unusually close and bright, attracting intense scrutiny from astronomers eager to uncover its secrets. The exact timing of this event is expected within the next few months, possibly as early as September 2024, based on historical patterns observed by researchers.

Located 3,000 light-years away in the Northern Crown constellation, the stars involved in this explosive dance are in a binary system, where their gravitational interaction fuels the conditions for the nova. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, including Oklahoma, the nova event will be visible—a rare opportunity to witness a celestial spectacle driven by the tumultuous relationship between these two stars.

The explosive nature of this event stems from the white dwarf siphoning hydrogen from its companion red giant, triggering a thermonuclear blast—a breathtaking moment in the cosmic dance of stars.

The Curious Case of NASA Lawsuits 

In the annals of legal history, few entities have faced such an eclectic array of lawsuits as NASA, the vanguard of humanity's exploration of the cosmos. Among the myriad tales of litigation lies a tapestry of peculiar cases that defy the conventional and embrace the bizarre.

One might imagine that lawsuits against NASA involve issues like rocket malfunctions or space debris causing damage. However, the reality is often far more colourful. Meet Sylvia, a self-proclaimed psychic from California who, in a twist of cosmic irony, sued NASA for allegedly interfering with her "vibrations." Sylvia claimed that NASA's powerful radio transmissions disrupted her psychic abilities and cosmic channelling sessions, rendering her unable to commune with extraterrestrial beings. Her lawsuit, filed in 2008, sought damages for what she described as "interference with spiritual energy flow." The judge found it difficult to maintain a straight face, and Sylvia's case was promptly dismissed, leaving her spirits less attuned than ever.

Across the country in New York City, another legal saga unfolded with Jack, a charismatic entrepreneur who boldly asserted ownership of Mars. Jack, armed with a makeshift deed and a flair for publicity, filed a lawsuit against NASA in 2016, demanding recognition of his alleged property rights over the Red Planet. His claim? Jack argued that his ancestors had bequeathed Mars to him through a series of cryptic family documents dating back centuries. Despite the court's scepticism and NASA's bemusement, Jack's case garnered international attention before ultimately being dismissed as frivolous.

Meanwhile, in a suburb of Houston, Texas, a man named Larry embarked on a crusade against NASA for what he vehemently believed was "bad TV reception from space." Convinced that NASA's satellite transmissions were to blame for his fuzzy television signals, Larry filed a lawsuit in 2013 seeking compensation for the alleged interference. However, investigations later revealed that the culprit was not cosmic interference but a faulty aerial on his roof. NASA, with its usual deadpan humour, pointed out that their satellites were busy probing the cosmos, not hijacking Larry's soap operas.

In the realm of legal outcomes, some plaintiffs have indeed emerged victorious against NASA. Take the case of Emily, an amateur astronomer from Florida who successfully sued NASA in 2005 for damages caused by a stray piece of space debris that crashed into her backyard observatory. Emily's meticulous documentation and expert testimony proved pivotal in establishing NASA's liability, resulting in a substantial settlement that funded repairs and upgrades to her observatory.

These cases illustrate the spectrum of human responses to the wonders and complexities of space exploration. From psychic vibrations to planetary ownership and cosmic television signals, lawsuits against NASA reflect broader societal attitudes towards science, technology, and the unknown. While many of these cases may appear outlandish, they serve as poignant reminders of the profound impact that space exploration has on our collective imagination and daily lives.

As we continue to navigate the frontiers of space, one can only speculate about the future legal disputes that may arise. Whether fuelled by genuine grievances, eccentric beliefs, or a quest for recognition, these lawsuits against NASA showcase the enduring fascination and occasional discord that accompany humanity's quest to understand the universe beyond our Earthly bounds.

The sun's magnetic field is about to flip. Here's what to expect.

The sun, our nearest star, is about to undergo a magnetic field reversal, a captivating event in its 11-year solar cycle. This cycle swings between periods of high solar activity, where sunspots and solar storms are frequent (solar maximum), and quieter times (solar minimum). The last flip occurred around the end of 2013, and now scientists are eagerly investigating the mechanisms behind these reversals and their potential impacts on Earth and beyond.

What makes this phenomenon particularly fascinating is its connection to sunspots — magnetic storms on the sun's surface. These regions play a critical role in the magnetic field's transformation. As they appear and evolve, they influence the sun's overall magnetic pattern, eventually leading to the reversal from one polarity to the opposite.

The process isn't instantaneous but rather unfolds gradually over several years. During this transition, the sun's magnetic field becomes more complex, with multiple poles emerging and interacting. This dynamic behavior not only affects space weather — including solar flares and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt satellites and power grids — but also offers insights into the sun's fundamental processes and its influence on our technological infrastructure.

