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Space, astronomy and planetary science

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NBC News

Ariel Ekblaw, director of MIT’s Space Exploration Initiative, speaks with Denise Chow at NBC News about the increased opportunities in space and satellite research in recent decades. “If you were a Ph.D. student in the prior domain, it could have taken years and you may never have had a chance to actually deploy your research on the International Space Station,” said Ekblaw. “But now, within four to six years, we might do three or four missions to the International Space Station within that time.”

New York Times

To celebrate the list of known exoplanets topping 5,000, New York Times reporter Becky Ferreira spoke with astronomers, actors and astronauts about their favorite exoplanets or exoplanetary systems. “TOI-1233 is an outstanding planetary system with its high number of transiting planets, sunlike host star and its proximity to the solar system,” says postdoc Tansu Daylan of the system he detected along with two high school students he was mentoring.

The Boston Globe

Researchers from MIT and other institutions have developed a new simulation that illuminates how stars formed in the early universe, reports Martin Finucane for The Boston Globe. “It was a neutral, dark cosmos that became bright and ionized as light began to emerge from the first galaxies,” explains Aaron Smith, a NASA Einstein Fellow in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

VICE

MIT researchers have developed a new simulation of the early universe, shedding light onto the period when the first stars were formed, reports Audrey Carleton for Vice. “Using existing models of the early universe and of cosmic dust, matched with new code created to interpret how light and gas interacted with one another, they created a visual depiction of the growth of the universe,” writes Carleton.

Newsweek

NASA astronaut Raja Chari SM ’01 and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer performed a spacewalk to help maintain the crucial cooling systems aboard the International Space Station (ISS), reports Ed Browne for Newsweek. “Spacewalks are an important part of life on the space station,” writes Browne. “Also called an extravehicular activity (EVA), a spacewalk is when an astronaut or cosmonaut gets out of the ISS whilst wearing a pressurized and oxygenated space suit that protects them from the vacuum of space.”

Wired

Prof. Sara Seager has been awarded one of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) awards, which will help fund her project aimed at sending an orbiter that deploys an inflatable probe to Venus, as part of an effort to search for habitability or signs of life, reports Ramin Skibba for Wired. “This search for signs of life on Venus has been around for a long time, and now the stars are aligned to start taking it seriously,” says Seager.

Podium

Prof. Nergis Mavalvala, dean of the MIT School of Science, speaks with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai about what inspired her love of science, how to inspire more women to pursue their passions and her hopes for the next generation of STEM students. “Working and building with my hands has always been something I’ve enjoyed doing,” says Mavalvala. “But I’ve also always been interested in the fundamental questions of why the universe is the way it is. I couldn’t have been more delighted when I discovered there was such a thing as experimental physics.”

Gizmodo

MIT astronomers have observed the dark side of a football-shaped exoplanet known as WASP-121b and found that it may have metal clouds made up of iron, corundum, and titanium, reports Isaac Schultz for Gizmodo. “The vastly different temperatures on either side of the planet make a dynamic environment for the various molecules floating around the atmosphere,” writes Schultz. “In the daytime, water gets ripped apart by the nearly 5,000° Fahrenheit heat and blown to the night side of the planet by 11,000-mile-per-hour winds.”

CNN

CNN reporter Ashley Strickland writes that MIT researchers have observed the dark side of an exoplanet that is 855 light years from Earth and found that the gas giant may have metal clouds and rain containing liquid gems. The researchers found that the “exoplanet has a glowing water vapor atmosphere and is being deformed into the shape of a football due to the intense gravitational pull of the star it orbits,” writes Strickland.

The New York Times

One year after NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars, scientists are preparing to investigate a dried-up river delta along the west rim of the Jezero crater to search for rocks and microscopic fossils, reports Kenneth Chang for The New York Times. If Perseverance undercovers fossils, “we have to start asking whether some globs of organic matter are arranged in a shape that outlines a cell,” says Prof. Tanja Bosak.

NBC News

Prof. Sara Seager speaks with Tom Metcalfe of NBC News about the Venus Life Finder missions, which will carry a robotic space payload partially funded by MIT alumni to Venus to search for signs of life in the planet's atmosphere. “Space is becoming cheaper in general, and there is more access to space than ever before,” says Seager. 

The Boston Globe

Prof. Sara Seager speaks with Boston Globe reporter Matt Yan about how she plans to use the James Webb Space Telescope to compare when an exoplanet is in front of a star and when it is not. “By comparing those two measurements, they’re going to be a tiny bit different,” says Seager, adding that when the planet "in front of the start is blocking some of the starlight, in particular, the atmosphere blocks some of the starlight, and so we can tell what’s in the planet atmosphere.”

Newsweek

TESS, a NASA mission led and operated by MIT, has discovered over 5,000 planets candidates outside of our solar system, reports Ed Browne for Newsweek. “This time last year, TESS had found just over 2,400 TOIs (TESS Objects of Interest),” says postdoctoral associate Michelle Kunimoto. “Today, TESS has reached more than twice that number – a huge testament to the mission and all the teams scouring the data for new planets.”

Science Friday

Science Friday host Ira Flatow spotlights how Prof. Scott Hughes has shifted the wavelengths of gravitational waves into the range of human hearing, creating an audible experience that allows listeners to experience the “ripples in space-time made by the tremendous mass of colliding black holes.”

Forbes

MIT researchers have proposed a conceptual hovering rover that would use the moon’s static charge to stay airborne, reports Elizabeth Howell for Forbes. “We think a future [moon] mission could send out small hovering rovers to explore the surface of the moon and other asteroids,” says graduate student Oliver Jia-Richards.