In this column, staff writer Andrea Alfano rounds up the most important and fascinating space news of the past week in bite-sized summaries to keep you up to date on what's happening way up above us.
New life has grown successfully aboard the International Space Station, as astronauts showed by taking the first bites of space lettuce. Meanwhile, our entire universe is meandering down the road to death, according to scientists. At least we got the chance to watch the beautiful Perseid meteor shower light up the sky this week before the entire universe fades to black.
Astronauts sunk their teeth into the first space-grown lettuce.
This could be the best strategy yet for getting kids to eat their vegetables. It was the health of future astronauts, not children here on Earth, that motivated NASA to grow lettuce in space, however. The Veg-01 experiment aboard the International Space Station aims to find a safe and efficient way to grow vegetables on spacecraft and even other planets to enhance the physical and mental well-being of astronauts.
"Besides having the ability to grow and eat fresh food in space, there also may be a psychological benefit," said Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for the Veggie plant growth system in a statement. "The crew does get some fresh fruits or vegetables, such as carrots or apples, when a supply ship arrives at the space station. But the quantity is limited and must be consumed quickly."
This week, astronauts sampled the space lettuce for the first time. The variety they tried is called "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce.
A pulsating star performed a lovely duet with a piano.
Out in the constellation Camelopardalis is a pulsating star called Y Cam A. It is a binary star, meaning that its orbit is forever intertwined with that of a second star in a sort of cosmic dance. But Y Cam A's stellar partner has a new rival in Burak Ulaş of the Izmir College Planetarium in Turkey. Ulaş stepped in to perform a piano duet with the sounds of the pulsating Y Cam A, derived from measurements of its brightness over time. The results are hauntingly beautiful.
The Perseid meteor shower lit up our skies.
Each August, the Perseid meteor shower dazzles stargazers around the world. The timing of the meteor shower – prime summer vacation – in combination with the frequency of the meteors make it a favorite. Those who can find a dark enough spot to look up from are often treated to 50 or more meteors an hour.
If you missed the show earlier this week, there is still a chance to catch the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower on Aug. 14.
Scientists told us that the universe is slowly dying.
Our amazing universe is running out of steam. In a paper presented at the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union earlier this week, a team of researchers showed that the universe has already burned through half the energy that it did 2 billion years ago.
What does this mean for us? Practically, not much, since it will be at least another 100 billion years or so before the universe finally gives up the ghost. But if you want to get all philosophical about it, that's another story — which this piece from Wired has captured quite amusingly.