Interestingly, while the magnetic flip itself poses no direct threat to life on Earth, it does have intriguing effects. For example, as the sun's magnetic field reconfigures, it generates a rippling 'current sheet' that extends billions of miles into space. This sheet, wavy and turbulent during magnetic reversals, acts as a protective shield against cosmic rays, high-energy particles that pose risks to both space missions and astronauts.

Understanding these solar cycles is crucial not just for Earth's technological resilience but also for predicting broader impacts across the solar system. By studying how quickly the sun's magnetic field returns to a dipole state after a reversal, scientists can forecast the intensity of future solar cycles and better prepare for potential space weather events.

In essence, the sun's magnetic field reversal is a natural spectacle that reveals the sun's dynamic nature and its profound influence on our solar neighborhood. It underscores the ongoing quest to comprehend the workings of our nearest star and how they shape our cosmic environment.

Rocket company develops massive catapult to launch satellites into space: '10,000 times the force of Earth's gravity'

A California company has tech that will likely draw attention from the Punkin Chunkin community. That's because SpinLaunch is developing a large rotating arm that uses kinetic energy to fling 440-pound satellites into low orbit, with successful tests already in the books. Importantly, the process doesn't need rocket fuel to work. It's all powered by electricity.

"This is not a rocket, and clearly our ability to perform in just 11 months this many tests and have them all function as planned, really is a testament to the nature of our technology," founder and CEO Jonathan Yaney said in a report from 2022, shortly after a 10th successful launch. The goal is to shoot constellations of satellites skyward — under 600 miles up — by 2026, per the report.

Satellites are used by scientists to monitor our planet's health from above, identifying polluting methane leaks, among other research. So a cleaner way to put them in the sky is exciting science. Kinetic energy has been used by humans for centuries via trebuchets and siege machines during war, hurling heavy objects great distances. Pumpkin chucking, commonly called Punkin Chunkin, contests remain a popular way to teach kinetic and potential energy physics with similar human-made machines.

SpinLaunch's contraption will likely have some of the chuckers wondering how many pumpkins they could put in orbit, if given the chance. The invention looks like a giant upright disc with a cylindrical barrel pointed upward. A 108-foot-long rotating arm spins at 5,000 miles per hour to achieve the best fling, and the company report. The vehicle travels at up to six times the speed of sound.

The company credits low-cost, high-strength modern carbon fiber and miniature electronics as key components behind the innovation. "Modern electronics, materials, and simulation tools allow for satellites to be adapted to the kinetic launch environment with relative ease," the company states on its website. The technology must withstand a vacuum, in addition to very fast acceleration.

A video clip shared by the company shows the buildup as a test launch is about to happen at its New Mexico site. Experts are seen monitoring screens while others sit in control areas, akin to a NASA scene. When the craft exits the barrel, there's no exhaust to track it. If you blink, you will miss it entirely.

SpinLaunch was founded in 2014, and its leadership team has since raised tens of millions of dollars in funding. The company has been working with NASA, Airbus, and Cornell University, launching some of their equipment as part of testing. The tech has so far endured 10,000 Gs, "10,000 times the force of Earth's gravity," all per the report.

If SpinLaunch's concept proves reliable, it could eliminate the loads of fuel that is burned to launch spacecraft. In 2016, Business Insider noted that SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket used more than 900,000 pounds of propellant for each liftoff, for reference. The fuel efficiency may have improved some since then.

CBC News reports that a growing number of launches are starting to draw scrutiny, particularly for ozone layer health. The barrier protects us from some of the sun's harmful radiation. SpinLaunch can surpass the ozone layer without harming it. Next up for the company is creating a coastal orbital launch site geared to build upon its early success. "It has proven that it's a system that is repeatedly reliable," Yaney said.

Voyager 1 is back online! NASA's most distant spacecraft returns data from all 4 instruments

All right, everyone — we can all breathe a sigh of relief. NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is fully operational once more, with all four science instruments returning usable data to Earth.

The problems began in November 2023, when Voyager 1 lost its ability to "speak" with us. More specifically, it started sending to Earth unintelligible data instead of its normal 0s and 1s of binary code. Of course, Voyager 1 is 46 years old — ancient for a spacecraft — so it wasn't entirely a surprise that its health might be waning. And that's not to mention that it's in entirely uncharted interstellar territory, some 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth.

Voyager 1's dogged team was determined to not only figure out what went wrong, but also to fix the problem. And they've succeeded! Controllers identified where the issue was located: the flight data subsystem (FDS), used to "package" data to be sent to Earth. Further sleuthing revealed the exact chip causing the problem, which allowed them to find a workaround. After the team relocated the code to a new location in the FDS, Voyager 1 finally sent back intelligible data on April 20, 2024 — but only from two of its four science instruments. Now, just two months later, Voyager 1's remaining two science instruments are back up and running, communicating effectively with mission control on Earth.

