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Space Exploration

America is currently constructing two massive telescopes, but unfortunately, there is only enough funding to complete one of them

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Three enormous optical telescopes are currently being constructed, surpassing anything we currently possess in terms of size. These three discoveries have the potential to provide answers to some of the most profound mysteries of the universe, which have remained elusive to current scientific instruments. Nevertheless, the proposed budget cap from the National Science Foundation (NSF) jeopardizes one aspect of the equation.

Even though the JWST has uncovered incredible discoveries, the future of astronomy extends beyond just space exploration. Building larger telescopes on the ground offers several advantages over their space-based counterparts. Not only are they easier to repair, maintain, and upgrade, but they also provide greater flexibility for scientific exploration. Future plans include the development of a telescope on the Moon, along with a base.

Scientists have high expectations for several ambitious projects in the field of astronomy. These include the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), the Thirty-meter Telescope (TMT), and the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). Additionally, there are other telescopes, like the Square Kilometer Array, that operate at wavelengths beyond the range of human vision. Interestingly, all three of these telescopes are sometimes collectively referred to as extremely large telescopes. Despite the presence of the atmosphere, both options would provide significantly higher resolution than the JWST.

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However, a new proposal suggests eliminating one of the initial two options.

Collaboration is a key aspect of astronomy, with many individuals and organizations working together towards common goals. In this context, it may not be of great concern to some who will be responsible for building and owning certain projects. It is important to note that while the third project is a collaboration between European and South American nations, the TMT and GMT projects are both run by American organizations. That provides the ELT with a certain level of protection in the event of budget reductions. None of the consortium partners want to compromise their reputation by failing to fulfill their commitments. The work on the ELT began in 2017. Building something of this magnitude, which requires both size and precision, is a time-consuming process. As a result, the first light is anticipated to happen in 2028. Despite potential delays, there is little doubt that it will eventually occur.

Both the TMT and the GMT are American projects, with the latter being located in Chile. The funding for the GMT primarily comes from the USA’s NSF, with support from several universities and scientific institutions. Additionally, six other countries are also contributing to the project. The TMT project, although involving Indian, Japanese, and Canadian participation, originated at two California universities and is intended to be located in Hawaii.

However, the National Science Board, which advises the NSF, has suggested a limit of $1.6 billion for NSF funding for giant telescopes. That’s a lower cost compared to either of the two projected expenses individually, although considering the other factors, it should be sufficient for one.

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The statement issued by the board indicates that they have no intention of merely postponing the costs and waiting for additional funding. Furthermore, it suggests that the NSF should engage in a discussion with the Board in the upcoming May 2024 meeting regarding their strategy for choosing between the two potential telescopes to support. This discussion should encompass estimated costs and a timeline for the project.

There is a chance that the NSF might reject the recommendation, or even that Congress could allocate an additional billion and a half towards astronomy due to its perceived significance. So far, that is the current focus of each team’s representatives, at least publicly, instead of engaging in arguments about who should be given priority. It is unlikely that new funds will be available, especially considering the current political climate characterized by partisan conflicts that hinder budget allocations.

In theory, it is possible for other contributors to increase their shares. However, according to John O’Meara, the chief scientist at Keck Observatory, neither telescope currently has a viable future without investment from the NSF.

Scientists have been expressing their concern and highlighting the importance of both.

Others in different scientific fields may not be very understanding; they might even quietly make fun of those who expected to receive two new toys but had to settle for just one. However, the two instruments have been carefully crafted to function in perfect harmony. Every spot on our planet has its limitations when it comes to observing the sky. To achieve comprehensive coverage, it is necessary to have at least one instrument in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere. Every design has been optimized to enhance specific capabilities, with the expectation that other areas will be compensated by alternative designs.

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Upon initial observation, the TMT would seem to be the most reasonable choice. Given its location in the Northern Hemisphere, it has the potential to work in collaboration with the ELT. Additionally, a suggested location in the United States could provide a group of supporters to advocate for it.

Nevertheless, there has been discussion about relocating the TMT to the Canary Islands, a northern region under Spanish jurisdiction, due to the significant opposition it faces from Native Hawaiians. In addition, discarding either project would result in a significant loss of the funds invested thus far. The GMT, being more advanced than the TMT, would incur a greater financial setback.

There are numerous valuable applications for $1.5 billion, such as medical research to combat diseases, scientific endeavors addressing global crises, or even non-scientific pursuits. However, basic research has a rich history of yielding unforeseen benefits over time. Constructing both telescopes would result in an additional $5 in taxes for every American, not on an annual basis but as a one-time payment. Their total cost will be significantly lower than that of the JWST, and each one will have a much longer lifespan.

Allocating budgets can be a challenging task, especially when comparing the potential benefits, which vary greatly. In this situation, one must consider the value of knowledge for its own sake versus options that offer practical but uncertain payoffs. In contrast, the NSF may find it relatively easy to choose between two instruments with different, but overlapping, capacities.

 

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Space Exploration

NASA’s first black astronaut, Ed Dwight, just made it to space after 60 years

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Ed Dwight really is a Renaissance man for our time. At the age of 90 years, 8 months, and 10 days, he was able to add another accomplishment to his long list of many. He made it to space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard NS-25, a suborbital spacecraft. William Shatner was older than him when he went to space, but he beat him to the record.

Dwight can write well and is also a skilled sculptor. He has made 129 memorial sculptures and more than 18,000 gallery pieces. His high marks in aeronautical engineering earned him the rank of captain in the US Air Force, where he worked as a test pilot. He was one step closer to becoming NASA’s first black astronaut, thanks to his skills and abilities.

In 1961, he was the first African American to go to the Aerospace Research Pilot School. This was the school where NASA chose astronauts before they were trained as pilots. He left the Air Force, though, because he wasn’t chosen. His words to The Guardian were that “racial politics forced him out of NASA and back into the regular officer corps.”

