Connect with us

Researchers look to track and mitigate the growing number of space junk objects around the Moon.

It’s getting crowded up there. An increase in military, commercial and scientific launches, coupled with a lower cost for rideshare cubesat launches, means lots more space junk to deal with in coming years. And we’re not just talking about low Earth orbit; the Moon and cis-lunar (near lunar space) is about to become busy as well.

While we track and understand (for the most part) what’s in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), we often fail to keep tabs on what’s in Medium- to High- (Geostationary/Geosynchronous GEO) orbit and beyond. Even less so is true around the Moon, which is about to become a busy place in coming years. Now, a recent study out of Purdue University is looking to model and track space debris around the Moon, with an eye towards mitigation.

Space debris modeled over time by the U.S. Space Force. The red objects are in low Earth orbit, while the green objects traverse Earth orbit out to cis-lunar space. Credit Purdue University/Carolin Frueh.

Tracking Lunar Space Debris

The study, led by Carolin Frueh, would give tracking assets prime areas and regions in the sky near the Moon to perform such a mission. The study also points to using ‘four-body geometry’ to model the evolution of orbits over time.

Debris tracking and avoidance is already a frequent problem for the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit. This is an issue that future lunar missions will also have to come to terms with.

“Currently, there are not that many missions into that (cis-lunar) space yet,” Carolin Frueh (Purdue University) told UniverseToday. “From that perspective, we ‘know what is going on,’ but as we do not have established surveillance in that region (yet), we are lacking a lot of information, especially in terms of deep-space objects coming into that region and in terms of debris objects.”

Close Calls in Cis-lunar Space

Recent events highlight just how busy things are already getting around the Moon. A recent lunar rocket booster crash on the farside of the Moon in early 2022 was one such example. Originally thought to belong to SpaceX, the booster was later identified as a Long March rocket upper stage belonging to China.

And speaking of close calls, NASA’s venerable Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was recently actually seen during a pass by the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter’s (KPLO) ShadowCam instrument at range of only 18 kilometers.

KLPO’s ShadowCam sees a blurred pass of NASA’s LRO spacecraft.

The Four-Body Problem

The gulf of space between the Earth and the Moon is vast. About a quarter of a million miles across, this region is also poorly policed by Earth-based radars and telescopes tasked with tracking space junk. Assets in space in orbit around the Earth (or better yet the Moon) would do a better job, though none are in place as of yet.

“The near Earth environment is dominated by the Earth, for a satellite we speak of two-body geometry,” says Frueh. “Significantly above the geosynchronous region, the gravity of the Moon is more than a mere small perturbation on a two-body orbit and we speak of three-body geometry. Four-body geometry comes into play when e.g. regarding the Earth, Moon, and Sun’s gravitational effects. As the Sun is a large gravitational body it is, of course, a perturbation on the two-body and the three body orbits. The four-body geometry is especially relevant when we want to evaluate if objects, in the near and mid-term, stay in the cis-lunar (Earth-Moon) region, or will leave that region (however, might come back again at a much later time).”

Frueh uses light curves to predict imminent break up events for satellites in Earth orbit. This can also be applied to the Moon.

“In my own work, I leveraged the four-body
Did you miss our previous article…

Continue Reading

Frontier Adventure

Iran Sent a Capsule Capable of Holding Animals into Orbit.

Ham the chimp cropped 575x1024 1

Despite popular opinion, the first animals in space were not dogs or chimps, they were fruit flies launched by the United States in February 1947. The Soviet Union launched Laika, the first dog into space in November 1957 and now, it seems Iran is getting in on the act. A 500kg capsule known as the “indigenous bio-capsule” with life support capability was recently launched atop the Iranian “Salman” rocket. It has been reported by some agencies that there were animals on board but no official statement has been released.

The Iranian Space Agency (ISA) are gearing up to getting humans into space before 2029 but is testing its launch capability with animal passengers. The capsule was launched on December 6 2023 and attained an orbital altitude of 130 kilometres. According to their Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour, it is aimed at sending Iranian astronauts to space by 2029.

The “Salaman” solid-fuelled rocket was designed by the aerospace division of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology and built and launched by the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics. It has already been used to launch a data collecting satellite and in 2013 successfully sent and returned monkeys into space.

Ham the chimp cropped 575x1024 2
Ham, a chimpanzee, became the first great ape in space during his January 31, 1961, suborbital flight aboard Mercury-Redstone 2 (Credit : NASA)

To date, only three counties have human spaceflight capability; USA, Russia and China. India are attempting to become the fourth as they work on their Gaganyaan program. Will Iran become the fifth!? Iran plans further tests with further launches bearing animal occupants before attempting to send humans up.

According to the Iranian Space Agency, its satellite program is purely for scientific research and other civilian applications. There is however, international suspicion because there are suspicions that the Salamn rockets could very easily be converted to long range missiles.