Even if Voyager 1 had gone dark for good, however, the mission would still have been a wild success. After it launched in 1977, its primary mission was to study Jupiter and Saturn — that was accomplished by 1980. (Its twin spacecraft, Voyager 2, went on to study Uranus and Neptune.) But Voyager 1 is on an unstoppable path. Continuing its journey away from Earth, the spacecraft entered interstellar space in 2012, returning crucial data about this mysterious realm. 

Now that Voyager 1 is back online, the team will continue to "touch up" the spacecraft to get it back in top form, including resynchronizing its timekeeping software to execute commands at the right time, as well as performing maintenance on the digital tape recorder that measures plasma waves. And hopefully, Voyager 1 will have a long, happy life ahead. 

Medical breakthroughs discovered on International Space Station

Research conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) is opening new doors for medical treatments on Earth. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed enthusiasm about the potential of space research. He noted the historic protein crystal growth experiment he conducted back in 1986, highlighting that recent advancements owe much to the establishment of a permanent space laboratory.

Over the years, pharmaceutical giant Merck has launched several protein crystallization projects to the ISS. Scientists believe that studying these crystals in zero gravity could significantly enhance cancer treatment options.

NASA's microgravity environment has notably improved drug effectiveness. Nelson cited Keytruda as an example, explaining that zero gravity allowed for larger, more uniform crystal formations. This breakthrough has streamlined drug administration, making treatments quicker and more direct.

Moreover, space research has shed light on human biology in ways impossible on Earth. NASA's Daniel Lockney highlighted that microgravity and radiation in space simulate aging processes, offering insights into aging-related conditions and potential treatments.

Stem cell research, another frontier, has benefited greatly from space experiments. Dr. Abba Zubair from the Mayo Clinic described how microgravity facilitates the growth of stem cells, which has been challenging in Earth labs. These cells show promise for treating diseases like stroke, with early results showing no DNA damage or abnormalities.

Zubair, driven by personal and scientific motivations, aims to leverage space's unique conditions to accelerate medical breakthroughs. He hopes that expanded space missions and funding will hasten the timeline for translating these discoveries into practical treatments.

In conclusion, the International Space Station has become a vital platform for pioneering medical research. Scientists envision future breakthroughs in treating conditions ranging from cancer to neurological diseases, thanks to insights gained from studying biology in space.

New research explores how a short trip to space affects the human body

 Space tourists experience some of the same body changes as astronauts who spend months in orbit, according to new studies published Tuesday. Those shifts mostly returned to normal once the amateurs returned to Earth, researchers reported.

Research on four space tourists is included in a series of studies on the health effects of space travel, down to the molecular level. The findings paint a clearer picture of how people — who don't undergo years of astronaut training — adapt to weightlessness and space radiation, the researchers said.

"This will allow us to be better prepared when we're sending humans into space for whatever reason," said Allen Liu, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Michigan who was not involved with the research.

NASA and others have long studied the toll of space travel on astronauts, including yearlong residents of the International Space Station, but there's been less attention on space tourists. The first tourist visit to the space station was in 2001, and opportunities for private space travel have expanded in recent years.

A three-day chartered flight in 2021 gave researchers the chance to examine how quickly the body reacts and adapts to spaceflight, said Susan Bailey, a radiation expert at Colorado State University who took part in the research.

While in space, the four passengers on the SpaceX flight, dubbed Inspiration4, collected samples of blood, saliva, skin and more. Researchers analyzed the samples and found wide-ranging shifts in cells and changes to the immune system. Most of these shifts stabilized in the months after the four returned home, and the researchers found that the short-term spaceflight didn't pose significant health risks.

"This is the first time we've had a cell-by-cell examination of a crew when they go to space," said researcher and co-author Chris Mason with Weill Cornell Medicine.

The papers, which were published Tuesday in Nature journals and are now part of a database, include the impact of spaceflight on the skin, kidneys and immune system. The results could help researchers find ways to counteract the negative effects of space travel, said Afshin Beheshti, a researcher with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science who took part in the work.

SpaceX Starship launches on nail-biting 4th test flight of world's most powerful rocket

SpaceX Starship launches on nail-biting 4th test flight of world's most powerful rocket
SpaceX Starship launches on nail-biting 4th test flight of world's most powerful rocket

SpaceX just completed its fourth test flight of the massive Starship rocket, marking a thrilling milestone for the company. The launch, which took place from their site near Boca Chica Beach, Texas, was a nail-biter as the 400-foot-tall rocket soared into the sky. The mission had two primary objectives: to safely land the first-stage booster, called Super Heavy, in the Gulf of Mexico, and to achieve a controlled reentry of the upper stage, known as Starship. Both goals were met with success, sparking jubilant celebrations at SpaceX's mission control.

Despite some damage to one of its flaps during descent, Starship managed to execute a successful landing burn, proving the resilience of SpaceX's technology. The achievement drew praise from Elon Musk, SpaceX's CEO, who hailed it as an epic success. The enthusiasm among SpaceX's team was palpable, with cheers filling the mission control room as Starship touched down. The significance of this milestone extends beyond just a successful test flight – it represents a major step forward in SpaceX's mission to revolutionize space travel.

