Hell Planet Nine

 

Is there a ninth planet lurking beyond the orbit of Neptune?

Astronomers have been observing strange gravitational patterns of a cluster of bodies known as “trans-Neptunian objects,” or TNOs, that could be explained by the presence of  massive ninth planet in our solar system. The hypothetical planet, dubbed “Planet Nine,” would orbit our star at hundreds of times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

It’s been a contentious topic, with some writing off the odd behavior of TNOs as being caused by a cluster of much smaller space rocks. Others predict that such a planet would be five times the mass of the Earth, orbiting our star at about 400 times the Earth’s distance from the Sun.

Finally, there’s the possibility that Planet Nine is actually a teeny-tiny black hole left over from the Big Bang. So tiny, in fact, that it’d only measure about five centimeters across — basically impossible to see with any kind of telescope.

“There has been a great deal of speculation concerning alternative explanations for the anomalous orbits observed in the outer solar system,” explained Amir Siraj, a Harvard undergraduate student, in a statement. “One of the ideas put forth was the possibility that Planet Nine could be a grapefruit-sized black hole with a mass of five to 10 times that of the Earth.”

So which is it then? In a new paper accepted into the The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Siraj, alongside a team of astronomers from Harvard University and the Black Hole Initiative outlined a newly developed method that could hopefully answer that question once and or all.

Their plan is to look for accretion flares given off as the tiny black hole gobbles up matter surrounding it. If they find some, it’d mean that Planet Nine is actually a black hole. “In the vicinity of a black hole, small bodies that approach it will melt as a result of heating from the background accretion of gas from the interstellar medium onto the black hole,” Siraj said.

“Because black holes are intrinsically dark, the radiation that matter emits on its way to the mouth of the black hole is our only way to illuminate this dark environment,” added Avi Loeb, professor of science at Harvard who was also involved in the research.

The team is placing their bets on the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) mission taking place at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. Astronomers involved in the mission are hoping to answer questions about the nature of dark energy and dark matter as well as the formation and properties of planets in our solar system.

“LSST has a wide field of view, covering the entire sky again and again, and searching for transient flares,” Loeb said. “Other telescopes are good at pointing at a known target, but we do not know exactly where to look for Planet Nine. We only know the broad region in which it may reside.”

According to Loeb, the LSST’s “unprecedented depth” will be able to spot even the smallest of flares.

It’s not the only attempt to uncover the mysteries behind Planet Nine. Most recently, a different team of astronomers announced it’s hoping to launch a fleet of thousands of “nanospacecraft” to search for the mysterious object.

Unfortunately, that vision is still a moonshot, with cost estimates breaking the $1 billion mark — that is, if it’s even feasible from a technological standpoint in the first place.

READ MORE: Scientists propose plan to determine if Planet Nine is a primordial black hole [Harvard]
More on Planet Nine: A Black Hole May Be Orbiting Our Sun. This Guy Wants to Find It.

Hubble Observed a “Flapping Shadow”

 

“The shadow moves. It’s flapping like the wings of a bird!”

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope just caught the “bat shadow” of a newborn star moving — a sight the space agency evocatively compared to a pair of flapping bat wings.

“The shadow moves. It’s flapping like the wings of a bird!” Klaus Pontoppidan, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, and lead author of a paper about the discovery in the Astrophysical Journal, said in a statement.
The star, called HBC 672 and located some 1,400 light years away in the Serpent nebula, is just one or two million years old — practically a baby in cosmic terms. It casts the shadow due to a warped and flared disk surrounding it.

“You have a star that is surrounded by a disk, and the disk is not like Saturn’s rings — it’s not flat,” explained Pontoppidan. “It’s puffed up. And so that means that if the light from the star goes straight up, it can continue straight up — it’s not blocked by anything.”
 
But if the ring does block it, the light “doesn’t get out and it casts a shadow,” he added.

The disk surrounding the young star is likely made out of gas, dust and rock and has two peaks on opposite ends, like a horse saddle. Light cast through this ring ends up looking like a pair of flapping wings.

The disk itself is too small and far away for Hubble to observe it directly, so the team had to resort to examining its massive shadow.

The astronomers suspect a planet in the star’s orbit could be warping and shifting the shape of the ring, and therefore the movement of its shadow. Such a planet would take an estimated 180 Earth-days to circle its parent star.

