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Analysis and Comment (68)

Visualisation of Venus Express during the aerobraking manoeuvre into the atmosphere of Venus. ESA–C. Carreau

Venus Express is ready to dive into a hostile atmosphere

The Venus Express spacecraft has spent eight productive years orbiting the planet Venus and is now ready to take the plunge. Its orbit is slowly being lowered and from Wednesday it will repeatedly dive…
An artist’s conception of WISE J0855-0714. NASA, JPL-Caltech and Penn State University

Say hello to our new close – but cold – neighbour in space

Author Douglas Adams famously had his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remark that “space is really big”. But to my mind the sheer vastness of space is better encapsulated in the recent announcement of…
Shooting for the exomoon. CBC11

Move over exoplanets, exomoons may harbour life too

In the Star Wars universe, everyone’s favourite furry aliens, the Ewoks, famously lived on the “forest moon of Endor”. In scientific terms, the Ewok’s home world would be referred to as an exomoon, which…
BICEP2 has spotted something pretty special from its South Pole base. Steffen Richter (Harvard University)

Explainer: what a flexed BICEP tells us about the big bang

The cosmological community is bubbling with the news that the BICEP2 experiment may have detected gravitational waves through measuring the radiation left over from the big bang. If the findings are correct…
Now whizzing through space, 1.5 million km from Earth. ESA-CNES-Arianespace / Optique Vidéo du CSG - G. Barbaste

Largest ever space camera is ready to map a billion stars

After its successful launch in December, European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia has now taken up its position in space and is ready to survey the skies. With the help of two onboard telescopes focused onto…
We know gravity waves exist but just haven’t detected any… yet. www.shutterstock.com

An end in sight in the long search for gravity waves

Our unfolding understanding of the universe is marked by epic searches and we are now on the brink of discovering something that has escaped detection for many years. The search for gravity waves has been…
Lava-flooded craters and large expanses of smooth volcanic plains on Mercury’s surface. NASA

Explosive volcanoes light up Mercury’s deep past

Mercury has long been a mystery to scientists. Until recently, knowledge of the planet was limited to the grey, patchy landscape revealed by the Mariner 10 probe, NASA’s first mission to Mercury in the…
Next, we wait for Philae lander to touch down on the comet. ESA–J. Huart

Relief as Rosetta wakes up, but still we hold our breath

Out of hibernation, Rosetta stirs at last. As one of the scientists involved in the mission, news that the unmanned spacecraft has woken up and restored contact with Earth comes as a great relief. It contains…
Lunar heritage sites such as Tranquility Base – shown here with Buzz Aldrin in 1969 – must be protected … but a US bill is not appropriate. NASA/Neil A. Armstrong

Look, but don’t touch: US law and the protection of lunar heritage

With India and China planning lunar surface missions, privately-funded space entrepreneurs competing for the US$40 million Google Lunar X Prize and discussions around lunar mining intensifying, working…
MAVEN’s on its way to Mars … but look at what we’ve sent to our other neighbours. NASA/Goddard

Another Mars mission … but what about the rest of the solar system?

Following India’s maiden Mars probe launch earlier in the month, last week saw the successful launch of the Martian Atmospheres and Volatiles Evolution mission, or MAVEN for short. With the second spacecraft…
The nearest stars to Earth – apart from the sun – are more than 4x1013 kilometres away. Stinger_Y_Y

Explainer: light-years and units for the stars

Space is Big. Really Big. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pretty much nailed space with those five words. And space is so really big that our earthly measures of distance struggle. The distance to…
It’s been decades since our last foray outside Earth’s orbit - but what’s next for humankind? P.O. Arnäs

Humanity’s next giant leap: our heritage in space is our future too

The United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is meeting in Vienna this week, and representatives of 74 countries will discuss, among other things, how to ensure space is maintained…
Measuring and monitoring Australia’s fresh water will become increasingly important. EADS Astrium

A satellite to save Australia? We should have one of those

Does Australia need space capabilities? Well, as Senator Kate Lundy said this month when announcing the government’s new space policy: “Australians, whether they know it or not, rely on satellites every…
The International Space Station after undocking from the now-retired Endeavour space shuttle. NASA

Explainer: the International Space Station

As the most visible man-made object in the night sky the International Space Station (ISS) is of significance to humankind. It takes humans from being explorers of space to being residents of space. The…
An artist’s impression of water particles ‘raining’ onto Saturn from its rings. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/University of Leicester

Space oddity: how Saturn’s rings are rainmakers

In space no one can hear you scream, but you may get a bit wet. In particular, if you were thinking of journeying to take in the sights of Saturn, it would be a good idea to pack an umbrella. This is suggested…
The universe is a big place, and the temptation will be to shape it in our image. t.abroudj/Flickr

