The Cosmic Companion Newsletter August 10, 2019

Mars, Tardigrades, and Exploding Stars!

Hello everyone!

This has been an exciting week in astronomy, as new research suggests supernovae in the older Universe were not like those seen today, we may have evidence of an ancient tsunami on Mars, and we found out tardigrades may now be living on the Moon! Also, one year before liftoff, we look at the four spacecraft headed to the Red Planet during the summer of 2020.

Let’s take off!

The Week in Space

Did We Just Put Tardigrades on the Moon? Probably. - When the Beresheet spacecraft crashed on the Moon on April 11, the accident may have spread thousands of tardigrades on the lunar surface.

Tardigrades survive extreme heat and cold, acids, lack of oxygen, and strong doses of radiation. Even the eventual death of the Sun may not be enough to wipe out these tiny animals. Image credit: University of Oxford

Just one millimeter (1/25 inch) long, tardigrades may be the hardiest animals on Earth. These creatures can live in temperatures from as low as -200 Celsius (-328 Fahrenheit) to as high as 150 C (300 F). They can survive without oxygen, and can even be frozen for decades without harm.

It is uncertain if these creatures, part of a time capsule of life aboard the spacecraft, survived impact, but if any species could live through the harsh conditions of the Moon, tardigrades would be the species to do it.

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Supernova Debris Leaves Clues About Ancient Stars - Type Ia supernovae are the result of stars which explode while in binary systems. These events are thought to be highly-regular, and they are used to measure distances to far-flung galaxies.

An artist’s conception of material from a star falling onto a smaller companion in a binary star system. Image credit: NASA

New research on white dwarf stars now shows the process that causes these events may have been different in the early Universe than it is today. This finding could have consequences for understanding some of the greatest questions in astronomy.

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Did a Mega-Tsunami Wreak Havoc on Mars? - Billions of years ago, Mars possessed vast oceans which could have supported primitive life. Then, 3.5 billion years ago, the impact of an asteroid may have triggered a mega-tsunami, flooding an area as large as the United States. Such an impact could have wreaked havoc with the environment on Mars.

An artist’s impression of Mars, as it may have appeared four billion years ago, with an ocean of liquid water. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger (

This flood theory was first proposed in 2016, but the cause of the event remained unknown. A new study shows the Lomonosov crater on Mars could be the “smoking gun” evidence for a massive impact on the Red Planet.

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Here’s Every Spacecraft Headed to Mars in 2020 - Next summer, four spacecraft will launch to Mars, in an effort to study the Red Planet. Along with NASA, a joint mission from the ESA and Russia, a Chinese spacecraft, and the first interplanetary mission from the UAE will all head out to explore Mars.

The head of Mars 2020’s remote sensing mast, containing the SuperCam instrument, as well as four other cameras. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Each of these spacecraft will use unique tools to examine the most Earth-like planet in the Solar System, to see if Mars developed life, or if it could still be there today.

Here’s a look at each of the four spacecraft, and the science they will carry out at Mars.

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Coming soon: The First Woman on the Moon: The Past and Future History of Women in Space by James Maynard

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- James