The star may be extremely young, but its ring of rock and dust is enormous. The size of just the shadow alone would be hundreds of times the size our entire solar system, according to NASA. Light would take more than a month to travel that distance.

By taking additional pictures using filters, the team was able to create a gorgeous, colored image of the star and its “bat shadow.”

READ MORE: Hubble Sees Cosmic Flapping ‘Bat Shadow’ [NASA]

Extremely Earth-Like Exoplanet

 

It’s the most similar to Earth in size and estimated temperature out of the thousands of exoplanets discovered by Kepler.

“This intriguing, distant world gives us even greater hope that a second Earth lies among the stars, waiting to be found,”  Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, who was not part of the research, said in a statement.

The exoplanet, called Kepler -1649c, orbits its small red dwarf star within the system’s habitable zone, a distance at which rocky planets receive enough star radiation to allow for liquid water to exist. It’s almost precisely the same size as large as Earth and receives 75 percent of the amount of light Earth receives from the Sun.

In other words, it’s a distant world that’s likelier than many others to support life. At 300 light-years from Earth, it’s the most similar to Earth in size and estimated temperature out of the thousands of exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope, according to the researchers.

But plenty of questions remain before we can definitively say that the planet is capable of supporting life. For one, we don’t know what its atmosphere looks like — the key determinant of the planet’s surface temperature.

The team made the discovery while re-analzying older observations from NASA’s now-retired Kepler space telescope program. Kepler -1649c orbits its star at an extremely short distance — a full revolution takes only 19.5 Earth days — alongside a similarly sized rocky planet that orbits at half the distance of Kepler-1649c.

“Out of all the mislabeled planets we’ve recovered, this one’s particularly exciting — not just because it’s in the habitable zone and Earth-size, but because of how it might interact with this neighboring planet,” Andrew Vanderburg, researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the paper published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, said in the statement.

The two rocky planets orbit their host star at an exact ratio: Kepler-1649c completes nine orbits in almost exactly the same time the inner planet completes four orbits. The researchers believe this could make the system extremely stable over a long period of time.

“The more data we get, the more signs we see pointing to the notion that potentially habitable and Earth-size exoplanets are common around these kinds of stars,” said Vanderburg.

“With red dwarfs almost everywhere around our galaxy, and these small, potentially habitable and rocky planets around them, the chance one of them isn’t too different than our Earth looks a bit brighter,” he added.

READ MORE: New Earth-sized planet found in habitable sweet-spot orbit around a distant star [TechCrunch]
More on exoplanets: Bizarre Exoplanet Might Be a Gas Giant That Lost its Gas

39 Feet of Moon Dust

 


Victor Tangermann 

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing have started analyzing data collected by the country’s Yutu-2 Moon rover’s ground-penetrating radar. The instrument peered 40 meters (131 feet) below the lunar surface — and found it was sitting on top of a mountain of fine dust.

China’s Chang’e 4 lander touched down on the far side of the Moon in January 2019, becoming the first man-made object to do so. Shortly after, it deployed the rover Yutu-2 from its belly. The rover has been exploring the South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest and oldest crater on the Moon, ever since.

Using high-frequency radar to look beneath the surface, it found that it was sitting on top of 12 meters (39 feet) of fine Moon dust, as detailed in a paper published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.

“That’s a lot of regolith,” David Kring, senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston who was not involved in the research, told The New York Times. “That’s food for thought.”

The fine particles were likely the result of many small meteorite collisions and a ton of solar radiation, as New Scientist reports.

Below the dust, between 12 and 24 meters (39 and 79 feet), the rover spotted larger rocks, likely what’s left of larger asteroid and meteorite impacts. Further below that, the rover detected alternating layers of fine and coarser soil.

Most noteworthy is the striking difference between the new readings and the ones taken at Chang’e 4’s landing site, where measurements suggested it landed on top of a dense lava layer buried below the surface, the remains of a volcanic event.

“The subsurface structure at the Chang’e 4 landing site is more complex, and suggests a totally different geological context,” Yan Su, co-author from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told New Scientist.

READ MORE: China’s rover has discovered what lies beneath the moon’s far side [New Scientist]
More on the mission:China Claims Its Moon Rover Found a Colorful “Gel-Like” Substance

In the Coronavirus

 


When a mysterious new coronavirus started to spread out of Wuhan, China, last year, fear began to grow that it would turn into a new global pandemic.