Final Frontiers: space

With the global population now well over seven billion people there are few remaining parts of the world relatively untouched by human activity. We assess the current state and future prospects of five…
The commercialisation of space is already underway. Rick Sternbach/Keck Institute for Space Studies

Buy, sell, lift-off: the global economy is going interplanetary

Harvesting space resources will raise living standards worldwide, without further damaging Earth. So how can those resources be tapped in a way that will produce a return on investment? That question may…
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and his colleagues on the Apollo 11 mission inspired generations to be interested in lunar exploration. EPA/NASA

Satellite of love: our on-off relationship with the moon

Like all relationships, our association with the moon has had its ups and downs. In this series we’ve talked about the nature of the satellite and how we think it was formed - in a giant collision that…
What do we know about how the moon was created? EPA/Ali Ali

Crash – a-ah! Our moon has a history of violence

The more we learn about the formation and evolution of our solar system, the more we realise it was far from a sedate, gentle process. Everywhere we look we find evidence the final stages of planetary…
The moon in total lunar eclipse as seen over Sydney in 2011. AAP/Sydney Observatory

I see the moon: introducing our nearest neighbour

The moon. Our nearest neighbour. The main source of the ocean’s tides, and a beacon that drives the lives of animals across the globe. And also, to date, the only object beyond Earth on which humans have…
How is the spin of black holes measured, and what can it tell us about our universe? NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Cutting through the spin on supermassive black holes

Astronomers have measured the spin of a black hole buried in the heart of a galaxy located 56 million light years away, and discovered it was spinning quickly – about as quickly as it could go. That was…
Observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes have revealed that a third radiation belt can sometimes appear above Earth. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA discovers a new radiation belt around Earth

NASA revealed this morning (AEST) that its Van Allen Probes have discovered a third, previously unknown, radiation belt around Earth. The belt appears to be transient, depending strongly on solar activity…
The chances of the weekends two asteroid events being related are next to zero. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Forensic astronomy: the Russian meteor and 2012 DA14

One of the most exciting things about science is the detective work, and never was this more the case than Friday. Within an hour or so of the event, almost everyone had seen the dramatic footage of the…
When it comes to asteroids, alert but not alarmed may be the best approach. NASA

Look out: close encounters of the asteroidal kind

An asteroid named 2012 DA14 will come within 27,700 kilometres of Earth early on Saturday morning Australian time (around 6:30am AEDT). At this distance the asteroid will pass within the orbits of several…
Unless something is done about space junk, it might become too unsafe to have satellites in Low-Earth Orbit. ESA

You, me and debris: Australia should help clear ‘space junk’

At some point in the next few months, Australia will get its first ever national space policy. The release of the report, following consultation by experts in the space industry, will be a defining moment…
Just as the sun set (temporarily) on Woomera in 1980, the current era of Australia’s space endeavours is coming to close. Australian Science Media Centre

Security and space: Australia’s free ride is coming to an end

At some point in the next few months, Australia will get its first national space policy. This document will help mark a new era in Australia’s contribution to space-related endeavours, not least how we…
It’s not everyday you get to chat with a spacecraft that’s nearing the edge of the solar system. NASA

An interview with Voyager 2 … at the edge of the solar system

Interviewing a spacecraft isn’t something one does every day. It certainly wasn’t an option back in the late 1970s, when Voyager 1 and 2 set off on a mission like no other before or since: to visit some…
All going well, Baumgartner will become the first person to break the speed of sound in free-fall. AAP Image/Red Bull

Felix Baumgartner set to skydive through the sound barrier – how?

UPDATE: After adverse weather conditions delayed earlier launch attempts, Felix Baumgartner has finally made his historic skydive. Red Bull Stratos reports that Baumgartner climbed to an altitude of over…
When Curiosity lands on Mars next Monday, expect the social media buzz to be out of this world. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Houston, we have check-in: Space 2.0 and the Curiosity landing

Social media is the new frontier for space exploration, shaping an age of innovative public participation in space missions. While online communities are a-Twitter about NBC’s poor Olympic coverage, there’s…
Asteroid impacts make for impressive images and movies, but how realistic is the threat? NASA

How to avoid an asteroid impact (without calling in Bruce Willis)

How many times have you read a headline about our impending doom due to a “Deep Impact”-style annihilation? In a way it’s not surprising – we have an insatiable appetite for disaster stories, a hunger…
There’ll be a human colony on the red planet by 2023 if Mars One has its way. Mars One

Big Brother on Mars: reality TV that’s out of this world?

Private space venture company Mars One announced earlier this month that it intends to send people on a one-way colonisation mission to Mars in 2023, largely funded by sales of the mission’s media rights…
The 8km-high volcano, Maat Mons, is only one of the reasons to head back to Venus. NASA/JPL

Venus calling – let’s return to the planet of love

Last week the world stopped to watch as the black disc of Venus inched its way across the face of the sun. But beyond the transits that capture our attention roughly twice per century, Venus has always…
We’re a long way off finding little green men, but we might find evidence of life on Mars within a year.

