NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter gets an in-flight view of Mars’ creamy-red coloring, the Super Flower Blood Moon shines in the sky and astronomers identify the oldest spiral galaxy in the universe after digging through an array’s photo archive. These are some of the top photos this week from Space.com.
Nichelle Nichols stars in new documentary
Actor Nichelle Nichols recounts her role in expanding diversity at NASA in the new documentary “Woman in Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA.” Nichols is best-known for playing Uhura on “Star Trek,” but her role as a fictional space professional extended into real life when, in 1975, she got on a mission to bring women and minorities into NASA’s corps. This new documentary, available on the streaming service Paramount+, follows Nichols’ journey to diversify NASA’s astronaut class.
Oldest spiral galaxy in the universe
This image shows BRI 1335-0417, the oldest spiral galaxy in the universe. This ancient galaxy was a giant for its time, having formed 12.4 billion years ago or 1.4 billion years after the Big Bang. It’s about a third the size of the Milky Way, Earth’s galactic home. Astronomers identified BRI 1335-0417 after rediscovering a forgotten photo taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile.
VSS Unity’s test flight
The view from Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity space plane during its third crewed spaceflight, which took place on May 22, 2021. Unity is in the final stages of its test campaign, and it will likely conduct several more test flights before it’s ready to carry paying customers. If the space plane’s testing goes well, commercial operations could begin in early 2022, Virgin Galactic representatives said recently.
Unity reached suborbital space by lifting off beneath the wing of its carrier plane, VMS Eve, which took off from Virgin Galactic’s commercial hub in New Mexico. A little less than an hour after takeoff, Eve reached an altitude of 44,000 feet (13,411 meters). Eve then released Unity, which fired up its rocket motor to get itself into suborbital space.
Ingenuity views Martian landscape
When NASA’s Perseverance rover arrived on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, it carried within itself an interplanetary chopper demonstration. This rotorcraft, aptly named Ingenuity, has flown several times into the Martian sky. This image of Mars’ creamy red-toned landscape was taken by Ingenuity from a height of 33 feet (10 meters) during its sixth flight, on May 22, 2021. This flight didn’t go entirely smoothly, however: Ingenuity suffered a glitch that created inaccurate timestamps and caused the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California to lose an image.
Bondi Beach’s Super Flower Blood Moon
Spectators watch the total lunar eclipse of May 26, 2021, from Bondi Beach in Australia, as photographed by Steven Saphore. A total lunar eclipse appears in the sky when the moon occasionally passes through Earth’s shadow. The red color that decorated this month’s full moon is actually sunlight refracted by Earth’s atmosphere, turning the shadow a rusty color instead of leaving it pitch black. The only other lunar eclipse of the year will occur on Nov. 19, but it will be a partial eclipse.
Astronauts snap lunar eclipse from International Space Station
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station captured the Super Flower Blood Moon lunar eclipse on Wednesday (May 26) as they hurtled around the planet at 17,900 mph (8 kps). The space station, orbiting at the altitude of 260 miles (400 km), completes one round around Earth in about 90 minutes, which means the astronauts must have gotten a shorter glimpse of the celestial spectacle than stargazers on Earth. The advantage of the space-based vantage point, however, was the perfectly cloudless sky.
Wednesday’s eclipse, the only total lunar eclipse of 2021, was best observable from the Pacific region including Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Papua New Guinea, but skywatchers in the western part of the Americas and eastern Asia got to enjoy at least some parts of it, even though many observers were left disappointed by cloudy weather at their location. — Tereza Pultarova
Astronauts test reaction times with the help of virtual reality
Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide floating inside the International Space Station with a virtual reality headset as part of a European Space Agency (ESA) experiment designed to measure how the microgravity environment affects reaction times. Hoshide’s colleague, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who oversaw the experiment, tweeted the image on Wednesday (May 26).
According to ESA, astronauts’ perceptions of distances are skewed in microgravity and since perceptions of time and space are believed to be governed by the same neural processes, scientists want to know whether the perception of time is also affected. In the past, astronauts reacted to prompts on a laptop screen, but Pesquet explained in the recent tweet that the VR headset blocks out other visual impulses more effectively, which results in more precise data. — Tereza Pultarova
Lighting up the Super Flower Blood Moon
A man looks towards the supermoon full moon and the Milky Way on May 26, 2021, in Rylstone, Australia in this image by photographer Mark Evans for Getty Images. The observer’s flashlight appears to reach toward the moon in this image. It occurred during a total lunar eclipse, the only one of 2021, in an event billed as the Super Flower Blood Moon.
You can see a video of the lunar eclipse here, as well as images and early reactions from stargazers. For more photos, check out our gallery below. — Tariq Malik
Moon spaceship splashes in a pool
NASA’s Orion space capsule, a key piece of technology that will enable humanity’s return to the moon in 2023, has completed its fourth and final water impact test at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
During the test, a structural replica of the spacecraft was swung from the height of 80 feet (24 meters) and the distance of 135 feet (41 meters) into an impact pool, hitting the water surface at 41 miles per hour (65 kilometers per hour). The data generated during the experiment will help engineers finetune the structural design of the capsule ahead of its uncrewed launch in November this year. The spacecraft will now be sent back to the facilities of aerospace company Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor responsible for the development and assembly of the capsule for NASA. — Tereza Pultarova
Wildfires erupt in Canada as early heatwave arrives
Plumes of smoke rising from wildfires that erupted in the Canadian province of Manitoba after the arrival of an early heatwave have been captured by NASA’s Earth-observation satellite Aqua last week.
While the second week of May still saw ice covering most of Lake Winnipeg, by May 19 temperatures in the region soared to 86 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit (30° and 33° Celsius). Southern Manitoba as well as the neighboring Saskatchewan have been suffering from lack of rain since last fall, which has resulted in extreme drought that makes the area vulnerable to wildfire outbreaks. In the image, captured May 18, thick billows of smoke spread to the northwest towards Hudson Bay and into the Canadian interior. Fires have been reported in other locations as well. The indigenous Misipawistik Cree and Lake St. Martin First Nations communities were encouraged to evacuate. — Tereza Pultarova