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Space Science

A Star is Born: The Life Cycle of Stars

by Valeria Moreno Lopez, age 16

Every single birth of a star in the sky begins in an immense cloud of gas, dust, and debris. These colorful clouds are called nebulae, cosmic wonders that swirl around space undisturbed for millions of years.

In the beginning stages of a star’s formation, many occurrences in space can cause a nebula to warp and change its structure. As a result, it will collapse on its own gravity, shrink, and spin faster until it leaves a hot and bright core called a protostar. After the young star is formed, it cannot be seen immediately due to debris surrounding it. Thousands of years later, the star will be able to gather enough heat to engulf anything around it. Finally, when temperatures reach about 27 million degrees, the atoms at the core stick together to emit huge amounts of energy. Thus, lighting the star.

Often, stars are categorized by their mass: lightweight, middleweight, or heavyweight. [Read More]

First Plant Successfully Sprouts in Lunar Soil

by Daniel Li, age 15

The first seeds to ever sprout in lunar soil poked their heads above moon dirt at the University of Florida in May. Decades of research and experimentation led to this breakthrough which marks the first time terrestrial plants have grown in extra-terrestial soil. It also offers hope that astronauts will one day be able to grow food on the moon.

Three scientists from the University of Florida filled 12 pots of soil from the space expeditions Apollo 11, 12, and 17; 4 pots for each trip’s sample. They chose to use thale cress, a small flowering weed, due to its ability to grow in small amounts of dirt, which was important because NASA was frugal when providing the samples. Sixteen additional pots were filled with volcanic material from Earth, which is often used to mimic lunar soil. These pots were treated with the same nutrients and light levels to ensure unbiased results. Aside from these pots, there was also a control group of plants grown in soil samples from Earth.

The seeds did sprout, but compared to the control group, seedlings were not nearly as successful. The healthiest plants were smaller than they should have been, while the weakest were smaller still and had a sickly purple tint, a sign of plant stress. This is most likely due to the sharpness of the soil, caused by high amounts of metallic iron (compared to the oxidized iron in the Earth’s soil), and glass shards formed by lunar surface collisions. The soil also lacked many nutrients that plants require to grow such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. [Read More]

There’s a Chance the Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy Is Actually a Wormhole

by Allison Torres, age 14

Writers that love science fiction like the idea of wormholes. Go in a wormhole, and it might transfer you to another place in time.

Physicists have taken the time to study and talk about what it might actually look like inside a black hole. There could be a wormhole in the middle of our galaxy. One way scientists are able to confirm that wormholes exist would be to go through a black hole and see if there is a hidden bridge. Although, this would be a rare occurrence, since the Milky Way is more of a door than a dead end. They could also probably figure out if there is any presence of existing life on the other side.

Researchers have found that orbits of stars, such as S2, have been orbiting a giant black hole for years. Scientists say that if this star or other stars feel existence on the other side of a black hole then the star would perform a peculiar dance. It could begin to move and jump in unusual ways that signify a possible wormhole. Astronomers are planning to measure the orbit of the star S2 so they can narrow it down. [Read More]

Webb Space Telescope Sends New Images to Scientists on Planet Earth

by Ashley Mercado, age 13

NASA has finally revealed the first set of beautiful images taken from a new space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope. The first picture from the Space Telescope was a plethora of distant galaxies that go deeper than scientists have ever seen. NASA says the new Webb Telescope will eventually replace the Hubble Telescope. Some of Webb’s images show areas of the universe Hubble has already studied, and some show areas Hubble could not reach.

Webb used infrared light which allowed scientists to obtain a clearer images and show places they have not yet studied. NASA administrator Bill Nelson said, “Every image is a new discovery and each will give humanity a view of the universe that we’ve never seen before.” In the new images, astronomers are looking for two nebulae: the Southern Ring Nebula and the Carina Nebula. They are also looking for five galaxies, known as Stephan’s Quintet, as well as the recently discovered gas planet called WASP-96b.

The strong telescope launched last December from French Guiana in South America and reached its final destination one million miles away in January. The telescope contains many requirements that must be met it in order to take pictures. For example, the telescope uses mirrors to focus its view on spots in space, so these mirrors have to be precisely aligned to function. [Read More]

Scientist Watch as Jupiter Comes Close to Planet Earth

by Allison Torres, age 14

Earlier this year, people were able to get a glimpse of Jupiter's rings and moons with only a telescope or binoculars. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and in September it passed closer to Earth than it has in 59 years.

Jupiter is at opposition, meaning Earth is halfway between the planet and the sun, with about 367 million miles between Earth and Jupiter. At its farthest point, Earth and Jupiter are about 600 million miles apart. Patrick Hartigan, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University in Houston, said the planet would rise around sunset and look pearly white to the naked eye.

