Scientists Confirm The Discovery of a Mineral Never Before Seen in Nature

It was found along the side of a road in a remote Australian gold rush town. In the old days, Wedderburn was a hotspot for prospectors – it occasionally still is – but nobody there had ever seen a nugget quite like this one.

The Wedderburn meteorite, found just north-east of the town in 1951, was a small 210-gram chunk of strange-looking space rock that fell out of the sky. For decades, scientists have been trying to decipher its secrets, and researchers just decoded another.

In a new study led by Caltech mineralogist Chi Ma, scientists analysed the Wedderburn meteorite and verified the first natural occurrence of what they call ‘edscottite‘: a rare form of iron-carbide mineral that’s never been found in nature.

Since the Wedderburn meteorite’s spacey origins were first identified, the distinctive black-and-red rock has been examined by numerous research teams – to the extent that only about one-third of the original specimen still remains intact, held within the geological collection at Museums Victoria in Australia.

The rest has been taken away in a series of slices, extracted to analyse what the meteorite is made from. Those analyses have revealed traces of gold and iron, along with rarer minerals such as kamacite, schreibersite, taenite, and troilite. Now we can add edscottite to that list.

The edscottite discovery – named in honour of meteorite expert and cosmochemist Edward Scott from the University of Hawaii – is significant because never before have we confirmed that this distinct atomic formulation of iron carbide mineral occurs naturally.

Such a confirmation is important, because it’s a pre-requisite for minerals to be officially recognised as such by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA).

A synthetic version of the iron carbide mineral has been known about for decades – a phase produced during iron smelting.

But thanks to the new analysis by Chi Ma and UCLA geophysicist Alan Rubin, edscottite is now an official member of the IMA’s mineral club, which is more exclusive than you might think.

“We have discovered 500,000 to 600,000 minerals in the lab, but fewer than 6,000 that nature’s done itself,” Museums Victoria senior curator of geosciences Stuart Mills, who wasn’t involved with the new study, told The Age.

As for how this sliver of natural edscottite ended up just outside of rural Wedderburn can’t be known for sure, but according to planetary scientist Geoffrey Bonning from Australian National University, who wasn’t involved with the study, the mineral could have formed in the heated, pressurised core of an ancient planet.

Long ago, this ill-fated, edscottite-producing planet could have suffered some kind of colossal cosmic collision – involving another planet, or a moon, or an asteroid – and been blasted apart, with the fragmented chunks of this destroyed world being flung across time and space, Bonning told The Age.

Millions of years later, the thinking goes, one such fragment landed by chance just outside Wedderburn – and our understanding of the Universe is the richer for it.

The findings are reported in American Mineralogist.


Press Release on Asteroids: February-2019

Taxonomic Ambiguous Asteroids

The Astronomical analysis Institute presents the results of a study to spot and ensure the categorization classification of asteroids with attainable heterogeneous surfaces. The target list was developed from ambiguous categorization asteroids known by Linder et al. (2018). Observations were collected in B, V, R, I, g, r, i, z mistreatment SMARTS one.0m telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. the utilization of a mixture of Johnson and Sloan filters provides further information points across the visible wavelength. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) collected near-contemporaneous observations in 5 filters with central wavelengths from 468.6 to 893.2 nm (Ivezić et al., 2001). Asteroids were serendipitously discovered. The fourth unharness of the Moving Object Catalog (MOC4) contains 220,101 observations known to 104,670 famed asteroids (Ivezić et al., 2010). Analysis shows that a big fraction of observations had higher errors than expected, thus any analysis ought to be restricted to 114,904 observations on sixty three,676 asteroids and also the u filter ought to be excluded. (Linder et al., 2018). The set of 114,904 observations were analyzed and twenty three,403 asteroids were discovered over once. of those asteroids, 12,710 have reflectivity variations bigger than zero.1 in an exceedingly single filter. These asteroids are outlined as categorization ambiguous as a result of measure primarily based taxonomic classification is unable to spot one taxonomic advanced that describes that asteroid (Carvano, Hasselmann, Lazzaro, & Mothé-Diniz, 2010; Linder et al., 2018). [1]

Bonus! Refactoring & Asteroids

For the diehards in United States of America United Nations agency wish to be told to feature another complicated feature, this one is for you! within the forthcoming chapter we have a tendency to shall learn to refactor our practicality for reusability whereas implementing comets on the server facet. we have a tendency to shall additionally render the comets on the consumer facet and update the player category to implement its own explode methodology. [2]

