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Crash of private Japanese moon lander blamed on software, last-minute location switch

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private Japanese moon lander went into free-fall while trying to land on the lunar surface last month, company officials said Friday, blaming a software issue and a last-minute switch in the touchdown location.

The spacecraft belonging to the company ispace was originally supposed to land in a flat plain. But the target was changed to a crater before December’s launch. The crater’s steep sides apparently confused the onboard software, and the 7-foot (2-meter) spacecraft went into a free-fall from less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) up, slamming into the lunar surface.

The estimated speed at impact was more than 300 feet (100 meters) per second, said the company’s chief technology officer, Ryo Ujiie.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the crash site the next day as it flew overhead, revealing a field of debris as well as lunar soil hurled aside by the impact.

Computer simulations done in advance of the landing attempt did not incorporate the terrain of the new landing site, Ujiie said.

CEO and founder Takeshi Hakamada said the company is still on track to attempt another moon landing in 2024, and that all the lessons learned will be incorporated into the next try. A third landing attempt is planned for 2025.

If successful, ispace would have been the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon. Only three governments have achieved that: Russia, the United States and China. An Israeli nonprofit tried in 2019, but its attempt also ended in a crash landing.

Named Hakuto, Japanese for white rabbit, the spacecraft and its experiments were insured, according to Hakamada. The United Arab Emirates had a mini lunar rover on board that was lost in the crash.

Two U.S. companies have lunar landers awaiting launch later this year from Cape Canaveral, in partnership with NASA.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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NASA releases new ‘Penguin and Egg’ image from James Webb Space Telescope

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NASA has released a stunning new image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) marking the two-year anniversary of the release of its first images. And the space agency is calling it the “Penguin and Egg.”

What exactly are we looking at? Well, it’s two interacting galaxies known jointly as Arp 142 that lie 326 million light-years from Earth.

They are 100,000 light-years apart, which may sound far, but in astronomical terms, that’s very close. In contrast, our Milky Way and the closest major galaxy to us — the Andromeda galaxy — are separated by 2.5 million light years.

The Penguin and Egg galaxies made their first pass some time between 25 and 75 million years ago, NASA said in a release. This, in turned, triggered a new star formation in the Penguin.

Galactic mergers can cause galaxies to form thousands of new stars a year over millions of years. In the case of the Penguin, NASA said, research suggests that about 100 to 200 new stars have formed each year. This is many times more than what is happening in our own galaxy, where only roughly six to seven new stars form each year.

Webb’s mid-infrared view of interacting galaxies Arp 142. This image was taken by MIRI, the telescope’s mid-infrared instrument, which astronomers use to study cooler and older objects, dust, and extremely distant galaxies. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

Before the galactic interaction, the Penguin was a spiral galaxy. Now, the centre forms the “eye” of the Penguin. The Egg, on the other hand, is an elliptical galaxy, which contains much older stars.

At the top right of the image is the PGC 1237172 galaxy, which is 100 million light-years closer to Earth, according to a release by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

And, of course, in the background lie thousands more galaxies.

The gift that keeps on giving

JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Unlike Hubble’s one mirror, JWST has 18 individual mirrors that make up for one giant one. That makes it a light-catching machine, allowing it see some of the faintest objects and to peer far back into the earliest times of the universe.

That’s why astronomers were so excited when this game-changing telescope was launched on Dec. 25, 2021. It was a Christmas gift headed to orbit around the moon, just waiting to be unwrapped.

The first image released blew astronomers away.

The blackness of space is dotted with bright stars and galaxies.
The first image released by the James Webb Space Telescope shows thousands of galaxies. (NASA)

It was the telescopes’s first wide-field image, which provided the sharpest and deepest infrared image of thousands of galaxies.

And JWST is the gift that keeps on giving, particularly to astronomers looking to better understand our universe and how we got here.

The telescope, with its massive light-collecting capability, is changing the way astronomers look at our universe. Its observations have challenged the idea of how stars form and even how fast the universe is expanding.

The view from inside the Milky Way galaxy looks crowded with so many stars on a black background in a colourful spectrum, from cyan to magenta.
This image from the James Webb Space Telescope reveals a 50 light-years-wide portion of the Milky Way’s dense centre. An estimated 500,000 stars shine in this image of the Sagittarius C (Sgr C) region, along with some as-yet unidentified features. (Samuel Crowe/UVA/STScI/NASA/ESA/CSA/NASA/ESA/CSA)

“[I’m] incredibly, incredibly grateful because the pictures that we are able to see now … it was not something that we thought we will be able to see,” said Lamiya Mowla an assistant professor at Wellesley University in Wellesley, Mass.

