Today, NASA announced the creation of the Artemis Accords, a new set of standards on how to explore the Moon. The agency hopes that other countries will agree to the terms, which lay out how humanity will act on the Moon, including how to mine resources from the lunar surface and ways to protect heritage Apollo sites.
The Artemis Accords, first reported by Reuters, are a reference to NASA’s Artemis program, an initiative to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has been clear that he wants the agency’s international partners to work with NASA to create a sustainable presence on and around the lunar surface. However, NASA wants everyone to be on the same page in how they’ll behave when they reach the Moon.
“When we go to the Moon, there’s a basic framework that we all agree on,” Bridenstine said during a meeting on Friday morning. “And if you agree on that framework, certainly, we would love to have you be part of the Artemis program.” NASA worked with the State Department and the National Space Council to come up with these guidelines.
An international framework for exploring space already exists in the form of the Outer Space Treaty, which was signed and enacted in 1967. The treaty creates a series of loose guidelines for how nations are supposed to explore space. For one, the exploration of space is supposed to be a peaceful enterprise, and no one is supposed to put weapons of mass destruction up there. It also restricts anyone from laying sovereign claim to an outer space body and ensures we don’t contaminate the places we explore.
However, the Outer Space Treaty is purposefully vague, and the Artemis Accords are meant to provide a little more structure around NASA’s plans for the Moon. “They’re really, really vague,” Christopher Johnson, the space law advisor at the Secure World Foundation, tells The Verge. “‘States shall give due regard to the corresponding interests of other states. States shall prevent the harmful contamination of celestial bodies.’ Now we’re going to find out what those phrases mean under Artemis in the context of lunar activities.”
It’s a new dawn for space exploration! Today I’m honored to announce the #Artemis Accords agreements — establishing a shared vision and set of principles for all international partners that join in humanity’s return to the Moon. We go, together: https://t.co/MnnskOqSbU pic.twitter.com/aA3jJbzXv2
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 15, 2020
The idea is to create an agreement without going through the standard treaty-making process, which can sometimes be slow. Since NASA is squarely focused on getting to the Moon by 2024, the need for speed is there. “We’re not going to wait to negotiate a treaty that we think is in our national interest,” says Johnson. “We believe we can go to the Moon and use resources there, so therefore we’re going to go to the Moon and use resources there. And we’ll do so in a way that is in partnership with other countries.”
One thing the Accords would establish is something called “safety zones,” which would give potential explorers some room to work on the Moon, free of interference from other countries.
The Accords would also ensure that countries can extract and utilize resources that they find on the Moon. NASA has long touted its interest in mining water ice, thought to be lurking on the lunar surface, to use as drinking water or to create rocket fuel. However, there’s been some debate over whether that’s acceptable, as the Outer Space Treaty argues that nations cannot lay claim or own property in space.
In early April, Trump signed an executive order supporting the US’s ability to mine resources from the Moon and other bodies, arguing that it does not conflict with the Outer Space Treaty. Now with these accords, NASA and the Trump administration want to take things a step further and get multiple countries to agree that this way of utilizing space resources is acceptable. “Here if you sign up for Artemis, you will agree that states have the right to access and utilize space resources,” says Johnson. “And that’s done in a way that’s in compliance with the Outer Space Treaty, but here they’re going to come up with the particulars of it. So if you go to the Moon, as part of Artemis, you can in fact use lunar dirt to build habitats.”
The agreement touches on other smaller logistical things such as making sure countries register the spacecraft they send to the Moon. Countries that are part of the agreement will also agree to share data openly in the same way that NASA does. Other provisions make sure that the Apollo landing sights would remain unharmed. That might mean setting up landing pads on the Moon that would stop the spread of harmful lunar dust whenever a spacecraft touches down on the surface.
While Bridenstine says that some countries like Japan and Canada are interested in this approach, others might not be so happy about it. Russia, for instance, was not pleased with the idea of the Artemis Accords when they were first reported; Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s state space corporation, Roscosmos, argued that “the principle of invasion is the same, whether it be the Moon or Iraq.”
“I think people are going to interpret it in a way that matches their preexisting ideology and understanding,” says Johnson.