Three to four of Jupiter’s moons could also potentially be seen, one named Europa. Trina L. Ray is a science manager for the Europa Clipper mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Since I am working on a spacecraft that we are going to send to the Jupiter system to explore Europa, I'm always excited to see Jupiter and even Europa with my own eyes,” she said. Many scientists were excited to see Europa, as they believe there could be life on Jupiter's moon, according to “The Guardian.” [Read More]

Eerie Double Aurora Lights Up Northern Sky

by Emily Rodriguez Lima, age 13

Two different auroras have appeared together at the same time with colors resembling a watermelon: green on the bottom and red on top. This phenomenon was seen by amateur astronomer Alan Dyers. Dyers was outside his house when he saw a beautiful display of the Northern Lights up in the sky. He took out his camera to record this unique image; his recording is the most complete recording of this special aurora.

This aurora differs from other Northern Lights, not only because of its unusual colors, but because of how these colors are made. The color green is a standard aurora, which comes from protons raining down into Earth's magnetic field. This causes the protons to bump into atoms and electrons.

The red part of the aurora has already been seen in other auroras, however astronomers do not know how it is made. The color red of this aurora is new to both astronomers and scientists and is believed to come from magnetic fields that heat up in certain parts of the Earth’s atmosphere, which can knock some particles around. They believe that when electron rain appears, it triggers the red aurora. [Read More]

Would You Want to Live on Neptune?

by Dilma Attidekou, age 8

Neptune, the smallest out of all outer planets, is known for its blue color. Methane is the reason for its color. Neptune has less then four percent of methane within its atmosphere.

Neptune is very far from Earth, approximately 2.5 billion miles away. Pluto is usually farther from the sun than Neptune, but once every 248 years, Pluto crosses in front of Neptune. The planet has enormous storms, but they don’t last as long as Jupiter's great Red Spot.

Neptune takes 165 Earth years to orbit around the sun. Due to the planet's orbit being almost a perfect circle, its seasons are all of even length. Neptune’s climate and seasons are different from Earth’s seasons. [Read More]

What Will Happen to Earth When the Sun Dies?

by Juan Esteban Palma Zuluaga, age 10

Our sun, like other stars, will die. Stars only shine as long as they have a source of energy, and eventually that gives out.

The sun converts 700 million tons of hydrogen in its core into 695 million tons of helium to create its own energy, but once all the hydrogen in its core has fused, the sun will begin to run out of fuel. When the sun dies, it will not only impact the Earth, but the entire solar system.

The sun was born about 4.6 billion years ago, it is believed the sun is about halfway through its life. In around 5 billion years, nuclear fusion will be impossible inside the sun. The sun will then run out of hydrogen in its core. When that finishes, it will convert the hydrogen in its outer layers. [Read More]

From the Big Bang to Humankind: How Life Emerged

by Julian Medina Ruiz, age 14

About 12 billion years ago, a big explosion, presently known as the “Big Bang,” created the universe.

The solar system we live in began to form 7.4 billion years ago. Earth was created by rock, ice, dust, and gas combining together. While forming, the Earth released an enormous amount of energy, causing the planet to heat up. For 100 million years, the components of planet Earth remained molten as they shifted into layers. Heavier minerals like iron and nickel, sank to the center and now form the dense core of the Earth, measuring 2,200 miles wide. The lighter minerals settled towards the surface of the Earth, creating its crust. The core and the crust are separated by 1,800 miles of molten rock, called the mantle. Certain lighter rocks gathered together to form “islands” or land.

Some scientists think that Earth’s crust cooled down, amino acids began to form, and over time, microscopic life emerged. Stanley Miller, a researcher from the University of Chicago showed that anyone can make amino acids just by using chemicals existing in a primitive atmosphere, water, and lightning. Amino acids are one of the basic components of life. [Read More]

Local Observatory Renamed For STEM Pioneer Jocelyn Bell Burnell

by Mariah Justice, age 17

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another,” said Greek philosopher Plato. With the renaming event on September 7 for the Bell Burnell Observatory— previously the Oscar Mayer Observatory—Madison has a new facility for cultivating the exploration of astronomy.

The history of the Bell Burnell Observatory dates back to 1880, when the director of the Washburn Observatory, located on University of Wisconsin-Madison's (UW) campus, felt there was too much student traffic for the University to only have one observatory. This notion spurred him to personally fund the construction of the student observatory, which was then called the Student Observatory. However, as Madison grew, light pollution obstructed both the Student and Washburn observatories, rendering the facilities obsolete.

In 1959, the UW offered to gift the Student Observatory to the Madison Astronomical Society (MAS) on the condition that MAS was able to finance a move to a different site. A year later, the observatory was officially relocated to its current location on the Promega Campus, and renamed the Oscar Mayer Observatory after the astronomer who funded its move. The observatory was in use for over two decades until light pollution resulting from Madison’s growth once again caused it to be inactive. [Read More]

Primera planta brota con éxito en suelo lunar

por Daniel Li, 15 años

Las primeras semillas que brotaron en suelo lunar asomaron sus cabezas por encima de la tierra lunar en la Universidad de Florida en mayo. Décadas de investigación y experimentación condujeron a este avance que marca la primera vez que las plantas terrestres crecen en suelo extraterrestre. También ofrece la esperanza de que algún día los astronautas puedan cultivar alimentos en la luna.

