While hoping (and striving) for Enlightenment Civilization to rise up and repel the forces of lobotomization and darkness... I feel I should remind you to be confident! After all, what kind of bozo wallows in gloom when we can fly robo-helicopters on Mars, plumb the earliest moments of the Big Bang and shorten vaccine development times from 15 years to 6 months? And yes, make guilt-tripping wonders like Greta T?
Here's more, to stoke that spirit! A chant I urge upon everyone who stands with the sapient side of our civil war:
"I'm as proud as hell and I'm not listening to gloomists, anymore! We can do anything!"
== Something tells me it's all happening... out there! ==
Among the missions I am most excited about is JAXA’s Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission — it’ll launch in 2024 to study both Martian moons, eventually returning a sample of Phobos to Earth in 2029. (And I know another group, in stealth mode, aiming at the other one.)
If either moon has traits of a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid (they might once have been) then it could have accessible water and other volatiles and be one of the most valuable sites in the whole Solar System. The Russians tried to reach it several times.
This is what the U.S. should be doing in space… partnering with the Japanese and ESA to do things only we can do - while keeping our hand in the Moon robotically and selling/renting landers and hotel rooms to all the Apollo wannabe tourists who are desperate for their “today I am a man” rite-of-passage footprints on Luna’s plain of poison dust. (We did that 50 years ago! Let others have their Bar Moonzvahs while we go for the riches out there.)
Meanwhile, DART - or a Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) - will be NASA's first use of the kinetic impactor technique, crashing into an asteroid to change its motion. NASA is set to conduct the mission, what it calls "the first test for planetary defense," on November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, to hit the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos, specifically its moonlet, Dimorphos. Targeting a double asteroid allows vastly better post-impact effects analysis.
NASA's VIPER - Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (pictured) will head to the moon's south pole in 2023 to map concentrations of water ice in these permanently shadowed regions - where the sun never shines. At NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC) - we've funded early phase enabling projects.
And the Psyche mission, set for launch in 2022, will journey to a unique nickel-iron metal asteroid between Mars and Jupiter - likely the core of a proto-planet that never finished forming. And yes, gold & platinum and all that. Rewrite the EXPANSE!
And yes, as you've heard. As NASA prepares to retire the International Space Station after more than two decades in orbit, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin has partnered with Sierra Space and Boeing, proposing a new commercial space station to be built in low Earth orbit. Orbital Reef, billed as a "mixed use business park in space," will offer opportunities for micro-gravity research and manufacturing - for commercial, government, and scientific use - as well as space tourism. To be operational in the late 2020s.
== Woof and you think it’s hot? ==
Scientists have a new class of habitable exoplanets to look for life on: Hycean planets... hot planets covered in oceans that have an atmosphere rich in hydrogen -- and they MIGHT be much easier to find and observe than twins of our own planet. They have a larger habitable zone than Earth or Earth-like planets.
Hycean planets can reach up to 2.6 times the size of Earth and reach atmospheric temperatures of almost 392 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Underneath their hydrogen-rich atmosphere are oceans where microbial life could exist.
Or cold? An enormous comet — possibly the largest one ever detected — is barreling toward the inner solar system with an estimated arrival time of 10 years from now. The comet, known as the Bernardinelli-Bernstein comet (or C/2014 UN271, in astro-speak), is at least 62 miles (100 kilometers) across — about 1,000 times more massive than a typical comet. In our novel Heart of the Comet, Gregory Benford and I explored a comet (Halley) in both science (my PhD thesis!) and speculation in a dramatic space adventure.
Or rich? While the Psyche mission is preparing to robotically explore its namesake asteroid in the outer belt, a huge chunk of almost pure metal, likely from the core of a shattered protoplanet, a few much smaller metal rocks have been found tumbling within (relatively) much easier reach. Astronomers have ‘explored the mining potential of 1986 DA and found that the amount of iron, nickel and cobalt that could be present on the asteroid would exceed all of Earth's global reserves of these metals! While other Near Earth Asteroids contain gigatons of water. A far vaster realm of “resources” than our poor, depleted Moon.
== More astonishing asteroids ==
Lucy in the sky.... Just launched! NASA has launched Lucy - the first mission to the Trojan asteroids, orbiting near Jupiter. Its twelve year mission will take the probe on a circuitous journey to fly by eight different asteroids (one main belt and seven Trojan asteroids). These asteroids may represent time capsules from the formation of the early solar system. And yes, latest news: worrisome inability of one of Lucy's solar panels to latch. :-(
Scientists have identified two asteroids that are extremely red — more red than anything else seen in the asteroid belt, suggesting a lot of organic material on the surface, something we’ve observed in objects farther from the sun.
Kleopatra, a “dog-bone” shaped asteroid which orbits the Sun in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupitera is 270 kilometers (~168 miles) long and shaped like… well… more like a peanut.
Unrelated to my story and screenplay set under the oceans of Venus, titled "The Tumbledowns of Cleapatra Abyss." And yes, it is hard SF. Good script, too!
== Navigating NASA - and beyond ==
I’ve been (proudly) a member of the external advisory council for NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC). We just finished our annual symposium of truly amazing projects – just this side of science fiction - that NIAC seed-funded. You can watch the recorded livestream here or view the projects individually.
A three times NIAC fellow and former NASA Jet Propulsion Lab employee, Jeff Nosanov, has a new book out: How Things Work At NASA: Everyday Secrets of Space Exploration is a behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings of the most famous space science organization in the world. Specialized interest but potentially valuable to some of you.
A fascinating and gorgeous 3-D rendering of the Veil Nebula.
Dead galaxies? NASA's Hubble Space Telescope found six ancient galaxies, which appeared to have run out of the cold hydrogen gas needed to make stars while most other galaxies were producing new stars at a rapid pace. The gas “could have been expelled and now it's being prevented from accreting back onto the galaxy. Or did the galaxy just use it all up, and the supply is cut off?" Since the galaxies were so old and so far away, scientists spotted them via gravitational lensing.
Considered an ultra-hot Jupiter – a place where iron gets vaporized, condenses on the night side and then falls from the sky like rain – the fiery, inferno-like WASP-76b exoplanet may be even more sizzling than scientists had realized.
A cool… rather hot… new approach to the magnetic acceleration of atoms to provide thrust in space uses the ‘pop’ of energy when separated magnetic field lines reconnect (as on the sun). One of several ways to offload the power part of the rocket from the propellant part, so both can be optimized separately.
And... a WTH moment. This textbook illustration meant well…