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New Horizons ‘phones home’ after historic flyby

Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

New Horizons has made history once again.

NASA’s long-lived space probe has managed to pull off the most distant flyby of an object ever undertaken.

There was much to celebrate at NASA’s mission’s control center at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland today as the signal came in to confirm that New Horizons had succeeded once again.

With a mass approximately 10,000 times that of the comet visited by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, MU69 (or Ultima Thule) is around 30 miles in diameter and orbits the Sun once every 295 years.

Until now, no spacecraft had ever visited this – or any other – object situated so far out in the solar system, making the probe’s findings particularly enticing.

The flyby is the second performed by New Horizons which also famously visited Pluto in 2015.

According to NASA, Ultima Thule will soon be viewed as an “entirely new world”.

“In addition to being the first to explore Pluto, today New Horizons flew by the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft and became the first to directly explore an object that holds remnants from the birth of our solar system,” said NASA’s chief administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“This is what leadership in space exploration is all about.”

It will however take quite some time for all the data New Horizons has collected – including high-res photographs of Ultima Thule – to be sent back to Earth.

It will be very exciting indeed to find out what it has discovered there.

Source: The Guardian

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Space

Extraterrestrial Life Could Feasibly Live in Salty Puddles on Mars

All Dried Up

Scientists found another possible place to look for extraterrestrial life on Mars. The Red Planet, recently discovered to have water just beneath its surface, could be dotted with puddles of mud with a high concentration of salts.

Investigating similar salty mud puddles on Earth, Wichita State University astrobiologists found that bacterial life could survive even after getting completely dried out, according to Space.com. The finding doesn’t by any means guarantee that there is or ever was life on Mars, but it does suggest that Mars is more hospitable than scientists previously assumed.

Puddle Pity

The scientists, who presented their research at an American Society for Microbiology conference on Friday, put bacteria in jars with a solution of saltwater similar to that found on Mars, per Space.com. They then left them to dry out and rehydrate as the water evaporated and condensed with changing temperatures, as it would on Mars.

“We have the first data showing the growth of bacteria after drying and then rehydration through humidity alone, in the presence of salts that absorb moisture from the air,” lead scientist Mark Schneegurt told Space.com.

Next up, Schneegurt told Space.com, is to get the experimental conditions closer and closer to those of Mars in order to better test the limits of these particularly resilient microbes.

READ MORE: How Martian Microbes Could Survive in the Salty Puddles of the Red Planet [Space.com]

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Scientists Think Black Holes Could Be Portals To Other Worlds

Very little is known about black holes, aside from the fact that they are the result of a dying star imploding on itself from the pressure of the gravity. One theory about the mechanics of black holes is that they might be portals to other galaxies, or other parts of a galaxy.

This is a relatively new theory, as scientists previously thought that attempting to travel through a black hole would destroy anyone who attempted it. In fact, some researchers still believe that the heat emanating from the black hole would entirely vaporize any spacecraft that would attempt to travel through it.

A team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, believe that there are many different types of black holes, some of which would be easier to travel through than others. The team even believes that there are some black holes that a spacecraft would be able to pass through “gently.”

According to Gaurav Khanna, lead researcher on the team, “the reason that this is possible is that the relevant singularity inside a rotating black hole is technically “weak,” and thus does not damage objects that interact with it. At first, this fact may seem counter intuitive. But one can think of it as analogous to the common experience of quickly passing one’s finger through a candle’s near 2,000-degree flame, without getting burned.”

Scientists Think Black Holes Could Be Portals To Other Worlds 1

This illustration shows a black hole named Cygnus X-1, which is sucking the life out of a blue star beside it. Photo Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Khanna’s team has been researching black holes for over 20 years, and they believe in this theory that some black holes would be possible to travel through.

“Under all conditions an object falling into a rotating black hole would not experience infinitely large effects upon passage through the hole’s so-called inner horizon singularity. This is the singularity that an object entering a rotating black hole cannot maneuver around or avoid. Not only that, under the right circumstances, these effects may be negligibly small, allowing for a rather comfortable passage through the singularity. In fact, there may no noticeable effects on the falling object at all. This increases the feasibility of using large, rotating black holes as portals for hyperspace travel,” Khanna says.

The researchers used a computer simulation to support their theory about calm black holes.

Scientists Think Black Holes Could Be Portals To Other Worlds 2

This graph depicts the physical strain on the spacecraft’s steel frame as it plummets into a rotating black hole. Photo Credit: Khanna/UMassD

For many years, scientists have only had theoretical models to help them imagine what a black hole looked like. No one had ever taken a photo of this phenomenon in space before, until earlier this year.

The images were captured thanks to a global network of telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope.

Researchers found the apparent black hole in galaxy M87, according to Sheperd Doeleman, EHT Director and astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge.

The black hole is 55 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo, and it’s about 1,000 times as large as the Milky Way’s giant, which weighs the equivalent of roughly 4 million suns.

Scientists Think Black Holes Could Be Portals To Other Worlds 3

Black Hole / Photo: Event Horizon Telescope

In another incredible discovery that happened this year, scientists detected a “dark impactor” that has some researchers believe has been “blasting holes in our galaxy.” This force is not visible, and may not be made up of matter. This may be made up of some type of material that humans aren’t even familiar with. Human telescopes haven’t even been able to detect this material yet, but it is leaving a mark and that is how we know it is out there.

Ana Bonaca, is the researcher from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who discovered evidence for the impactor.

Bonaca presented her evidence to her peers for the first time on April 15, at the conference of the American Physical Society in Denver. Bonca says that whatever this mysterious force is, it is creating a series of holes in our galaxy’s longest stellar stream, GD-1.

If you are not familiar with the term, stellar streams are basically rows of stars that move together across galaxies. Many times, these streams originate in smaller clusters of stars that collided with the galaxy.

Bonaca managed to make this discovery by keeping an eye on data from the Gaia mission, a European Space Agency program that maps billions of stars in our galaxy and tracks their movements across the sky. Bonaca cross referenced the information from the Gaia mission with observations from the Multi Mirror Telescope in Arizona.

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Martian sand dune looks like Starfleet logo

Image Credit: NASA
The dune looks very similar to the Starfleet logo. 

New images taken by NASA’s MRO HiRise camera show a sand dune formation with a rather familiar shape.

The photographs, which were captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, have prompted some rather tongue-in-cheek references to Star Trek’s iconic insignia.

“Enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo,” the HiRise team at the University of Arizona wrote in a Tweet.

Star Trek references aside, this intriguing formation and others like it have been helping scientists to learn more about the Red Planet’s atmosphere, temperature and topography.

This, in turn, will also help NASA to better plan out future manned missions.

Source: IB Times

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