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Fan Ho

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about us. All of us. I’ve spent most of this year writing about how connected we all are but lately something that’s been nagging at me is hope and how to handle it. We’ve been doing this little dance with it, wanting to get so close but we’re afraid if we do we’ll lose it again.

I’ve seen it appear this year in various ways — in the head nods we now give each other on the streets, the extra kindnesses we are sure to offer to strangers that we would have never done…


In orbit, the human body changes in unexpected ways

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Photo: Level Ex

All astronauts must go through rigorous medical training to prepare for space. They need to know that, say, if a fellow astronaut experiences chest pains on a spaceship en route to Mars, a crew member must ultrasound their heart — which will look oddly spherical compared to a heart on Earth. NASA’s medical training, however, is complicated by the very limited data on astronaut health. Only a few hundred people have ever been to space, and even fewer have been on long-duration flights. …


Space Time

50 years after the first moon landing, humans are trying to reach the lunar surface again. They’ll stay longer if astronauts can find and mine water.

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Photo: Hartmuth Kintzel/500px/Getty Images

The Earth and our moon are made of many of the same ingredients. We know that the moon was likely created out of material from our planet because we share the same isotopes, making us the solar system equivalent of fraternal twins. When the astronauts of Apollo 11 took off from Earth 50 years ago today, they were visiting a long-lost relative.

In the images sent back by Apollo 11, the moon looked like an airless wasteland. But like the Earth, the moon also has water, as well as hydrated minerals called hydroxyl. This abundance of hydrogen could have been…


Space Time

Tech titans like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk want human beings to move off-planet, but reproducing away from Earth could be incredibly difficult

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Credit: World Perspectives/Getty Images

The romantic lure of space travel runs deep. It’s difficult not to look up at a sparkling night sky and wonder what it might be like to pass beyond the confines of the Earth. It’s not just science fiction — plans to colonize the moon and Mars are spreading throughout the private space industry. Jeff Bezos — who funds the rocket company Blue Origin — recently unveiled his ambitions to one day build floating space stations called O’Neill colonies. …


Space Time

How astronomers are tapping the public to name 2007 OR10

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The dwarf planet 2007 OR10. Credit: NASA

There are many distant objects that orbit beyond Neptune — the most famous of which, of course, is Pluto. But far beyond Neptune are numerous dwarf planets that range from Pluto-sized — 4,500 miles across — to even smaller and stranger. Some are shaped like footballs and others like perfect circles with orbits that take them further out than any astronomer ever expected to find a planetary object.

In 2007, three astronomers discovered one of the largest dwarf planets ever, coming in behind Pluto in mass and size. Its formal designation became 2007 OR10, marked for the year it was…


Space Time

Space is far from silent, and we can learn a lot if we know how to listen

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Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Like many other planets in the solar system, Mars was once very geologically active. It had massive volcanoes and rivers and lakes of water. It may also have experienced internal quakes — marsquakes.

When NASA’s InSight lander touched base on Mars in November 2018, the spacecraft brought with it a suite of instruments to study the interior of the planet. One of these instruments is an extremely sensitive and custom-made seismometer called SEIS, which is used on Mars to detect any marsquakes taking place deep in the planet’s interior. Last week, NASA announced that the InSight team caught the first…


Space Time

A new study of astronaut twins — one who spent a record time in orbit, the other who stayed on Earth — offers a clearer understanding of how space travel affects the human body

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Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty

In 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly journeyed to the International Space Station (ISS), where he spent a year orbiting Earth. It was the longest single stretch of time any American had spent in space and gave scientists an opportunity to study how the body changes while in orbit. Even better, Scott Kelly has a twin brother, Mark Kelly, also an astronaut, who served as a scientific control on Earth, allowing researchers to precisely compare the two.

This was the most complex and in-depth study of human spaceflight to date. The average time any astronaut spends on the ISS typically maxes…


Here’s how they did it

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Credit: Handout/Getty Images

Of all the enigmatic phenomena in our universe, there’s perhaps one that has captured our attention and imagination the most, even though we had never actually seen one: the black hole. These space objects are so dense that even light cannot escape their grip. Ever since Einstein first proposed their existence, we’ve made simulations, art, and CGI versions of what we imagine black holes could look like. But it wasn’t until this morning that we saw a black hole for the first time. We have finally gazed into the cosmic abyss.

On Wednesday morning, teams of scientists around the world…


Space Time

Former astronaut Mark Kelly is running for Senate. He may join a small club of astronaut politicians.

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Credit: NASA/Getty Images

Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly recently announced his candidacy for Senate in Arizona, in a 2020 special election for the seat of the late John McCain. Kelly, who is running as a Democrat, released a long list on Monday of Arizona politicians who support his campaign. And if he’s successful — Kelly raised $1.1 million in the first two days of his campaign — he will join a short list of American astronauts turned politicos.

Many people dream of becoming astronauts, and it’s easy to see why: They get to travel to space, leave our planet behind, and experience zero…


Space Time

Scientists are begging NASA to go back to Uranus and Neptune

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Credit: SCIEPRO/Getty Images

Until NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft reached Uranus and Neptune in the 1980s, the outer planets were simply fuzzy blobs that could only be viewed through ground-based telescopes. We had no idea what they actually looked like.

But when Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Uranus in 1986, the space probe revealed a light teal planet with rings. Three years after the Uranus flyby, Voyager 2 introduced us to Neptune, a vibrant ultramarine blue planet with a dark oval storm that penetrated deep into the atmosphere. Suddenly these two ambiguous blobs became real worlds — as real as our own…

Shannon Stirone

Freelance writer in the Bay Area

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