The blue areas in this composite image show water concentrated at the Moon's poles. Homing in on the spectra of rocks there, researcher found signs of hematite, a form of rust. (ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown University/USGS)

Sky News This Week: September 16, 2020

In the news recently, the Canadian Space Agency named a new president, three stars mess up a planetary disc, and a new search for E.T. finds nothing so far.

Canadian Space Agency announces new president

Lisa Campbell, a former associate deputy minister for Veterans Affairs Canada, will be the new president of the Canadian Space Agency. She replaces Sylvain Laporte, who is retiring after being president since 2015. Campbell will serve as the first permanent female president of the CSA, although other women have been president before on an interim basis. Campbell takes over an agency busy working on big projects for Canada’s space future, such as a robotic Canadarm3 to secure astronaut access to space through NASA in the coming decade.

Source: Government of Canada

The airless Moon is somehow rusting

The blue areas in this composite image show water concentrated at the Moon’s poles. Homing in on the spectra of rocks there, researcher found signs of hematite, a form of rust. (ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown University/USGS)

Researchers are puzzled why hematite, a form of rust that usually needs oxygen and water to form, has been found on Earth’s Moon. The Moon has no substantial atmosphere and as such, its only large forms of change are space radiation and the occasional meteorite strike. The hematite was found in old data from the Indian Chandrayaan-1 orbiter, whose mission has now concluded. It’s possible that the oxygen came from Earth, and researchers are doing more investigation to figure out what caused the oxygen to create rust.

Source: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Triple star system tears apart a planet nursery

In just another signal of how hard it is to form life in the universe, astronomers spotted a cloud of dust and gas that could form planets – but which is under substantial threat. Three stars embedded in the cloud, which is roughly 1,000 light-years from Earth, have torn apart the cloud of gas and created lopsided planetary discs with their powerful gravities. It’s unclear if any planets have formed in the chaos, but the hope is the European Extremely Large Telescope can get a better look after it sees first light later in the 2020s.

Source: European Southern Observatory

Japanese space station experiment suggests microbes could survive trip to Mars

Disinfecting Red Planet missions before launch appears more important than ever. A Japanese experiment mounted outside the International Space Station, called Tanpopo, showed certain bacteria from our planet may survive long enough in space to make it all the way from Earth to Mars during a normal six-month journey. “Understanding such resilience is important for sample return missions like MMX [Martian Moons Exploration] to ensure samples from other planets present no risk to life on Earth,” a Twitter account from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

Source: Martian Moons @ JAXA (Twitter)

E.T. proves hard to find

An Australian radio telescope has examined 10 million star systems, finding no sign of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The Murchison Widefield Array conducted the search around the Vela constellation for 17 hours at frequencies similar to FM radio, but has found nothing so far. The study was done “hundreds of times more broadly than any previous search for extraterrestrial life,” according to investigators. That said, this was a relatively limited period of time and in a small section of the sky, so astronomers aren’t giving up hope yet.

Source: International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

Elizabeth Howell (Ph.D.) is a Canadian space journalist who has been obsessed with the topic ever since she, as a young teenager, saw the movie Apollo 13 in 1996. She grew up wanting to be an astronaut. While that hasn’t happened (yet), Elizabeth has seen five human spaceflight launches — including two from Kazakhstan — and she participated in a simulated Red Planet mission at the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.