Impact Probability Evolution of Virtual Impacting Asteroids

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) can discover quite ten times as several close to Earth Asteroids (NEAs) as all alternative telescopes combined (Ivezić et al., 2008, Jones et al., 2018). Among the quite one hundred,000 expected new discovered NEAs, are going to be many asteroids with a worrisome probability (more than 10^-4) of striking Earth. The chance of impact of any given asteroid may be a operate of the uncertainty within the orbit determination, and evolves because the data of the orbit of the asteroid is refined by recurrent observations. Eventually, the chance drops low enough to understand that a collision with Earth is dominated out, or in rarer cases the chance rises giant enough to think about the asteroid a significant threat. The goal of our study is to grasp however the impact chances evolve with time before potential impact. this can be essential as a result of the danger posed  by Associate in Nursing asteroid might not be totally apparent because the uncertainty within the data of the orbit could also be giant enough that the calculable impact chance continues to be little. As a result, the warning time for a threatening asteroid could also be too short for mitigation efforts which may take years to execute and arrange. to grasp the warning times that are doubtless to result for impacting asteroids, we’ve got simulated decades of operation of LSST in perceptive Associate in Nursing ensemble of one hundred,000 asteroids that are chosen to be representative of Earth impacting asteroids. From these series of observations, we supply out the orbit determination method and examine the evolution of the calculable asteroid orbits and their uncertainties to grasp the evolution of impact chance as a operate of your time before impact. The tools for finding out asteroid observations, together with the calculation of asteroid impact chances, developed as a part of this study can eventually become part of the Asteroid call and Mapping project (a program of the Asteroid Institute). These tools are supposed to be public and ASCII text file to be used by the scientific community for orbit determination of NEA discoveries by LSST and alternative observatories within the coming back decade. [3]

Rare blue asteroid reveals itself during fly-by

Blue asteroids are rare, and blue comets are virtually unprecedented. a global team crystal rectifier by Teddy Kareta, a degree student at the University of Arizona’s satellite and Planetary Laboratory, investigated (3200) Phaethon, a outlandish asteroid that typically behaves sort of a extraterrestrial object, and located it even a lot of enigmatic than antecedently thought. [4]

How the Deccan geological phenomenon and therefore the Chicxulub Asteroid Impact Resulted within the Biological Crisis Ending the Age of Reptiles

The direct causes for the end-Cretaceous biological crisis are still enigmatic despite of the various studies administered at the Chicxulub asteroid impact website and within the Indian late Cretaceous Deccan volcanic province. None of the mentioned physical and chemical devastating factors explained the selective extinction-survival pattern. the current study analyzes the vulnerability of faunal and floral teams to a sharp ecological disaster because the results of the incidental co-occurrence of the asteroid impact throughout Deccan geological phenomenon. Their combined ejecta should have shaded the daylight, ceasing chemical process for regarding 2-3 years and lowering the temperature on earth, that should are crucial for cold-blooded reptiles. The darkening would have blurred seasonality, drastically reducing floral blooming, fruition and organism copy, all of that resulted within the collapse of the marine and terrestrial food-chain and prey-predator relationships. except for death by starvation, the most killing was administered by the organisms themselves through a Darwinian struggle forever resulting in a selective elimination of the briefly vulnerable taxa. Those that succeeded to flee custom-made to refuge sites and survived. The disappearance of most of the Cretaceous carnivore reptiles enabled the survivors to intrepidly explore the Tertiary world and acclimatise to antecedently inaccessible habitats, that incessantly formed with the continued changes within the ecological and biological settings. This dynamic development of the Tertiary ecosystems accelerated the biological process tempos resulting in fast phylogeny. Despite being direct descendants of Cretaceous survivors they got a replacement taxonomical identity and their precursors were thought-about wiped-out, enhancive the apparent end-Cretaceous ‘mass extinction’. [5]



[1] Linder T, Gozman K. Taxonomic Ambiguous Asteroids. InAmerican Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts# 233 2019 Jan (Vol. 233). (web link)

[2] Lodriguez O. Bonus! Refactoring & Asteroids. InLet’s Build a Multiplayer Phaser Game 2019 (pp. 125-145). Apress, Berkeley, CA. (web link)

[3] Bolin B, Lu E, Loucks M, Carrico J, Juric M. Impact Probability Evolution of Virtual Impacting Asteroids. InAmerican Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts# 233 2019 Jan (Vol. 233). (web link)

[4] Rare blue asteroid reveals itself during fly-by

Date: October 29, 2018

Source: University of Arizona (web link)

[5] How the Deccan Volcanism and the Chicxulub Asteroid Impact Resulted in the Biological Crisis Ending the Mesozoic Era

Zeev Lewy

Geological Survey of Israel, 30 Malkhe Yisrael St., Jerusalem 95501, Israel (web link)

Satellites a lot of in danger from quick solar radiation than a serious area storm

Summary: Satellites area unit a lot of doubtless to be in danger from high-speed solar radiation than a serious geomagnetic storm in line with a replacement study.

Satellites area unit a lot of doubtless to be in danger from high-speed solar radiation than a serious geomagnetic storm in line with a replacement UK-US study revealed on within the Journal area Weather.