Designed with the goal of enabling human settlement on Mars, Starship features advanced Raptor engines that burn liquid oxygen and methane, resources that could potentially be harvested on the Red Planet. In the nearer term, Starship has been selected by NASA for its Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2026. Despite encountering challenges in previous test flights, such as stage separation issues and control system failures, Starship has steadily made progress with each launch. The latest flight demonstrated improved performance, instilling confidence in the rocket's capabilities.

Looking ahead, SpaceX plans to conduct more test flights in the coming months, with Elon Musk aiming for a total of six launches in 2024. While the exact timeline may be subject to regulatory approval, SpaceX is already gearing up for future missions, underscoring the company's commitment to pushing the boundaries of space exploration.

SpaceX wants to build 1 Starship megarocket a day with new Starfactory

Sure, the test flight of the world's most powerful rocket this week was nail-biting. But it was also a massive win for SpaceX with a successful fourth test for Starship. The company's goals for this test flight were accomplished as Starship's first-stage booster, Super Heavy, made a soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico and the 165-foot tall (50 m) upper stage, referred to simply as Ship, made a controlled landing burn during reentry before landing in the Indian Ocean.

SpaceX now aims to build on the progress with its Starship program as continues work on Starfactory, a new manufacturing facility under construction at the company's Starbase site in South Texas. As it looks to use Starship to eventually make humanity interplanetary, SpaceX has stated the ambitious goal of producing one new Starship rocket every single day at the new facility.

Related: SpaceX Starship launches on nail-biting 4th test flight of world's most powerful rocket (video, photos)

"We have Ships and Super Heavy boosters built and either ready to launch or in testing for the next several flights with more coming off of the production line as SpaceX's Starfactory continues to grow," Jessie Anderson, SpaceX's Falcon Structures Manufacturing Engineering Manager, said during SpaceX's livestream of the Starship flight test Thursday. "The latest phase of the factory currently under construction will come online this summer, giving us several 100,000 more square feet of space."

The facility is part of SpaceX's Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, one of the first-ever commercial spaceports in the world devoted to a single vehicle; in this case, Starship. Once completed, the company's goal for the facility will be to create one Starship megarocket every day at Starfactory.

"When you step into this factory, it is truly inspirational. My heart jumps out of my chest," Kate Tice, manager of SpaceX Quality Systems Engineering, said during the same livestream. "Now this will enable us to increase our production rate significantly as we build toward our long-term goal of producing one Ship per day and coming off the production line soon, Starship Version Two."

This new version of Starship is designed to be more easy to mass produce, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on social media. "Note, a newer version of Starship has the forward flaps shifted leeward. This will help improve reliability, ease of manufacturing and payload to orbit," Musk shared on X. 

Vale: Bill Anders and the famous 'Earthrise' Photo

William Anders was indeed an integral part of the historic Apollo 8 mission, which took place in December 1968. The mission was the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth's orbit, reach the Moon, orbit it, and return safely to Earth. Anders, along with fellow astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, became the first humans to witness and photograph Earth rising above the lunar horizon, a moment captured famously in what became known as the "Earthrise" photo.

The Earthrise photo was captured almost by chance. The primary objective of Apollo 8 was to orbit the Moon and test various spacecraft systems in preparation for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. However, during one of the spacecraft's orbits around the Moon, Anders happened to notice the Earth rising above the lunar surface. He quickly grabbed a camera loaded with color film and captured the breathtaking image, which became one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century.

The mission itself was a significant milestone in space exploration, as it demonstrated the capability of humans to travel beyond Earth's orbit and provided crucial data and experience for subsequent lunar missions. It also played a crucial role in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, as it showed American technological prowess and determination in the race to the Moon.

In addition to the Earthrise photo, other highlights of the Apollo 8 mission include the famous live television broadcast from lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, during which the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis, and the successful reentry and splashdown of the spacecraft in the Pacific Ocean on December 27, 1968. Overall, the Apollo 8 mission paved the way for future lunar exploration and remains a landmark achievement in human spaceflight history.\

  • Apollo 8, which occurred in December 1968, was a groundbreaking mission. It marked the first time humans left Earth's gravitational sphere of influence and ventured toward the Moon.
  • The crew consisted of three astronauts: Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr., and William Anders.
  • Their spacecraft, the command and service module (CSM), orbited the Moon ten times without landing, demonstrating critical systems for future lunar missions.
  • Apollo 8 was also the first crewed launch of the mighty Saturn V rocket, a significant engineering achievement.

