10 INCREDIBLE Space Discoveries of 2020

10 INCREDIBLE Space Discoveries of 2020

From water on mars to China landing on the moon, join us as look at 10 Amazing Recent Space Discoveries! 

10. Martian Lakes

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The MARSIS radar tool on the Mars Express orbiter has revealed data indicating that1.6 km under the surface of the Martian South Pole lays a lake, and it is at least a meter deep, and 20 x 30 kilometers in dimension. 

The device sends ground-penetrating radar which bounces back to the device and by the timing and strength of the returned signal scientists can map the subsurface topography. It must be quite cold because the ice above it is so remarkably clear, indicating that it is at least -10º C and up to -30º C, below the freezing point. 

The only ways this could happen are by being under a great deal of pressure, which is unlikely, or by having a large component of dissolved salts. Salt would make it inhospitable to most life, but even on Earth, we have single-cell organisms that can survive in such a harsh environment. Harvesting this water not strictly necessary, however discovering former or extant life would be one of the greatest discoveries in human history. 

9. Armageddon 

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ReduxHayabusa-2, the Japanese spacecraft, landed on an asteroid named Ryugu, in July 2019, after leaving Earth in December 2014. At 8.9 million kilometers away it took 4 and a half years to arrive. 

They gathered surface samples, but they wanted something from deeper down. The ship lifted off again and released an explosives package. It then shot Ryugu with a copper plate. The purpose was to reveal the protected subsurface layers. 

The device created a 10-meter crater on the surface. They landed again, collected up the newly revealed debris, and lifted off once more. Now they are bringing these samples back to Earth for the first return-mission to-and-from an asteroid. 

8. Farside of the Moon

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In a stunning achievement, China plopped a lander down on the Moon's Farside in January3rd, 2019. It was the first soft-landing ever on the mostly unseen face of our nearest neighbor. How did they do that, and what was the point. 

Since you cannot communicate directly with the earth through the Moon's bulk? The Earth-Moon system produces two stable points called LagrangePoints, where you can place an object and it will stay there forever. These are calledL4 and L5. 

There are three less-stable points where things will stay (more-or-less) in place with only minor station-keeping, and these are L1, L2, and L3. China prepared for this project by having placed a relay satellite at the Earth-Moon L2 point. They launched it in May of 2018, into a "halo" orbit so it can always see the Farside of the Moon and the Earth at the same time. 

They can communicate in almost real-time with their lander and its rover. The mission is equipped to study geophysics of the new, unvisited landing site at the Von Kármán crater, in the South Pole's Aitken Basin. Also, a bio-capsule was looking at the growth of insects, plant seeds, and yeast to see if they could create a balanced ecosystem producing oxygen, carbon dioxide, and processing waste. Two weeks into the experiment, there was a temperature control failure and the experiment was terminated. 

7. Hot Space

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In November 2018, Voyager 2 crossed the Heliopause and entered the depths of interstellar space. The heliopause is the border between the Sun's protective magnetic and particle bubble that keeps around 70% of cosmic rays out of our solar system. 

Voyager 1 left in August 2012, and what both of the probes confirmed is that the Interstellar Medium is somewhere around30,000 degrees Celsius, which is so extreme it doesn't matter which temperature scale you use. So, would it burn you to be in interstellar space? 

No, because there are so few molecules there that you would radiate energy away faster than it would collect. In fact, you could freeze even though the average temperature was thousands of degrees all around you. 

6. A Planet Survives

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Now here is an interesting concept. When a star runs out of its stellar fuel it generally balloons up into a red giant. This will happen to our own Sun in 4.5 billion years, and it will reach its maximum size in 7.6 billion years at which time it will be 1.2 Astronomical Units, or bigger than Earth's orbit. 

Of course, the Sun will lose mass, gravity will decrease, and the Earth could move to a larger orbit. However, in December of 2019, we finally got our evidence that planets can continue to exist after the red giant phase. 

While studying a white dwarf, which is the phase of a star after the red giant phase, they found emission lines for "exotic" gases, such as hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen, which are odd for a white dwarf. These gases are the same sort found in the atmosphere of our own ice giant planets, Neptune and Uranus. 

It appears that an ice giant planet, with a year of only ten days to orbit the white dwarf, is having its atmosphere shredded away at a rate of 3,300 tons per second. This results in a 10 million-kilometer disk of gas around the white dwarf star. This white dwarf is remarkably hot, 28,000º C at its surface, literally boiling the planet away into the ether. 

