Inside Space - March 12th, 2020

Inside Space (Mar 12th, 2020)

ExoMars postponed / Iron rain exoplanet / Neutron star diameter / ISS microbes

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Dear space enthusiasts, 

This is the first newsletter to include an image sent by readers. Thanks a lot to those who sent images and videos yesterday! Please, keep them coming. Send them to along with a short description!

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Thoughts? Questions? Constructive feedback? I'm all ears, please, hit reply and let me know! – Eduardo

1. The European and Russian space agencies have decided to delay the ExoMars mission that was scheduled to launch this summer. "We have made a difficult but well-weighed decision to postpone the launch to 2022," said Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. The delay is mainly due to problems that have plagued the development of the spacecraft's parachute system, said the director of the European Space Agency (ESA), Jan Wörner. After the system failed several high-altitude drop tests last year, NASA helped ESA redesign the chutes' release mechanism but it seems that the agencies are running out of time to test the new system. That means the mission will take place in 2022, when the distance between Mars and Earth will be shorter because the planets will align. – SPACE NEWS

2. Astronomers have identified an exoplanet that is being pelted by iron rain. Wasp-76b, which is 640 light-years away in the constellation of Pisces, is an ultra-hot gas giant that orbits its host star at a very close distance. It's tidally locked to its star, meaning that one of its sides is constantly facing the star, while the other side is in perpetual darkness. According to a new study, the extremely high temperatures of the dayside (2,400 degrees Celsius) vaporize iron molecules, creating metallic clouds that drop iron rain when they reach the night side of the planet. The researchers studied Wasp-76b using a new "planet-hunting" instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. – THE GUARDIAN

3. Scientists have found 139 minor planets in the outer edges of the Solar System. The planets are trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs) and are 30 to 90 times further away from the sun than Earth is, a new study says. Using the Dark Energy Survey (DES), researchers first identified seven million dots, then narrowed the list of potential objects to 22 million. They shrank the list to around 400 candidates that were visible over at least six nights of observation. Following months of analysis, the researchers were able to confirm the presence of 316 TNOs in their dataset, including 139 that had never been seen before. – NEW ATLAS

4. Throwback Thursday: The Soviet Union's Venera 14 touched down on the surface of Venus on March 5, 1982.

The lander had a planned design life of 32 minutes but survived for 57 minutes in an environment with a temperature of 470 degrees Celsius and a pressure of 94 Earth atmospheres.

Before going offline, Venera drilled a small hole and extracted about one cubic centimeter of soil, "which was found to be similar to basaltic rocks on Earth that are formed at mid-ocean ridges by underwater volcanoes," NASA said

According to Paul Byrne, an Associate Professor of Planetary Science at North Carolina State University, the spacecraft's instruments "revealed a landing site surface composed of basalt (a hugely common rock type) but morphologically much closer to sedimentary rocks – flat lying, and layered."

Venera was the last spacecraft to capture images from the surface of Venus.

5. Using data from several telescopes and observatories, an international team of astronomers has estimated that the average neutron star has a diameter of 13 to 14.8 miles. Neutron stars are the densest objects in the universe. "One sugar cube of neutron star material would weigh about 1 trillion kilograms (or 1 billion tons) on Earth – about as much as Mount Everest," writes Nancy Atkinson. Astronomers previously estimated the average diameter of neutron stars at 12 to 17 miles but using data from the binary neutron star merger GW170817, researchers have narrowed that number down. They used GW170817 for their calculations because it is 1.4 times as heavy as the sun and nearly all neutron stars that have been observed have a mass close to this value. – UNIVERSE TODAY

6. When astronauts arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) they bring with them a host of microbes that, just like humans, have to adapt to life in space. Researchers have identified a stable population of 55 types of microorganisms on the ISS, including bacteria, fungi, molds, protozoa and viruses that have adapted well to microgravity conditions. Scientists found that some of these microorganisms thrive on the metal surfaces of the ISS and that they do not pose a threat to the ISS crew. However, microbes will be exposed to higher levels of radiation during long-distance space trips, which could trigger mutations that may change their genetic makeup, said Christine Moissl-Eichinger, who led a recent study into the ISS microbiome. – BBC

7. Blue Origin has tweeted a video showing the new mission control room for the company's future New Glenn rocket. The room is inside Blue Origin's facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which also include the New Glenn manufacturing plant. The New Glenn, which is designed to launch payloads of up to 13 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and 45 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO), is slated to fly for the first time in late 2021. The rocket's direct competitor is the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, which can transport up to 16.9 tons to GTO and up to 64 tons to LEO. Blue Origin has already secured several clients for the reusable rocket, including the U.S. Air Force, Eutelsat, Sky Perfect JSAT and Telesat. – BLUE ORIGIN/TWITTER

8. Rocket Lab's next mission will take place during a two-week launch window that opens March 27. For its 12th mission, which has been called "Don't Stop Me Now" after a 1978 Queen song, the Electron rocket will transport a satellite designed by Boston University to study space weather. The ANDESITE satellite will deploy eight Picosatellites equipped with sensors to study the Earth's magnetosphere. The rocket will also deploy three satellites for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), as well as an experimental communications satellite developed by the University of New South Wales and the Australian Government. – SPACE

9. The European Southern Observatory has closed some of its facilities in Germany and Chile to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Although no COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among staff, all public activities at ESO's headquarters in Germany will be suspended, and the Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre will be closed for the remainder of March, the organization said in a statement. ESO has also closed its offices in the Chilean capital, Santiago, and suspended public visits to its La Silla and Paranal Observatories until further notice. – SPACE

10. Image of the Day: This shot of planet Earth was captured by the Cal Poly Weather Balloon Club. This team of students from California Polytechnic State University has been launching weather balloons to the upper levels of the stratosphere (100,000 ft +) to conduct high altitude experiments and capture images of the Earth's horizon.

A big thanks to Evan Agarwal, a Cal Poly aerospace engineering student, for sending some images and a video of their launches! Check out this story if you want to learn more about their work!

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. 


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