The Earthrise Photo: A Serendipitous Moment

  • During one of Apollo 8's orbits around the Moon, William Anders noticed something extraordinary: Earth rising above the lunar horizon.
  • Acting swiftly, he grabbed a camera loaded with color film and captured the iconic "Earthrise" photo. This image became a symbol of our fragile planet against the vastness of space.
  • The Earthrise photo wasn't part of the mission's primary objectives, but its impact was immeasurable.

Other Highlights of Apollo 8

  • On Christmas Eve, the astronauts conducted a live television broadcast from lunar orbit. They read from the Book of Genesis, sharing a message of hope and unity.
  • The spacecraft successfully reentered Earth's atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on December 27, 1968.
  • Overall, Apollo 8 paved the way for future lunar exploration and remains a landmark achievement in human spaceflight history

A strange intermittent radio signal from space has astronomers puzzled

Astronomers have detected a strange radio signal from space that doesn't match anything they've seen before. This bizarre cosmic phenomenon is challenging our understanding of the universe.

The unusual signal is what's known as a radio transient – a burst of radio waves coming from space. But this one is very different from typical radio transients. Most radio transients last for a tiny fraction of a second. This new signal, however, cycles through a pattern that repeats every 57 minutes. That's by far the longest cycle period ever seen for a radio transient.

It's like there's some object out there pulsing incredibly slowly compared to other known examples. Astronomers have no idea what could be causing such a drawn-out, regular rhythm.

Making this discovery even more bizarre, the signal doesn't just pulse at a steady rate. Over multiple observations, astronomers saw it doing three very different things: 1) Emitting long, bright flashes of radio waves 2) Producing lots of rapid, faint pulses 3) Simply going silent with no detectable radio emission at all.

This erratic behavior switching between outbursts, flickering, and quiet periods is extremely odd. It raises questions about whether there's one object producing the signal, or multiple objects interacting.

The truth is, astronomers currently have no compelling explanation for what could be generating this very strange signal. The theories proposed so far are just guesses: Maybe it's a super-magnetic neutron star experiencing wild energy eruptions. Maybe it's related to a black hole or supernova somehow. Or maybe it's an entirely new class of phenomenon we've never seen before.

For now, the source of this cosmic radio weirdness remains a total mystery. All astronomers can do is continue monitoring it and try to gather more clues. While bizarre, this unexplained radio transient is an exciting discovery. It shows there are still major strange things going on in the universe that defy our current knowledge.

 Solving mysteries like this drives astronomers to keep exploring and trying to better understand cosmic phenomena. Who knows what this could lead to – perhaps giving us insights into fundamental physics, exotic objects, or even completely new realms of science. The great unknown of this radio signal is a reminder that the universe is full of surprises waiting to be uncovered. For astronomers, it's an intriguing puzzle begging to be solved.

What has China's mysterious Shenlong space plane released 600km above the Earth?

China's experimental spacecraft Shenlong has been orbiting Earth for nearly six months. Recently, it released an object 600km above ground, but it hasn't deployed any operational satellites like it did on its last mission.

The released object, cataloged as object 59884, has been orbiting at a similar altitude as Shenlong since May 25. However, it hasn't moved since then, suggesting it might be just a piece of hardware.

Shenlong, which took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in December 2023, is on its third flight. Similar to the US military's X-37B, not much is known about Shenlong's capabilities. During its second mission, Shenlong reportedly released objects into orbit, but they were likely debris from the rocket that launched it.

Details about Shenlong's current mission are scarce, with Chinese authorities keeping information undisclosed. All we know is from a brief report released by state media after the launch, mentioning it will operate in orbit for a while before returning to China. Its purpose and duration in orbit remain a mystery.

NASA to Change How It Points Hubble Space Telescope

NASA has announced a significant change to the operation of the Hubble Space Telescope. After a series of tests and careful consideration, the space agency has decided to transition Hubble to operate using only one gyroscope (gyro). This change is necessary because the telescope went into safe mode on May 24, and it will remain in this mode until the transition is complete. Despite this adjustment, Hubble will continue to explore the universe's secrets well into the next decade, with most of its observations remaining unaffected.

Hubble is equipped with six gyroscopes, three of which are currently active. These gyros are crucial for measuring the telescope's slew rates and controlling its pointing direction. Over the past six months, one of these gyros has been giving faulty readings, causing the telescope to enter safe mode multiple times. This gyro is experiencing "saturation," meaning it indicates the maximum slew rate value possible, regardless of the actual speed. Although the team has managed to reset the gyro's electronics temporarily, the problem keeps reoccurring.

To ensure consistent science operations, NASA is transitioning Hubble to a new operational mode where it will use only one gyro, keeping another in reserve for future use. This plan was developed over 20 years ago as the best way to prolong Hubble's life and maintain its scientific capabilities with fewer than three working gyros. Hubble had six new gyros installed during its final space shuttle servicing mission in 2009, and three of these remain operational, including the problematic one.

