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The coronavirus pandemic is pushing back major astronomy projects and threatening to unravel some of the gains made toward increasing diversity among researchers in the field.
Why it matters: Depending on how long the crisis lasts, it could affect our understanding of the cosmos for years to come by delaying scientific efforts that will help find new asteroids and gather data about distant stars and galaxies.
What's happening: NASA announced in March that it would put the building of the James Webb Space Telescope — the planned successor to the Hubble Space Telescope — on hold due to the coronavirus, likely adding an additional delay to the already years-delayed mission.
Yes, but: Astronomy, unlike some other fields of science, is well-suited to remote work in general.
What to watch: Astronomy and astrophysics have also made strides toward diversifying its researchers in recent years, but the coronavirus pandemic could threaten that progress.
"The more risky we seem as a career choice, our diversity numbers will drop. It'll just be the people who feel economically safe and culturally safe making that choice, and we'll lose our inclusiveness again. I think that's bad for the science because we need all points of view."— Megan Donahue, the president of the American Astronomical Society, to Axios
Astronomers are also worried about the funding landscape for the field after the worst of the crisis passes.
The bottom line: The field of astronomy is feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but the true toll of the crisis may not appear until years down the road.
HIVE. Photo: Hypergiant Industries
A new tool for satellite operators could allow one ground controller to keep an eye on dozens of spacecraft at once.
Why it matters: Today, satellite operators are only able to control three to five satellites at a time. With potential mega-constellations of hundreds or thousands of satellites coming online, companies and governments will likely need to find ways to scale up their operations rapidly.
How it works: According to Hypergiant, HIVE software can be used on top of existing platforms to streamline them and make them remotely operable using tablets or phones.
What's next: The Air Force has already signed on to use the tool, according to Hypergiant, and the company is in talks with other agencies and commercial entities as well.
Mars seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI
Seasonal flows of extremely salty water on Mars could be longer-lasting and more frequent than initially thought, though they likely aren't suitable to life as we know it, according to a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy this week.
Why it matters: If these brines on the Red Planet are not habitable for microbes as we understand them, then scientists may not need to worry about potentially contaminating these regions during future missions, opening up new avenues of exploration on Mars.
What they found: Seasonal brines on Mars don't get warmer than about -55°F, a much colder temperature than life is known to thrive in.
Yes, but: While the study shows it's unlikely that Earth-originating microbes could find safe purchase in Martian brines, that doesn't mean space agencies should send rovers to explore these parts of Mars from very close range.
Ganymede as seen by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The largest moon in our solar system, Ganymede, plays host to a large iron core and a subsurface ocean that might be the kind of place scientists could one day find alien life in the solar system.
Background: The moon, which orbits Jupiter, was discovered by Galileo in 1610 along with three other moons, collectively known as the Galilean moons today.
Details: Ganymede's surface is a bizarre looking mix of terrains, with about 40% of it cratered and dark and 60% marked by light, patterned grooves, according to NASA.
Artist's illustration of two stars orbiting a black hole. Image: ESO/L. Calçada
Cygnus cargo ship leaves space station for free-flying fire mission (Tariq Malik, Space.com)
How to see Comet SWAN in night skies (Dennis Overbye, New York Times)
Richard Branson to sell part of Virgin Galactic stake (Jeff Foust, SpaceNews)
Newfound black hole lurks just 1,000 light-years from Earth (Axios)
Tom Cruise, NASA planning to film a movie in space (Axios)
Photo: JAXA/U. Tokyo/Kochi U./Rikkyo U./Nagoya U./Chiba Inst. Tech./Meiji U./U. Aizu/AIST
Asteroids are thought to be leftovers from the dawn of our solar system, the debris that didn't get incorporated into the planets as they formed billions of years ago.
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