Space Coffee #1: How dark is space, sciencing on the Moon, and more
Curated space stories from the Internet for your weekend reading pleasure.
Welcome to the first edition of Space Coffee! ☕️
It’s easy to get lost in space news with all of its political, industry and programmatic nuances, and let it dampen the sense of wonder that glued us to space exploration in the first place. This is why I’m starting Space Coffee.
Every weekend, I’ll share links to the best non-news space stories I come across that reinforce the curiosity and joy of our space endeavors. Let’s get started.
Curated Space from the Internet
How dark does space get? If you get away from city lights and look up, the sky between the stars appears very dark indeed. Above the Earth’s atmosphere outer space dims even further, fading to an inky pitch-black. And yet even there, space isn’t absolutely black. The universe has a suffused feeble glimmer from innumerable distant stars and galaxies. […]
Fortunately the New Horizons spacecraft, which delivered the closest ever images of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth, is far enough to make these measurements. At its distance New Horizons experiences an ambient sky 10 times darker than the darkest sky accessible to Hubble.
Women have worked in astronomy for centuries, often without recognition, as observers, number-crunchers, and innovators. In the 19th century, American Maria Mitchell studied sunspots, discovered a comet, and was appointed professor of astronomy at Vassar College. Around the same time, Williamina Fleming waxed poetic about female astronomers at the 1893 World’s Fair and recruited roughly 20 female assistants to help her analyze photographs of stars at the Harvard College Observatory. More recently, Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first chief of astronomy, was dubbed the “Mother of Hubble” for her role in helping create the groundbreaking space telescope. It is hard enough for women in the male-dominated field to gain recognition for their contributions, and even harder for people like Blagg, in a support field such as planetary naming.
☀️🌍 Solar System History 101 🪐🪨
The orbits of the giant planets shifted about 4.1 billion years ago. Gravity from the numerous Kuiper belt objects nudged Jupiter and Saturn into a 2:1 resonance, meaning Jupiter orbited the Sun twice for every Saturn orbit. This periodically brought the two planets close together, causing wide-ranging gravitational effects. Uranus and Neptune got pushed further away from the Sun, ploughing through the Kuiper belt, scattering most of its objects either inward or outward over the next millions of years. […]
The inwardly scattered worlds raced through the inner solar system, smashing into the worlds there and creating basins as large as a thousand kilometers or more on Mercury, Venus, Earth, the Moon, and Mars.
When she checked in near the end of her observations, computer servers suggested the telescope wasn’t pointing at the galaxy anymore. She couldn’t get an on-site telescope operator on the phone, so she gave up and went to bed. She woke up to a full inbox. At 2:45 a.m., toward the end of her slot, an 8-centimeter-thick steel cable, one of 18 suspending a 900-ton instrument platform high above the dish, had pulled out of its socket at one end and fallen, slicing into the dish.
This planet must be tough – it is right in the zone where we expected Neptune-sized planets could not survive. It is truly remarkable that we found a transiting planet via a star dimming by less than 0.2% – this has never been done before by telescopes on the ground, and it was great to find after working on this project for a year. We are now scouring out data to see if we can see any more planets in the Neptune Desert – perhaps the desert is greener than was once thought.
Billiard balls the size of planets were flying about all over the place, crashing into one another and breaking up into gigantic shards. By this point, giant impacts had been in vogue for an eon. The Moon’s own birth, 600 million years earlier, probably came about when a Mars-sized not-quite-finished world rudely smacked into a nascent Earth, then blanketed by a planet-wide magma ocean. Hot cinders flew off into orbit, which cooled and agglomerated into a baby Moon.
That wraps the first edition of Space Coffee. Or Space Tea if you so prefer.