Now, months after reports of an outbreak began, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has infected nearly 100,000 and killed just over 3,300 people around the world — a rapid spread in which some historians see parallels to deadly historical diseases.

Graham Mooney, a medical historian at Johns Hopkins University, told Futurism that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak bears a number of striking similarities to past outbreaks like Smallpox and Ebola — and especially to the Spanish flu pandemic that killed tens of millions around the world during the years between 1918 and 1922.

We’re about three months into the coronavirus outbreak, whereas the real devastation of the 1918 flu began about six to seven months in, after the virus started to cause deadly, rapidly-developing bacterial infections and pneumonia deep in patients’ lungs.

And while there are major obvious differences, one disturbing takeaway is that political leaders — and to a lesser extent the communities they govern — are making the same mistakes they did in the past.

“I think what that means,” Mooney said, “is public health as an endeavor, as a professional career, hasn’t quite gotten it right yet when it comes to convincing those in power to make the right decisions.”

Fighting An Invisible Enemy

When the Spanish flu hit, scientists barely knew what viruses were. The first microscope capable of even seeing them wasn’t built until the 1930s, and doctors hadn’t yet developed vaccines or any sort of antiviral or antibacterial medications.

In other words, doctors had no effective treatment against the 1918 flu. Physicians threw everything they had at it: bloodletting, oxygen, and rudimentary vaccines that didn’t work, all to no avail.

On top of that, the pandemic was drastically exacerbated by World War I. Early reports of the 1918 flu came from training camps and barracks where it spread rapidly among soldiers who were limited in both personal space and an understanding of disease control — and who also got shipped out to Europe.

On March 11, 1918, an Army private in Kansas complained about flu-like symptoms. By that afternoon, there were over 100 other sick soldiers. Within five weeks, that number increased ten-fold and 47 soldiers had died.

Meanwhile, civilian communities hit by the flu were left without doctors or healthcare professionals, as many of those resources had been sucked into the war effort.

But despite the similarities, COVID-19 is following a very different trajectory than the Spanish flu; there’s no global war raging, but there are fast and easier ways for a higher volume of people to travel quickly across the globe, spreading the virus far from where it began.

Parallel Treatments

Our understanding of microbiology and pharmacology has progressed substantially over the last hundred years. Quarantines, though, are as effective as ever.

“There are some obvious differences, but… really the parallels are in non-pharmaceuticals interventions that can take place, like mandatory quarantine of the diseases so public health officials know where they are and who’s got them,” Mooney said.

Some of Mooney’s research has focused on managing the balance between individual liberty and the needs of society during a public health emergency. For instance, he said that more governments are likely to pursue “oversteps and measures such as controlling or at least managing or trying to prevent public gatherings as well. You see some of that happening now in some countries where they’re beginning to think about suspending public gathering.”

“But mostly the interventions are individual quarantines,closure of schools,” he added.

Historically, isolation and quarantine have worked best if enacted early enough. Limiting exposure to disease is still among the best ways to limit its spread. The challenge was — and remains — the ability to pinpoint infection quickly, and isolate the patient before they spread it to others.

For instance, China blocked transportation in and out of the first cities to be hit by the coronavirus, effectively quarantining the disease’s epicenter from the rest of the world. The U.S. quarantined nearly 200 citizens who tried to flee China, urging thousands of others to isolate themselves on top of that.

“The big question is whether it’s appropriate for the state to be able to tell people you’ve got to go to the hospital, you’ve got to stay away from school, you’ve got to keep your business closed,” Mooney said.

Appropriate or not, the state has historically wielded that power in the face of deadly outbreaks.

Mooney cited legislation that, in the face of the Spanish flu, let authorities show up and cart people off to isolation hospitals — a policy that he said hit racial minorities, the poor, and anyone else living in overcrowded areas the hardest.

Controlling Narratives

But the most disturbing parallel between today’s outbreak and those of yesteryear is how governments have controlled the flow of information.

Because the Spanish flu coincided with World War I, many of the countries first affected by it had heightened control over their media due to the war effort. In fact, the only reason the pandemic is called the Spanish flu is because Spain, a neutral country, allowed its newspapers to report about the disease.

On top of that, U.S.’s Sedition Act of 1918 made it illegal to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States.”

