NASA’s Headed Back To The Moon And Here Are Innovators That Will Help It Get There

NASA begins a $90 billion-plus program this week to send Americans to the Moon with the launch of Artemis 1, a crewless expedition with the aim of eventually establishing a permanent human presence on the lunar surface. The launch could be as early as Monday, depending on the weather and equipment readiness.Each of the first four Artemis launches, spread over the next few years, is expected to include no personnel and cost more than $4 billion. NASA says it’s returning to the Moon for three main reasons: discovery, inspiration for the next generation and economic opportunity.

If the Artemis program is anything like its predecessor Apollo, which the space agency discontinued in the early 1970s after putting 12 astronauts on the Moon, it will yield useful products used by Americans every day. Apollo spawned the technology underpinning GPS, telecommunications satellites, DustBusters, Lasik eye surgery, shock absorbers for buildings, wireless headsets, CAT scans and air purifiers.

Fittingly, Artemis gets its name from the Greek Moon goddess who’s the twin of Apollo. The mission will test-drive the possibility of human life not only on the Moon but on Mars, putting humanity one step closer to being a multiple-planet species, according to Marshall Smith, a former high-ranking NASA official.

“There’s a whole plethora of reasons why it makes sense to continue this journey into space,” Smith told Forbes. “We spend this money building science and technology, developing our workforce to be able to do complicated systems and build complicated systems.”

NASA can’t do it alone. The agency is working with dozens of private companies and nonprofit institutions to make returning to the Moon a reality. Here’s a sample of how a few entrepreneurs, recent startups and other innovators are pitching in.

Moon Buggies

During the last three Apollo missions, the astronauts didn’t just walk on the Moon, they drove. That’s NASA’s plan for Artemis as well, and several companies are hard at work trying to build an astronaut’s dream car. These hopefuls are competing or working alongside behemoth defense contractors like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. Although the rovers won’t be used until 2025 at the earliest, it takes years to get it right.

One contributor is Louisville, Colorado-based Sierra Space, which revealed plans to build an Artemis rover in April. In partnership with carmaker Nissan and aerospace engineering firm Teledyne Brown, Sierra Space hopes to contribute communications and flight software. The company, which is also developing spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, was already working on rovers before entering into the partnership.

Sierra Space was founded in 2021 by billionaires Eren and Fatih Ozmen as a subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corp. It was valued at $4.5 billion after its most recent funding round in May took in $24.3 million. The company says it’s created over 4,000 space systems and components for around 500 missions.

Another company working on a new Moon buggy is California-based startup Astrolab, founded in 2020, which is in the process of building the “Flexible Logistics and Exploration” rover, or FLEX, which is designed to transport both cargo and people and has a capacity of about 3,300 pounds — comparable to a Ford F250 pickup truck. What sets FLEX apart from other rovers is its modular payload capability. It’s able to attach different cargoes and implements, whereas older Mars rovers such as Curiosity and Perseverance had a fixed payload.

“I think what makes our team unique is we have a really novel and innovative design with FLEX,” Jaret Matthews, founder and CEO of Astrolab, told Forbes. “This modular payload capability gives the rover tremendous versatility, and we think that’s necessary to accomplish things both when the astronauts are there, but also when they’re not there.”

Moon Dirt

When they return to the Moon, astronauts won’t just be hanging out in their new rides or smacking around golf balls. They’ll have science to do. The retrieval of regolith, a fancy word for moon rocks, is a vital part of the Artemis mission. That’s because NASA’s goal of establishing a livable society on the Moon depends on working with what’s available on the lunar surface to create things like agriculture. There’s also consideration paid to what might also work on Mars, asteroids or other celestial bodies.

The phrase “cheap as dirt” doesn’t apply to the Moon. In 2002, after three NASA interns stole Moon rocks from the Johnson Space Center lab in Houston, a value was assigned to the 48.5 pounds of regolith the Apollo astronauts brought back: around $1.1 billion. The interns were caught.

