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Space Technology

  • ‘Thanks for the science’: NASA leads emotional Twitter farewell to Cassini

    After nearly 20 years in space, and 13 years studying Saturn and its host of moons, Cassini has plunged headfirst into the gas giant, ending its mission. Cassini-Huygens was one of the most daring missions undertaken by three space agencies -- NASA, the ESA and Italian Space Agency -- and in the process gathered invaluable information about Saturn, its two possibly habitable moons -- Titan and Enceladus -- and its gorgeous rings. But as the world waited for Cassini's final radio messages to reach Earth, the planet's Twitter users could hardly stand it. #GrandFinale and #GoodbyeCassini were two hashtags used to...

  • ETA 2 days: Cassini begins its daring death dive towards Saturn

    Nearly 20 years ago a spacecraft named Cassini-Huygens began its journey to the Solar System's second largest gas giant Saturn to study the planet and its numerous moons. On 15 September 2017, its mission will be terminated in the most triumphant way possible: a deep dive and eventual crash into the surface of Saturn. It'll be a sad moment for those vested in the craft, but Cassini has nonetheless been an invaluable tool to astronomers, scientists, and little boys hosting Goodbye Cassini parties in their back gardens. We're approaching #Saturn over the northern hemisphere in advance of first #GrandFinale dive through gap...

  • NASA’s SDO captures huge solar flares in gorgeous GIF

    Human beings might be under siege thanks to the current tropical weather on Earth, but in space, the Sun's atmosphere is seemingly more active than normal too. NASA's SDO (Solar Dynamics Obervatory) recorded two massive solar flares that erupted from the star's surface Wednesday, both the most intense the organisation has seen since 2008. GIF: NASA/Goddard/SDO "Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation," NASA explains. "Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel." And that...

  • Hubble delivers hints of water in Earth-like TRAPPIST-1 system

    Earlier this year, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star, called TRAPPIST-1. The find meant that TRAPPIST-1 was among the star systems with the largest number of Earth-sized planets. Now, an international team has used the Hubble space telescope to estimate the chances of water on the planets -- and the results are encouraging. "The results suggest that the outer planets of the system might still harbour substantial amounts of water. This includes the three planets within the habitable zone of the star, lending further weight to the possibility that they may indeed be habitable," read a...

  • Cassini takes deepest dip into Saturn before crashing

    NASA's Cassini space probe is less than a month away from crashing into Saturn as part of its Grand Finale, but this week will see the probe take its closest look at the ringed world yet. The Grand Finale portion of Cassini's mission started on 22 April and sees the probe complete 21 orbits around Saturn before plunging into the gas giant on the 22nd orbit (set for 15 September). Now, the space agency has confirmed that the probe has started its 20th orbit, set to be its lowest orbit before the final one. We’ve begun #GrandFinale orbit #20, which will include the deepest...

  • Solar Eclipse 2017: America’s doggos prepare on Instagram

    In a few minutes, the Earth's Moon will begin its rude obstruction of the Sun, covering much of the central United States in darkness for just a few seconds. Yes, today's the day of the first total solar eclipse to affect the US mainland in over a century, with the next expected in 2024. And the hype is real. It's a big occasion, for scientists wishing to study the Sun's atmosphere, and the common astronomer just wishing to snap a picture or two or to simply say that "they were there". Among the latter, it seems, are America's dogs. In preparation of the...

  • A partial lunar eclipse will be visible from South Africa tonight

    Great news, lunar lovers in South Africa. According to the South African Weather Service (SAWS), much of the country will tonight experience a partial lunar eclipse. This phenomenon occurs when the Earth blocks the Sun's light from reaching, and reflecting off, the Moon. "It will start at 19:23 local time and end at 21:18, with the maximum eclipse occurring at 20:20," SAWS writes on a Facebook update. For those in the extreme west of South Africa -- think Springbok, Saldanha and Cape Town -- the moon will only rise around 20 minutes prior to when the eclipse is at its maximum. South Africa...

  • ‘Hot Jupiter’: You probably wouldn’t want to stay on WASP-121b

    Human beings have long been searching for an alternative, habitable planet to fly to when they inevitably destroy their current home. But the exoplanet dubbed WASP-121b probably won't be labelled as a suitable candidate. Nearly double the size of Jupiter, and orbiting a star 900 light years from Earth, this particular planet was discovered in 2015. But only this week has the planet given astronomers more insight into what they call "hot Jupiters". For starters, the exoplanet has a stratosphere -- a layer in a planet's upper atmosphere that becomes increasingly warmer with height -- something that astronomers theorised exoplanets could...

  • SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy set for November, but will it even leave launchpad?

    The Falcon Heavy is SpaceX's next big rocket, but it's been a long time coming. It was set to be launched late last year, but a Falcon 9 launchpad explosion resulted in several delays and pushbacks across SpaceX's missions. Now, company founder Elon Musk has confirmed a new date for the heavyweight launch. "Falcon Heavy maiden launch this November," Musk simply wrote on Instagram. It's one of the most ambitious space endeavours yet, as the new rocket is expected to carry a bigger payload to orbit than the now-retired Space Shuttle. And the ambition isn't lost on Musk. The Falcon Heavy has received a...

  • NASA’s groundbreaking Parker Solar Probe to visit the Sun in 2025

    As ambitious as Icarus might've been, even he flew a little too close to the Sun. But in the non-fictional world, NASA is planning to do exactly the same. But, you know, replacing those wax wings with a massive heat shield. The Parker Solar Probe, a multi-billion-dollar unmanned mission to the Sun has been made concrete this week, with a timeline and mission outline. The probe, renamed in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker, will travel to the Sun, and try extremely hard to not burst into flames. It will be aided by a fat carbon-composite heat shield that'll allow the craft to...

  • South Africa’s nSight1 nanosatellite makes history 300km above the Earth

    South Africa's first privately-owned nanosatellite dubbed the nSight1 has been successfully launched into orbit from the International Space Station (ISS). The nSight1 began its journey to the space station on 18 April 2017 from Florida, aboard a Cygnus cargo spacecraft powered by an Atlus-5 rocket. It joined 28 other nanosatellites from 23 countries on its journey. South Africa's government news agency suggests that the satellite weighs in at just 2.5kg, and is the first privately-owned nanosatellite launched by the country. "The satellite is an important milestone, demonstrating the outcome of the capability established through the Department of Science and Technology's ongoing investment...

  • Watch live: astronauts repair the ISS during historic 200th spacewalk

    Two NASA astronauts are about to embark on the 200th spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS). Peggy Whitson and Jack Fisher are the two lucky Americans who will venture out into the vacuous void to repair a few problems on the ISS's exterior and swap out a few parts. LIVE NOW: @AstroPeggy and @Astro2Fish prepare to venture outside @Space_Station for 6.5 hour #spacewalk. Watch: https://t.co/mzKW5uDsTi pic.twitter.com/4jldGpDMNK — NASA (@NASA) May 12, 2017 For Fisher, it will be his first ever time walking through space, but for 57-year-old Whitson, it's just another day at the office. She broke the record for most days...

  • California wants to tax spaceflight, based on distance

    Florida is widely seen as the state of choice for spaceflight in the USA, but California also plays host to its fair share of launches. Now, the state is investigating taxes on spaceflight, being based on distance travelled. According to the San Francisco Chronicle (via Ars Technica), California's Franchise Tax Board is seeking public comments on its space tax proposal. But what does the proposal entail? It would see taxes being applied to any company operating in the state that generates at least half its cash from space transportation. The taxes would kick in when flights travel above the Karman line...

  • Cassini’s latest fly-by captures Saturn’s creepy but fascinating surface

    NASA has this week published new images of Saturn's surface taken by its Cassini spacecraft in April. The decade-old craft, embarking on the first stage of it final mission, dipped between the planet's cloudbase and its ring network. Tracking with its wide-angle camera across Saturn's surface, Cassini captured the odd lines and blotches on the gas giant from its north pole to equator. According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the craft captured over an hour of footage. Cassini flew within 7000km of Saturn's cloudbase, capturing the angular lines of its 'hexagon', and its creepy north pole And judging by that footage, Saturn...

  • Where’s the dust? Cassini non-discovery puzzles NASA

    NASA's Cassini space probe has started its Grand Finale, diving between Saturn's rings before crashing into the gas giant later this year. However, the first plunge has perplexed scientists, who were expecting to encounter a ton of cosmic dust. Instead, the probe found a low level of dust, the space agency explained. "The region between the rings and Saturn is 'the big empty,' apparently," said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Cassini will stay the course, while the scientists work on the mystery of why the dust level is much lower than expected." Prior to the...