Still, NASA is hopeful that other countries will get on board with the Accords. “There will be transparency; there’ll be reporting; there’ll be registration; that there will be on the surface of the Moon, as different countries are doing different things made in the same vicinity, that we can all operate in a transparent, very clear way so that we can accomplish more,” Bridenstine said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
Astronomers Detect a Suspiciously Shaped Galaxy Lurking in The Very Early Universe
Around 13.8 billion years ago, somehow the Universe popped into existence. But it didn’t come fully equipped. At some point, the first stars formed, and the first galaxies. How and when this happened is still a mystery astronomers are trying to solve… but one galaxy could have a vitally important key.
It’s called DLA0817g – nicknamed the Wolfe Disk – a cool, rotating, gas-rich disc galaxy with a mass of about 72 billion times that of our Sun. And the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array has snapped it a massive 12.5 billion light-years away – when the Universe was just 10 percent of its current age.
It’s the earliest rotating disc galaxy astronomers have found yet, and its very existence changes our understanding of galaxy formation in the early Universe.
Most of the galaxies in the early Universe are a hot mess, literally. They’re all blobby, with stars flying every which way, and rather high temperatures. Astronomers have interpreted this to mean that they grew large by colliding and merging with other galaxies – a hot, messy process.
“Most galaxies that we find early in the Universe look like train wrecks because they underwent consistent and often ‘violent’ merging,” explained astronomer Marcel Neeleman of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.
“These hot mergers make it difficult to form well-ordered, cold rotating disks like we observe in our present Universe.”
Under this scenario, it takes a long time for the galaxies to cool down and smooth out into the more orderly rotating disc galaxies like the Milky Way. We don’t generally start seeing them until about 4 to 6 billion years after the Big Bang.
This is the “hot” mode of galaxy formation. But astronomers had also predicted and simulated another way – the “cold” mode.
First, you need to start with the primordial soup, an ionised quark-gluon plasma that filled the Universe before the formation of matter. To go from this homogeneous plasma to a Universe filled with stuff, astrophysicists have run simulations that suggest dark matter is responsible.
We don’t know what dark matter is. We can’t detect it directly, but it interacts gravitationally with normal matter. It helps to hold galaxies together, and we believe that it could be crucial to galaxy formation, clumps of it pulling together gas and stars into galaxies.
Supercomputer simulations have shown that a massive network of dark matter in the early Universe could have facilitated the formation of cool galaxies. If the gas was cool to start with, it could have been fed along filaments of the network into the dark matter clumps, accreting into large, cool, orderly disc galaxies.
But the only way to confirm this model is through observational evidence, so the researchers went looking, using the light of even more distant galaxies, called quasars, to illuminate the way.
Distant galaxies are very hard to see, but quasars are among the most luminous objects in the Universe – galaxies lit by an active supermassive black hole, the space around it blasting out radiation as it feeds. The team turned ALMA’s powerful capabilities to these distant quasars, looking for signatures in their light that showed that it had passed through a gas-filled galaxy on the way.
They found it. The light from one of the quasars they imaged had passed through a region rich with hydrogen – the signature of the Wolfe Disk.
And there was something else. The light on one side of the disc was compressed, or blueshifted. We see this when something is moving towards us. And the light from the other side was stretched, or redshifted – moving away from us. The object was rotating.
Those Doppler shifts, as they are known, then allowed the researchers to calculate the velocity of the galaxy’s rotation: around 272 kilometres per second.
What’s even more wild is that the team believes the Wolfe Disk isn’t one of a kind.
“The fact that we found the Wolfe Disk using this method, tells us that it belongs to the normal population of galaxies present at early times,” Neeleman said.
“When our newest observations with ALMA surprisingly showed that it is rotating, we realised that early rotating disk galaxies are not as rare as we thought and that there should be a lot more of them out there.”
The team will continue their search for these galaxies to find out just how common cold accretion was in the early Universe.
The research has been published in Nature.
NASA’s head of human spaceflight abruptly resigns, citing ‘mistake’ – CNN
His departure was effective on Monday.
When reached by phone Tuesday evening, Loverro declined to comment on the reason for his departure.
