The Cosmic Companion November 16, 2019

NASA prepares to return humans to the Moon, researchers now know the cause of massive molecules of carbon called buckyballs in space, and upcoming interview

Hello everyone!

Today is my birthday, but don’t worry - I’m not working, this was written yesterday (which is today right now. I wouldn’t want to be a time traveler—the grammar is too confusing!)

This week, we look at how NASA plans to learn from, and develop, the Artemis program to bring astronauts to the Moon. We also learn about a new study showing how buckyballs - large spheres of 60 carbon atoms can form in the depths of space.

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Let’s take off!

The Week in Space

Fly Me to the Moon — Artemis vs. Apollo

When NASA astronauts return to the Moon in 2024, they will fly on ideas from Apollo, combined with next-generation technology impossible to achieve five decades ago. Artemis and the Lunar Gateway could make flight to the Moon — and beyond — almost commonplace in the next few decades.

Astronauts depart for the lunar surface, as Orion remains docked to the Command and Service station element of the Lunar Gateway. Image credit: NASA

NASA has their sights set on sending human travelers, once more, to the Moon, over 50 years after Apollo 11 brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface as Michael Collins piloted their command module in orbit around our planetary companion.

In the last five decades, technology has made made stunning advances, but NASA learned valuable lessons from Apollo, which will be integral to returning to the Moon.

Read more:

Buckyballs in Space and How They got There

Buckyballs — those intriguing molecular spheres made up entirely of carbon — are found in space near the dying stars, but no one knew the reason why. Now, new research from the Lunar and Planetary Lab in Tucson reveals how these complex structures form in space..

Buckyballs form between stars in our own galaxy and others — now we know why. Image credit: Pete Marenfeld/NOAO

Buckyballs are spherical molecules, consisting entirely of 60 carbon atoms, arranged in a pattern of pentagrams or hexagrams meeting at their edges, like a soccer ball. Known as carbon 60 (or C6O), they were first seen in the laboratory, and were thought to be solely an artificial construct.

However, several years ago, astronomers detected these behemoth molecules in the space between stars. However, no one was able to explain why — or how — buckyballs would form in space.

Read more:

Next week, on my podcast (airing 11/26), I will interview Dr. Lucy Ziurys of Steward Observatory, one of the head researchers on the study of interstellar buckyballs, and what the finding could mean for the future of astronomy. Listen and subscribe to Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion through any major podcast provider.

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

Thanks for reading!

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Astronomy - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

- James

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