The government relied heavily on the Sedition Act to stamp out news about the pandemic lest it embarrass the state or detract from the war effort, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The result was a media ecosystem full of inaccurate information and propaganda telling the public not to worry, all while cities like Philadelphia turned into ghost towns and entire communities were wiped out.

This time around, China responded to early reports of an emerging coronavirus outbreak by punishing whistleblowers and censoring social media. As a result, efforts to contain the outbreak failed, in part because people didn’t get the information or warnings they needed. For instance, when a Wuhan-based doctor was one of the first to warn of an outbreak — which he mistook at the time for a resurgence of SARS — he was arrested and silenced by the government over “spreading rumors.” He later contracted the virus and died from it.

Now, having learned seemingly nothing from China’s errors, U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed, and spread false information about, the outbreak. He’s called it a political conspiracy to make him look bad, and on Wednesday dismissed World Health Organization reports and common-sense practices like staying home from work when sick.

“I think knowledge is power,” Mooney said. “People can’t take appropriate action if they don’t have full information. If you’re a citizen who wants to voluntarily isolate, if you’re a citizen who wants to take other kinds of precautionary measures like social distancing, it helps to have information in hand.”

Lessons Ignored

Ultimately, the response of both the American and Chinese governments shows a disturbing inability to learn from both the scientific and political lessons of the past.

Mooney points out that the way authorities have controlled the narrative around the outbreak reveals that their priorities are backwards. Instead of putting the concern for human life and citizens’ welfare first, leaders like Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have focused more on national pride.

“The argument here should be that human life has a value above a government’s concern for outside attitudes about its ability to control an epidemic,” said Mooney. “You want reliable information, you want evidence-based information, and you want information that comes from sources you can trust.”

People need transparency, he continued, so that they can make informed decisions about travel, sending kids to school, and going about daily life. Without that guidance, there’s no way to organize an effective response on the individual or community level.

Meanwhile, the rush to create a vaccine for a new outbreak rather than invest in public health shows that the leaders remain reactive rather than proactive.

“It’s interesting how these kinds of things repeat themselves, in the sense that every time something like this happens, the focus is the quick fix: getting a vaccine out, setting up emergency measures,” Mooney said. “These are only ever going to be temporary until the next thing comes along.”

A vaccine won’t be ready for at least a year, by some estimates — and when another epidemic rolls around we’ll be back at square one. Meanwhile, healthcare remains prohibitively expensive to many in the U.S. and public health measures are a low political priority for the Trump administration.

“It’s a question of how important is public health compared to investing in the economy, investing in education — it’s a question of priorities,” said Mooney. “It’s easy to put it in a drawer and forget about it until the next pandemic comes along, whereas you could argue that public health is something that needs to be constantly invested in, the eye never be taken off the ball.”

And about those historical laws that let officials show up and take people into quarantine? Mooney says that by and large, the rich went unaffected. Wealthy people with large homes were more or less left to their own devices — their kids weren’t taken to isolation hospitals because it was assumed they had the space and resources to putz around at home in self-imposed isolation instead.

For those today who are exposed, the U.S. government won’t even guarantee that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be affordable, let alone free — suggesting many people in the most at-risk populations won’t be able to access it.

Additionally, Mooney said data shows that people respond according to personal fear: When a vaccine was available for smallpox, people didn’t decide to use it until they were personally endangered, potentially putting their entire community at risk.

“What we really need is affordable healthcare and investment in primary care so the resources are already there on the ground,” said Mooney. “That’s to help people so people have got access to resources that enable them to manage themselves during an epidemic.”

Font: FUTURISM

Evidence of Ancient Life on Mars

 

An international team of astrobiologists claim that organic molecules discovered by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover could be evidence of life on Mars.

In a paper published in the journal Astrobiology, the team argues that the presence of “thiophenes,” which are special compounds found in coal, crude oil and white truffles back on Earth, could be a sign of ancient life on the Red Planet.

“We identified several biological pathways for thiophenes that seem more likely than chemical ones, but we still need proof,” Washington State University astrobiologist and lead author Dirk Schulze-Makuch said in a statement.

The team, however, isn’t jumping to any conclusions just yet.

“If you find thiophenes on Earth, then you would think they are biological, but on Mars, of course, the bar to prove that has to be quite a bit higher,” Shulze-Makuch added.