Researchers investigation the area weather risks to orbiting satellites calculated beta radiation levels at intervals the Van Allen radiation belts. This ring-doughnut-shaped zone wraps round the Earth, housings charged particles. geosynchronous orbit lies within the Van Allen radiation belts

The study, that analysed years of satellite information, found that beta radiation levels at geosynchronous orbit may stay exceptionally high for five days or a lot of, even once the solar radiation speed had died down. As a result, electronic parts on satellites may trouble to perilously high levels and become broken.

Professor Richard Horne, lead author of the study, said:

“Until currently we tend to thought that the largest risk to orbiting satellites was geomagnetic storms. Our study made a practical worst-case event by observing area weather events caused by high-speed solar radiation flowing removed from the Sun and placing the planet. we tend to were stunned to find simply however high beta radiation levels will go.”

This new analysis is especially fascinating to the satellite business. faculty member Horne continues:

“Fast solar radiation is a lot of dangerous to satellites as a result of the geomagnetic field extends on the far side geosynchronous orbit and beta radiation levels area unit exaggerated all the means around the orbit — during a major geomagnetic storm the sector is distorted and radiation levels peak nearer to the planet.

“Electronic parts on satellites area unit typically protected against electricity charges by encasing them in metal shielding. you’d need to use concerning two.5 millimeter of metallic element to scale back charging to safe levels — way more than is employed at the present. There area unit overrun 450 satellites in geosynchronous orbit and then during a realistic worst case we’d expect several satellites to report malfunctions and a powerful chance of service outage and total satellite loss.”

Dr Nigel Meredith, a author on the study, said:

“A few years past, we tend to calculated beta radiation levels for a one in one hundred fifty year area weather event mistreatment applied mathematics strategies. This study uses a very completely different approach however gets a awfully similar result and confirms that the danger of harm is real.”

The solar radiation may be a stream of particles and field of force flowing removed from the Sun. It flows round the Earth’s field of force and excites alleged ‘chorus’ plasma waves close to geosynchronous orbit. Chorus waves accelerate electrons and type the Van Allen radiation belts. The chorus waves additionally travel the geomagnetic field to the Polar Regions wherever they’re detected on the bottom at Edmund Halley analysis Station, Antarctica.

Light from ancient quasars helps confirm quantum entanglement

Last year, physicists at MIT, the University of Vienna, and elsewhere provided strong support for quantum entanglement, the seemingly far-out idea that two particles, no matter how distant from each other in space and time, can be inextricably linked, in a way that defies the rules of classical physics.

Take, for instance, two particles sitting on opposite edges of the universe. If they are truly entangled, then according to the theory of quantum mechanics their physical properties should be related in such a way that any measurement made on one particle should instantly convey information about any future measurement outcome of the other particle — correlations that Einstein skeptically saw as “spooky action at a distance.”

In the 1960s, the physicist John Bell calculated a theoretical limit beyond which such correlations must have a quantum, rather than a classical, explanation.

But what if such correlations were the result not of quantum entanglement, but of some other hidden, classical explanation? Such “what-ifs” are known to physicists as loopholes to tests of Bell’s inequality, the most stubborn of which is the “freedom-of-choice” loophole: the possibility that some hidden, classical variable may influence the measurement that an experimenter chooses to perform on an entangled particle, making the outcome look quantumly correlated when in fact it isn’t.

Last February, the MIT team and their colleagues significantly constrained the freedom-of-choice loophole, by using 600-year-old starlight to decide what properties of two entangled photons to measure. Their experiment proved that, if a classical mechanism caused the correlations they observed, it would have to have been set in motion more than 600 years ago, before the stars’ light was first emitted and long before the actual experiment was even conceived.

Now, in a paper published today in Physical Review Letters, the same team has vastly extended the case for quantum entanglement and further restricted the options for the freedom-of-choice loophole. The researchers used distant quasars, one of which emitted its light 7.8 billion years ago and the other 12.2 billion years ago, to determine the measurements to be made on pairs of entangled photons. They found correlations among more than 30,000 pairs of photons, to a degree that far exceeded the limit that Bell originally calculated for a classically based mechanism.

“If some conspiracy is happening to simulate quantum mechanics by a mechanism that is actually classical, that mechanism would have had to begin its operations — somehow knowing exactly when, where, and how this experiment was going to be done — at least 7.8 billion years ago. That seems incredibly implausible, so we have very strong evidence that quantum mechanics is the right explanation,” says co-author Alan Guth, the Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at MIT.

“The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, so any alternative mechanism — different from quantum mechanics — that might have produced our results by exploiting this loophole would’ve had to be in place long before even there was a planet Earth, let alone an MIT,” adds David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and professor of physics at MIT. “So we’ve pushed any alternative explanations back to very early in cosmic history.”

Guth and Kaiser’s co-authors include Anton Zeilinger and members of his group at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna, as well as physicists at Harvey Mudd College and the University of California at San Diego.

