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Swapna Krishna

This Exoplanet May Have an Atmosphere; Could It Support Life?

It seems as though we’ve been finding exoplanets left and right—from Proxima b to the TRAPPIST-1 system’s multiple Earth-sized planets—but what we’ve really been looking for is a planet with an atmosphere. It’s likely that Proxima b’s atmosphere has been stripped away by its host star, and we’re not quite sure of what’s happening with the TRAPPIST-1 planets yet.

But now, it looks as though we’ve discovered a planet with an atmosphere. Just 40 light years away, the rocky planet LHS 1140b orbits the red giant star LHS 1140, and it appears to retain its atmosphere.

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Why the Next SpaceX Launch Is Important

SpaceX is constantly making headlines, so to say that the next launch is important seems disingenuous; after all, between supplying our astronauts on the ISS and successfully landing the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket, it seems as though every launch is important. Which certainly is the case. There’s nothing easy or routine about spaceflight, after all.

But SpaceX’s next launch, currently scheduled for Thursday, March 30, a 6:27 PM EDT, is different. It’s historic. And if it’s successful, it’s going to shape the trajectory of things to come. Tomorrow, SpaceX plans on flying a reused first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket for the first time.

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NASA Might Make High-Speed Space “Internet” a Reality

As NASA looks more towards exploring our solar system (and beyond) and sending astronauts to Mars, they’re also rethinking the way we will communicate with spacecraft, satellites, and astronauts.

Currently, NASA uses radio-frequency (RF) signals to communicate with space. These radio waves are a reliable, tested technology, but they have their downsides for deep space. First, signals degrade en route to the Earth; by the time we receive them, the quality has eroded. Second, they require giant radio receivers on the ground to receive these transmissions. Third, the quality of the signal severely affects data transfer speeds and bandwith.

This is why NASA is studying new communication technology, and it may have found it with the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD). This new technology, still in the testing phases, uses lasers for communication. Currently radio transmissions only provide a limited bandwith for spacecraft to send data, which is why they must do so in very small packets. LCRD technology offers the equivalent of high speed Internet in space.

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This Star Is Orbiting a Black Hole at 1% of the Speed of Light

47 Tucanae X9 is a star system located almost 15,000 light years away. Scientists have been studying it for years—since 1989—but this week they found something shocking: the system’s star is incredibly close to a black hole and orbits it at an extraordinary speed.

When the system was first discovered, scientists believed it consisted of a white dwarf star pulling material from a sister star, likely a yellow dwarf (like our Sun). White dwarf stars are incredibly dense (think the mass of the sun, but the size of the Earth), and as a result they often feed off fellow stars in binary star systems. This is called a cataclysmic variable star. That’s what astronomers thought was happening in the 47 Tucanae system.

However, in 2015, astronomers discovered they were wrong: the white dwarf star wasn’t siphoning off a fellow star. It was actually orbiting a black hole, and that black hole was pulling material from the white dwarf. By this point, according to researcher James Miller-Jones, the star has likely lost most of its mass to the black hole, a real feat considering just how much gravity is required to pull material from a white dwarf.

[Now, astronomers have found something even more exciting…]

Science vs. The Expanse: Is It Possible to Colonize Our Solar System?

The hit Syfy Channel show The Expanse, based on the incredible series beginning with Leviathan Wakes by writing team James S. A. Corey, presents a bold and dark future for the human race. Humans have colonized our solar system, though we haven’t ventured beyond it. We have research bases on moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus; Mars, the Moon, and dwarf planet Ceres have larger permanent settlements.

The TV series doesn’t focus overwhelmingly on science (though all the technology depicted within it is based on real science), and that’s to its benefit: there’s a lot of story to cover in a limited amount of time. (The authors of the books do focus a bit more on science in the novels.) Let’s look at the overall premise of the show, then. How likely is it that we will colonize our own solar system? Will we establish permanent colonies on the Moon and Mars? What will happen to the humans who do leave the Earth?

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Astronomers Find 7 Earth-Sized Exoplanets Orbiting One Star

Today, NASA and the ESO announced that astronomers have discovered seven earth-sized planets orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1. The star system is located about 40 light years away.

Last August, scientists made headlines when they announced the discovery of Proxima b, a rocky Earth-sized planet located within the habitable zone of a nearby star, Proxima Centauri. The “habitable zone” is the distance a planet needs to be from a star in order to support liquid water. Too far, and all the water on the planet will be ice. Too close, and any water will boil off the surface.

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India Launches a Record-Breaking 104 Satellites on One Rocket

You’d be forgiven if you had no idea India had a space program; it’s still in its fledgling stages, but it’s come incredibly far in a short amount of time. Yesterday, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history, launching a record-breaking 104 satellites aboard a single rocket.

The origins of the Indian space program date back to the 1920s and 30s, but the ISRO in its current form was established in 1969. The first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was launched into space aboard a Russian rocket in 1975. The aim was to give the ISRO experience in building and launching a satellite. In 1980, the first Indian rocket carrying an Indian-made satellite, Rohini, was launched; this was also an experimental satellite. Rohini’s successful launch made India the sixth country in the world with the technology to launch craft into space.

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5 Books to Read If You Loved Hidden Figures

You probably haven’t heard of Hidden Figures. It’s not a big deal, just a small movie about black women who worked as human computers at NASA in the 1950s and 1960s. It certainly doesn’t have “Oscar worthy” discussion surrounding it, and there’s no way it’s currently the biggest movie in the United States.

Oh, who am I kidding, Hidden Figures is all of those things, and for great reason! This movie that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of black women to our space program (and the amazing book that it’s based on) is winning acclaim right and left. If you loved this movie, and would like to know more about women who worked on the space program or contributed to space science (and have since been lost to history), check out these amazing books.

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Series: Five Books About…

Timeless and Time Travel: Is It Possible?

I’ll admit that I didn’t expect much when I started watching the first half of the season of Timeless. The promos, with their swelling music, seemed a bit hokey and overly dramatic, and I wasn’t sold on the time travel premise. But then I actually sat down with the show, and found that not only was it enjoyable, but that I genuinely liked it. The leads are compelling, the mystery is intriguing, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Long story short, if you haven’t given this show a chance but you like fun, give it a try.

The scientific explanation of time travel in the show gets one sentence from character Connor Mason: “If you get a powerful enough gravitational field, you can actually bend space-time back on itself in a kind of loop, a closed time-like curve that would allow you to cross over to an earlier point.” There are certain rules within the show: only travel to the past is allowed, and only to periods before the time travelers’ births. And the characters have the ability to change the past, but they shouldn’t. That’s what main character and historian Lucy Preston is there to ensure.

The beauty of this show is in its simplicity: the creators and writers simply aren’t interested in digging too deep into the science because, at its core, it’s an adventure show. But I’m here to ruin the fun by asking: Is the time travel in Timeless actually possible?

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Westworld and Superintelligence: Life Finds a Way

What will you do when the robots rise against us? We know it’s coming; even in a show like Westworld, where the robots (or “hosts”) are specifically designed not to hurt humans, they find a way. “Life finds a way,” as Jeff Goldblum said in the seminal classic of our time. But are these robots alive? And do they qualify as a superintelligent, smart enough to be an existential threat to humans? Let’s talk artificial intelligence in Westworld through the lens of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom.

For many people, Bostrom’s book, released in 2014, is the definitive answer to the questions, “Will we eventually create an artificial intelligence powerful enough to doom ourselves? If so, how?” Bill Gates named it as one of two books we need to read in order to understand artificial intelligence. It’s safe to say that Superintelligence can help us understand the hosts in Westworld and their actions.

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