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To put it mildly, space is a challenging environment.
During a recent spacewalk outside the International Space Station, a bag of tools managed to escape from NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara. The bag has gone into orbit around the Earth and could be seen through binoculars until it disintegrates in the atmosphere of our planet.
Meanwhile, Mars and Earth are orbiting on opposite sides of the sun, temporarily disrupting communications between NASA and its robotic probes as they explore the red planet.
Until the solar conjunction ends on November 25, the fleet has a long to-do list of orbiters and routers to work through before it’s time to check back in with ground control.
Zero gravity, harsh radiation and vast distances are just some of the obstacles to space exploration that require years of technological development and research to overcome.
And after months of rebuilding after an explosive initial launch in April, SpaceX made a second attempt at launching its Starship deep-space rocket system, but it didn’t all go according to plan.
The unmanned Starship spacecraft was launched aboard the most powerful rocket ever built on Saturday morning, but both were lost shortly after liftoff.
The Super Heavy rocket booster fired its 33 massive engines and Starship took off safely. SpaceX first experimented with a “hot stage,” essentially a stage where the spacecraft is separated from the rocket booster by blunt force trauma.
After a hot stage, the rocket booster exploded in a fireball over the Gulf of Mexico. The starship initially proceeded fine before SpaceX lost the spacecraft’s signal and triggered the system’s software to terminate the flight so it was safe.
The starship was meant to fly almost a lap around the planet before returning to Earth, but data from this second test flight will be used to determine SpaceX’s next steps in making humanity “multiplanetary”.
Long long ago
Pests like head lice have been around for as long as humans — and analysis of their DNA is providing unexpected insight into the first people to live in the Americas.
When modern humans left Africa and began to settle around the world, they encountered head lice. Two distinct populations of head lice emerged.
But scientists recently discovered evidence of hybrid lice that could be a “sign of contact between Europeans and Native Americans,” said Marina Ascunce, a research molecular biologist at the US Department of Agriculture.
Secrets of the sea
The puffadder shark is just one of many unique marine creatures that only live in the Great African Sea Forest off the coast of South Africa.
Although the markings of the small shark resemble a poisonous snake in South Africa, it is a nuisance.
True to its name, the shark folds its tail over its eyes and curves its body to protect itself from predators. But the tiny shark species is disappearing and listed as endangered.
Now, conservationists hope to protect the population using artificial intelligence called Fin Spotter before it reaches a critical point.
A force of nature
Seismic activity in Iceland – which has 32 active volcanoes – suggests an eruption may be imminent, according to the nation’s civil defense agency.
Experts are tracing a 9-mile (15-kilometer) underground corridor of molten material in the island’s southwestern peninsula that could affect the coastal town of Grindavík.
Although the country is no stranger to volcanic eruptions, there are concerns about the nature of the explosion that could occur underwater or on land.
Separately, the world’s newest island, formed by an undersea volcanic eruption, can be seen off the coast of Japan’s Iwo Jima in the Pacific Ocean.
Around the globe
Astronomers have spotted a highly unusual constellation body that came back to life in a violent eruption that continued for months after it first exploded.
The rare cosmic phenomenon, known as a fast optical blue light transition, is brighter and fades faster than a typical supernova. But the subsequent flares released by the stellar remnant were just as powerful as the explosion that caused the star’s death.
Called the “Tasmanian devil,” the event represents the star’s afterlife, according to Anna YQ Ho, assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Take a closer look at these exciting reads:
— Mothers may have provided more childcare support than modern mothers in ancient hunter-gatherer societies, according to a new study.
— Astronomers used the James Webb Space Telescope to spy a surprising Milky Way-like galaxy formed shortly after the big bang, and are changing the way they think about galactic evolution.
— The colorful ornate dogwood is covered in striking hexagonal spots, and its intricate pattern has inspired researchers to update the theory of how animals get their spots and stripes.
— The Leonid meteor shower peaked early Saturday morning, but blazing meteors will still be seen running across the night sky for the next few days.
The Wonder Theory team is taking some time off for Thanksgiving. Although there won’t be a new issue on Saturday, November 25, expect a fresh helping of space and science wonder in your inbox on December 2.
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