This Week in Space: 5 Things you Need to Know

black hole
Sdecoret |

The following is a wrap-up of the latest space stories, breakthroughs, and discoveries.

Just biding your time while you wait to join the first colonists to a new planet? Us, too.

1. NASA Invests in 22 Innovative Concepts

Created in 1998, the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) seeks to develop crazy concepts to revolutionize future space exploration missions.

Rendering of AREE Venus rover | NASA | JPL-Caltech

For 2017, the agency announced the selection of a total of 22 projects, including 15 for Phase I, and 7 for Phase II. Among the visionary concepts selected are propulsion projects for interstellar travel and a Venus probe using in-situ power and propulsion. Each project will receive $125,000 USD for nine months for feasibility studies, then if deemed feasible, they would apply for Phase II of the program to get another $500,000 for further development.

You can be sure that as NIAC innovations develop, we will bring them to you.

2. Prepare for the First Picture of a Black Hole

As part of the Event Horizon Telescope project, EHT, an international team of astronomers are working to snap the first-ever picture of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole lurking in the center of the Milky Way. To observe Sgr A*, located at 26,000 light years from Earth, astronomers used a network of eight observatories spread over the two hemispheres, to form a virtual telescope 6,200 miles in diameter.

Artist rendering of a massive black hole |

As even light can’t escape a black hole, scientists are aiming to take a snapshot of the black hole’s event horizon. The photo is due to be developed sometime this year.

3. Dark Matter Spotted on Camera

Using a technique called weak gravitational lensing, a team of researchers at the University of Waterloo have succeeded to capture the first composite image of dark matter web that connects the galaxies together.

University of Waterloo scientists captured evidence of dark matter spanning the cosmic web.Click To Tweet

Their findings, a paper on which was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, confirms the predictions that galaxies are linked together in a gigantic cosmic canvas.

4. Novel Approach to Design Heat-Shields for Spacecraft

At NASA’s Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF), a fresh approach to designing and manufacturing heat-shields for spacecraft–technically known as heat-thwarting thermal protection systems (TPS)–is underway.

Critical to mission success, TPSs form the aeroshell of spacecraft (the outer surface) and provide protection in inclement planetary atmospheres. This novel approach promises savings in time and costs compared to conventional TPS manufacturing processes.

5. Evidence for Habitable Conditions on one of Saturn’s moons

Analyzing data gathered by NASA’s probe Cassini, researchers have discovered hydrogen gas in a plume of vapor emanating from cracks in the enveloping Enceladus, Saturn’s moon.

Artist concept of the Cassini spacecraft |

According to SwRI scientists, whose discovery was reported in the journal Science, the source of this hydrogen can only be explained by hydrothermal reactions between hot rocks and the ocean under Enceladus’ 5-kilometer thick ice shell.

If scientists haven’t discovered forms of life, they have discovered conditions conducive for life. On Earth’s ocean floor, hydrothermal activity provides energy for the most unusual forms of life we’ve seen.

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