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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk's space age rivalry may not play out as a war of the rockets, but as a war for your internet.
Why it matters: The two billionaire founders of Amazon and SpaceX plan to blanket low-Earth orbit with thousands of satellites that will beam broadband internet to the planet, potentially transforming how the developing world in particular accesses the web.
Where it stands: Both Bezos' Blue Origin rocket company and Musk's SpaceX have been working in parallel with one another for years to get their rockets flying to space, but with their internet ambitions, Musk and Bezos are now on a collision course.
The big picture: Amazon and SpaceX both have good reasons for getting into the satellite internet game.
Meanwhile: Amazon and SpaceX aren't the only contenders in this space. OneWeb envisions global satellite-based broadband and has already launched 6 satellites to orbit. The company raised $1.25 billion in funding and plans to have its constellation in place by 2021.
But, but, but: Satellite operators will need to coordinate their constellations and avoid other satellites and bits of space junk that could put their networks at risk. They'll also need to avoid adding to the space junk problem themselves.
The FCC is developing rules for when spacecraft should be deorbited from these fleets.
"[W]e just need to think about how we do this in a sustainable manner."— Victoria Samson, of the Secure World Foundation
The odds: Satellite broadband constellations aren't a sure bet, business-wise. It's unclear at what price point a satellite-based internet service will be competitive with terrestrial alternatives — like 5G networks. It would have to offset the cost of developing, launching and maintaining a constellation of satellites and providing the service to remote areas.
The bottom line: While Musk and Bezos clearly believe in the promise of these satellite constellations, they still have a long way to go — both technically and financially.
The first photo of a black hole ever taken. Photo: EHT collaboration
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, which revealed the stunning first-ever photo of a black hole on April 10, is just getting started.
The big picture: The EHT consists of a group of 9 radio observatories around the globe that, when working together, effectively create an Earth-sized telescope capable of observing black holes as never before.
What's next: The international collaboration, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, plans to add two more telescopes to the mix by 2020, and scientists hope to one day launch a space-based observatory as well.
More telescopes around the world could also mean that researchers can create black hole photos more quickly (the photo released on April 10 was derived from observations made in 2017). That added speed could help scientists glimpse the black hole in the center of the Milky Way, named Sagittarius A*.
"If you make it quickly, then you can see changes, and that's particularly important for Sag A*, which changes on 20- or 30-minute time scales."— EHT scientist Dan Marrone told Axios
The first black hole photo appeared to match predictions made by general relativity, showing the shadow of a black hole illuminated by superheated gases on the edge of the object's event horizon — the area near the black hole known as the "point of no return," where gravity is so great that nothing can escape.
The intrigue: Future images showing more detail could test the limits of Einstein's predictions.
What to watch: The EHT isn’t the only black hole hunter gearing up for a big year. LIGO — a network of observatories designed to detect ripples in the fabric of space and time created by extreme collisions between black holes and neutron stars — has just begun its next observing campaign after a series of upgrades that increased its sensitivity by 40%.
Go deeper: Where black hole research goes next
Artist's impression of Proxima-b orbiting its star. Photo: ESO/M. Kornmesser
A planet orbiting a red star only 4 light-years from Earth could support life despite being bombarded by high levels of radiation, according to new research.
What they did: The study modeled the radiation environments of planets orbiting red dwarf stars that are typically the source of extreme radiation.
What they found: While the amount of radiation bathing Proxima-b today is extreme by our current standards, that may not have been the case for Earth 4 billion years ago. Early in its history, our planet was blasted with more radiation than Proxima-b, and life still managed to develop.
“The chances of finding life close to us around the closest stars that happen to be red young suns is much greater now, and so our quest to figure out whether we’re alone in the universe just got a tiny bit easier,” Lisa Kaltenegger, one of the authors of the new study, said in a video.
Why it matters: Small, red stars are plentiful in our part of space, so if radiation isn't a dealbreaker for habitability, some of those relatively nearby worlds could host life, and it would make them candidates for followup study.
Artist's conception of HD 21749c. Photo: Robin Dienel, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science
NASA's new planet-hunter — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) — has found its first confirmed Earth-sized world after launching to space in April 2018.
Background: TESS is designed to detect the small dips in a star's light created when a planet passes in front of its sun. The telescope uses that "transit" to piece together how large (or small) the planet might be.
Details: The planet, named HD 21749c, takes about 8 Earth days to orbit its star, is around the size of our planet and is located about 53 light-years from Earth, researchers report in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The planet has company when orbiting its star. TESS also found a world, named HD 21749b, that's about 23 times Earth's mass orbiting the star every 36 days.
The bottom line: This discovery is likely to be followed up by many others as scientists believe that almost every star has at least one planet in its orbit.
Artist's illustration of an astronaut on the moon in 2024. Photo: Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin has a plan to get NASA astronauts back to the surface of the moon by 2024, the company revealed during the National Space Symposium in Colorado last week.
Details: The plan would take its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — which the government contractor has been developing for the better part of a decade for previous space exploration plans — and direct it to the moon.
It's not clear if NASA will take Lockheed Martin up on its proposal.
NASA says it will need help from commercial partners to make the 2024 landing deadline a reality.
But, but, but: If NASA wants to use Lockheed's architecture, the space agency will likely need to start funding it now.
“Landing on the Moon by 2024 is feasible, but we need to move fast, resource it right, take mission risks but not safety risks, and make smart technical and architecture trade-offs that includes leveraging existing systems to the maximum extent possible."— Tim Cichan, Lockheed Martin's space exploration architect, to Axios
Other experts have told Axios that a near-term funding ramp-up is vital to accomplishing the 2024 target, with or without Lockheed's participation. To that end, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is preparing a new funding request to Congress for the lunar program.
Two SpaceX Falcon Heavy side boosters landing simultaneously. Photo: SpaceX
Scott Kelly spent a year in orbit. His body is not quite the same (Carl Zimmer, New York Times)
Air Force insists launch competition must stay on schedule (Sandra Erwin, Space News)
In defense of the blurry black hole photo (Matt Ford, The New Republic)
An interstellar meteor may have slammed into Earth (Nadia Drake, National Geographic)
SpaceX launches (and then lands) its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket (Axios)
Titan as seen by Cassini. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho
Saturn's moon Titan is eerily familiar and yet wholly unlike our own.
The large moon boasts a hazy atmosphere and rains methane onto its surface. Now, thanks to the long-dead Cassini spacecraft, we know that some of its lakes are more than 300 feet deep.
Background: Cassini gathered groundbreaking data on Saturn and its moons, including making a dive through the planet's rings and into its atmosphere in the final moments of its mission.
That's all for this week. See you right back here next Tuesday. 🚀