While thiophenes are made up of two bio-essential elements, carbon and sulfur, it’s still very possible they could’ve been created during meteor impacts that heat sulfates to high temperatures — a possible explanation the researchers are also considering.

If the compounds were indeed a sign of life, they could’ve been the result of bacteria some three billion years ago breaking down sulfates — or alternatively could have been broken down by the bacteria.

But, again, it’s far too early to draw conclusions.

The Curiosity rover analyzes compounds by breaking them down into fragments. The upcoming European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover, however, could fill in the gaps with its Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA), which doesn’t use the same destructive technique as Curiosity.

What has Schulze-Makuch most excited is the possibility of finding differing ratios of heavy and light isotopes in compounds, the result of organisms breaking down elements and “a telltale signal for life,” according to the researcher.

“As Carl Sagan said ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,’” Schulze-Makuch said. “I think the proof will really require that we actually send people there, and an astronaut looks through a microscope and sees a moving microbe.”

READ MORE: Organic molecules discovered by Curiosity Rover consistent with early life on Mars: study [Washington State University]
More on Curiosity: NASA Mars Rover Snaps Glorious 1.8 Billion Pixel Panorama

Student Discovers 17 Planets

 

Planet Party

By combing through data collected by NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, University of British Columbia astronomy PhD candidate Michelle Kunimoto discovered evidence of an impressive 17 new exoplanets — including a roughly Earth-sized world found in the “habitable zone,” the region around a star where liquid water could exist.

“This planet is about a thousand light years away, so we’re not getting there anytime soon!” Kunimoto said in a statement. “But this is a really exciting find, since there have only been 15 small, confirmed planets in the Habitable Zone found in Kepler data so far.”

Transit Method

Kunimoto used the “transit method” to find the planets, one of the most widely used planet-hunting methods.

“Every time a planet passes in front of a star, it blocks a portion of that star’s light and causes a temporary decrease in the star’s brightness,” she explained. “By finding these dips, known as transits, you can start to piece together information about the planet, such as its size and how long it takes to orbit.”

Stay Tuned

The Earth-like planet is about 1.5 times the size of our own planet, and has an orbit just larger than Mercury’s. But it only gets about a third of the light that Earth gets from the Sun.

Kunimoto and her PhD. supervisor Jaymie Matthews are excited to find more planets in the habitable zone.

“How many Earth-like planets are there? Stay tuned,” said Matthews.

READ MORE:Astronomy student discovers 17 new planets, including Earth-sized world [University of British Columbia]
More on exoplanets: Astronomers Conclude Massive Exoplanet Could Host Life

New Battery Tech

 

Altered Carbon

A team of researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology have announced a new carbon-silicon material that they say could more than double the driving range of electric vehicles — and enable fast charging to more than 80 percent capacity in just five minutes.

Current-day EVs generally use graphite anode batteries, which tend to provide shorter range compared to their gas-guzzling brethren, according to the researchers. Silicon anodes, on the other hand, have ten times the capacity — but are much worse at holding their capacity over time.

Frying Batteries

The team, led by Hun-Gi Jung, came up with a way to keep these silicon anodes stable by using “a simple thermal process used for frying food,” according to a statement, which involves the use of water, oil, and starch.

The results were impressive: they say the new battery has four times the capacity of its graphite anode counterparts and remained stable over 500 cycles. Thanks to carbon present in their silicon anode, the silicon didn’t expand either, which is a common problem with the tech.

“We were able to develop carbon-silicon composite materials using common, everyday materials and simple mixing and thermal processes with no reactors,” Jung said in the statement, noting that their new composites perform so well, they’re “highly likely to be commercialized and mass-produced.”

READ MORE: Researchers develop high-capacity EV battery materials that double driving range [National Research Council of Science & Technology]

More on batteries: This “Quantum Battery” Never Loses Its Charge

You can be a NASA Moon Astronaut

 

Taking Names

NASA is officially accepting applications for astronauts to travel to the Moon as part of its Artemis mission. You can send in your own application, if you think you have what it takes, between March 2 and 31.

“We’re celebrating our 20th year of continuous presence aboard the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit this year, and we’re on the verge of sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Job Requirements

If you make the cut, you might soon be traveling to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon or Boeing Starliner spacecraft developed as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Candidates will have to show proof of a master’s degree in a STEM field and “two years of related, progressively responsible professional experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft,” according to NASA.