She is one of several scientists who are part of the Canadian NIRISS Unbiased Cluster Survey (CANUCS).

“[Previously,] we were talking about that we will be able to resolve things down to … hundreds of light years or so, down to that level in a very, very early universe. Now, we can see that we can almost get down to tens of light years.”

Data on exoplanets a ‘game changer’

And while we don’t get the jaw-dropping images from Webb when it comes to the study of exoplanets — planets orbiting other stars — its data is proving to be incredibly helpful in understanding planetary atmospheres, especially larger planets that are more similar to our outer planets, such as Jupiter and Neptune.

“If you look at other planets like hot Jupiters, or even colder, like Neptune, or Neptune-sized planets that are a bit colder … James Webb is really a game changer,” said Olivia Lim, a PhD student at the Université de Montréal and member of the Trottier Institute for Research of Exoplanets, who’s main area of focus is the seven-exoplanet system known as TRAPPIST-1.

“People are able to measure things that we weren’t able to measure before or they’re they’re able to do it with so much more precision.”

And, of course, the telescope has also provided images of phenomena closer to home, such as a jaw-dropping image of Uranus and its rings.

A ringed planet hangs in the blackness of space with stars and galaxies scattered around it.
This image of Uranus from NIRCam (near-infrared camera) on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows the planet and its rings in new clarity. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

Mowla said that she’s incredibly grateful for JWST and what it can tell us about our own origins.

“The things that we are seeing over here is what it has taken the universe to get us to the point that we are at today, the world that we take for granted. It has spent 13.7 billion years to build this perfect Earth,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure there are habitable planets in every galaxy. We just haven’t found them yet.”

 

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NASA Hopeful Boeing Starliner Can Return Astronauts to Earth

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With NASA astronauts docked at the International Space Station far longer than planned, the agency’s leadership on Wednesday acknowledged potential alternatives to Boeing’s (NYSE:BA) Starliner for returning the crew to Earth.

Still, the Boeing’s spacecraft remains the primary option for returning crew, officials said.

Officials say Starliner capsule “Calypso” may return as soon as the end of this month from its extended ISS stay, pending results of testing a faulty propulsion system. Starliner has now been in space 36 days and counting as the agency and Boeing perform additional testing in New Mexico before clearing the spacecraft to return.

The mission is the first time Starliner is carrying people, flying NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

NASA’s Commercial Crew manager Steve Stich emphasized during a press conference that the first “option today is to return Butch and Suni on Starliner,” adding, “we don’t see any reason” currently to turn to the agency’s other transportation option, which would be SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, to bring back the astronauts.

Stich — while acknowledging that a SpaceX capsule could be part of contingency plans in case Starliner were to return from the ISS empty — noted that NASA does not yet need to “make a decision as to whether we need to do anything different.”

BA, for its part, saw its stock gain 69 cents first thing Thursday to $184.42.

 

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Milky Way galaxy can be larger than expected: study

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This photo taken on Sept. 13, 2023 shows the Milky Way at the Altun Mountains National Nature Reserve in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Hao Zhao)

KUNMING, July 12 (Xinhua) — The Milky Way galaxy can be larger than previously expected and have a more complex radial structure, according to scientists.

The study, conducted by researchers from Yunnan University and several international institutes, was recently published in Nature Astronomy.

Using data from stellar spectroscopic surveys, researchers constructed a radial density distribution of stars from the inner to the outer regions of the Galaxy, measuring the Galaxy’s radius.

The result indicates that the Galactic disk structure in the outer disk region conforms to a classical exponential distribution while the inner disk region remains nearly flat. This finding is distinct from the long-standing assumption of a single exponential disk for the Galaxy, according to Lian Jianhui, a researcher at Yunnan University.

Lian said the study can impact measuring the Galaxy’s key physical properties. Based on the assumption in the past, the half-light radius of the Galaxy, within which half of its luminosity is contained, was estimated to be about 10,000 light-years. The radius was extraordinarily smaller compared to galaxies of similar mass, and thus, the Galaxy was classified as a compact galaxy.

However, based on the complex density distribution proposed in the study, the Galaxy’s half-light radius is 19,000 light-years, almost in line with the radius of nearby galaxies of similar mass. This indicates that the Galaxy is a typical disk galaxy in terms of size, said Lian.

Lian said the study contributes to understanding the Galaxy’s overall structure and evolution.  ■

 

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