NASA has entrusted three companies to help them gather dust: Masten Space Systems, ispace and Lunar Outpost. The NASA payout they’ll be sharing is a laughably small $25,001. Why such a tiny amount? NASA used what it refers to as a “low-priced, technically acceptable” method of selection, and these companies still placed bids.

The Japanese and European divisions of Tokyo-based startup Ispace each have $5,000 contracts with NASA for help in the dirt-retrieval process. They plan to collect lunar soil samples and essentially sell them to NASA. This will be a historic moment as it will mark the first commercial transaction of lunar material to occur in space. Ispace’s Japanese team will have its micro rover and lander on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, from which it will head to the northeastern side of the Moon to collect samples no later than November. Ispace Europe’s project will head to space in 2023, focusing on rocks at the lunar South Pole.

The company, valued at $193 million, according to Pitchbook, is focused on building a variety of lunar projects. It began life as a Google Lunar XPRIZE project. In 2010, the company’s founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada took that team, which was the only Japanese finalist out of the five competing for the XPRIZE project, and founded Ispace. The company’s U.S. division has another contract with NASA worth $73 million to carry its Commercial Lunar Payload Services to the Moon for later Artemis missions.

“We are pleased to receive these two awards from NASA for what will be a historic moment for humankind,” Hakamada via a statement. “For the space industry, as well as the potential for all industries on Earth, this marks the beginning of a cislunar economy where economic value can be created on the Moon, apart from Earth — but for the benefit of Earth’s economy.”

Slated to join Ispace Europe in 2023 at the lunar South Pole is Masten Space Systems. The Mojave, California-based company, founded in 2004, has the biggest contract out of the four rock extractors at $15,000. It also has an $81 million NASA contract to build a robotic lunar lander. Masten plans to retrieve lunar samples with a method called the Rocket Mining System that uses a rocket engine pressurized to dig into the surface.

Masten’s current financial situation may mean this never comes to pass. This month, after a summer of employee furloughs and layoffs, the company filed for bankruptcy as it struggled to keep up with the demands of its NASA contract. NASA said in a statement that if Masten is “unable to complete its task order,” the agency has made contingency plans.

Satellites The Size Of Cereal Boxes

For years, CubeSats — small research satellites — have been used to further space exploration by giving scientists, astronauts and researchers a look into what’s going on out there in the unknown. These satellites provide NASA with relatively inexpensive access to space, and Southwest Research Institute wants in on the action.

Southwest Research is the lead company working on the CubeSat for Solar Particles. CuSP is a cereal-box-sized weather-station nanosatellite that will be one of ten CubeSats hitching a ride on Artemis 1. Although the Artemis mission is focused on the Moon, this tiny satellite will be concentrated on the Sun, studying solar winds headed toward the Earth, as well as solar radiation and events. It will carry three instruments that help measure space weather. In 2014, Southwest Research signed a contract with NASA worth roughly $8.7 million for its participation in CuSP, according to Mihir Desai, director of the Department of Space Research, Space Science and Engineering at the institute.

Southwest Research, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, has been around for almost eight decades. The independent nonprofit was the recipient of almost $726 million in research funding in 2021 and the company has worked with NASA since 1970. Its first space mission, in 2000, marked NASA’s inaugural use of Earth’s magnetosphere imaging, which maps the part of space controlled by Earth’s magnetic field.

The institute’s goal for its satellites is to build a system that can predict bad solar weather, which has the potential to harm communications and electrical systems on Earth. According to Lloyd’s of London, a huge solar storm would cause hundreds of billions or possibly trillions of dollars in damage.

“What we want to be able to do in the long run is to be able to create a network of space weather monitors and a constellation,” Desai said. “In order to do accurate predictions of solar events that could potentially cause damage to the Earth system … we need a network that’s strategically distributed in interplanetary space.

I am a Forbes HBCU Scholar and intern writing under the innovation team. I recently graduated from Clark Atlanta University where I studied Mass Media Arts with a concentration in….

