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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
NASA's plans to create a robust economy in low-Earth orbit where private spaceflight companies can flourish could eventually leave the agency's astronauts stranded on Earth with nowhere to go.
Why it matters: NASA hopes to play a lead role in developing a private spaceflight economy, including private sector astronauts. The agency sees this as a way to free it up to focus on farther afield goals like bringing humans back to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars.
Driving the news: On Friday, NASA announced it would create a market for private human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit.
The catch: By largely giving up control of human spaceflight in orbit, a region of key importance for Earth science and other discoveries, NASA risks that its human spaceflight program might be more heavily impacted by political whims.
"If the private sector takes over low-Earth orbit, and the political support for exploration dissipates, then what's the rationale for a government program?"— John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, to Axios
Between the lines: It's realistic to imagine NASA's exploration goals will shift in the near or long term. The space agency is constantly facing political whiplash when new administrations take over and impose new spaceflight goals.
But, but, but: It's not yet clear exactly how much demand there will be in the private sector for human spaceflight to low-Earth orbit. A 2017 report looking at the market for a privately run space station found there isn't an obvious, profit-driven demand for such a facility in orbit, at least not yet.
The International Space Station in darkness. Photo: NASA/JSC
For better or worse, sometime in the next decade, the International Space Station program will likely reach the end of its life, bringing a unique and successful venue for international diplomacy to an end.
Why it matters: The ISS has been a source of international collaboration in space since the first module launched in 1998, but when the program ends, there may be no publicly funded replacement on the way.
Details: Even if the private space stations NASA is now banking on never become a reality, eventually the ISS’ major components will reach the end of their technical lifespans in orbit.
The impact: When the space station ends, international collaboration in space could look very different. In fact, it could give way to growing competition instead.
Yes but: Private sector space stations are less likely to play a large role in space diplomacy, since they'll be aiming for profit.
Jupiter as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo: NASA/JPL/SScI
Look up this week to see Jupiter putting on a show for observers on Earth.
The big picture: The largest planet in our solar system is at its brightest this week. Jupiter is currently in a favorable alignment with Earth and the Sun, allowing the planet to shine brightly through the night and making observing the planet unusually rewarding.
Details: You can spot the huge planet with your naked eye at dusk and through the night all month, according to NASA.
Be smart: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a planet and a star when looking with your naked eye, but there’s a shortcut to avoid that confusion.
NGC 4395 seen in infrared light. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The black hole in the center of the dwarf galaxy 14 million light-years away is much smaller than scientists initially estimated, according to a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Why it matters: Black hole researchers think galaxies as large as our own host supermassive black holes at their centers, but it’s not exactly clear how they got to be the huge and mysterious objects they are now.
What they found: The new study found that NGC 4395's black hole is about 40 times smaller than initially predicted, clocking in at about 10,000 times the mass of our Sun. (For reference, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way is thought to be about 4 million times the mass of the Sun.)
What they did: The scientists behind the study used what’s known as “reverberation mapping” to weigh the black hole in the galaxy’s center.
The big picture: Intermediate-mass black holes like the one found in NGC 4395 have long been something of a curiosity in astronomy. Though researchers think they've tracked the origins of small black holes to the end of a star's life, the origins of these intermediate-mass black holes are still mysterious.
An artist's impression of a Jupiter twin orbiting a distant star. Image: ESO/L. Benassi
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the body responsible for assigning official names to cosmic objects discovered by humanity — wants people around the world to help name planets and stars far away from our own solar system.
Why it matters: The IAU initiative can help democratize what’s usually an opaque naming process.
Details: So far, nearly 100 countries have signed up to take part in the naming program, and more can still join until July 30.
Go deeper: Find out if your country is participating in the program and what star and planet it has been assigned here.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. Photo: NASA
Physicists debate Hawking’s idea that the universe had no beginning (Natalie Wolchover, Quanta)
New legislation calls for protection of Apollo 11 Moon landing site (Robert Pearlman, CollectSPACE)
A space tourist reacts to NASA's plans for low-Earth orbit (Dave Mosher, Business Insider)
NASA chief responds to Trump's Moon tweet (Rebecca Falconer, Axios)
Here's how much it will cost you for a trip to the Space Station (Axios)
A close-up, color-enhanced look at Jupiter's clouds. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Seán Doran
This color-enhanced photo, taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, shows the swirling storms and bright clouds of Jupiter's distinctive atmosphere.
Interested members of the public can process raw photos taken by Juno’s JunoCam camera and made available by NASA. This one, for example, was edited by Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran.
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Editor's note: Item 4 was corrected to say that the black hole in the center of the dwarf galaxy is 14 million light-years away (not 14 light-years).