5. Black Hole Photo

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When many telescopes observe together and aggregate their information, it becomes possible to create a more comprehensive and complete image of stellar phenomena. Here is the first successful one of a black hole. 

The Event Horizon Telescope, or EVT, is a virtual telescope that essentially creates a virtual receiving dish that is the entire width of planet Earth. Granted, it's a fuzzy image, but this is what astronomers expected. This one is of Messier87, a very large galaxy, bigger than even our Milky Way, which is no slouch! 

4. Visiting Comet

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This visitor to our solar system is the second-ever observed from outside (the first was'Oumuamua in 2017). It is called "2i Borisov", after Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer. Astronomical rules say if you discover something, you get to name it after yourself. It was found in August 2019, and the "2i" stands for "2nd Interstellar" object identified. 

You may think of the Solar System as "big" but it is comparatively small in relation to the galaxy. For something substantial to actually pass through is a rare event indeed."2i Borisov" got no closer to us than Mars' orbit, and at nearest approach was still over one light-second away (300 million kilometers). Unlike the earlier asteroid-like visitor,' Oumuamua, "2i Borisov" is an icy body, and produced a tail whose length was 14 times the size of Earth. 

3. Gamma Rays Burst on to Scene

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A Gamma-Ray Burst, or GRB, happened around a billion years ago, but just arrived at Earth in January 2020. Luckily, this time scientists were watching. Not through any deliberate act, mind you, since we can't know such a thing is happening until the fastest messenger, light, arrives to tell us about it. 

It was just a fortuitous circumstance, but it was the brightest light in the Universe! Hubble got a nice image, unlike all the times we've seen the aftereffects of a GRB and just got the dying radiation of the event as it faded. And this new view tells us that we've been grossly underestimating the power of GRBs. The total energy is 100 billion times more than the light alone, and more than twice the energy we'd been predicting based on partial observations. 

2. Black Hole Collision

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On August 14th of 2019 odds are you didn't feel a thing…but a massive gravity wave passed through the Earth, and tickled three precisely tuned lasers designed to detect precisely that event. These lasers are operated by the California Institute of Technology and MIT at locations 3,000 kilometers apart in the United States. 

The collision was of a neutron star and a black hole joining. The figures were peculiar. Black holes weigh at least five solar masses, and Neutron stars top out at three, failing to have enough mass to become a black hole. This collision fell in the middle, and it took nearly a day to conclude with 99% certainty that this was a collision between a neutron star and a black hole. 

This is the sort of collision/merger that creates heavy elements such as uranium and gold in surprisingly large amounts. That gold ring on your finger probably came from such an event! 

1. The Sun is a Gas

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The Parker Solar Probe was launched in August of 2018 with the purpose of studying the Sun by making 24 orbits around the Sun. As of October 2018, it already became the closest man-made object ever to the Sun. 

Its final approach on orbit 24 will be just 4 million miles away from the sun whereupon its batteries will run out of power and the ship will roast and melt, except for its carbon heat shield. 

The shield is so efficient that even when the probe is close and experiencing 2600° C on the sunward side, it will still be in the range of room temperature in the shadow of the shield. The Parker Solar Probe is currently the fastest-moving object ever made by humans, reaching a speed in excess of 250,000 miles per hour. 

Why is this probe important? In 1859 before we had widespread electricity, the Sun spits a CME, or Coronal Mass Ejection, right at the Earth. This massive influx of energy traveled down telegraph wires, set some telegraph sheds on fire, shocked a few telegraph operators, but otherwise just made people stand outside marveling at the green, purple, red, and blue curtains of light dancing across the sky. 

The Aurora Borealis was brighter than the Moon and sufficient to read a newspaper at night. Everyone agreed that it was beautiful… If that happened today, in our modern society that is so dependent on electronics, it would destroy almost every electric generator on the planet. It would decimate all of our electronics and plunge us back into the 1800s when there was no electricity for anybody, for anything. 

A small one occurred in 1989, tripping the safeties for Hydro-Quebec, turning off Canada's largest province in about a minute. It took nine hours to get the system back up. The 1859 event's size would be a global disaster if it occurred now. 

No GPS, no smartphones, no planes; no elevators, no water, no sewage processing. Just a lot of panicking people fighting over food and toilet paper. So, you can see why this is an important probe. We need to understand the Sun and how it works, and when it is likely to "burp" again. 

So, which space discovery of 2020 was most surprising to you? Let us know in the comments below.

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