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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Scientists continue to find dangerous asteroids in Earth's vicinity, but to fully capture the threat these nearby space rocks pose, they need tools that aren't in operation now and may not be for years to come.
Driving the news: Last week, an asteroid large enough to destroy a city buzzed Earth not long after scientists first spotted it.
Why it matters: Astronomers have detected less than half of the estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects thought to be 459 feet in size or greater.
Where it stands: Because of that danger, Congress mandated that by 2020 NASA find at least 90% of large asteroids that could hit Earth. NASA isn't on track to meet that goal but has found about 90% of all near-Earth asteroids that are 3,281 feet in size or greater.
How it works: Detecting asteroids in infrared light is effective because many of the space rocks are dark to the naked eye but shine brightly in thermal infrared.
The catch: Experts think there's no one method that will find, track and characterize all of the potentially dangerous asteroids near our planet, but instead it will be necessary to use both ground-based and space-based telescopes.
What's next: Scientists are trying to figure out what can be done if a dangerous asteroid is found speeding on a collision course with Earth.
The bottom line: The risk of an asteroid strike is low, but the consequences would be high if one were on a collision course with Earth.
Some of the telescopes atop Mauna Kea. Photo: Julie Thurston Photography
The protest this week on Mauna Kea opposing the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is, at its heart, about who has a say in how science is done.
Why it matters: The TMT is designed to be larger and more sensitive than any other optical telescope in use today, and it could revolutionize how astronomers conduct their work.
The big picture: The protestors blocking access to the summit of Mauna Kea since construction was expected to begin the week of July 15 say the efforts made to reduce the environmental impact of the TMT aren’t enough.
Background: This conflict isn’t a new one. Construction was expected to begin on the TMT in 2015, but protests stopped that work, and the project was thrown into turmoil after Hawaii’s Supreme Court repealed the telescope’s permit.
What they’re saying: An open letter signed by nearly 1,000 scientists says the conflict over the telescope stems from a way of doing science that’s rooted in outdated traditions that don’t respect the rights of the indigenous communities.
“[T]he message is that only people willing to assimilate into science’s cultural traditions are welcome to participate in science’s empirical work.”— Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, cosmologist, University of New Hampshire to Axios
What to watch: At the moment, the standoff shows no sign of ending, and national political attention is now directed at the conflict. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are voicing their support for the protestors.
Curiosity on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
To build more capable space robots, researchers are making them more autonomous so they won't need to rely on precise instructions from the Earth for every minute movement, Axios' Kaveh Waddell reports.
The big picture: As robots travel farther away from their operators, moving them around requires dealing with an ever-worse lag, because of how long it takes the signal to get back to Earth.
What's happening: Several startups, as well as NASA, are trying to find the right combination of human control and autonomy that would allow robots to perform complex tasks in space.
How it works: The SE4 system, which is being demonstrated today at the SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles, abstracts away some of the small details of the operator's actions, focusing instead largely on the intention.
"We want human minds to ride these robots into remote locations and learn things. We could have them going outside and doing operations without endangering human lives, yet humans will be gaining knowledge and experience."— Lochlainn Wilson, CEO of SE4
What's next: By 2022, SE4 wants to remotely build a lunar base — somewhere on Earth. It'll be a proof of concept for its eventual aspirations to do construction on the actual Moon.
Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger
Three newly discovered planets just 73 light-years from our own are helping scientists learn more about the diverse solar systems that populate our galaxy, according to a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Key takeaway: The 3 worlds all reside in the TOI-270 star system, a solar system that is very different from our own.
The big picture: Scientists hope to study solar systems wildly different from our own in order to gain a better understanding of just how unique our solar system is in the grand scheme of things.
Details: The three newfound planets — found by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) — orbit a star that is much smaller and dimmer than our Sun.
Go deeper: An orrery of TESS' planets
A Falcon 9 rocket launch on July 25. Photo: SpaceX
Clashing measurements make the universe's expansion a mystery (Leila Sloman, Scientific American)
LightSail 2 unfurls, next step toward space travel by solar sail (Shannon Stirone, New York Times)
SpaceX's Starhopper set fire to about 100 acres of wildlife refuge (Dave Mosher, Business Insider)
Einstein's disappointing success (Alison Snyder, Axios)
SpaceX rocket launches experiments, supplies to the ISS for NASA (Axios)
NASA/CXC/University of Michigan/J-T Li et al/STScI
A galaxy 67 million light-years from our own is blowing bubbles out into space.
The big picture: Cosmic rays themselves are thought to come from objects outside of our solar system or even from distant galaxies, and scientists are still working to understand this mysterious form of radiation.
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