A decision, made billions of years ago

In 2014, Kaiser and two members of the current team, Jason Gallicchio and Andrew Friedman, proposed an experiment to produce entangled photons on Earth — a process that is fairly standard in studies of quantum mechanics. They planned to shoot each member of the entangled pair in opposite directions, toward light detectors that would also make a measurement of each photon using a polarizer. Researchers would measure the polarization, or orientation, of each incoming photon’s electric field, by setting the polarizer at various angles and observing whether the photons passed through — an outcome for each photon that researchers could compare to determine whether the particles showed the hallmark correlations predicted by quantum mechanics.

The team added a unique step to the proposed experiment, which was to use light from ancient, distant astronomical sources, such as stars and quasars, to determine the angle at which to set each respective polarizer. As each entangled photon was in flight, heading toward its detector at the speed of light, researchers would use a telescope located at each detector site to measure the wavelength of a quasar’s incoming light. If that light was redder than some reference wavelength, the polarizer would tilt at a certain angle to make a specific measurement of the incoming entangled photon — a measurement choice that was determined by the quasar. If the quasar’s light was bluer than the reference wavelength, the polarizer would tilt at a different angle, performing a different measurement of the entangled photon.

In their previous experiment, the team used small backyard telescopes to measure the light from stars as close as 600 light years away. In their new study, the researchers used much larger, more powerful telescopes to catch the incoming light from even more ancient, distant astrophysical sources: quasars whose light has been traveling toward the Earth for at least 7.8 billion years — objects that are incredibly far away and yet are so luminous that their light can be observed from Earth.

Tricky timing

On Jan. 11, 2018, “the clock had just ticked past midnight local time,” as Kaiser recalls, when about a dozen members of the team gathered on a mountaintop in the Canary Islands and began collecting data from two large, 4-meter-wide telescopes: the William Herschel Telescope and the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo, both situated on the same mountain and separated by about a kilometer.

One telescope focused on a particular quasar, while the other telescope looked at another quasar in a different patch of the night sky. Meanwhile, researchers at a station located between the two telescopes created pairs of entangled photons and beamed particles from each pair in opposite directions toward each telescope.

In the fraction of a second before each entangled photon reached its detector, the instrumentation determined whether a single photon arriving from the quasar was more red or blue, a measurement that then automatically adjusted the angle of a polarizer that ultimately received and detected the incoming entangled photon.

“The timing is very tricky,” Kaiser says. “Everything has to happen within very tight windows, updating every microsecond or so.”

Demystifying a mirage

The researchers ran their experiment twice, each for around 15 minutes and with two different pairs of quasars. For each run, they measured 17,663 and 12,420 pairs of entangled photons, respectively. Within hours of closing the telescope domes and looking through preliminary data, the team could tell there were strong correlations among the photon pairs, beyond the limit that Bell calculated, indicating that the photons were correlated in a quantum-mechanical manner.

Guth led a more detailed analysis to calculate the chance, however slight, that a classical mechanism might have produced the correlations the team observed.

He calculated that, for the best of the two runs, the probability that a mechanism based on classical physics could have achieved the observed correlation was about 10 to the minus 20 — that is, about one part in one hundred billion billion, “outrageously small,” Guth says. For comparison, researchers have estimated the probability that the discovery of the Higgs boson was just a chance fluke to be about one in a billion.

“We certainly made it unbelievably implausible that a local realistic theory could be underlying the physics of the universe,” Guth says.

And yet, there is still a small opening for the freedom-of-choice loophole. To limit it even further, the team is entertaining ideas of looking even further back in time, to use sources such as cosmic microwave background photons that were emitted as leftover radiation immediately following the Big Bang, though such experiments would present a host of new technical challenges.

“It is fun to think about new types of experiments we can design in the future, but for now, we are very pleased that we were able to address this particular loophole so dramatically. Our experiment with quasars puts extremely tight constraints on various alternatives to quantum mechanics. As strange as quantum mechanics may seem, it continues to match every experimental test we can devise,” Kaiser says.

This research was supported in part by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Austrian Science Fund, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy.


Sprawling galaxy cluster found hiding in plain sight

Bright light from black hole in a feeding frenzy had been obscuring surrounding galaxies.

MIT scientists have uncovered a sprawling new galaxy cluster hiding in plain sight. The cluster, which sits a mere 2.4 billion light years from Earth, is made up of hundreds of individual galaxies and surrounds an extremely active supermassive black hole, or quasar.

The central quasar goes by the name PKS1353-341 and is intensely bright — so bright that for decades astronomers observing it in the night sky have assumed that the quasar was quite alone in its corner of the universe, shining out as a solitary light source from the center of a single galaxy.

But as the MIT team reports today in the Astrophysical Journal, the quasar’s light is so bright that it has obscured hundreds of galaxies clustered around it.

In their new analysis, the researchers estimate that there are hundreds of individual galaxies in the cluster, which, all told, is about as massive as 690 trillion suns. Our Milky Way galaxy, for comparison, weighs in at around 400 billion solar masses.