Space for Humanity paid for his seat on NS-25. Space for Humanity is a non-profit organization that wants to enable more people to access space by sending interesting people there to experience the overview effect. Some of the other people on the crew were Gopi Thotakura, Carol Schaller, Sylvain Chiron, and Kenneth L. Hess.

New Shepard has flown 25 times, but not always with a crew. As of now, 37 people have been taken beyond the Karman line, which is 100 kilometers (61 miles) above sea level and is considered to be the edge of space by everyone. Since August 2022, this was the first New Shepard crewed flight.

In September 2022, an unmanned flight had an engine failure and then a fire, which forced the fleet to land. Unmanned flights started up again in December.

This most recent flight lasted almost 10 minutes, and as it rose, the people on board felt like they had no weight.

It was a little dramatic when they went down. Two of the three parachutes were only partially opened. Launch commentators said that the capsule could land safely with only two, but it might have been a little harder than if all three worked.

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Space Exploration

JWST reveals the exposed core of a planet with an exceptionally fluffy composition

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A significant enigma regarding a celestial body seems to have been resolved. The “cotton candy planets” are celestial bodies with an exceptionally low density, which poses a challenge to our existing theories on the formation of planets. Astronomers have successfully determined the origin of black holes by closely observing their internal processes, which is a remarkable accomplishment.

The celestial body under consideration is known as WASP-107b. With a volume exceeding 75 percent of Jupiter’s, yet a mass less than one-tenth of Jupiter’s, this planet possesses one of the lowest densities known among celestial bodies. This world possesses a substantial atmosphere; however, initial models aimed at elucidating the planet’s characteristics yielded disparate and perplexing depictions.

One proposed scenario posits that the Earth consists of a compact core and an expansive atmosphere. While this theory can explain the current observations, it is still unclear how a relatively small rocky structure could gather such a sizable gassy envelope.

Alternatively, there was a significantly bigger central component available. Furthermore, that also presented a predicament. The planet orbits its star at a distance closer than Mercury’s distance from the Sun, yet the star is considerably less bright. Unlike other celestial bodies composed of cotton candy-like substances, WASP-107b does not receive sufficient illumination to generate heat and subsequently cause the expansion of its atmosphere. An increase in the size of the core would result in a decrease in the size of the world.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) data collected helped to solve the mystery. When the planet aligns with its star and us, some starlight is filtered through the atmosphere. By analyzing the attenuated light, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) successfully identified certain constituents of the atmosphere. Remarkably, the amount of methane present is one thousand times lower than anticipated.

Methane is thought to be a prevalent component in similar celestial bodies, but it is found in limited quantities on WASP-107b. However, there is a substantial abundance of carbon-based molecules. Researchers posit that methane previously existed but underwent a chemical conversion into different molecules, a process that necessitates the presence of heat. More specifically, it is referring to internal heat.

The team posits that the planet’s elliptical orbit is generating tidal heating within its interior. The core of the object is significantly large, with a mass approximately 12 times that of the Earth and twice the size initially predicted. The core is sufficiently hot to induce chemical changes in the planet and cause the atmosphere to expand.

“Examining the internal structure of a planet located hundreds of light-years away may seem nearly impossible. However, by acquiring knowledge about its mass, radius, atmospheric composition, and temperature within its core, one can gather sufficient information to form an understanding of its interior and determine the weight of its core,” stated Professor David Sing, the lead author from Johns Hopkins University. “We can now perform this task on numerous gas planets in different systems.”

The team is currently examining the magnitude of these potential tidal forces on the planet and determining whether they can account for the observed heating. Although there may still be some aspects of WASP-107b that are not completely comprehended, it is no longer as enigmatic as it once was.

The recent study has been published in two papers within the journal Nature, which can be accessed here and here.

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Space Exploration

Ed Dwight, the inaugural African American astronaut of NASA, has recently achieved his first space mission after a delay of six decades

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Ed Dwight really is a Renaissance man for our time. At the age of 90 years, 8 months, and 10 days, he was able to add another accomplishment to his long list of many. He made it to space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard NS-25, a suborbital spacecraft. William Shatner was older than him when he went to space, but he beat him to the record.

Dwight can write well and is also a skilled sculptor. He has made 129 memorial sculptures and more than 18,000 gallery pieces. His high marks in aeronautical engineering earned him the rank of captain in the US Air Force, where he worked as a test pilot. He was one step closer to becoming NASA’s first black astronaut, thanks to his skills and abilities.

In 1961, he was the first African American to go to the Aerospace Research Pilot School. This was the school where NASA chose astronauts before they were trained as pilots. He left the Air Force, though, because he wasn’t chosen. His words to The Guardian were that “racial politics forced him out of NASA and back into the regular officer corps.”

Space for Humanity paid for his seat on NS-25. Space for Humanity is a non-profit organization that wants to enable more people to access space by sending interesting people there to experience the overview effect. Some of the other people on the crew were Gopi Thotakura, Carol Schaller, Sylvain Chiron, and Kenneth L. Hess.

New Shepard has flown 25 times, but not always with a crew. As of now, 37 people have been taken beyond the Karman line, which is 100 kilometers (61 miles) above sea level and is considered to be the edge of space by everyone. Since August 2022, this was the first New Shepard crewed flight.

In September 2022, an unmanned flight had an engine failure and then a fire, which forced the fleet to land. Unmanned flights started up again in December.

This most recent flight lasted almost 10 minutes, and as it rose, the people on board felt like they had no weight.

It was a little dramatic when they went down. Two of the three parachutes were only partially opened. Launch commentators said that the capsule could land safely with only two, but it might have been a little harder than if all three worked.

Continue Reading

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