Hubble has previously operated in two-gyro mode from 2005 to 2009, which is very similar to one-gyro mode. In 2008, one-gyro operations were tested briefly with no impact on the quality of science observations.

Operating in one-gyro mode will come with some minor limitations. The telescope will need more time to slew and lock onto a science target, and it won't have as much flexibility in choosing observation targets. Additionally, Hubble will not be able to track moving objects closer than Mars, though such targets are rare for the telescope.

The transition involves reconfiguring both the spacecraft and the ground system, as well as assessing the impact on future planned observations. The team expects to resume science operations by mid-June. Once in one-gyro mode, NASA anticipates that Hubble will continue making new cosmic discoveries alongside other observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the future Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, for many years to come.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has more than doubled its expected design lifetime and has been observing the universe for over three decades. It recently celebrated its 34th anniversary. Hubble has made numerous groundbreaking scientific discoveries, significantly advancing our understanding of the cosmos.

Historic Aurora-Causing Sunspot Returns

It's back. Almost. Sunspot AR3664, the source of the historic May 10th superstorm, has spent the past two week's transiting the farside of the sun. This week, it announced its return with an X2.8-class solar flare. The enormous sunspot that sparked the spectacular aurorae across the globe earlier this month is back and its about to face toward the Earth again.

This sunspot, AR3664, was around 15 times as wide as Earth when it fired off a series of coronal mass ejections on May 10. These slammed into our planet's magnetic field, triggering the northern lights to be seen across all 50 U.S. states and beyond in the most powerful geomagnetic storm for decades.

This sunspot rotated away from the Earth as the sun slowly spun around, but now it's due to reappear, putting our planet in its firing line once again. "This activity was associated with a huge sunspot, now going around the far side of the Sun, which takes about a month to rotate. A sunspot group this big typically lasts a long time so it should be visible again in a couple of weeks and come to a central "dangerous" position in about three weeks (it then takes 2-3 days for the effects to get to us)," Martin Connors, a professor of space science and physics at Canada's Athabasca University, told Newsweek just after the May 10 storms.

Sunspots are regions on the sun's surface with reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field activity, appearing as spots darker than the surrounding areas. This increased magnetic activity means that sunspots are prone to bursts of radiation–solar flares—and burping out huge plumes of solar plasma known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).When the charged particles of a CME reach Earth, they interact with the planet's magnetosphere, the protective magnetic bubble surrounding it, causing a geomagnetic storm. Depending on their strength, these geomagnetic storms are ranked on a scale of G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme).

The May 10 storm, triggered by a train of CMEs hitting the Earth, was the first G5 geomagnetic storm we have seen since 2003 and is considered to be one of the most powerful storms our planet has experienced in the past few centuries. "G5 storms happen roughly once per decade. They're uncommon because they represent the strongest category of geomagnetic storms, which occur much less frequently than weaker events," Jim Wild, a professor of space physics at Lancaster University said. 

The solar particles collide with the gas in our atmosphere during a geomagnetic storm, causing them to glow in the stunning colors seen during the aurorae. Different gases emit different colors: oxygen produces green and red light, while nitrogen emits blue and purple light.

Chang'e-6 lands on far side of the moon to collect unique lunar samples

 China's Chang'e-6 mission lander made a successful soft landing on the far side of the moon late Saturday and will soon begin collecting unique lunar samples.

The Chang'e-6 lander made a soft landing at 6:23 p.m. Eastern June 1 (2223 UTC), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced shortly after the event. The lander targeted a southern portion of Apollo crater within the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin on the lunar far side.

The landing is a critical step towards bringing unique and scientifically invaluable lunar samples to Earth for analysis. U.S. decadal surveys have highlighted an SPA sample return as a highest priority science objective.

The Chang'e-6 lander used a variable 7,500-newton-thrust engine to slow its velocity in lunar orbit and begin its descent. The lander was scheduled to make rapid positional adjustments at an altitude of around 2.5 kilometers above the lunar surface before continuing its descent. The spacecraft entered a hovering phase for fine hazard avoidance at approximately 100 meters above the surface. It used light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and optical cameras to find a safe landing spot.

Chang'e-6 is China's fourth successful lunar landing from four attempts, and the second on the far side of the moon. It is also the third lunar landing in 2024. It follows Japan's SLIM in January and Intuitive Machines' IM-1 Odysseus lander in February.

Teams will now begin initial checks of the lander's systems and soon begin collecting samples. The lander will collect up to 2,000 grams of samples, using a scoop to grab surface regolith and a drill for subsurface material. Samples are expected to be sent into lunar orbit within around 48 hours. Chinese space authorities have yet to publish a timeline for the mission and its steps, however.

There are complex stages remaining before samples can be returned to Earth for analysis. Yet the success of this critical stage of the mission will be celebrated.

