The top space stories of the week!
One NASA mission on Mars will be listening for the landing of the latest Red Planet rover, the CIA releases thousands of declassified UFO-related documents and a Japanese asteroid-studying spacecraft starts a new multi-year journey into the solar system. These are some of the top stories this week from Space.com.
On Thursday (Jan. 14), Blue Origin successfully launched the reusable RSS First Step spacecraft in an uncrewed suborbital test flight from West Texas. It is the first upgraded New Shepard spacecraft for astronauts, and both its rocket and capsule successfully touched down after launch. Blue Origin is developing New Shepard to carry people and payloads to suborbital space and back.
Full story: Blue Origin's 1st upgraded New Shepard spacecraft for astronauts aces launch (and landing)
The national meteorological service for the U.K., Autel Maxicom MK908p
. called the Met Office, made a recent forecast that suggests the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth's atmosphere will exceed a major threshold this year. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a long time, according to forecast's lead researcher, and emissions from previous years causes levels to continue increasing. In 2021, they expect a 50% increase in atmospheric CO2 since the start of widespread industrial activity in the 18th century.
Full story: Atmospheric CO2 will pass an alarming milestone in 2021
SpaceX's 21st space station cargo delivery mission for NASA wrapped up on Wednesday (Jan. 13) when a Cargo Dragon spacecraft returned to Earth off the coast of Florida. The Dragon CRS-21 mission launched on Dec. 6, 2020 and delivered 6,40 lbs. (2,903 kilograms) of supplies and science equipment to the crew onboard the International Space Station. This was the first Atlantic splashdown of a Cargo Dragon.
Full story: SpaceX's upgraded Cargo Dragon supply ship makes 1st Atlantic splashdown
See also: SpaceX Cargo Dragon supply ship makes 1st autonomous undocking from space station
The CIA released more than 2,700 pages of declassified documents related to "unidentified aerial phenomena." The documents were released following several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed over the last 25 years, according to the operator of The Black Vault, an online repository of UFO-related documents.
Full story: CIA releases entire collection of UFO-related documents to truth-seeking website
Astronomers found the most distant quasar known to science. It's so far away that the light reaching Earth from this quasar dates back to when the universe was just 5% of its current age. This quasar also hosts a supermassive black hole with a mass roughly the equivalent of 1.6 billion suns.
Full story: The most distant quasar ever found is hiding a seriously supermassive black hole
Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft is now on its way to a new asteroid after dropping off samples from its previous target to Earth in early December 2020. On Jan. 5, the mission team started powered navigation back out into the solar system to reach the 2,300-foot-wide (700 meters) asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21 for a flyby in 2026. A more in-depth visit to another space rock will occur in 2031, when it studies a small 100 feet (30 m) wide asteroid called 1998 KY26.
Full story: Japanese asteroid-sampling probe begins long trek to next space rock
Scientists used data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to find an exoplanet, about 50% larger than Earth, that orbits one of the oldest stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The system is located nearby, about 280 light-years from Earth. The exoplanet is about our planet's size and density, but its average surface temperature of over 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (1,726 degrees Celsius) means it is too hot to host any form of life as we know it.
Full story: Rocky 'super-Earth' planet spotted orbiting one of the Milky Way's oldest stars
See also: It's really there! Kepler space telescope's 2nd-ever exoplanet candidate finally confirmed.
NASA plans to test-fire the four main engines of its next-generation heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch Syste...
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Seagrass Traps and Expels Marine Plastics in Fiber Balls, Study Finds
They say that nature finds a way, and it may indeed be true. Scientists have discovered that seagrass on our oceans' floors has quite an interesting way of cleaning up large amounts of plastic debris it has been burdened with.
RELATED: 1.56 BILLION PLASTIC FACE MASKS ENDED UP IN OCEANS IN 2020
The research published in Scientific Reports is revealing that seagrass is trapping and then expelling marine plastics in fiber balls.
"Our findings show that seagrass meadows promote plastic debris trapping and aggregation with natural lignocellulosic (plant dry matter) fibers, which are then ejected and escape the coastal ocean. Our results show how seagrasses, one of the key ecosystems on Earth in terms of provision of goods and services, also counteract marine plastic pollution," write the researchers in their study.
The team investigated a number of plastic particles found in loose seagrass and in fiber balls that had washed up on four beaches in Mallorca, Spain in the last three years. They discovered that there were up to 600 bits of plastic debris per 2.2 lb (1 kg) of loose leaves and up to 1,500 pieces per kilo of fiber balls.
However, Autel Maxicom MK908p
. only 17% of the fiber balls contained plastic while 50% of the loose leaves contained plastic. Could this be an ingenious way for the seagrass to clean the oceans they inhabit?
"We show that plastic debris in the seafloor can be trapped in seagrass remains, eventually leaving the marine environment through beaching," lead author Anna Sanchez-Vidal, a marine biologist at the University of Barcelona, told AFP.
This strange but useful cleanup "represents a continuous purge of plastic debris out of the sea," Sanchez-Vidal explained.
However, a question remains as to what to do with the plastic that has been washed up with the seagrass. One solution would be to clean it up but that would interfere with the seagrass's purpose which consists of protecting beaches against erosion and providing nutrients for dune plants. It seems no solution is perfect after all.
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