The team also calculates that the quasar at the center of the cluster is 46 billion times brighter than the sun. Its extreme luminosity is likely the result of a temporary feeding frenzy: As an immense disk of material swirls around the quasar, big chunks of matter from the disk are falling in and feeding it, causing the black hole to radiate huge amounts of energy out as light.

“This might be a short-lived phase that clusters go through, where the central black hole has a quick meal, gets bright, and then fades away again,” says study author Michael McDonald, assistant professor of physics in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “This could be a blip that we just happened to see. In a million years, this might look like a diffuse fuzzball.”

McDonald and his colleagues believe the discovery of this hidden cluster shows there may be other similar galaxy clusters hiding behind extremely bright objects that astronomers have miscatalogued as single light sources. The researchers are now looking for more hidden galaxy clusters, which could be important clues to estimating how much matter there is in the universe and how fast the universe is expanding.

The paper’s co-authors include lead author and MIT graduate student Taweewat Somboonpanyakul, Henry Lin of Princeton University, Brian Stalder of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and Antony Stark of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Fluffs or points

In 2012, McDonald and others discovered the Phoenix cluster, one of the most massive and luminous galaxy clusters in the universe. The mystery to McDonald was why this cluster, which was so intensely bright and in a region of the sky that is easily observable, hadn’t been found before.

“We started asking ourselves why we had not found it earlier, because it’s very extreme in its properties and very bright,” McDonald says. “It’s because we had preconceived notions of what a cluster should look like. And this didn’t conform to that, so we missed it.”

For the most part, he says astronomers have assumed that galaxy clusters look “fluffy,” giving off a very diffuse signal in the X-ray band, unlike brighter, point-like sources, which have been interpreted as extremely active quasars or black holes.

“The images are either all points, or fluffs, and the fluffs are these giant million-light-year balls of hot gas that we call clusters, and the points are black holes that are accreting gas and glowing as this gas spirals in,” McDonald says. “This idea that you could have a rapidly accreting black hole at the center of a cluster — we didn’t think that was something that happened in nature.”

But the Phoenix discovery proved that galaxy clusters could indeed host immensely active black holes, prompting McDonald to wonder: Could there be other nearby galaxy clusters that were simply misidentified?

An extreme eater

To answer that question, the researchers set up a survey named CHiPS, for Clusters Hiding in Plain Sight, which is designed to reevaluate X-ray images taken in the past.

“We start from archival data of point sources, or objects that were super bright in the sky,” Somboonpanyakul explains. “We are looking for point sources inside fluffy things.”

For every point source that was previously identified, the researchers noted their coordinates and then studied them more directly using the Magellan Telescope, a powerful optical telescope that sits in the mountains of Chile. If they observed a higher-than-expected number of galaxies surrounding the point source (a sign that the gas may stem from a cluster of galaxies), the researchers looked at the source again, using NASA’s space-based Chandra X-Ray Observatory, to identify an extended, diffuse source around the main point source.

“Some 90 percent of these sources turned out to not be clusters,” McDonald says. “But the fun thing is, the small number of things we are finding are sort of rule-breakers.”

The new paper reports the first results of the CHiPS survey, which has so far confirmed one new galaxy cluster hosting an extremely active central black hole.

“The brightness of the black hole might be related to how much it’s eating,” McDonald says. “This is thousands of times brighter than a typical black hole at the center of a cluster, so it’s very extreme in its feeding. We have no idea how long this has been going on or will continue to go on. Finding more of these things will help us understand, is this an important process, or just a weird thing that there’s only one of in the universe.”

The team plans to comb through more X-ray data in search of galaxy clusters that might have been missed the first time around.

“If the CHiPS survey can find enough of these, we will be able to pinpoint the specific rate of accretion onto the black hole where it switches from generating primarily radiation to generating mechanical energy, the two primary forms of

energy output from black holes,” says Brian McNamara, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo, who was not involved in the research. “This particular object is interesting because it bucks the trend. Either the central supermassive black hole’s mass is much lower than expected, or the structure of the accretion flow is abnormal. The oddballs are the ones that teach us the most.”

In addition to shedding light on a black hole’s feeding, or accretion behavior, the detection of more galaxy clusters may help to estimate how fast the universe is expanding.

“Take for instance, the Titanic,” McDonald says. “If you know where the two biggest pieces landed, you could map them backward to see where the ship hit the iceberg. In the same way, if you know where all the galaxy clusters are in the universe, which are the biggest pieces in the universe, and how big they are, and you have some information about what the universe looked like in the beginning, which we know from the Big Bang, then you could map out how the universe expanded.”

This research was supported, in part, by the Kavli Research Investment Fund at MIT, and by NASA.


SpaceX Just Held a Secret Meeting to Solve The Huge Problems With Mars Space Travel

SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, held a hush-hush conference in Colorado this week to formulate a plan for landing people on Mars and building an outpost.

The inaugural ‘Mars Workshop’, first reported by Eric Berger at Ars Technica, happened Tuesday and Wednesday in Boulder, Colorado.

SpaceX reportedly sent invitations to about 60 scientists and engineers, asking them not to publicize the event or their attendance at the workshop.

Leaders of NASA’s Mars exploration program reportedly attended, but the agency did not answer Business Insider’s questions about who from its staff was there.

Workshop attendees were asked to participate in “active discussions regarding what will be needed to make such missions happen,” according to Ars Technica.

According to Ars Technica, the workshop may be “the first meeting of such magnitude” in SpaceX’s quest to land humans on and ultimately colonize the red planet. (Though a SpaceX representative told Business Insider in an email, “we regularly meet with a variety of experts concerning our missions to Mars.”)

It’s about time for these discussions, especially if Musk wants to meet his “aspirational” timeline to launch the first human crew toward Mars in the mid-2020s.

“We already have the technology to build rockets and land vehicles on Mars. We’ve been doing that for decades,” D. Marshall Porterfield, the former director of NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Division, told Business Insider.

“The main hindrance is the human factor. If you really are going to land a person on Mars, you have to feed them, keep them healthy, and build them habitats.”

What we know about SpaceX’s Mars mission plans

Musk launched SpaceX in 2002 in part because he was frustrated that NASA didn’t have any actionable plan to land people on Mars.

Ever since, his company has been building larger and more cost-effective rockets, accruing staff and cash, and working toward the ultimate goal of colonizing Mars.

Musk first presented an outline for reaching Mars in September 2016, then elaborated on it in October 2017. The plan called for an enormous, fully reusable spaceflight system called the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR.

The 35-story-tall system would have two main parts – a giant spaceship atop a gargantuan booster – and be able to carry up to 100 people to Mars.

SpaceX plans to launch an uncrewed mission to Mars in 2022, followed by the first human explorers in 2024 – a timeline Musk said he felt “pretty optimistic” about at the 2018 South by Southwest festival. He also elaborated on the idea of setting up a permanent Martian colony.

“It will start off building just the most elementary infrastructure, just a base to create some propellant, a power station, blast domes in which to grow crops – all of the sorts of fundamentals without which you cannot survive,” Musk said.

“And then really there’s going to be an explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints. I think Mars should really have great bars: the Mars Bar.”

Long before trying to colonize Mars, SpaceX will need to pull off its first landings there. Each will require about half a dozen BFR flights to get a spaceship into low-Earth orbit and refuel it.

Construction of a prototype spaceship for the BFR system is now underway and maybe test-launched as soon as mid-2019. Even if that effort goes well, SpaceX will still need to secure scores of durable supplies and high-tech equipment – and formulate well-laid plans to use it all.

Workshops with top experts in the spaceflight world could help SpaceX work toward those goals.

Why SpaceX needs a great plan – and likely lots of help – to reach the red planet

To pull off its initial Mars plans and seed an off-world economy, SpaceX will likely need tens of billions or hundreds of billions of dollars.

SpaceX was awarded about US$3 billion in US government awards and contracts to develop its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship, with much of that spent to meet NASA’s exacting specifications for flying astronauts.

But a Mars mission is far more ambitious – and dangerous.

Musk has not been shy about the high risk of failure. In 2016 he said “the likelihood of death is very high” for the first Mars missions, and for that reason, he probably wouldn’t fly there himself.

“Being unafraid to fail has really been what’s helped SpaceX advance so quickly,” Steve Nutt, an aerospace and mechanical engineer at the University of Southern California, told Business Insider.

“Historically, engineers have learned more from their failures than they have their successes. By far.”

Still, multilateral support from space agencies and aerospace companies won’t come easy; SpaceX will need a very detailed proposal that doesn’t sound like a suicide mission.

How, exactly, Mars missions would play out and which technologies would be used to keep people alive on the red planet have yet to be described publicly by the company or shared with Business Insider. (We’ve asked SpaceX and Musk, to no avail.)

“They seem to have tackled a huge aspect of it – the rockets, the propulsion, the landing,” Ray Wheeler, an advanced life support researcher at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center who wasn’t invited to SpaceX’s Mars workshop, told Business Insider.

“But having an efficient and appropriate habitat for the human, reliable life-support systems, the right spacesuits, and so on? That all demonstrates the complexity of this whole idea.”

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Astronauts Explain Why Nobody Has Visited The Moon In More Than 45 Years – And The Reasons Are Depressing

Landing 12 people on the moon remains one of NASA’s greatest achievements, if not the greatest.

Astronauts collected rocks, took photos, performed experiments, planted some flags, and then came home. But those week-long stays during the Apollo program didn’t establish a lasting human presence on the moon.

More than 45 years after the most recent crewed moon landing — Apollo 17 in December 1972 — there are plenty of reasons to return people to Earth’s giant, dusty satellite and stay there.

Researchers and entrepreneurs think a crewed base on the moon could evolve into a fuel depot for deep-space missions, lead to the creation of unprecedented space telescopes, make it easier to live on Mars, and solve longstanding scientific mysteries about Earth and the moon’s creation. A lunar base could even become a thriving off-world economy, perhaps one built around lunar space tourism.

“A permanent human research station on the moon is the next logical step. It’s only three days away. We can afford to get it wrong, and not kill everybody,” former astronaut Chris Hadfield recently told Business Insider. “And we have a whole bunch of stuff we have to invent and then test in order to learn before we can go deeper out.”

But many astronauts and other experts suggest the biggest impediments to crewed moon missions over the last four-plus decades have been banal if not depressing.

It’s really expensive to get to the moon — but not that expensive

A tried-and-true hurdle for any spaceflight program, especially for missions that involve people, is the steep cost.

A law signed in March 2017 by President Donald Trump gives NASA an annual budget of about $19.5 billion, and it may rise to $19.9 billion in 2019.

Either amount sounds like a windfall — until you consider that the total gets split among all of the agency’s divisions and ambitious projects: the James Webb Space Telescope, the giant rocket project called Space Launch System, and far-flung missions to the sunJupiterMars, the Asteroid Belt, the Kuiper Belt, and the edge of the solar system. (By contrast, the US military gets a budget of about $600 billion per year. One project within that budget — the modernization and now expansion of America’s nuclear arsenal— may even cost as much as $1.7 trillion over 30 years.)

Plus, NASA’s budget is somewhat small relative to its past.

“NASA’s portion of the federal budget peaked at 4% in 1965. For the past 40 years it has remained below 1%, and for the last 15 years it has been driving toward 0.4% of the federal budget,” Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham said during a 2015 congressional testimony.

Trump’s budget calls for a return to the moon, and then later an orbital visit to Mars. But given the ballooning costs and snowballing delays related to NASA’s SLS rocket program, there may not be enough funding to make it to either destination, even if the International Space Station gets defunded early.

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Watch Live Tonight: SpaceX Launches Telstar Communications Satellite

SpaceX will launch a powerful Telstar communications satellite into orbit early Sunday morning (July 22), testing out the spaceflight company’s new Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket for the second time.

The launch is set to occur Sunday between 1:50 a.m. and 5:50 a.m. EDT (0550 to 0950 GMT) from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and you can watch it live online here at, courtesy of SpaceX. You can also follow the action directly at SpaceX’s site.

SpaceX successfully completed a test-fire of the two-stage Falcon 9 Wednesday (July 18), firing the first stage’s nine Merlin engines at full power to test them before lowering the rocket to attach the satellite payload, according to SpaceflightNow.

The Telstar 19V satellite, from the Canadian company Telesat, will end up in a high, geostationary orbit — orbiting at the same rate as Earth turns, so it hovers over one point — and provide broadband access across the Americas and Atlantic Ocean, according to Telesat. After the Falcon 9 lofts the satellite into space, the rocket’s first stage will return to Earth for a landing on the SpaceX drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.

This launch is SpaceX’s second to use the company’s new Block 5 Falcon 9, which first launched May 11 carrying Bangladesh’s first communications satellite into orbit and whose first stage was recovered for analysis. This launch will use an all-new Block 5, although the rockets’ first stages are designed to last for 10 or more flights with no refurbishment in between — in fact, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said they could ideally last for 100 launches with some refurbishment.

The Block 5 also has increased thrust over the previous version and is designed to meet NASA’s commercial crew requirements. While additional minor changes might be made, Musk has said the Block 5 will be the final version of the Falcon 9, freeing up SpaceX to work on newer rocket designs, such as the potentially Mars-bound BFR.

As of Friday (July 20), the weather forecast from Patrick Air Force Base’s 45th Space Wing showed a 60-percent chance of acceptable launch weather; the potential problem spots are thick clouds. If SpaceX is unable to make the launch window, the backup will be the next night.

This launch will be the first in a busy streak for SpaceX, if launch dates hold. The company is set to launch 10 satellites for the Iridium Next mobile communications fleet on July 25 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Then, on Aug. 2, the company will launch a communications satellite for Telkom Indonesia from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

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Contemplating the eyes in the sky

Media studies scholar Lisa Parks examines the way satellites and other aerial technologies have changed society.

Satellites have changed the way we experience the world, by beaming back images from around the globe and letting us explore the planet through online maps and other visuals. Such tools are so familiar today we often take them for granted.

Lisa Parks does not. A professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, Parks is an expert on satellites and their cultural effects, among other forms of aerial technology. Her work analyzes how technology informs the content of our culture, from images of war zones to our idea of a “global village.”

“I really wanted people to think of the satellite not only as this technology that’s floating around out there in orbit, but as a machine that plays a structuring role in our everyday lives,” Parks says.

As such, Parks thinks we often need to think more crisply about both the power and limitations of the technology. Satellite images helped reveal the presence of mass graves following the Srebrenica massacre in the 1990s Balkans war, for instance. But they became a form of “proof” only after careful follow-up reporting by journalists and other investigators who reconstructed what had happened. Satellites often offer hints about life on the ground, but not omniscience.