"I have been analyzing the scientific data of the Chang'e-4 mission that landed on the far side of the moon, and I am constantly excited to have new findings from the ongoing rover data. Therefore, I am particularly excited about the Chang'e-6 mission" Xu Yi, an assistant professor at the Macau University of Science and Technology, told SpaceNews earlier in the week.

"The reasons for the asymmetry in the scale of volcanic activity between the lunar nearside and farside are still subject to different hypotheses. Chang'e-6 will probably collect lunar samples from various sources, including products of local volcanic activity. Dating and compositional analysis of these samples will provide more ground truth information about volcanic activity on the far side."

Samples could contain material ejected from the lunar mantle. These would provide insights not only into the depths of the moon, its composition and its evolution, but also for the Earth the wider history of the early solar system. Following sampling, an ascent vehicle will be expected to launch itself and the samples from atop the Chang'e-6 lander. The launch is expected within around 48 hours of landing, taking the samples into lunar orbit. The ascender will need to rendezvous and dock with the waiting Chang'e-6 orbiter.

Samples would then be transferred to a reentry capsule and ahead of the journey back to Earth. Departure from the moon will take place at a calculated time. The orbiter would then release a reentry capsule just ahead of its return to Earth, around June 25. The capsule will first bounce off the atmosphere once and target a landing in grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Samples would then be transferred to special facilities for handling, analyzing and storing the lunar material.

The Chang'e-6 mission also uses support from the Queqiao-2 relay satellite. This allows communications with the otherwise hidden far side of the moon. Beyond the precious samples, the Chang'e-6 lander also carries further payloads for conducting a range of science objectives. A small rover is expected to be deployed onto the surface for short term operations.

International payloads include the Negative Ions at the Lunar Surface (NILS) payload developed by the Swedish Institute of Space physics and the Detection of Outgassing RadoN (DORN) instrument from France. An Italian passive laser retro-reflector is aboard the lander. The lander will then suffer damage from the launch of the ascent module, likely ending surface operations.

Chang'e-6 is part of China's broader lunar program. The country will follow up with two missions to the south pole of the moon. These are Chang'e-7 in 2026 and Chang'e-8 around 2028. The country aims to launch its first crewed lunar mission by 2030.

Both sets of missions are part of a plan to establish a permanent lunar base. This project is known as the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) program, planned for the 2030s. A number of countries and organizations have signed up to the project.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has discovered not one but two of the earliest and most distant galaxies ever seen, continuing to break the records it previously set. The furthest galaxy, JADES-GS-z14-0, is seen as it was around 300 million years after the Big Bang, existing at least 100 million years earlier than the previous record holder. That means that the light the JWST saw from this primordial galaxy has been traveling for 13.5 billion years on its way to reach us.

Are Neil's Footprints Still On The Moon? 

Decades have passed since that historic moment, and the lunar landscape remains largely untouched by human presence
Decades have passed since that historic moment, and the lunar landscape remains largely untouched by human presence

In the vast expanse of space, where humanity once dared to venture, a question lingers: Are Neil Armstrong's footprints still on the moon? It's a query that captures the imagination and curiosity of many, echoing through the corridors of history and igniting debates among scientists and enthusiasts alike.

Neil Armstrong's iconic first steps on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, marked a monumental leap for mankind. As the world watched in awe, Armstrong's words echoed through the vacuum of space: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." His footprints, immortalized in photographs and footage, became symbols of human achievement and exploration.

Decades have passed since that historic moment, and the lunar landscape remains largely untouched by human presence. However, the moon is not a static entity. Its surface is constantly bombarded by micrometeoroids and affected by the harsh conditions of space. Over time, these natural processes can alter the landscape, potentially erasing or obscuring the footprints left by Armstrong and his fellow Apollo astronauts.

In light of this, discussions have emerged about preserving these historic imprints. Ideas range from creating a protective barrier around the landing sites to developing advanced materials capable of withstanding the lunar environment. Some have even proposed erecting a monument on the moon's surface, a tribute to the pioneers of space exploration and a beacon for future generations.

NASA scientists have studied the long-term effects of lunar erosion, monitoring the changes in the moon's surface. While some footprints may have been disturbed or obscured by lunar regolith – the layer of loose soil and debris covering the moon's surface – others may still endure, preserved in the vacuum of space.

One theory suggests that the footprints left by the Apollo astronauts could persist for millions of years, thanks to the moon's lack of atmosphere and minimal environmental factors. Unlike Earth, where wind, water, and vegetation can quickly erase traces of human activity, the moon's desolate landscape acts as a natural preservative, protecting relics of the past.

However, recent advancements in lunar exploration have reignited interest in the fate of Armstrong's footprints. Private companies and international space agencies are planning missions to return to the moon, aiming to explore new regions and conduct scientific research. These future missions could inadvertently disturb the lunar surface, further altering or obliterating the footprints left by the Apollo astronauts.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the preservation of Armstrong's footprints, their symbolic significance endures. They serve as a reminder of humanity's ingenuity and ambition, inspiring future generations to reach for the stars and explore the unknown.

