Moon mission 2.0: What humanity will learn by going back to the Moon

Going back to the moon will give us fresh insights about the creation of our solar system.

  • July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing — Apollo 11.
  • Today, we have a strong scientific case for returning to the moon: the original rock samples that we took from the moon revolutionized our view of how Earth and the solar system formed. We could now glean even more insights with fresh, nonchemically-altered samples.
  • NASA plans to send humans to a crater in the South Pole of the moon because it's safer there, and would allow for better communications with people back on Earth.

That black hole photo: How event horizons bend time, space, and light

The recent photo of a black hole is something extraordinary. Here's why.

  • Black holes are usually surrounded by disks of very, very bright, very hot material. And that's how we find them.
  • Black holes themselves give off no radiation at all. Any light gets absorbed into the black hole — all forms of light, from gamma rays to radio waves.
  • A black hole's gravity is so strong it actually bends space itself. What does this mean? There's no way to get out of the black hole — out of the event horizon — because space and time themselves are bent into the black hole.

Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts

Gigantic explosions of light are reverberating across the universe.

  • In a single night, astronomers are able to detect about 20 supernova explosions.
  • Gamma ray bursts are even more energetic — in a single flash of radiation they can outshine the rest of the known universe.
  • If a gamma burst went off anywhere in our galaxy, it could be disastrous. The radiation would be beamed far and wide. However, as long as you're not in the way of one of those beams — or very far the site of the initial explosion — then you're probably safe.

Where do atoms come from? Billions of years of cosmic fireworks.

The periodic table was a lot simpler at the beginning of the universe.

  • Michelle Thaller's "absolute favorite fact in the universe" is that we are made of dead stars.
  • The Big Bang, when it went off, produced basically three elements: hydrogen, helium, and lithium. Every atom more complex had to be formed inside a star. Over time, stars such as the sun produce things like carbon and oxygen.
  • They don't really get much more far off the periodic table than that. If you want to go any farther than the element iron, then you actually need a very violent explosion, a supernova explosion.

How fast is Earth moving through space? That depends.

We are hurtling through space. But where are we going?

  • How fast are you, planet Earth, our solar system, and the galaxy moving right now? There's no one answer to that question because we're going in several directions and multiple speeds all at the same time. How is that possible?
  • Within the Milky Way galaxy, our solar system is orbiting around a massive black hole at the center of galaxy at half a million miles an hour. Separately, the Milky Way galaxy is in the Virgo Supercluster, which is falling into the Great Attractor, a huge group of galaxies called the Laniakea Supercluster, at one and a half million miles an hour.
  • And all of that is superimposed on top of the natural expansion of the universe, which isn't really a speed, but is happening at 75 kilometers per second per megaparsec.