This week I learned about ‘Breakthrough Starshot’, which is a project that aims to launch a fleet of spacecraft to a neighbouring star by 2036. The spacecraft are tiny (about 1 centimeter large, not including their sails) and they’d carry miniature cameras and other equipment. The idea is that a swarm of these tiny spacecraft could be accelerated through space by huge lasers down on Earth. They would be able to reach the habitable planet Proxima Centauri b within 20 to 30 years. A truly amazing idea.
Three new planets!
Three new planets have been discovered ‘just’ 12 light-years from Earth, and one of them is in the habitable zone of its star. It is another piece of evidence suggesting that there are many, many small planets out there that could harbor water. (Artwork by M. Kornmesser at ESO)
Life on the Moon
We may have accidentally populated the Moon with tardigrades, which are near-indestructible tiny animals. An Israeli space probe that was carrying the micro animals (among other things) crash-landed on the Moon late in 2016. No one knows at this point if they are still stored inside their box, if the box has cracked, or if the animals are capable of surviving on the lunar surface.
The Milky Wave
We found out this week that the Milky Way galaxy is more like a Milky Wave. It has a wobble, probably caused by the gravity of nearby galaxies. One Redditor on our r/Earthmind subreddit described it as resembling a ripple passing beneath a seaweed patch on the ocean.
Planet GJ 357 d
A new exoplanet has been discovered, and it might contain life. Planet GJ 357 d is the right size and is within the habitable zone of its star, but we still have a lot to learn about it. Next-gen telescopes like the ELT (opening in 2025) should be able to determine if it has an atmosphere, which is the precursor to it having liquid water. It’s one of over 4,000 planets that we’ve discovered so far (all within the last 30 yrs), which is a momentous achievement of science and engineering.
A Cosmic Close Call
A large asteroid passed uncomfortably close to the Earth this week. If it struck us, it would have done so with the force of a very large nuclear weapon. If you were in the right place at the right time, you might have been able to spot it with a pair of binoculars as a speck of light slowly drifting across the sky. To really get a sense of how close it was, check out this video showing its trajectory.
A Photo of the Distant Universe
This photo is called the Hubble Legacy Field. If you click on this image and zoom right in, every speck of light represents an entire galaxy, which typically contains hundreds of billions of stars. The full 1.19GB image is here, courtesy of NASA.
A Simulation of the Moon Landing
This week was the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon landing. I found out that when Neil Armstrong was flying the Lunar Module, he saw that the pre-selected landing area was strewn with boulders, so he had to improvise and find another spot. This video is a simulation of these final moments, showing exactly what he would have seen through the Lunar Module window. He landed with 25 seconds of fuel remaining on the gauge.