As the debate continues, one thing remains certain: Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon will forever be etched in the annals of history. Whether his footprints still grace the lunar surface or have been erased by the passage of time, their legacy lives on as a testament to the enduring spirit of exploration.

In the end, the mystery of Neil Armstrong's footprints serves as a poignant reminder of the fleeting nature of human existence against the vastness of the cosmos. Yet, even as time marches on, the indelible mark left by Armstrong and his fellow astronauts continues to inspire and captivate the imagination of generations to come. Perhaps, one day, a monument will rise on the moon, honouring those brave souls who ventured into the unknown and forever changed the course of history.

The Largest Star In The Universe – A MONSTER

In the vast expanse of the cosmos, where the boundaries of the known and the unknown converge, a celestial enigma looms large, captivating the imagination of astronomers and the public alike. This enigma is none other than UY Scuti, one of the largest stars ever observed in the observable universe. As the night sky unfolds its celestial tapestry, the sheer scale of UY Scuti becomes increasingly apparent. Dwarfing our own sun by an astonishing factor of 1,700, this behemoth of a star would easily engulf the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars if placed at the center of our solar system. Imagine, for a moment, the awe-inspiring sight of a star so colossal that it could swallow our home planet whole, with room to spare.

To truly grasp the immensity of UY Scuti, one must consider its staggering dimensions. If you were to embark on a journey around the star's circumference, you would need to travel a distance of nearly 5 billion kilometres – a journey that would take you over 1,100 years to complete, even at the breakneck speed of a spacecraft. This is a scale that defies our everyday comprehension, a testament to the sheer vastness of the universe.

But UY Scuti's grandeur is not without its perils. This celestial giant is a variable star, meaning its brightness fluctuates over time, a testament to its inherent instability. Astronomers have observed that the star's diameter can vary by as much as 20% over the course of its pulsation cycle, a phenomenon that adds an element of suspense and intrigue to its study.

Beneath the surface of this colossal star lies a power that is truly awe-inspiring. UY Scuti is estimated to be emitting an astonishing 380,000 times the energy of our sun, a staggering amount of power that could potentially overwhelm and destroy any nearby celestial bodies. The mere thought of such raw, unbridled energy is enough to instil a sense of fear and reverence in the hearts of those who gaze upon it.

Yet, despite its immense size and power, the future of UY Scuti remains shrouded in uncertainty. As a red supergiant, the star is nearing the end of its life cycle, and its eventual fate is a subject of intense speculation among astronomers. Will it explode in a cataclysmic supernova, or will it slowly fade into obscurity?

The suspense surrounding this celestial enigma only adds to its allure, drawing scientists and the public alike to unravel the mysteries of this colossal star. As we gaze upon the night sky, let us be humbled by the sheer scale and power of UY Scuti, a testament to the grandeur and complexity of the universe we inhabit. For in the face of such cosmic wonders, we are reminded of our own insignificance, and the profound mysteries that still await us in the vast expanse of the unknown.

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'ASTRO DAVE' RENEKE - A Personal Perspective

I've often been asked what I do, where I've been and what sort of activities I've engaged in throughout my 50 years involvement in astronomy and space. Here is an interview i did with Delving with Des Kennedy on Rhema 99.9 recently. 

David Reneke, a highly regarded Australian amateur astronomer and lecturer with over 50 years of experience, has established himself as a prominent figure in the field of astronomy. With affiliations to leading global astronomical institutions, David serves as the Editor for Australia's Astro-Space News Magazine and has previously held key editorial roles with Sky & Space Magazine and Australasian Science magazine.

His extensive background includes teaching astronomy at the college level, being a featured speaker at astronomy conventions across Australia, and contributing as a science correspondent for both ABC and commercial radio stations. David's weekly radio interviews, reaching around 3 million listeners, cover the latest developments in astronomy and space exploration.

As a media personality, David's presence extends to regional, national, and international TV, with appearances on prominent platforms such as Good Morning America, American MSNBC news, the BBC, and Sky News in Australia. His own radio program has earned him major Australasian awards for outstanding service.

David is recognized for his engaging and unique style of presenting astronomy and space discovery, having entertained and educated large audiences throughout Australia. In addition to his presentations, he produces educational materials for beginners and runs a popular radio program in Hastings, NSW, with a substantial following and multiple awards for his radio presentations.

In 2004, David initiated the 'Astronomy Outreach' program, touring primary and secondary schools in NSW to provide an interactive astronomy and space education experience. Sponsored by Tasco Australia, Austar, and Discovery Science channel, the program donated telescopes and grants to schools during a special tour in 2009, contributing to the promotion of astronomy education in Australia. BELOW Is the recorded interview  


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.

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'Astro Dave' Is Radio-Active 

Heard On DOZENS Of Stations Weekly - CLICK for past interviews