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LightSail 2 Will Test Our Ability to Harness the Momentum of Light in Space

The Planetary Society has unveiled the successor of its first solar sail project, the LightSail 2. It will take flight sometime this year when SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is ready.


Eight months ago, a CubeSat, no bigger than a loaf of bread, was deployed into low Earth orbit. It contained a LightSail, and was the first time flight by light would be successfully tested. The Planetary Society has announced the mission's success, paving the way for LightSail 2.

The concept of the solar sail was dreamed by the master of the cosmos himself, Carl Sagan. Astronomers and physicists before him discovered that light has a tiny bit of momentum. He believed if we were able to build a sail to harness this momentum, humans could skirt across the solar system.

 “[It] travels on the radiation and particles that come out of the sun, the wind from the sun," Sagan said in a 1976 broadcast of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."Because it has a constant acceleration, it can get you around the inner part of the solar system a lot faster...than the usual sorts of rocket propulsion.”

What's more, the cost of launching a LightSail into space is far less than a traditional rocket-powered machine.

It would have the capability to take you to the moon, to Mars, to asteroids at a very low cost, which is a big problem, you know, how much anything costs,” Bill Nye said.

The LightSail 2 has been undergoing terrestrial tests to make sure its sails are ready for launch later this year. The tiny CubeSat, which holds the LightSail 2 will be loaded into SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and released 450 miles away from Earth—far enough out of the way to avoid our planet's atmospheric drag. It's there it will unfurl its 32 square meter sails and fly. 

It's these first tests which will set the bedrock for future projects to understand what designs are optimal for deep space travel.

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Photo Credit: LightSail/ The Planetary Society

Credit: CubeSat/ The Planetary Society

Credit: Five Corners newspaper (Murmansk, Russia) / Artist Unknown

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

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The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Future of Learning
  • Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
  • One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
  • "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
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Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
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Personal Growth

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

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