Source: NASA’s Headed Back To The Moon And Here Are Innovators That Will Help It Get There

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SpaceX: What Is That Weird Light In The Night Sky? Why You Are Seeing Strange Things After Sunset This Month

You saw a strange light in the sky today just after sunset? Then a string of bright lights moving across the sky that looked like alien spaceships coming into land.

Something bright and white moved across the sky for a few minutes then something glinted in the northern sky for a few seconds. What’s going on?

It’s not aliens. What you—and million of others—keep seeing and getting slightly confused by can look spectacular, but they can also be explained by one of three things, two of which can only be seen so clearly this month and next.

In short, the conditions are perfect for UFO-spotting season!

Here’s everything you need to know about the many strange-looking bright lights in the sky just after sunset:

1. It’s a train of newly-launched SpaceX Starlink satellites

Have you see a “train” of lights in the sky? It’s an incredible sight to see, but one that’s only visible when conditions are right.

What you’re seeing is sunlight reflected off a chain of satellites recently launched by SpaceX. Called Starlink, it’s set to bring global broadband coverage. Batches of 60 are frequently being launched, which over the next few days gradually separate. But for those first few nights they can appear super-bright if seen in the hour after sunset.

And one batch (batch 28) was scheduled to launch this week … so eyes to the sky!

So why haven’t you noticed them before? If you live in the northern hemisphere then conditions are now perfect for seeing newly-launched satellites in the few hours after sunset and before sunrise. That’s because the Sun doesn’t dip all that far below the horizon at this time of year, so satellites in orbit glint more often, and for longer, as they they catch the Sun.

As Starlinks spend more time in orbit they separate from each other and raise their orbits, becoming virtually invisible. Though if you spend some time outside and let your eyes adjust to the darkness you can see older “trains” of Starlinks and many other satellites besides.

You can get also predictions for visible SpaceX Starlink from the Heavens-Above website and also from the Find Starlink website and smartphone app.

2. It’s the planet Venus, which is rising

Earth’s sister planet is back—and very bright. May 2021 saw the return of Venus to the post-sunset night sky after six months in the morning sky. It’s the beginning of a new apparition that will last for the remainder of 2021 and see Venus as the third brightest object in the sky, dimmer only than the Moon and the Sun.

Hence it’s nickname “Evening Star” for when it can be seen in the west after dark.

Many will see a bright “star” in the west about an hour after sunset because it’s low enough in the sky to be in the direct line of sight for drivers, and even those in the backyard getting the laundry in (anecdotally a common time to see bright things in the sky!).

3. It’s a space station or a satellite

For the same reasons that Starlink satellites are bright at the moment so are satellites of all kinds—and none more so than the International Space Station (ISS). Super-bright and crossing the sky as a bright, white constant light in up to seven minutes, the ISS is a spectacular sight.

Find the next pass over your location on NASA’s Spot The Station website and sign-up for a daily email.

The first module of what will be the Chinese Space Station (CSS), Tianhe is now in orbit about 230 miles/370 km up. Launched in May, Heavens-Above.com now has a special page listing predicted sightings of Tianhe-1 under “satellites” on its home page, though it’s not as bright as the ISS.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

Source: SpaceX: What Is That Weird Light In The Night Sky? Why You Are Seeing Strange Things After Sunset This Month

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Scientists Probe Huge Crater On ‘Psyche,’ The Massive Metal Asteroid Worth More Than Our Global Economy

Does a massive crater on a weird-looking asteroid give us a way to deflect incoming asteroids?

A NASA spacecraft will depart this August on a mission to explore a metal-rich asteroid called 16 Psyche—speculated to be a highly valuable object—in an effort to determine exactly what it’s made of.

It will be NASA’s first visit to a metallic asteroid, as opposed to a rocky or icy one, though it has been studied by the Hubble Space Telescope.

16 Psyche is strange. Shaped like a potato and about 140 miles in diameter, it’s more reflective than anything else in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. So bright, in fact, that it’s presumed to be composed largely of metal‚ specifically nickel or iron.