Résumé Booster

In the longer term, NASA is hoping to send humans to the Moon’s surface using its Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft as soon as 2024. To get to Mars, you’ll have to wait until the mid-2030s.

“For the handful of highly talented women and men we will hire to join our diverse astronaut corps, it’s an incredible time in human spaceflight to be an astronaut,” he added.

READ MORE: Explorers Wanted: NASA to Hire More Artemis Generation Astronauts [NASA]
More on astronauts: NASA Astronaut Sets Space Record, Says She’ll Miss Microgravity

Astronauts are getting CLOTS

 

According to a shocking report by NASA scientists, blood flow can stop and even reverse in the upper bodies of astronauts.

The study could have some major implications about prolonged trips through deep space, as we’re still trying to nail down the exact effects of spending long periods in microgravity.

The study looked at periodic ultrasound tests of 11 healthy astronauts who staffed the International Space Station.

The results were alarming: blood flow had either stagnated or reversed in the left internal jugular vein, a major blood vessel on the side of the neck, in seven crew members. The tests also found a clot and a partial clot in two of the crew members after their return to Earth.

A paper of the study was published in the journal JAMA Network Open on Wednesday.

“This was an unexpected finding,” Michael Stenger, senior author and manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, told NBC News. “We did not expect to see stasis and reverse flow. That is very abnormal. On Earth, you would immediately suspect a massive blockage or a tumor or something like that.”

And that could have some very serious effects on astronauts’ health.

“If you get a clot in the internal jugular vein, the clot could travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism — that’s very dangerous,” professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University Andrew Feinberg told NBC./blockquote>

If Earth Collided with a Black Hole

 

Worlds Collide

A new online tool calculates just how much cosmic destruction a run-in between the Earth and a black hole would cause.
The aptly-named Black Hole Collision Calculator determines how much a black hole would expand and the amount of energy it would release if it absorbed the Earth — or any other object, since the calculator is totally customizable, Space.com reports.
 

Big Kaboom

Particle physicist Álvaro Díez created the tool, which is hosted on the calculator database project Omni Calculator. Based on his calculations, a black hole swallowing the Earth would release some 55 quintillion times the planet’s annual energy consumption.
But even that destructive event would be a light snack for a supermassive black hole — its event horizon would only expand by a hundredth of a trillionth of a percent, per the calculator.
The main flaw with the calculator? The artistic rendering of a black hole obliterating the Earth that pops up next to the results doesn’t change to match any increasingly goofy collisions.
 

READ MORE: See What a Black Hole Would Do to Earth with Online ‘Collision Calculator’ [Space.com]
More on cosmic annihilation:Two Supermassive Black Holes Are on a Devastating Crash Course
 

Considering an Interstellar Mission

 

Going Interstellar

A group of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory are eager to send a probe into interstellar space, Wired reports. Pending NASA’s approval, they claim the project could launch as soon as 2030.

It could represent “humanity’s first explicit step into interstellar space,” as team member at the Applied Physics Laboratory Pontus Brandt told Wired, years after Voyager 1 became the first-ever human-built spacecraft to reach interstellar space.

Rocket Plan

The basic outline of their proposal, which arose out of a NASA supported interstellar probe study last year, is to launch a spacecraft that weighs less than 1,700 pounds on NASA’s upcoming — but much delayed and over budget — Space Launch System rocket.

It would then use gravity assist to sling it to speeds over 100,000 miles per hour — fast enough to leave the Solar System. The goal is to travel 92 billion miles from Earth in less than 15 years. In comparison, it took almost 40 years for Voyager 1 and 2 to get to just 13 billion miles.

Leaving the Heliosphere

While Voyager 1 and 2 were only outfitted with basic instruments, the proposed spacecraft will be have a host of sensors that could gain a better understanding of interstellar space — which remains largely mysterious to today’s scientists.

And leaving the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space around the Sun, could provide additional opportunities.

“We’re sitting inside a bubble trying to figure out what shape it is, which is extremely hard,” Brandt told Wired. “The uniqueness of an interstellar probe is that we can go out and take a picture of our habitable little bubble in space.”

READ MORE: NASA Is Getting Serious About an Interstellar Mission [Wired]
More on interstellar space: After the Moon and Mars, NASA Wants to Head to Alpha Centauri in 2069