Loverro began serving in his role as the head of NASA’s human spaceflight programs in December, replacing William Gerstenmaier, who served in the role for more than a decade. In his nearly 700-word note, Loverro told NASA workers only that leaders are “called on to take risks” and added that, “I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission.”
“Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences,” Loverro wrote. “And therefore, it is with a very, very heavy heart that I write to you today to let you know that I have resigned from NASA effective May 18th, 2020.”
Ken Bowersox, NASA’s acting deputy associate administrator for human exploration and operations, will become NASA’s interim head of human spaceflight.
Loverro’s exit immediately raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas who chairs the House space and science committee, said in a statement that she was “shocked” by the news.
“I trust that NASA Administrator Bridenstine will ensure that the right decision is made as to whether or not to delay the launch attempt,” Johnson said. “Beyond that, Mr. Loverro’s resignation is another troubling indication that the Artemis Moon-Mars initiative is still not on stable footing. I look forward to clarification from NASA as to the reasons for this latest personnel action.”
The timing of Loverro’s departure was related to when Jurczyk, the associate administrator, made a recommendation to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the source said. It was unrelated to next week’s Crew Dragon launch, the source added.
Jurczyk was the source selection officer for the Artemis lunar lander contract awards, according to public documents.
An agency-wide email sent on Tuesday said Loverro “hit the ground running” after his appointment in 2019 and had made “significant progress in his time at NASA.”
“His leadership of [NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations] has moved us closer to our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024,” the email said. It said his resignation was effective immediately, though it did not provide details on the reason for his exit.
A NASA spokesperson declined to comment.
Loverro told CNN Business he is “100% confident” that leadership will be able to carry out the SpaceX mission. He added that he believes NASA’s ambitious human spaceflight goals are “doable.” “But,” he added, “it will take risk takers to get us there, and I hope folks who step in my shoes will continue to take risks.”
Next week’s SpaceX launch will mark the space agency’s highest-profile mission since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. SpaceX, which has a multibillion-dollar contract under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, has worked for the better part of a decade to ready its Dragon spacecraft for crewed flights to the International Space Station. Since the Shuttle retired, NASA has had to rely on Russia for rides to the ISS.
In an orange swirl, astronomers say humanity has its first look at the birth of a planet
An image of a mesmerizing cosmic spiral, twisting and swirling around a galactic maw, may be the first direct evidence of the birth of a planet ever captured by humanity.
The European Southern Observatory released a picture Wednesday of what astronomers believe shows the process of cosmic matter at a gravitational tipping point, collapsing into a new world around a nearby star.
Astronomers said the dramatic scene offers a rare glimpse into the formation of a baby planet, which could help scientists better understand how planets come to exist around stars.
“Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form,” the lead author of a study detailing the discovery, Anthony Boccaletti, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in France, said in a statement.
Planets are thought to form out of the massive discs of gas and dust that surround young stars. As tiny specks of dust circle a star and collide with one another, some material starts to fuse, much like how rolling a snowball through more snow will eventually yield a bigger snowball. After billions of years, the clumps of material become large enough that the force of gravity shapes them into planets.
The new image peers into the disc of material around a young star known as AB Aurigae, which is 520 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Auriga. Amid the hypnotic spiral arms is a “twist,” visible in the photo as a bright yellow region in the center, that is thought to be a sign of a planet being born, said Emmanuel Di Folco, a researcher at the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux in France, who participated in the study.
When a planet forms, the clumps of material create wavelike perturbations in the gas- and dust-filled disc around a star, “somewhat like the wake of a boat on a lake,” Di Folco said.
The bright region at the center of the new image is thought to be evidence of such a disturbance, which had been predicted in models of planetary birth.
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“The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation,” said Anne Dutrey, an astronomer at the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux and co-author of the study, published Wednesday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. “It corresponds to the connection of two spirals — one winding inwards of the planet’s orbit, the other expanding outwards — which join at the planet location.”
The new observations of the baby planet were made in 2019 and early 2020 by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The research team, made up of astronomers from France, Taiwan, the U.S. and Belgium, said the images are the deepest observations of the AB Aurigae system made to date.
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