That’s prompted claims that it could be worth about $10,000 quadrillion (the global economy is worth about $84.5 trillion) and that it could be a high priority for asteroid-mining in future.

However, theory that 16 Psyche could be the remains of a planet that never made it—the leftovers of a planet core—makes it priceless to astronomers trying to figure how the Solar System formed.

Its exact composition will be for the NASA spacecraft to determine from orbit, but a large crater on its surface is already giving scientists clues—and could provide critical intelligence for future attempts deflect a rogue object.

Asteroid-deflection is something NASA is very interested in perfecting well in advance of aa large asteroid being spotted that’s heading straight for Earth. On October 22, 2022 NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will smash a 500kg spacecraft into binary asteroid 65803 Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos (also called “Didymoon.”)

The idea is that by creating a “kinetic deflection” on Dimorphos it will ever so slightly change the trajectory of both objects.However, what happened on 16 Psyche was something altogether more violent.

The theory goes that something smashed into 16 Psyche a few billion years ago, creating a massive crater about four miles deep and 33 miles wide. Running for a few days on up to 3,000 cores of a Los Alamos supercomputer, a new visualization by Los Alamos National Laboratory simulates what happened in the 400 seconds after 16 Psyche was struck by something.

“This is a weirdly shaped crater, shallow and wide,” said Wendy K. Caldwell, applied mathematician/planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the lead author for Los Alamos simulations of Psyche. Caldwell presented the team’s research results at the 2021 AGU Fall Meeting.

The simulations shed some light on what, exactly, 16 Psyche might be made of—rubble. Radar observations indicate the asteroid is metallic, but density measurements indicate it is porous. “In our simulations, hexagonal packing in a rubble pile gave almost perfect matches to the ratio of the depth to the diameter on Psyche,” said Caldwell. “That result was really exciting, because it’s shape, not just size, that you have to understand to determine the feasibility of potential compositions.”

The simulation shows an impactor striking Psyche modeled as a hexagonally packed rubble pile. Square packing of the rubble pile material failed to accurately reproduce the actual crater shape observed on Psyche, but hexagonal packing was a very close match. The rubble that makes-up 16 Psyche is expected to be of varying sizes and shapes.

Operating under NASA’s Discovery program, the Psyche spacecraft will lift-off atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in August this year. The tennis court-sized construction with have seven scientific instruments and two solar arrays pr provide power.

The Psyche spacecraft will then conduct a gravity-assist flyby of Mars in May 2023 before finally arriving at 16 Psyche in January 2026. NASA’s spacecraft will go into orbit of 16 Psyche and attempt to determine whether or not it is a planet core, map it and age it.

“The Psyche mission will help us understand more about the early days of the solar system and how the planets formed,” said Caldwell.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist and stargazer writing about exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses,

Source: Scientists Probe Huge Crater On ‘Psyche,’ The Massive Metal Asteroid Worth More Than Our Global Economy

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A NASA Scientist Explains Why The Weather is Becoming More Extreme

Across China and Western Europe in July, the amount of rain that might typically fall over several months to a year came down within a matter of days, triggering floods that swept entire homes off their foundations. In June, the usually mild regions of Southwest Canada and the US’s Pacific Northwest saw temperatures that rivaled highs in California’s Death Valley desert. The severe heat was enough to buckle roads and melt power cables.

Yesterday, a landmark United Nations report helped put those kinds of extreme events into context. By burning fossil fuels and releasing planet-heating greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humans are fueling more dangerous weather. Researchers have been able to connect the dots between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change for decades.

But the new report showcases a big leap forward in climate science: being able to tie the climate crisis directly to extreme weather events like the June heatwave, which would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change according to recent studies.

The Verge spoke with Alex Ruane, one of the authors of the new report and a research physical scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He walks us through the phenomena that’s supercharging extreme weather events. And he explains why scientists have gotten so much better at seeing the “human footprint” in each weather disaster.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The new United Nations report ties many changes in extreme weather to a more intense water cycle. What is the water cycle and how does it affect the weather?

