Issues Magazine

Articles about astronomy

The Psychology of a Voyage to Mars

By Adelma M. Hills

A crewed mission to Mars is expected to occur before the middle of this century, but we must not underestimate the challenges involved, not to mention the enormous cost.

Significant engineering challenges will face a voyage to Mars and back, as beyond the thin shield of the Earth’s atmosphere we enter a realm entirely hostile to human survival. Anyone venturing into that realm must take everything they need, including a robust habitat that provides protection from all the hazards that exist; a propulsion system; and all their air, water, food and medical supplies. If this isn’t challenge enough, ways must also be found to deal with the many physical effects of space flight, especially those due to the lack of gravity.

There Is Something New under the Sun

By Mike Wheatland

Sunspots have attracted scientific attention since the time of Galileo, but only recently has the influence of the spots on human affairs been understood.

Extreme space weather storms are driven by solar activity, which originates at sunspots. These storms influence the Earth in many ways, and present particular hazards to our modern technology-dependent society. The link between solar activity and climate is also a hot topic.

The Kingdom of Quietness

By Helen Sim

In their quest to hear the faintest radio whispers from the universe, radio astronomers have come to Boolardy, one of the most “radio-quiet” places on Earth.

Under the blue bowl of the sky, the flat red land, dotted with mulga scrub, stretches out in grand silence. Over a couple of kilometres, smooth white antennae sprout upwards in an apparently haphazard pattern.

Light Pollution

By Nick Lomb

What are the effects of too much light in our towns and cities, and how can that light be reduced? As well as increasing the visibility of the stars and planets, improving lighting has many other benefits.

It is indeed a feeble light that reaches us from the starry sky. But what would human thought have achieved if we could not see the stars …? Jean Perrin, French physicist and Nobel Prize winner

Launching Social Media in Space

By Remco Timmermans

After the space industry’s decline in popularity, the new face of space has been born via social media.

The space industry has always been a public industry. Government agencies like NASA and ESA developed and launched our space infrastructure: people in orbit and on the Moon, probes to the outer solar system, weather satellites, navigation satellites and the International Space Station circling the planet. The public elected these governments and supported these space projects. Society loved this pioneering endeavour: people like Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong and Yang Liwei became instant heroes and examples to children all over the world.

The Deep Space Network: Connecting the Solar System and Beyond

By Glen Nagle

It’s quite incredible to see groundbreaking space events unfold live on television and on the internet, but who or what connects us to them? Around the world, a unique communication system and a dedicated team of people bring the universe down to Earth.

On 24 December 2013, as we all prepared to celebrate another Christmas on Earth, a special milestone was reached in the history of space exploration. On that day, 50 years ago, NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) was established.

The DSN is a worldwide system of large antenna dish facilities capable of two-way radio communication with multiple robotic spacecraft. The network provides 24/7 coverage to every part of the solar system and beyond.

Satellites, Climate and Extreme Events

By Alexander Held

Data from satellites is essential to Australia’s monitoring, forecasting and long-term planning for both weather and climate.

Australia is one of the top users of satellite data worldwide. Even though Australians don’t own or operate any “Earth-observing” or “global positioning or navigation” satellites, this data has been widely embraced ever since the first such satellites were launched in the 1970s. The total area we regularly map and monitor from space has been estimated as close to one-eighth of the Earth’s surface.

Crowded Space: The Problem of Orbital Debris

By Kerrie Dougherty

The orbiting detritus of humanity’s exploration and exploitation of space poses a growing threat to operational space systems and crewed spaceflight activities.

The 2013 space thriller film Gravity, in which two astronauts become stranded in space after a cloud of fragments from an exploded satellite destroys their space shuttle, vividly depicts one of the major issues impacting on current and future space activities – the problem of “space junk”, or orbital debris.

Astrobiology: Building a More Unified Account of Reality

By Charley Lineweaver

The new science of astrobiology is part of the human quest for self-knowledge.

Here Come the Giants

By Helen Sim

“The Hubble” is winding down, but several large land-based and one space-based telescope are poised to be its successors.

Think of astronomy and you probably think of the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990, it now seems to have been with us forever. Not only has “the Hubble” been incredibly scientifically productive – by 2011 its data had been used in 10,000 scientific papers – but its images have grabbed the public’s imagination. So much so, they’ve become part of the wallpaper of our lives.

The Hubble is a versatile telescope: its four main instruments observe in the near-ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared regions of the spectrum.

How Do We Know When Voyager Reaches Interstellar Space?

By NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Whether and when NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, humankind’s most distant object, broke through to interstellar space has been a thorny issue.

For the past year, claims have surfaced every few months that Voyager 1 has “left our solar system”. Why has the Voyager team held off from saying the craft reached interstellar space until now?

“We have been cautious because we’re dealing with one of the most important milestones in the history of exploration,” said Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Only now do we have the data – and the analysis – we needed.”

Asteroid Mining Will Happen … but Australia Will Miss the Boom

By Duncan Steel

Australia was well-placed to be involved in the next mining boom until it cancelled its research into near-Earth asteroids. But is the extraction of minerals and water from passing asteroids a valid prospect or a flight of fancy?

There will be a future mining boom, as heralded in recent media stories. But this mining will take place in a location even more hostile than the Australian outback – space. More specifically, the ore bodies that comprise the myriad asteroids we now know are whizzing by our planet with alarming frequency.

The publicity blitz was provoked by the formation of a new US-based company named Planetary Resources. The company is backed by film director James Cameron and a host of well-known billionaires who made their fortunes in the aerospace and internet industries.