Elizabeth Zubritsky

What water vapor on the moon means for deep space exploration

Researchers from NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, report that streams of meteoroids striking the Moon infuse the thin lunar atmosphere with a short-lived water vapor.

The findings will help scientists understand the history of lunar water — a potential resource for sustaining long term operations on the Moon and human exploration of deep space. Models had predicted that meteoroid impacts could release water from the Moon as a vapor, but scientists hadn't yet observed the phenomenon.

Now, the team has found dozens of these events in data collected by NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. LADEE was a robotic mission that orbited the Moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere, and determine whether dust is lofted into the lunar sky.

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The first type of molecule that ever formed in the universe is discovered in space

The first type of molecule that ever formed in the universe has been detected in space for the first time, after decades of searching. Scientists discovered its signature in our own galaxy using the world's largest airborne observatory, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, as the aircraft flew high above the Earth's surface and pointed its sensitive instruments out into the cosmos.

When the universe was still very young, only a few kinds of atoms existed. Scientists believe that around 100,000 years after the big bang, helium and hydrogen combined to make a molecule called helium hydride for the first time. Helium hydride should be present in some parts of the modern universe, but it has never been detected in space — until now.

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Here's the (failed) status of the first private lunar mission

April 11, 2019 Editor's Note: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine released the following statement on the Beresheet lunar lander: "While NASA regrets the end of the SpaceIL mission without a successful lunar landing of the Beresheet lander, we congratulate SpaceIL, the Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the incredible accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit. Every attempt to reach new milestones holds opportunities for us to learn, adjust and progress. I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I look forward to celebrating their future achievements."

Following a nearly two-month journey, the first private robotic spacecraft to attempt a Moon landing is on track to meet its goal on April 11, 2019, and NASA is a partner in SpaceIL's Beresheet mission. The landing attempt comes on the heels of the agency's own charge from the president to accelerate its plans to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024.

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'Twins Study' reveals what happens to human genes in space

Results from NASA's landmark Twins Study, which took place from 2015-2016, were published April 11, 2019, in Science. The integrated paper — encompassing work from 10 research teams — reveals some interesting, surprising and reassuring data about how one human body adapted to — and recovered from — the extreme environment of space.

The Twins Study provides the first integrated biomolecular view into how the human body responds to the spaceflight environment, and serves as a genomic stepping stone to better understand how to maintain crew health during human expeditions to the Moon and Mars.

Retired NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and his identical twin brother Mark, participated in the investigation, conducted by NASA's Human Research Program. Mark provided a baseline for observation on Earth, and Scott provided a comparable test case during the 340 days he spent in space aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 43, 44, 45 and 46. Scott Kelly became the first American astronaut to spend nearly a year in space.

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Elizabeth Landau

Everything you want to know about that black hole

A black hole and its shadow have been captured in an image for the first time, a historic feat by an international network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). EHT is an international collaboration whose support in the U.S. includes the National Science Foundation.

A black hole is an extremely dense object from which no light can escape. Anything that comes within a black hole's "event horizon," its point of no return, will be consumed, never to re-emerge, because of the black hole's unimaginably strong gravity. By its very nature, a black hole cannot be seen, but the hot disk of material that encircles it shines bright. Against a bright backdrop, such as this disk, a black hole appears to cast a shadow.

The stunning new image shows the shadow of the supermassive black hole in the center of Messier 87 (M87), an elliptical galaxy some 55 million light-years from Earth. This black hole is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. Catching its shadow involved eight ground-based radio telescopes around the globe, operating together as if they were one telescope the size of our entire planet.

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Miles Hatfield

It rains on the sun - this is how

For five months in mid 2017, Emily Mason did the same thing every day. Arriving to her office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, she sat at her desk, opened up her computer, and stared at images of the Sun — all day, every day. "I probably looked through three or five years' worth of data," Mason estimated. Then, in October 2017, she stopped. She realized she had been looking at the wrong thing all along.

Mason, a graduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was searching for coronal rain: giant globs of plasma, or electrified gas, that drip from the Sun's outer atmosphere back to its surface. But she expected to find it in helmet streamers, the million-mile tall magnetic loops — named for their resemblance to a knight's pointy helmet — that can be seen protruding from the Sun during a solar eclipse. Computer simulations predicted the coronal rain could be found there. Observations of the solar wind, the gas escaping from the Sun and out into space, hinted that the rain might be happening. And if she could just find it, the underlying rain-making physics would have major implications for the 70-year-old mystery of why the Sun's outer atmosphere, known as the corona, is so much hotter than its surface. But after nearly half a year of searching, Mason just couldn't find it. "It was a lot of looking," Mason said, "for something that never ultimately happened."

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These are the habitation prototypes for NASA's 'Moon-to-Mars' mission

Over the next several months, NASA will conduct a series of ground tests inside five uniquely designed, full-size, deep space habitat prototypes. The mockups, constructed by five American companies, offer different perspectives on how astronauts will live and work aboard the Gateway — the first spaceship designed to stay in orbit around the Moon, providing the critical infrastructure needed for exploration, science and technology demonstrations on the lunar surface.

NASA doesn't plan to select one habitat prototype to advance to flight — rather, the tests will help NASA evaluate the design standards, common interfaces, and requirements for a future U.S. Gateway habitat module, while reducing risks for eventual flight systems.

"These tests were formulated so that we can do a side-by-side comparison of very different and innovative concepts from U.S. industry," said Marshall Smith, who leads human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "While we won't dictate a specific design when we procure the U.S. habitat, we will enter the procurement phase with far less risk because of the knowledge we gain from these tests."

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This is the deal with the NASA spacewalk spacesuit change

On Friday, March 29, 2019, Christina Koch and Anne McClain were scheduled to perform a spacewalk together to upgrade the power systems of the International Space Station. It would have been the first all-female spacewalk in human history. While disappointing to many people, after the last spacewalk was completed March 22, 2019, NASA changed the assignments to protect the safety of the crew and the timing of the mission. Now, Christina Koch and Nick Hague will be performing this upcoming spacewalk, leaving lots of people are wondering: What's the deal?

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Why the first all-female spacewalk isn't gonna happen

With the first in a series of three spacewalks successfully completed at the International Space Station, NASA has updated astronaut assignments for the remaining two spacewalks and will preview the third in an upcoming news conference on NASA Television and the agency's website.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Anne McClain conducted the first spacewalk in this series on March 22, 2019. Hague and fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch now are preparing to conduct the second spacewalk Friday, March 29, 2019, during which they will continue work started on the first spacewalk to install powerful lithium-ion batteries for one pair of the station's solar arrays.

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