The water cycle is basically the way that we track moisture moving through the climate system. So it includes everything from the oceans to the atmosphere, the clouds, ice, rivers, lakes, the groundwater, and the way that those things move and transfer moisture and water from place to place.

So when we’re talking about the intensification of the water cycle, we’re basically saying things are moving faster. Air is pulling the moisture out of the oceans and out of the land faster. It’s moving more moisture from place to place on the planet. And when it rains, it can come down hard.

The fundamental difference is that there is more energy in the system. There’s more heat. And as the temperature goes up, there is an overall increase in the amount of moisture that the air is trying to hold. So that means when a storm happens, there’s more moisture in the air to tap into for a big, heavy downpour.

It also means that when air moves over a region, it has the potential to suck more moisture out of the ground more rapidly. So the same phenomenon is leading both to more intensive rainfalls and floods and precipitation, and also to more stark drought conditions when they do occur.

How are people affected by those changes?

So, I personally live in New York City. We are affected by the water cycle, for example, when there’s a heavy downpour it can flood subway stations. It can lead to surface flooding in rivers and streets that can affect transportation.

Other parts of the world have different engagements with the water cycle. They may be concerned about the snow fall or river floods that affect broad areas. And then of course huge parts of the world are concerned about drought. When we look at something like drought, it doesn’t just affect agriculture. It also affects ecosystems and urban parks. It affects water resources and infrastructure like power plants and roads and buildings.

So in all of these climate factors, we see that more than one sector is affected by these changes. We also see that if you take any specific thing that we care about, like agricultural fields, they are affected by more than just one type of climate change.

A specific set of climate conditions can lead to two extremes at the same time. So for example, heat and drought often go together because as conditions become drier, all of that sunshine, all of that energy, all of that heat goes into warming the air. That is a reinforcing cycle that can make hot and dry conditions even more extreme.

The big picture, as we’re seeing it, is that climate change is affecting all of the regions on Earth, with multiple types of climate changes already observed. And as the climate changes further, these shifts become more pronounced and widespread.

I’ve read that “weather whiplash” is becoming more common because of climate change — what is “weather whiplash”?

This idea that you can go from extreme to extreme very rapidly is giving society this sensation of a whiplash. This is part of the idea of an intensified water cycle. The water is moving faster, so when a wet condition comes it can be extremely wet. And then behind it could be a dry condition that can quickly get extremely dry.

That type of shift from wet to dry conditions is something that we explore and understand in our climate models, but the lived experience of it can be quite jarring — and not just uncomfortable, but a direct challenge for ecosystems and other things that we care about in society. They really are connected in many cases to the same types of phenomenon, and this new report connects the dots between this phenomenon and our human footprint.

How do scientists study how climate change affects extreme weather events?

There have been big steps forward in the methodologies and the scientific rigor of detection and attribution studies, which is another way of saying: understanding the human influence on these events.

The basic idea behind the extreme event attribution is that we need to compare the likelihood that an event would have happened without human influences against the likelihood of that event happening, given that we have influenced the climate.

We are able to use observational records and our models to look at what conditions were like before there was strong human influence. We look at what we call a preindustrial condition, before the Industrial Revolution and land use changes led to greenhouse gas emissions and other climate changes.

If we can understand how likely events would have been before we had our climate influences, and then compare it against the likelihoods today with those climate change influences factored in, that allows us to identify the increased chance of those events because of our influence. It allows us to attribute a human component of those extreme events.

How have researchers gotten so much better at attributing extreme weather events to climate change?

This is a really exciting, cutting-edge field right now. Methodological advances and several groups that have really taken this on as a major focus of their efforts have, in many ways, increased our ability and the speed at which we can make these types of connections. So that’s a big advantage.

Every year, the computational power is stronger in terms of what our models can do. We also use remote sensing to have a better set of observations in parts of the world where we don’t have weather stations. And we have models that are designed to integrate multiple types of observations into the same kind of physically coherent system, so that we can understand and fill in the gaps between those observations.