“Since satellite images are so abstract and remote, they necessitate closer scrutiny, re-viewing, careful description, and interpretation in ways that other images of war do not,” Parks writes in her 2005 book “Cultures in Orbit.”

Alternately, satellite images can open up our world — or be exclusionary. The landmark 1967 BBC show “Our World,” one of the first broadcasts to feature live global satellite video links, was touted as a global celebration. But as Parks writes, it reinforced distinctions between regions, by emphasizing “the modernity, permanence, and civilizational processes of industrial nations,” and thus “undermining the utopian assumption that satellites inevitably turned the world into a harmonic ‘global village.’”

For her distinctive scholarship, Parks was hired by MIT in 2016. She studies a range of media technologies — from the content of television to drone imagery — and has co-edited five books of essays on such topics, including the 2017 volume “Life in the Age of Drone Warfare.” Parks is also the principal investigator for MIT’s Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab, which conducts on-site research about media usage in a range of circumstances.

“Technology and culture is what I’m interested in,” Parks says.

Big sky, then and now

Parks grew up in Southern California and Montana. Her father was a civil engineer and her mother was a social worker — a combination, Parks suggests, that may have helped shape her interests in the social effects of technology.

As an undergraduate at the University of Montana, Parks received her BA in political science and history. She initially expected to become a lawyer but then reconsidered her career path.

“I didn’t want to be in an office all of the time,” Parks says. So she went back to the classroom, at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she received her PhD in media studies. It was there that Parks’ attention really turned to the skies and the technologies orbiting in them. She wrote a research paper on satellites that turned into both her dissertation and first book. Parks then took a job at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she taught for over a decade before joining MIT.

“I loved my job there, I loved working in the U.C. system, and I had excellent colleagues,” says Parks. Still, she adds, she was fascinated by the opportunities MIT offers, including its abundant interdisciplinary projects that pull together researchers from multiple fields.

“MIT seems to really value those kinds of relationships,” Parks says.

In the classroom, Parks teaches an undergraduate course on current debates in media, which grapples with topics ranging from surveillance to net neutrality and media conglomerations. For graduate students, she has been teaching a foundational media theory course.

“If you’re an MIT student and you want to come out of this place having thought about some of the policy implications relating to the media in this current environment, our classes equip you to think historically and critically about media issues,” Parks says.

Technology … and justice for all

One other issue strongly motivates Parks’ scholarship: the idea that technology is unevenly distributed around the world, with important implications for inequality.

“Most people in the world live in relatively disenfranchised or underprivileged conditions,” Parks says. “If we shift the question about designing technologies so they serve a broader array of people’s interests, and designs are interwoven with concerns about equity, justice, and other democratic principles, don’t those technologies start to look different?”

To this end, MIT’s Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab, under Parks’ direction, studies topics such as media infrastructure, to see how video is distributed in places such as rural Zambia. Parks’ research has also examined topics such as the video content accessible to Aboriginal Australians, who, starting in the 1980s, attempted to gain greater control of, and autonomy over, the satellite television programming in rural Australia.

Parks’ research takes place in a variety of social and economic orbits: In March, you could have found her and a research assistant, Matt Graydon, at the Satellite 2018 convention in Washington, interviewing CEOs and industry leaders for a new study of satellite-based internet services.

In some places around the globe, the effects of aerial technology are more immediate. In the volume on drones, Parks writes that these tools create a “vertical mediation” between ground and sky — that when “drones are operating in an area over time, above a certain region, they change the status of sites and motions on the ground.” She elaborates on this in her new book, out this year, “Rethinking Media Coverage: Vertical Mediation and the War on Terror.”

As diverse as these topics may seem at first, Parks’ scholarly output is intended to expore more deeply the connection between aerial and orbital technologies and life on the ground, even if it is not on the mental radar for most of us.

“We need to be studying these objects in orbit above, and think about orbital real estate as something that’s relevant to life on Earth,” Parks says.

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This High-Tech Planetarium Is on a New Cruise Ship

Viking Orion, the newest Viking Ocean Cruise ship, made its debut in Italy on June 14, revealing a unique high-tech feature: a planetarium at sea.

The ship is named after the constellation Orion (the hunter) and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the first crewed capsule designed to carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. The ship’s name also honors retired NASA astronaut Anna Fisher, who is the “godmother” of Viking Orion and worked on the Orion spacecraft before retiring in May 2017.

The planetarium, called the Explorers’ Dome, features shows about space and exploration, including two 3D films: “Journey to Space” and “Under the Arctic Sky.” [Cruising Constellations: Sailing the Maiden Voyage of ‘Viking Orion’]

“The Explorers’ Dome onboard Viking Orion is currently the highest-definition 7K planetarium in the world,” Ralph de Klijn, Viking’s executive director of ocean operations, told “The Explorers’ Dome is a versatile space that can operate as a high-tech planetarium, as well as show films and other programming in 2D or 3D.”

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