The Week in Space and Physics: Nukes in Orbit
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
1d ago
Intuitive Machines head to the Moon onboard the Falcon 9. Image Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett In July 1962 the United States detonated a nuclear bomb four hundred kilometres above the Pacific Ocean. The immediate effects of the blast were spectacular. A bright flash of light lit up the night time sky, momentarily creating the illusion of a new sun in the firmament. Even as it faded an aurora lingered, dancing in vivid red flames from New Zealand to Hawaii. Afterwards, radiation from the bomb stuck around. Energetic particles became trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field, forming an artificial rad ..read more
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The Week in Space and Physics: An Antarctic Airburst
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
1w ago
NGC 1512, one of series of spectacular images of galaxies created by the James Webb telescope. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Janice Lee (STScI), Thomas Williams (Oxford), and the PHANGS team I’m pleased to announce a new partnership with V101 Space, a Youtube channel covering space topics in a clear and engaging way. V101 Space will be making video versions of some of my articles. The first - based on last month’s article ‘The Year of the Sun’ - is already online! In 1908 a big chunk of rock or ice smashed into the atmosphere, exploded with the force of a large atomic bomb, and devast ..read more
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The Week in Space and Physics: The Old Smokers
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
2w ago
The centre of the galaxy, as imaged by three of NASA’s great observatories - Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI. The heart of our galaxy is a crowded place. Some ten million stars lie within three light years of its central point, locked in orbit around a supermassive black hole. Beyond that lies the galactic bulge; a collection of ten billion stars stretching ten thousand light years across. That bulge must surely be a spectacular sight, but it is one mostly hidden from our eyes. Countless clouds of dust and gas lie between us and the galactic centre ..read more
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The Week in Space and Physics: Europe's Next Deep Space Explorers
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
3w ago
A rare aerial view of Neretva Vallis, Mars, as seen by Ingenuity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech  Europe’s space agency last week approved missions to explore Venus and research gravitational waves. Both promise to build on Europe’s history of deep space exploration, and both should offer new insights into the solar system and galaxy around us. The first of those missions is EnVision, a probe that aims to explore Venus from its innermost core to its outermost atmosphere. Key to that mission are two powerful radars to be carried onboard the spacecraft. One will peer through Venus’ thick ..read more
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The Week in Space and Physics: The Year of the Sun
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
1M ago
For those who venture into the far north, 2024 promises a year of spectacular aurora, as seen here from Iceland. In the dying days of 2023 two remarkable events took place close to our star. The first, and perhaps the more spectacular, was a vast solar flare; the most powerful to erupt from the Sun in six years. Fortunately its effects on Earth were minor. The flare merely grazed our planet, leaving little more than a vivid aurora in its wake. The second, however, was an event of great technological accomplishment. On December 28 the Parker Solar Probe passed into the solar corona, touching ..read more
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Euclid: The Secrets of the Dark Universe
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
1M ago
A sky full of galaxies. Euclid’s view of the Perseus cluster, containing over one thousand galaxies. Image credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO The first images from a new telescope are often spectacular. By and large they show the things we’ve come to expect from space: the stars and the galaxies; the nebulae and the clusters. Sometimes, thanks to better optics and sensors, their visions seem a little brighter or sharper than before, or reveal things until now unseen by human eyes. In this, the Eucli ..read more
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Starship II: The Return to the Moon
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
1M ago
A starship on the Moon. Image credit: NASA This article is the second in a series on SpaceX’s Starship rocket. Parts of this series, including this article, will initially be available only for paying subscribers. If you are not already a subscriber but would like to support my work and help me spend more time researching and writing articles, you can do so (with a discount) at this link. Thank you for your support! Half a century ago Man walked upon the face of the Moon. Twelve men, to be precise, who remain the sole members of the human race to have visited another world. All told they spe ..read more
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The Week in Space and Physics: America and the Moon
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
1M ago
The Moon rising over the Atacama Desert. Credit: P. Horálek/ESO It was a bad week for America’s lunar ambitions. On Monday came the failure of Peregrine, a privately built probe that could have become the first American lander on the Moon in half a century. Then, on Tuesday, NASA announced a delay to Artemis II and III, a pair of missions that should see American astronauts return to the lunar surface. The problems with Peregrine emerged soon after the spacecraft had reached space. Although the new Vulcan launcher successfully sent it towards the Moon, something then went wrong with the prob ..read more
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The Week in Space and Physics: Io Up Close
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
1M ago
Juno captured this photo of Io and Jupiter in July last year. In December it swung in for a closer look. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Alain Mirón Velázquez Few worlds in our solar system appear as perilous as Io. Violent eruptions constantly burst outwards from its surface; some so energetic that they throw rocks and lava hundreds of miles out into space. Intense radiation bathes its surface, strong enough to induce madness in computers and to kill a human, if one were so foolish as to visit, within hours. All this is a consequence of the moon’s location. Io is the innermost of J ..read more
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The Year in Space and Physics
The Quantum Cat
by Alastair Williams
1M ago
The Horsehead Nebula, imaged by ESA’s new Euclid telecope. Image credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO As has become tradition by now, at the end of each year I like to look back at the stories covered by The Quantum Cat. This year has offered no shortage of interesting topics. Researchers have explored everything from the details of the Earth’s core to the echoes of the largest explosion ever recorded by humanity. Below, however, I’ve picked some of the largest trends, and, perhaps, some that will pro ..read more
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