The other thing, of course, is when you look at any single attribution study, you get a piece of the picture. But what the new report does is bring them all into one place and assesses them together, and draw out larger messages. When you look at them all together, it is a much stronger and more compelling case than any one single event. And this is what the scientific community is showing us, that these things are part of a larger pattern of change that we have influenced.

What should we expect in the future when it comes to extreme weather? And what might we need to do to adapt?

First of all, it’s not like drought is a new phenomenon. There are parts of the world that are dealing with these conditions every day of the year. What we’re seeing, however, is that the overall set of expected conditions is moving into uncharted territory.

I want to emphasize it’s not just the record levels that we care about. We also care about the frequency by which these extremes occur, how long they last, the seasonal timing of when things like the last frost occurs, and also the spatial extent of extreme events — so where are conditions going to happen in the future that are outside of the observed experience of the last several generations.

It is a set of challenges that we have to face in terms of how do we adapt or manage the risk of these changes. Also, how do we prepare knowing that they may come in combination or in overlapping ways, with more than one extreme event happening at the same time, or in the same season in a sequence, or potentially hitting different parts of the same market or commodities trade exchange or something like that.

We are facing a situation where we have more information about these regional risks, but also know that every increment of climate change that occurs makes these changes more prominent. That sounds scary, but it also gives us agency.

It gives us the ability to reduce these changes if we reduce emissions, and if we can eventually limit them to something like net zero — no total carbon emissions into the climate system. And in that sense, I still remain optimistic despite all this information that you’re seeing in the report about the changes that could come. The bottom line is we have the potential to reduce those changes, if we can get emissions under control.

Source: A NASA scientist explains why the weather is becoming more extreme – The Verge

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United Nations Environment Programme

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Earth Is Warmer Than It’s Been in 125,000 Years

Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030

Natural Resources Defense Council, 29 September 2017.

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Scientists Reach 100% Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming

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Climate Models and their Evaluation

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IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation

Newly Discovered Ghostly Circles In The Sky Cant Be Explained By Current Theories And Astronomers Excited

In September 2019, my colleague Anna Kapinska gave a presentation showing interesting objects she’d found while browsing our new radio astronomical data. She had started noticing very weird shapes she couldn’t fit easily to any known type of object.

Among them, labelled by Anna as WTF?, was a picture of a ghostly circle of radio emission, hanging out in space like a cosmic smoke-ring. None of us had ever seen anything like it before, and we had no idea what it was. A few days later, our colleague Emil Lenc found a second one, even more spooky than Anna’s.

Anna and Emil had been examining the new images from our pilot observations for the Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) project, made with CSIRO’s revolutionary new Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope.

EMU plans to boldly probe parts of the Universe where no telescope has gone before. It can do so because ASKAP can survey large swathes of the sky very quickly, probing to a depth previously only reached in tiny areas of sky, and being especially sensitive to faint, diffuse objects like these.

Join our readers who subscribe to free evidence-based news

I predicted a couple of years ago this exploration of the unknown would probably make unexpected discoveries, which I called WTFs. But none of us expected to discover something so unexpected, so quickly. Because of the enormous data volumes, I expected the discoveries would be made using machine learning. But these discoveries were made with good old-fashioned eyeballing.


Read more: Expect the unexpected from the big-data boom in radio astronomy


Hunting ORCs

Our team searched the rest of the data by eye, and we found a few more of the mysterious round blobs. We dubbed them ORCs, which stands for “odd radio circles”. But the big question, of course, is: “what are they?”

At first we suspected an imaging artefact, perhaps generated by a software error. But we soon confirmed they are real, using other radio telescopes. We still have no idea how big or far away they are. They could be objects in our galaxy, perhaps a few light-years across, or they could be far away in the Universe and maybe millions of light years across.

When we look in images taken with optical telescopes at the position of ORCs, we see nothing. The rings of radio emission are probably caused by clouds of electrons, but why don’t we see anything in visible wavelengths of light? We don’t know, but finding a puzzle like this is the dream of every astronomer.


