Space is the place. The stars draw us to look at the night sky and explore the endless bounds of the universe. Even if we won't be living on the moon or in outer space by 2020 like a lot of science fiction promised, the biggest space news of 2019 is still exciting and important stuff.
Many of the space missions that made news in 2019 were launched years earlier and have finally reached their destination. With New Horizons making its landmark flyby on New Year's Day, 2019 started out big for space news and technology. From touching down on the dark side of the moon, to exploring the edges of space farther than we've ever gone before, and viewing black holes for the first time, the latest 2019 space news has kept us looking up in wonder.
NASA scientists launched Voyager probes 1 and 2 in 1977 to study the interworkings of our solar system, as well as space beyond the stars. On November 5, 2018, Voyager 2 finally entered interstellar space, making it the second spacecraft in history to leave the heliosphere - "the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by our sun," according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. One year later, Nature Astronomy published five separate articles detailing what Voyager 2 observed when it crossed the boundary of our planetary home.
Voyager 2 has five instruments used for observation, which JPL describes as "a magnetic field sensor, two instruments to detect energetic particles in different energy ranges, and two instruments for studying plasma." Each of the Nature Astronomy articles details what the probe's instruments measured when they exited the heliopause - the boundary of our heliosphere.
Six years prior, in 2012, Voyager 1 encountered the heliopause at a different location, confirming the hypothesis that the edge of our solar system moves with the sun. The results from Voyager 2's crossing allow scientists to test if what Voyager 1 encountered is "characteristic of the entire heliosphere or specific just to the location and time when it crossed."
According to Voyager 2's magnetic field sensor, "heliospheric material is apparently leaking" out of our heliosphere, meaning particles from our solar system are making their way into interstellar space. Voyager 2 also confirmed Voyager 1's unexpected observation that there is "no appreciable change in the direction angles of the magnetic field at the heliopause" within our solar system and in the boundary of interstellar space.
When astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir stepped out into space on October 18, they completed the first-ever all-female spacewalk, nearly 35 years after Svetlana Savitskay became the first woman to engage in extravehicular activity (EVA) on July 25, 1984. In what the space agency is calling "HERstory," Koch, an engineer, and Meir, a biologist, stepped outside the orbital outpost of the International Space Station to replace a broken battery charger. Koch has been in the space station for seven out of 11 planned months, and Meir is on her first spaceflight.
Once NASA's Mission Control coordinator Stephanie Wilson gave the word, the two women made their way out into the vacuum of space, taking time to adjust for what's called "translation adaptation." They replaced the failed power controller, which collects and distributes solar power to the space station.
The all-female spacewalk was supposed to happen in March with astronaut Anne McClain and Koch, but NASA did not have the proper size of spacewalking suits for both women, and Nick Hague joined Koch instead of McClain. Veteran astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson said that although the historic event is worth celebrating, "I think many of us are looking forward to it just being normal."
Two massive "radio bubbles" were spotted at the center of the Milky Way by a "super-sensitive" South African telescope called the MeerKAT radio telescope. The bubbles stretch outward from the black hole at the heart of our galaxy and reach approximately 1,400 light years in length. The bubbles are made of gas and produce radio waves that allow them to be observed. The radio waves are electrons that bounce around magnetic fields at nearly the speed of light, illuminating the closest cosmic structures.
The MeerKAT discovered the bubbles when an April 2018 test drive created an image of the center of our galaxy. They are thought to be the cause of a bright filament cluster discovered in 1984 by astronomer Farhed Yusef-Zadeh, and have not been spotted anywhere else. Apparently they resemble earthly creatures such as a pelican, mouse, and snake, and though the filaments are assumed to exist because of the bubbles, scientists have yet to prove their correlation.
Scientific investigators with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Pennsylvania State University teamed up with researchers from the Marshall Space Flight Center-NASA to study the microscopic structures of concrete mixed in space. They theorize concrete could provide stable protection from cosmic radiation and meteors when humans begin traveling to Mars and the Moon to stay.
Investigators mixed "tricalcium silicate (C3S) and an aqueous solution," typically used to create concrete on Earth, aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to test how the change in gravity affects the "buoyancy, sedimentation, and thermosolutal convection" of the substance. According to the study, Microgravity Effect on Microstructural Development of Tri-calcium Silicate (C3S) Paste, the concrete mixed aboard the ISS presented interlocking crystals throughout and more open spaces than concrete made on Earth, which could potentially affect its strength.
Investigators hope to understand the differences between concrete made on Earth and concrete made in space to answer whether space concrete will be effective in protecting migrating humans from cosmic radiation and meteors. They have yet to study the effects of mixing concrete in an open environment or how it might hydrate on the moon and Mars. No one really quite understands how the material hydrates here on Earth, and the difference could be detrimental.