from the world's big
Behold, the closest-ever photo of a coronal streamer
It was captured by the Parker Solar Probe, which is currently studying the star.
- NASA's Parker Solar Probe is currently traveling closer to the sun than any other spacecraft before it.
- The probe is recording data on the star to help scientists learn more about the star and its volatile nature.
- Also this week, NASA released the first images of its Mars InSight lander taken from space.
NASA's Parker Solar Probe has come closer to the sun than any human spacecraft before it, managing to enter the star's atmosphere to record data for the ambitious mission.
On November 8, the probe soared within about 15 million miles of the sun's surface. To illustrate how close that is, NASA researchers wrote: "If Earth was at one end of a yard-stick and the Sun on the other, Parker Solar Probe will make it to within four inches of the solar surface."
During the encounter, the probe's wide-field imager snapped the closest-ever photo of the sun emitting solar material, in an event known as a coronal streamer.
These events usually occur over regions undergoing increased solar activity, and this one appeared over the east limb of the sun and includes at least two visible rays. Jupiter, the bright spot toward the center of the photo, is also visible in the background.
The photo was shared at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union earlier this week.
"Heliophysicists have been waiting more than 60 years for a mission like this to be possible," said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Heliophysics is the study of the Sun and how it affects space near Earth, around other worlds and throughout the solar system. "The solar mysteries we want to solve are waiting in the corona."
What the Parker probe mission hopes to accomplish
The Parker Solar Probe is on an exploratory mission that could yield surprising findings for scientists, namely because no one's quite sure what exactly happens when a spacecraft gets so close to the sun. NASA hopes the mission will address three key questions:
"First: How is the sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, heated to temperatures about 300 times higher than the visible surface below?" NASA wrote in a blog post. "Second — how is the solar wind accelerated so quickly to the high speeds we observe? And finally, how do some of the sun's most energetic particles rocket away from the sun at more than half the speed of light?"
To answer these questions, the Parker probe must match the speed of the sun's rotation so it can hover over areas of interest, meaning it must fly faster than 213,000 miles per hour. Learning more about the star is important, given its tremendous influence on our planet and those in our solar system. NASA writes:
"The solar wind, its outflow of material, fills up the inner part of our solar system, creating a bubble that envelops the planets and extends far past the orbit of Neptune. Embedded in its energized particles and solar material, the solar wind carries with it the Sun's magnetic field. Additional one-off eruptions of solar material called coronal mass ejections also carry this solar magnetic field — and in both cases, this magnetized material can interact with Earth's natural magnetic field and cause geomagnetic storms. Such storms can trigger the aurora or even power outages, and other types of solar activity can cause communications problems, disrupt satellite electronics and even endanger astronauts — especially beyond the protective bubble of Earth's magnetic field."
NASA also releases first images of Mars InSight lander taken from space
This week, NASA published the first images taken of its Mars InSight lander, which touched down on the red planet in November and is designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets. The images were taken from HiRISE, a camera onboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
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Got $55 million lying around? If so, you might be able to score a spot aboard the International Space Station starting 2024.
- NASA awarded a contract to startup Axiom Space to attach a "habitable commercial module" to the International Space Station.
- The project will also include a research and manufacturing module.
- The move is a major step in NASA's years-long push to privatize.
Image: Axiom Space<p>But first, space-tourist-hopefuls would have to pass through physical and medical exams, and 15 weeks of expert training. After that, the trip sounds pretty comfy:</p><p>"There will be wifi," Suffredini <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/style/axiom-space-travel.html" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> last year. "Everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window. [...] The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn't really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping. [...] Pretty soon we're going to be flying a butler with every crew."</p>
A render of the ISS tourist experience.
Image: Axiom Space<p>In a blog post, NASA wrote:</p><p>"Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-opens-international-space-station-to-new-commercial-opportunities-private" target="_blank">five elements</a> of NASA's plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA's long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit."</p>
NASA's push to privatize the ISS<p>When a Russian rocket launched the first module of the ISS into space in 1998, NASA expected the space station to operate for about 15 years. But the agency has extended the life of the ISS twice, with funding currently set to expire in 2024. NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion per year operating and shuttling astronauts to and from the station. That's a decent chunk of the agency's $22.6 annual budget. What's more, the "major structural elements" of the ISS are certified only through 2028.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA has been eyeing other projects, namely: putting humans back on the moon in 2024 and establishing a lunar presence. So, to save and redirect money, the agency has been starting to hand over the aging space station to the private sector, which could use it for commercial research and space tourism.</p><p>But some have questioned the move to privatize the ISS, including NASA's own inspector general, Paul K. Martin.</p><p>"An obvious alternative to privatization is to extend current ISS operations," Martin wrote in a <a href="https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/CT-18-001.pdf" target="_blank">2018 report</a>. "An extension to 2028 or beyond would enable NASA to continue critical on-orbit research into human health risks and to demonstrate the technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon or Mars."</p>
Image: Axiom Space<p>Martin noted that "research into 2 other human health risks and 17 additional technology gaps is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2024," meaning that any slip-ups in the process would mean such research might go uncompleted. He also wrote that it's "questionable" whether the private sector could turn a profit on the ISS without "significant" government funding. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, <a href="https://docs.house.gov/meetings/SY/SY00/20180517/108302/HHRG-115-SY00-Wstate-LalB-20180517.pdf" target="_blank">also found</a> that it "is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025."</p><p>The implication is that, if the ISS is handed over to the private sector, taxpayers could end up indirectly supporting space tourism for the ultra-rich. Whether that's worth any of the research benefits that might come from the ISS post-2024 is anybody's guess.</p><p>As the ISS enters its final years, China <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-10/17/c_138479514.htm" target="_blank">plans</a> to complete construction of a manned space station in 2022.</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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