Pic of the Week: The Morning Star

Image (Credit): View of the Earendel star from the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA)

This week’s image is the most distant star ever detected. It is from light that traveled 12.9 billion years to get to us, representing a star that existed about 1 billion years after the formation of the universe. It has been named Earendel, or “morning star” in Old English. You can learn more about this image from NASA’s Hubble site:

The find is a huge leap further back in time from the previous single-star record holder; detected by Hubble in 2018…The newly detected star is so far away that its light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, appearing to us as it did when the universe was only 7 percent of its current age, at redshift 6.2. The smallest objects previously seen at such a great distance are clusters of stars, embedded inside early galaxies…The research team estimates that Earendel is at least 50 times the mass of our Sun and millions of times as bright, rivaling the most massive stars known. But even such a brilliant, very high-mass star would be impossible to see at such a great distance without the aid of natural magnification by a huge galaxy cluster, WHL0137-08, sitting between us and Earendel. The mass of the galaxy cluster warps the fabric of space, creating a powerful natural magnifying glass that distorts and greatly amplifies the light from distant objects behind it…Astronomers expect that Earendel will remain highly magnified for years to come. It will be observed by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Webb’s high sensitivity to infrared light is needed to learn more about Earendel, because its light is stretched (redshifted) to longer infrared wavelengths due to the universe’s expansion.

Image (Credit): Detailed view pinpointing the Earendel star from the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA)

Do We Need Pete Davidson in Space?

Image (Credit): Pete Davidson in a Saturday Night Live skit. (NBC)

Okay, I can understand shooting actor William Shatner into space on a Blue Origin rocket given his work with Star Trek and his interest in space itself, but Pete Davidson from SNL fame? Really? Luckily, his part in the mission was scrubbed.

So who will go up into space tomorrow on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket? You may even ask if there will be a launch given the lack of media interest. And now we know why actors are key to the success of these private rocket missions unless they are doing something useful, like testing new scientific ideas or pushing to boundaries of space. Anything else is like listing the names of people flying to China on Delta Airlines.

I do not really care about celebrities in space (unless we leave them there), so I will provide the upcoming launches full crew manifest (in alphabetical order) without such hype:

Marty Allen

Marty Allen is a turnaround CEO and angel investor. During his tenure as CEO of Party America, he transformed the company from a broken California retail chain into a large nationwide retailer, leading the company through a bankruptcy restructuring and the acquisition of several competitors. He is also the former CEO of California Closet Company, leading the company to record sales and profitability. Marty also mentors CEOs through his board activities.

Sharon Hagle

Sharon Hagle founded SpaceKids Global in 2015, a nonprofit whose mission is to inspire students to excel in STEAM+ education with a focus on empowering young girls. SpaceKids hosts several annual challenges designed to inspire kids to pursue careers in the space industry, including national essay competitions and a partnership with the Girl Scouts of Citrus County. SpaceKids also participates in Club for the Future’s Postcards to Space program. To date, Sharon has reached nearly 100,000 students globally.

Marc Hagle

Marc Hagle is president and CEO of Tricor International, a residential and commercial property development corporation. Under his direction, the company has developed and owned more than 17.4 million square feet of properties across the United States, including shopping centers, warehouses, medical facilities, recreational facilities, drug stores, and office projects. Marc and his wife, Sharon, are avid philanthropists for numerous arts, sciences, health, and education-related charities.

Jim Kitchen

Jim Kitchen is a teacher, entrepreneur, and world explorer who has visited all 193 U.N.-recognized countries. He’s been a space dreamer since watching NASA’s Apollo rocket launches in Florida as a child. As a college student in the 1980s, he promoted low Earth orbit space trips for a startup. Since 2010, Jim has served on the faculty of University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, teaching students to create world-changing for-profit and nonprofit ventures.