Source : Iran says it sent a capsule capable of carrying animals into orbit as it prepares for human missions

The post Iran Sent a Capsule Capable of Holding Animals into Orbit. appeared first on Universe Today.

Did you miss our previous article…

Continue Reading

Frontier Adventure

What Could a Next Generation Event Horizon Telescope Do?

sagasize 1024x598 1 jpg

Telescopes have come a long way in a little over four hundred years! It was 1608 that Dutch spectacle maker Hans Lippershey who was said to be working with a case of myopia and, in working with lenses discovered the magnifying powers if arranged in certain configurations. Now, centuries on and we have many different telescope designs and even telescopes in orbit but none are more incredible than the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Images las year revealed the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy and around M87 but now a team of astronomers have explored the potential of an even more powerful system the Next Generation EHT (ngEHT).

There is no doubt that our understanding of the processes within our Universe have come on leaps and bounds since the invention of the telescope. The resolution of these space piercing instruments is dictated by the telescope’s aperture. The technique known as interferometry hooks individual telescopes together and combines their signal so they act as one BIG telescope, boosting the resolution. 

Telescopes like the EHT have been using interferometry to great advantage to study black holes. These enigmatic and mysterious stellar corpses defy our probing; we do not fully understand their origins and processes and indeed our laws of physics break down if you get too close to the point source in the centre, the singularity. Due to their interaction with space and time, understanding the full nature of black holes will – hopefully – unlock our understanding of the Universe. 

Previously, observations have only revealed the movement of stars around galactic centre suggesting an object was lurking there weighing in at around 4 million times the mass of the Sun. Data from the EHT collected during 2022, finally revealed an image of the object at the centre – SgrA* – a super massive black hole and the matter in the immediate vicinity of the event horizon. Whilst this image did not reveal the black hole itself – another article required to explain that – it certainly revealed the telltale signs. 

sagasize 1024x598 2 jpg
Sag A* compared to M87* and the orbit of Mercury. Credit: EHT collaboration

A recently published paper explores the possibilities of the ngEHT and how they might be able to unpick some of the physics around black holes. The ngEHT will increase the geographical footprint of EHT by 10 further instruments that span across the Earth.  Making use of the significant improvement in resolution, the ngEHT will also improve image dynamics range, provide a multi-wavelength capability and facilitate long term monitoring. 

The team conclude that future enhancements in measurement sensitivity and data analysis techniques in ngEHT will substantially advance our understanding of black holes and the immediate environments surrounding them with particular focus on the photon ring, mass and spin analysis, binary supermassive black holes and more besides.

Source : Fundamental Physics Opportunities with the Next-Generation Event Horizon Telescope

The post What Could a Next Generation Event Horizon Telescope Do? appeared first on Universe Today.

Did you miss our previous article…

Continue Reading

Frontier Adventure

Déjà vu All Over Again: Backpacking in Glacier National Park

By Michael Lanza

In the second week of September, the cool air in the shade of the forest nips at our cheeks as we leave our first night’s camp beside Glenns Lake in the backcountry of Glacier National Park, starting at a reasonably early hour for a day where we will walk nearly 16 miles and 6,000 feet of combined uphill and downhill. I’m hiking in a fleece hoodie, pants, and gloves and my friends Pam Solon and Jeff Wilhelm are similarly layered up. Once the sun reaches us within an hour, we’ll strip down to shorts and T-shirts.

Where the trail crosses a meadow, the expansive view west across a calm and insistently blue Cosley Lake reveals what looks like a long wall of overlapping stone shields jammed into the earth, each 2,000 or more feet tall and tilting at different angles. At the lake’s outlet—now in warm sunshine—we ford the Belly River, ankle- to calf-deep here with just a few tiny riffles and not very cold. More hiking through quiet forest brings us to the refrigerated, cliff-shaded alcove below Dawn Mist Falls, which spills thunderously over a sheer drop and crashes onto fallen boulders at its base, its force releasing a perpetual mist. Moss wallpapers the alcove’s short cliffs.

A backpacker hiking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Pam Solon backpacking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ src=”″ alt=”A backpacker hiking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.” class=”wp-image-61144″ srcset=” 1024w, 300w, 768w, 150w, 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Pam Solon backpacking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.

After a thoroughly relaxing lunch break on the pebbly beach at Elizabeth Lake—where the perfect combination of solar warmth and soft breeze probably converts in direct value to about a thousand hours of counseling—we start the long climb to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. Reaching the open alpine terrain, I repeatedly stop to spin 180 degrees and take big bites of our view of the valley of Helen and Elizabeth lakes and the peaks on the other side, which shelter what remains of a couple of glaciers in the shade of north-facing cliffs just below the mountaintops.

I’ve backpacked this trail before; this isn’t new to me. But time slowly renders a bit fuzzier the memory of how constantly breathtaking it is—which is, in a funny way, a gift to us: We get to experience that awe anew each time.

Everyone laughed when the legendary Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” but I think I knew what he meant.

Continue Reading