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.
If this week's rocket launch has you feeling jealous of the three new arrivals to the International Space Station, console yourself by taking a virtual ride through the Pluto system with a new NASA animation of New Horizons' journey. To further lift your space nerd spirits, this week Arx Pax – the company that recently developed a hoverboard – announced that it is teaming up with NASA to essentially create a tractor beam.
A double black hole powers our galaxy's closest quasar.
Quasars, the brightest objects in the known universe, were thought to each be fueled by a single central supermassive black hole. This week, astronomers looking through data from the Hubble Space Telescope discovered that a quasar known as Markarian 231 – the closest quasar to our galaxy – appears to be powered by a pair of black holes that orbit each another instead. As the two black holes twirl about one another, they generate additional energy that feeds the quasar's luminosity.
The nature of these black holes was evident from the patterns of UV radiation that this quasar emits. Instead of having a disk of glowing hot gas, it has more of a donut shape, because the outer black hole continually carves out the center of the disk as it orbits.
NASA wants hoverboard company Arx Pax to build a tractor beam.
Wookieepedia defines a tractor beam as "a projected force-field used by spaceports, planetary bases, space stations and starships to effectively grasp and guide vessels to a safe designated landing." The first Death Star had 768 of them. Now, NASA and the California-based company Arx Pax, which recently developed an actual hoverboard, are teaming up to bring this this technology from science fiction into reality. They plan to build a micro satellite device that uses a magnetic tether to manipulate and capture objects from a distance.
This amazing NASA animation showed us what it might have been like to ride aboard New Horizons as it passed through the Pluto system.
It took New Horizons nearly 10 years to travel the three billion miles between Earth and Pluto. Because the spacecraft was traveling at over 36,000 miles per hour, however, the climax of this decade-long journey lasted just a few days. Now, you can relive the action in under 30 seconds, with this NASA animation that shows what the view was like from New Horizons as it sped through Pluto's system of four tiny moons.
Three astronauts successfully left our planet for the International Space Station via a Russian Soyuz rocket.
The three astronauts aboard the Soyuz rocket launched from a cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday arrived safely at the International Space Station on Friday morning. Andreas Mogensen became the first Dane in space, and was joined by Russia's Sergei Volkov and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov.