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Inside Space (Aug 15th, 2019)

I am putting together a list of the 100 best Twitter accounts about space to follow. I'll share the list here as it comes together, but I also want your help. What are the best space-related accounts you follow? Hit reply and let me know.

As for today's issue, NASA is taking part in an underground robot competition this week. It's the first-year anniversary of the Solar Parker Probe. Some 3,000 people danced to music played by ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano from the International Space Station. For these and other news about space exploration, here is Inside Space:

Eduardo

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1. United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket will launch Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser spaceplane for six cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS) starting in 2021. Sierra Nevada said that it looked into hiring SpaceX, Blue Origin and other rocket companies in Europe and Japan but ultimately chose ULA because of the competitive costs the company offered and it's high success rate. The first cargo mission under this contract will mark the commercial debut of both the Dream Chaser and the Vulcan rocket. The Dream Chaser is a reusable space vehicle designed to land on a runaway and the Vulcan a partly-reusable rocket that will be powered by Blue Origin's BE-4 engines. – CBS

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2. A subterranean robot competition is taking place in Pittsburgh this week. Held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the main goal of the competition is to showcase technology for first responders and the military to map, navigate and search underground. But NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) says that the event will help it test technology that could one day be used to search caves and lava tubes on other planets. "The big question for NASA is: Is there life beyond Earth? One of the main places to find answers to that question is subsurface environments because they are some of the most pristine locations, shielded from ultraviolet radiation and cosmic rays," said JPL robotics engineer Ali Agha. – NASA

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3. Throwback Thursday: Since it was lifted into space on August 12, 2018, the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) has had two close encounters with the sun – in November and in April

The spacecraft has sent 22 gigabytes of data from these flybys on wind plasma, electric and magnetic fields, solar radio emission, and structures in the Sun's hot outer atmosphere, the corona.

This treasure trove of information could help astronomers understand why the sun's corona is much hotter than its surface. 

"Flying close to the Sun — a very dangerous environment — is the only way to obtain this data, and the spacecraft is performing with flying colors," said PSP project scientist Nour Raouafi.

The probe is now preparing for another close encounter with the sun that will culminate in its third perihelion on Sept. 1.

In 2021, it is slated to enter the "zone of preferential heating," an area of the sun's atmosphere where temperatures rise.

The high temperatures there are the reason why the solar atmosphere swells to many times the diameter of the sun and astronomers are confident that the probe will be able to collect data to explain this phenomenon.

"In just two more years, [the] Parker Solar Probe will finally reveal the answer," said Justin Kasper, a University of Michigan professor of climate and space sciences and a principal investigator for the Parker mission.

One more thing, did you know that the PSP is the first NASA spacecraft to be named after a living person? That's right. Eugene Parker, the physicist who first theorized the solar wind.

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4. Virgin Galactic has given reporters a tour of its "Gateway to Space" spaceport in New Mexico. The facility includes communal areas where space tourists will gear up for their flights as well as the spaceflight-operations sector that houses mission control. More than 600 people have signed up for suborbital rides on the company's SpaceShipTwo, which sell for $250,000. The vehicle has reached suborbital space twice, in December 2018 and in February this year. Virgin Galactic said that "Gateway to Space" is now ready to host more test flights before welcoming its future astronauts. – SPACE

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5. According to a new study, the future James Webb Telescope could quickly determine whether a cluster of Earth-like planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system have atmospheres. Situated some 235 trillion miles away, the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system have long intrigued astronomers because they are in the star's habitable zone. "There is a big question in the field right now whether these planets even have atmospheres, especially the innermost planets," said Lustig-Yaeger an astronomer at the University of Washington and the study's lead author. The computer model created by Lustig-Yaeger and his team indicates that JWT could learn key facts about these planets within a year and maybe even determine whether they have atmospheres within five years. The JWT is set to launch in 2021. – PHYS

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6. Vahe Peroomian, a space scientist at the University of Southern California, has written an essay about Saturn's rings. "Saturn’s rings have always fascinated me as they tell the story of how the eyes of humanity were opened to the wonders of our solar system and the cosmos," he writes. The essay looks into how Saturn enthralled Galileo, who first observed the planet through a telescope and delves into centuries of research on the planet's rings, all the way to the Cassini mission that ended in 2017. – THE CONVERSATION

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7. According to a new study, the reason why Jupiter's core may not be as dense as previously thought is that an object slammed into it in the ancient past. Based on data gathered by the Juno spacecraft, scientists concluded that Jupiter has a "fuzzy core" that does not hold a high concentration of heavy metals. However, heavy metals abound in Jupiter's gaseous envelope. This could be because young Jupiter suffered a giant impact during its formative years that diluted the planet's core. – CNET

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8. Scientists and engineers affiliated with NASA tested a rover prototype in the lava fields of Iceland. "It's a very good analog for Mars exploration and learning how to drive Mars rovers," said Adam Deslauriers, manager of space and education, at Canada's Mission Control Space Services. The early-stage prototype is a four-wheel-drive vehicle powered by 12 small car batteries. – AFP

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9. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano played a music set aboard the International Space Station on Tuesday that was broadcast to an audience of around 3,000 aboard a cruise ship moored at the Spanish island of Ibiza. According to ESA, this was the first time that someone played a DJ set from space to a live audience on Earth. – ESA

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10. Image of the Day: These cows in Xinjiang, China, were among the many earthlings that enjoyed this year's Perseid meteor shower. 

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Written and curated by Eduardo Garcia in New York. Eduardo is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School M.A. Science program and writes regularly for the New York Times Climate Fwd: newsletter. In one of his previous lives, Eduardo worked as a Reuters correspondent in Latin America for nearly a decade. 

Editor:  David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).

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