Tres científicos de la Universidad de Florida llenaron 12 macetas con tierra de las expediciones espaciales Apolo 11, 12 y 17; 4 botes para la muestra de cada viaje. Eligieron usar thale cress, una pequeña maleza con flores, debido a su capacidad para crecer en pequeñas cantidades de tierra, lo cual fue importante porque la NASA fue frugal al proporcionar las muestras. Dieciséis vasijas adicionales se llenaron con material volcánico de la Tierra, que a menudo se usa para imitar el suelo lunar. Estas macetas se trataron con los mismos nutrientes y niveles de luz para garantizar resultados imparciales. Además de estas macetas, también había un grupo de control de plantas cultivadas en muestras de suelo de la Tierra.

Las semillas brotaron, pero en comparación con el grupo de control, las plántulas no tuvieron tanto éxito. Las plantas más saludables eran más pequeñas de lo que deberían haber sido, mientras que las más débiles eran aún más pequeñas y tenían un tinte púrpura enfermizo, un signo de estrés de la planta. Lo más probable es que esto se deba a la nitidez del suelo, causada por grandes cantidades de hierro metálico (en comparación con el hierro oxidado en el suelo de la Tierra) y fragmentos de vidrio formados por colisiones en la superficie lunar. El suelo también carecía de muchos nutrientes que las plantas requieren para crecer, como fósforo, nitrógeno y potasio. [Read More]

New Space Rover Looks for Life on Mars

by Justin Medina, age 13

In July of 2020, the NASA Jet Propulsion team launched a rover called “Perseverance” in hopes of proving whether or not life once existed on Mars.

“Perseverance” landed in the Jezero crater on Mars six months after launch. Its mission is to find solid evidence of water on the planet. The presence of water is a necessary condition for life. The rover collects soil and rock samples that NASA hopes to retrieve and then study.

The rover’s other tasks are to explore Mars and its surroundings and send back photographic images. It will also send other important data back to scientists on Earth. [Read More]

Pluto Is Not a Planet – It’s a Dwarf Planet

by Hiba Al-Quraishi, age 14

Pluto is referred to as a “dwarf planet” due to its diminutive size. Pluto is only half the size of North America which is why it’s categorized as a dwarf planet.

Pluto is located in the Kuiper Belt. This is a region on the outskirts of our solar system where frozen objects and dwarf planets can be found. Pluto is the largest dwarf planet in that region, earning it the nickname “King of the Kuiper Belt.” Understanding that part of our solar system could aid our understanding of how our solar system came to be.

The majority of planets in the solar system orbit the sun in nearly perfect circles. Pluto, on the other hand, orbits around the Sun in an oval-shaped orbit. For around eight percent of its orbit, Pluto is closer to the Sun than Neptune. Its orbit also deviates from the neat plane in which other planets orbit; it orbits the Sun in a lop-sided pattern. Pluto takes 248 Earth years to complete a full orbit around the sun. [Read More]

Japanese Scientists Discover that Saturn's Rings Will Dissipate

by Avaiana House, age 14

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest in the Solar System. It is known for the colorful rings surrounding it, made up of rock and icy materials. These rings consists of colors such as pink, red, brown or gray.

These rings are vanishing and in fact, according to Japanese scientists who study the planet, the rings will no longer be around in about 300 million years. This is attributed to the impact of micrometeorites and the sun's radiation

Up until the 1980s astronomers believed that Saturn’s rings were created about 4.6 billion years ago, when the planet was formed. It wasn’t until NASA’S Voyager spacecraft captured more up close and detailed images that this idea was debunked. After studying the Voyager's images and seeing that the rings did not have as much mass as expected, the scientists concluded that Saturn’s rings are closer to 10 to 100 million years old. Another spacecraft in 2017, named Cassini, was also able to support the Voyager’s discoveries. [Read More]

Pluto: Planet or Planetesimal? — by Dulce Maria Vazquez, age 13

Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. Pluto was once considered the ninth planet but was demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006. [Read More]

What Will it Take to Survive a Trip to Mars? — by Jason Medina Ruiz, age 11

Mars, along with our solar system, was formed from a large spinning disk of gas and dust. Astronomers believe that this occurred about 4.6 billion years ago. Reaching Mars will be the longest journey in human history. The trip has a distance of about 225 million kilometers, with six months to arrive, and six months to return to Earth. [Read More]

Astronauts Face Bone Weakness While in Space — by Moore Vang, age 13

Astronauts may want to prepare for their next space mission by bringing exercise gear for their legs. [read more]

The International Space Station Is Retiring, What Does this Mean for Space Exploration? —
by Theodore Morrison, age 14

The International Space Station is considered a constant symbol of humanity's achievements in the fields of space science and diplomacy. Many will be shocked to learn that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has plans to retire and crash the station straight into the ocean in 2031. [read more]