Gary Lai

Gary joined Blue Origin in 2004 and was among the first 20 employees. He is currently Senior Director and Chief Architect of New Shepard, responsible for all next generation designs, upgrades, and new product development for the New Shepard business. His prior positions include Senior Director of Design Engineering, System Architect, Crew Capsule Element Lead, NASA Commercial Crew Development Program Manager, Lead Systems Engineer, and Pathfinding Lead with responsibility for advanced research and development. Gary has been involved in product development, strategic planning, and business development for all Blue Origin product lines, including the New Glenn orbital launch vehicle, rocket engine programs, and Blue Moon.

Dr. George Nield

Dr. George Nield is the president of Commercial Space Technologies, LLC, which he founded to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space activities. He previously served as associate administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation and was responsible for licensing and regulating all commercial launch activities. Earlier in his career, he held engineering roles at the Air Force Flight Test Center and the Orbital Sciences Corporation, and he was an assistant professor and research director at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Dr. Nield also served as the manager of the Flight Integration Office for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

Of course, I am not so interested in space tourism either, but I listed these names for fun this one time. If these flights lead to greater confidence at Blue Origin and something new that advances space travel or science, then I am fine. If these are just grandiose trips to the stars, then I am not so impressed.

Starlink Assists with Ukrainian Battles

Image (Credit):  A disabled Russian tank in Ukraine. (Wikimedia Commons)

SpaceX’s Starlink system, shared with Ukraine last month, is already proving to be a boost to Ukrainian fighters. While the focus of the new system was to keep Ukrainians connected to the Internet, it has also been used by drones attacking Russian military tanks and trucks. The NY Post quotes one Ukrainian source as stating, “If we use a drone with thermal vision at night, the drone must connect through Starlink to the artillery guy and create target acquisition.”

All of this will make the Starlink system within Ukraine a Russian target and Mr. Musk himself persona non grata, not that Mr. Musk really cares. However, he has warned Ukrainians to be cautious when using the system:

Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high. Please use with caution.

Let’s just hope that all of this doesn’t lead to anti-satellite actions in space. We have enough issues on the ground.

Moon Craters and the Russians

Image (Credit): USSR’s Luna 2 spacecraft. (Worldhistoryproject.org)

So who owned the rocket stage that hit the Moon earlier this month? I had earlier noted the speculation pertaining to both SpaceX and then the Chinese rockets. Surprisingly, it is still is not clear who owned that rocket stage and maybe we will never know. That is not a good answer for the European Space Agency’s Space Safety Programme, which stated:

The upcoming lunar impact illustrates well the need for a comprehensive regulatory regime in space, not only for the economically crucial orbits around Earth but also applying to the Moon.

While that case has yet to be solved, we are pretty certain about the first Earth-launched rocked to hit the Moon. We can blame the Soviets for that strike back in 1959 with its Luna 2 (nicknamed the Lunik 2). At least the goal in that case was to hit the Moon.

Launched on September 12, 1959, it took 35 hours to travel the distance between the Earth and Moon. Luna 1, launched by the Soviets earlier that year, was supposed to hit the Moon but it missed by about 3,700 miles. You can see more about Luna 2 via this dated news clip.

Status of NASA’s Martian Mission

Image (Credit): NASA’s Perseverance Rover on Mars. (NASA)

Now that we have learned a little more about China’s Martian rover, maybe we should check on NASA’s Perseverance Rover. According to a recent press release from NASA, earlier this month Perseverance started its three-mile trip to the river delta on the rim of Jezero Crater after already exploring the Martian surface for about 13 months. This delta may contain evidence of ancient microbial life. As with the Chinese rover mission, the collected samples will be returned to Earth via a later mission.

The Perseverance arrived on the Martian surface February 18, 2021. The mission has already shown success with the Ingenuity Helicopter, while the rover is showing greater abilities to self-navigate. All of this is proving to be promising for future robotic exploration of the planet.

You can get facts about the Perseverance mission here and ongoing updates here.