Life on Mars: just add carbon and stir

The building blocks of life have been discovered on Mars … in Martian meteorites that fell to Earth. Let me rephrase that: according to a paper by published in Science Express on Friday, meteorites from…
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stands in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX’s launch site in Florida. SpaceX

SpaceX launch: the age of commercial spaceflight is here

Late tomorrow evening (AEST), all going well, a Falcon 9 rocket will lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. A few days after launch the craft will rendezvous in low-Earth orbit with the International Space…
Where there’s mineral wealth, people always follow. MGM

Lunar boom: we’ll soon be mining the moon

As history has repeatedly shown, where there are valuable minerals to be unearthed, adventurous humans will arrive in droves – even if it means battling extreme conditions and risking life and limb. So…
When we start building structures outside Earth, the raw materials will likely come from asteroids. Planetary Resources

Asteroid mining will happen … but Australia will miss the boom

There will be a future mining boom, as heralded in recent media stories. But this mining will take place in a location even more hostile than the Australian Outback – space. More specifically, the ore…
Russia is no stranger to ambitious space exploration – and has produced several notable firsts. Maxim Shipenkov/ EPA

Space Race reloaded: will Russia send cosmonauts to the moon?

For decades, the Soviet Union was a major player in the exploration of space, famously locking horns with the US in the “Space Race” – a competition for orbital supremacy and solar system exploration throughout…
Nearly 8,000 objects have been identified for possible collision with Earth. Pat Dalton...

Space invasions: what to do when stuff falls from the sky

In the past six months, it seems something has fallen from the sky every second minute. In September, the UARS satellite re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, causing a media frenzy. In October, the German…
New infrastructure is putting the Australian space industry on the map. RSAA

Australia in space: looking out and looking in

Space exploration is one of the few science-rich human endeavours that captivates both expert and layperson alike. There is a mystery – a romanticism – associated with space research and technology that…
We may finally have an answer to a long-standing cosmic/ cosmetic issue. NASA

Was our two-faced moon in a small collision?

As of today, we have a cataclysmic new explanation for one of solar system astronomy’s most long-standing questions: why do the near- and far-sides of the Moon look so different? This new theory, published…
Could Stanley Kubrick’s classic offer direction for the future of space travel? slagheap

2011, a space odyssey – what comes after the Shuttle program?

Tomorrow morning (AEST), weather depending, the Space Shuttle Atlantis will blast off from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, marking the end of NASA’s 30-year-old Space Transportation System. But as the…
A computer-generated artists impression of the thousands of objects in orbit around Earth. AFP

Space junk and the environment: it’s a very dark picture indeed

Since the launch of the first artificial satellite in 1957 – the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 – countries around the world have been putting satellites and spacecraft into Earth orbit. While the majority of…
There’s something happening, but it’s way above your head. bluedharma/Flickr

Look out, world, the planets are aligning

Four planets – Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Venus – will be aligned at dawn tomorrow. What does this mean? Should we be running for the hills? You’d be forgiven for thinking so. A search on Google or YouTube…
Keeping the space shuttle together is a tremendous feat of engineering. Stan Honda/AFP

The shuttle launch: delayed (but still worth the Endeavour)

The Space Shuttle Endeavour, one of the most complex machines ever created, is about to take its last trip into space. But not just yet. The countdown to Endeavour’s final flight began a few days ago…

Columnists (5)

An unmanned rocket exploded – so what?

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more…

Who owns space?

The golden age of planetary exploration had voyagers navigating new sea routes to uncharted territory. These territories were then claimed in the name of the monarchs who had financed the expeditions…

Is space still awesome?

World Space Week is one of a series of events co-ordinated by the UN to celebrate the global nature of space exploration. It was established in 1999. Why is it organised this particular week? Because October…

Research and News (7)

Research Briefs (11)

Looking for planets just like Earth

University of Auckland scientists have proposed a new way to find planets like Earth. The research strategy includes the…

Vesta asteroid shown in new light

Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have revealed unusual geological features on the surface of the asteroid Vesta, one of…

Stars run out of gas

Fewer stars are forming in the universe than ever before because the gas is starting to run out. Distant (and hence older…

They come in (green)peace

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions might just save humanity from an alien invasion, according to researchers from Penn State…

DNA sent from space

New evidence has supported belief that the building blocks of DNA were brought to Earth by meteorites. The existence of DNA…

Spacemen’s hardening arteries

Exposure to cosmic radiation may be detrimental to astronauts’ arteries, according to a study by University of Alabama at…