This Month in Space: April
April has brought more than just showers to Cape Canaveral this year — it’s also brought plenty of fascinating space exploration news. The following are some of the top space headlines for the month:
NASA Seeks Signs of Alien Life with TESS Launch
On April 18, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, was launched atop a SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, after being scrubbed from its original launch date. TESS’s mission is to spot exoplanets that are similar to the ones found in our solar system that orbit stars relatively close in size to our sun.
TESS will reach its destination in June and will begin a looping orbit around Earth hunting for such planets. TESS is equipped with four cameras that are designed to detect the lowered brightness that results from planets crossing their star’s path of light.
On this mission, TESS is expected to discover thousands of these planets; however, the goal is to ultimately find worlds that can be further explored for signs of alien life.
International Space Station Tests Sperm Viability in Outer Space
Yep – you read that right. NASA mission Micro-11 sent vials of both human and bull sperm to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9’s Dragon resupply capsule that was launched earlier this month.
The goal for this mission is to see how weightlessness in microgravity environments affect sperm’s ability to move and fuse with an egg. NASA is sending both bull and human sperm in order to see if the results they observe are a product of varying sperm samples or the actual effects of microgravity on the samples.
This is a solid indication that NASA scientists believe procreation in space will be a challenge humanity might soon face.
Scientist Discover Most Distant Star Ever Observed Using Hubble Telescope
In early April, Scientists using the NASA Hubble Telescope discovered what appears to be the farthest star ever observed by humans. The star was spotted in galaxy cluster MACSJ1149-2223 when scientists using the telescope to observe a supernova explosion unexpectedly saw a different point brighten up in the same galaxy.
The star is a blue giant, that is located more than 9 billion light-years from Earth and has been given the nickname Icarus.
Icarus was able to be spotted due to a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, which happens when light from a distant object passes through the curved space around an object whose massive gravitational pull warps and magnifies the light — similar to the way light warps when it passes through glass.
This magnification of light allows us to see objects like Icarus that are billions of light-years away and would not otherwise be detected — not even with telescopes as powerful as the Hubble.
China’s First Space Station Falls to Earth
Chicken Little was right, in April the sky really did fall.
Well, that’s an exaggeration — it might have not been the whole sky, but an uncontrolled Chinese space station named Tiangong 1 fell out of orbit and plummeted to Earth, which sounds just as alarming.
Tiangong 1 was launched into orbit unmanned in 2011 to help China gain the knowledge and skills they needed to eventually build their own space station. After 5 years of orbiting, data transmission between the space station and its mission control stopped, meaning its eventual fall to Earth was certain.
On April 1, the space station met its doom when it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. Although there was less than a 1-in-1-trillion chance of getting hit by a piece burning space junk, the thought of flaming pieces of metal falling out of the sky is still pretty scary.
Hubble Space Telescope Captures Image of a Massive Galaxy Cluster
On April 13, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope caught a stunning photo of a massive galaxy cluster that had not previously been seen. The cluster’s name is PLCK G308.3-20.2. and it holds thousands of galaxies.
While galaxies are huge collections of gas, dust and stars; galaxy clusters are made up of smaller galaxies and are held together by gravity. They contain galaxies of all ages, sizes and shapes. Galaxy clusters were at one point considered to be the biggest structures in the universe until the discovery of superclusters.
Lyrid Meteor Shower Creates Light Show for Spectators
In the early hours of Sunday, April 22, nighttime spectators got a prime view of the beautiful Lyrid Meteor Shower, which is one of the oldest annual meteor showers recorded.
Although the meteors can be seen throughout the Northern Hemisphere skies, they tend to be mostly concentrated near the Lyra constellation from which the shower gets its name.
The shower is caused by debris that the comet Thatcher leaves behind in its annual trip around our solar system. We hope all of the stargazers that viewed this incredible meteor show made tons of wishes!
Can’t get enough space? Check out our launch schedule to see when the next upcoming rocket launch is!