Read more: The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder finally hits the big-data highway


We know what they’re not

We have ruled out several possibilities for what ORCs might be.

Could they be supernova remnants, the clouds of debris left behind when a star in our galaxy explodes? No. They are far from most of the stars in the Milky Way and there are too many of them.

Could they be the rings of radio emission sometimes seen in galaxies undergoing intense bursts of star formation? Again, no. We don’t see any underlying galaxy that would be hosting the star formation.

Could they be the giant lobes of radio emission we see in radio galaxies, caused by jets of electrons squirting out from the environs of a supermassive black hole? Not likely, because the ORCs are very distinctly circular, unlike the tangled clouds we see in radio galaxies.

Could they be Einstein rings, in which radio waves from a distant galaxy are being bent into a circle by the gravitational field of a cluster of galaxies? Still no. ORCs are too symmetrical, and we don’t see a cluster at their centre.

A genuine mystery

In our paper about ORCs, which is forthcoming in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, we run through all the possibilities and conclude these enigmatic blobs don’t look like anything we already know about.

So we need to explore things that might exist but haven’t yet been observed, such as a vast shockwave from some explosion in a distant galaxy. Such explosions may have something to do with fast radio bursts, or the neutron star and black hole collisions that generate gravitational waves.


Read more: How we closed in on the location of a fast radio burst in a galaxy far, far away


Or perhaps they are something else entirely. Two Russian scientists have even suggested ORCs might be the “throats” of wormholes in spacetime.

From the handful we’ve found so far, we estimate there are about 1,000 ORCs in the sky. My colleague Bärbel Koribalski notes the search is now on, with telescopes around the world, to find more ORCs and understand their cause.

It’s a tricky job, because ORCS are very faint and difficult to find. Our team is brainstorming all these ideas and more, hoping for the eureka moment when one of us, or perhaps someone else, suddenly has the flash of inspiration that solves the puzzle.

It’s an exciting time for us. Most astronomical research is aimed at refining our knowledge of the Universe, or testing theories. Very rarely do we get the challenge of stumbling across a new type of object which nobody has seen before, and trying to figure out what it is.

Is it a completely new phenomenon, or something we already know about but viewed in a weird way? And if it really is completely new, how does that change our understanding of the Universe? Watch this space!

By: Ray Norris Professor, School of Science, Western Sydney University

NASA Goddard

A new study using observations from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope reveals the first clear-cut evidence that the expanding debris of exploded stars produces some of the fastest-moving matter in the universe. This discovery is a major step toward meeting one of Fermi’s primary mission goals. Cosmic rays are subatomic particles that move through space at nearly the speed of light. About 90 percent of them are protons, with the remainder consisting of electrons and atomic nuclei.

In their journey across the galaxy, the electrically charged particles become deflected by magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and makes it impossible to trace their origins directly. Through a variety of mechanisms, these speedy particles can lead to the emission of gamma rays, the most powerful form of light and a signal that travels to us directly from its sources. Two supernova remnants, known as IC 443 and W44, are expanding into cold, dense clouds of interstellar gas.

This material emits gamma rays when struck by high-speed particles escaping the remnants. Scientists have been unable to ascertain which particle is responsible for this emission because cosmic-ray protons and electrons give rise to gamma rays with similar energies. Now, after analyzing four years of data, Fermi scientists see a gamma-ray feature from both remnants that, like a fingerprint, proves the culprits are protons. When cosmic-ray protons smash into normal protons, they produce a short-lived particle called a neutral pion.

The pion quickly decays into a pair of gamma rays. This emission falls within a specific band of energies associated with the rest mass of the neutral pion, and it declines steeply toward lower energies. Detecting this low-end cutoff is clear proof that the gamma rays arise from decaying pions formed by protons accelerated within the supernova remnants. This video is public domain and can be downloaded at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?11209 Like our videos? Subscribe to NASA’s Goddard Shorts HD podcast: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/iTunes/f… Or find NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NASA.GSFC Or find us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/NASAGoddard

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