Mars InSight lander detects quake, six new binary black hole mergers detected, NASA prepares for a real game of 'Astrosmash', and the first-ever image of a black hole is released
When humanity makes its first steps off of Earth, it may not be strapped into a rocket developed and built by an organisation like NASA or the China National Space Administration, but an organisation like Elon Musk's SpaceX.
In April, the company launched its first-ever mission for its partially re-usable Falcon Heavy rocket. The aim of the rocket is to be able - as its name implies - to carry heavy objects to structures such as the International Space Station or into orbit around Earth.
The launch was only the second flight for the Falcon Heavy, and the first time that SpaceX had successfully landed all three rocket boosters safely on Earth after launch. During the first test flight of Falcon Heavy in February last year, only two rocket boosters could land in one piece on the ground, while the middle booster crashed into water after running out of fuel.
A reusable rocket, of course, ought to be cheaper to use for launches and space missions compared to one that nose-dives into the Atlantic or the Pacific on its return to Earth - provided that maintenance doesn't prove to be too challenging. And NASA is even considering using it to make a return journey to the Moon.
Earlier, SpaceX also conducted a successful test of its prototype Starhopper rocket engine, which it is hoped will eventually take up to 100 passengers to the Moon or Mars.
When human beings finally take their first tentative steps out of the Solar System, modern telescopes will give us a very good idea of where to go: which stars are likely to provide a stable supply of heat and light, and the planets with the best chance of supporting life.
And not just that, but we should know a fair amount about their atmospheres and the likely composition of the planets and the stars they orbit: what metals and minerals they contain, and even, perhaps, how they were formed in the first place. That makes the star J1124+4535, observed by the Subaru Telescope in Japan, especially interesting, because from what we can observe of it J1124+4535 isn't like any other major objects in its region of the Milky Way.
"Stars preserve chemical information of their birth sites. We can distinguish stars formed in the Milky Way from stars formed in dwarf galaxies based on their chemical abundances," said Zhao Gang, a professor at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC).
Learning more about J1124+4535 could teach scientists (and the rest of us) a lot more about the formation and development of the Universe.
A key element of the Big Bang theory, of course, is that the Universe is expanding and will continue to expand until it reaches a point referred to as the ‘Big Crunch' - when it also (theoretically) goes into reverse.
Well, the good news is that that point is still some time off and, not only that, but the Universe is not only still expanding, but expanding nine per cent faster than calculations had forecast, if new Hubble Telescope data is correct.
While NASA has the target of returning to the Moon before the end of 2024 - when President Trump no doubt hopes his second term will draw to a close - that might not happen if all life on Earth is obliterated by an asteroid strike.
Hence, at the same time, NASA is also planning to conduct tests to see whether it might be possible to blast any incoming, life-threatening asteroids out of Earth's path - and has even offered a $69 million contract to SpaceX for a test to be conducted in 2021 or 2022 as part of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).
How do you take an image of an object in space so powerful it even sucks in light? That's a conundrum that the team behind the first ever image of a black hole successfully negotiated on 10 April when they released an image of black hole M87, captured using the Event Horizon Telescope. (EHT).
Revealed in press conferences held simultaneously in five places around the world, EHT project director Sheperd Doeleman described it as "a one-way door out of our Universe".
Resorting to slightly less hyperbole, Dr Ziri Younsi from the University College London (UCL) Mullard Space Science Laboratory, added: ""This observation lays the foundation for future studies of black holes and could play a crucial role in our understanding of the behaviour of light and matter in the most extreme environments in our Universe."
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[Next page: The biggest space stories in March]