Astrophysicist Joe Pesce is back — This time, on video!

Astrophysicist Joe Pesce is making his return to the Space.com forums after last year’s popular AMAs. He returns to answer even more of your questions, with an additional twist: this time around, he’ll be on video.

Senior Writer Chelsea Gohd will be interviewing Joe this week to chat about some interesting astrophysical tidbits. Of course, they’ll also be taking on your most pressing questions about the universe. 

So, here’s what you need to do for a chance at having your question featured in the discussion: head over the Space.com forums, login to your account (or sign-up), and post your question over at this thread. Then, check back on the forums when we post the interview following Friday’s recording to see if your question was featured.
Who knows, you may even impress Dr. Joe with your clever query! 

Prebiotic ingredients for life found around young star

Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at SUNY Stony Brook and the Flatiron Institute, host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and author of How to Die in Space. He contributed this article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Opinions and Insights.

Where did the ingredients for life on Earth come from? A team of astronomers has found a crucial new link: the observation of essential “prebiotic” molecules around a still-forming star. 
Someday those molecules may end up in a planet and become the necessary elements for life.
Related: 10 exoplanets that could host alien life

Stepping up
One of the many distinguishing factors separating life from non-life is life’s ability to use a variety of molecular tools to store, transport and release energy. The cells in your body are a veritable chemical civilization in miniature, with DNA and RNA calling the shots, proteins working back and forth to do the grunt work and lattices of lipids to keep everything intact.

All those complex molecules rest on a few precursors, known as prebiotics. We’re not exactly sure how complex life emerged on Earth (or could emerge elsewhere in the universe), but it seems apparent that if you want to transition from not-alive to definitely-alive, you have to go through a few stages of complexity involving these precursor molecules.
For example, methyl isocyanate (CH3NCO) and glycolonitrile (HOCH2CN) are isomers of each other — they have the same fundamental elements, but those elements are arranged differently in space. They are both individually extremely hazardous to human health. Methyl isocyanate is caustic and irritating, and glycolonitrile quickly decomposes into formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.
While these two molecules aren’t so friendly by themselves, they play a key role in the steps to achieving lifehood. They are involved in forming peptide structures (with the peptides eventually going on to glue together to form proteins) and adenine, which is one of the four bases in the genetic code of our DNA.

Look to the light
Why am I talking so much about methyl isocyanate and glycolonitrile? Because astronomers just found evidence of these two prebiotic molecules hanging out in deep space, according to a research paper recently appearing in the preprint journal arXiv, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The astronomers found these pre-critters in Serpens SMM1-a and IRAS 16293B, the astronomical designations for two protostars.
Protostars are, as the name suggests, not quite stars yet. They’re still forming, collapsing from clouds of gas and dust, but have not achieved the densities and temperatures needed to trigger nuclear fusion. Observing protostars is essential for understanding how life evolves in the universe, because it’s from this proto-soup that planets eventually emerge, and to a large degree they’re born with what they get from the early protostar system.
So if we want to hunt for the origins of life, we have to look inside stellar wombs like these two.
To identify the molecules, the astronomers used a technique called spectroscopy. The protostars are at this stage just clumps of denser-than-average dust. They aren’t incredibly hot and bright, which makes observing them difficult, unless you have the world’s most powerful radio telescope at your back.
Which the astronomers did.
Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, the astronomers carefully studied the light coming from the protostars. Buried within that light was the subtle hint of all kinds of elements and molecules, each one giving off its own particular fingerprint of wavelengths. By matching the fingerprints to the known emissions from various elements, the astronomers were able to find the prebiotics.
So, fantastic: more ingredients for life have been found in a young, still-forming system. That means that if those systems develop planets, and those planets have the right conditions, then life has at least two of the essential tools it needs.
So, how did the prebiotics get there?
Related: Amazing photos from the ALMA radio telescope array

In the mix
Methyl isocyanate and glycolonitrile don’t just float around the universe randomly, hoping for a chance to become a part of a star system. Surveys of interstellar gas clouds have not found these prebiotic molecules, so that means that the protostar systems had to somehow cook up these molecules on their own.
The astronomers believe that, in the case of SMM1-a, it experienced a period of relative calm in the recent past, when icy dust could encircle the soon-to-be-star without melting — but also without locking up. This allowed chemical reactions to take place, as various elements traded places with each other in interesting molecular combinations.
We don’t know yet if the processes that led to the formation of these prebiotics around the protostars is common throughout the galaxy or unique to those systems. Further studies will help pin down that answer, which is just one answer among many needed to understand just how common life is in the universe.
Read more: “The prebiotic molecular inventory of Serpens SMM1 I. An investigation of the isomers CH3NCO and HOCH2CN”
Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

Eragon's Christopher Paolini enters the Fractalverse for his first sci-fi novel, 'To Sleep in a Sea Of Stars'

Christopher Paolini, the New York Times bestselling fantasy author of “Eragon,” is venturing out of the comforts of Earth’s orbit for his first-ever adult science fiction novel, “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” (Tor Books, 2020). 

The Montana-based writer’s imaginative work has been published in 53 countries, with “Eragon” and its three sequels, “Eldest,” “Brisingr” and “Inheritance” selling more than 35 million copies worldwide.
Now, he’s stepped into outer space with a tale of cosmic survival that arrived on Sept. 15 and follows the exploits of xenobiologist Kira Navárez, who’s always dreamed of life on new worlds. But during a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira discovers a strange alien relic. The elation from her first contact swiftly transforms into nightmarish terror when the ancient dust comes alive. Soon, Kira is drawn into the throes of interstellar war, and with Earth balanced on the brink of annihilation, she just might be humanity’s final hope.
Related: Best space and sci-fi books
Last week, Paolini also announced on Twitter that “To Sleep in a Sea Of Stars” has been optioned for a feature film adaptation by Made Up Stories and Snoot Entertainment.

Space.com recently caught up with Paolini to chat about his first sci-fi project, the genesis of this 880-page space-faring epic and what intrepid readers can anticipate as they launch into his new “Fractalverse” novel, which is Paolini’s shared storytelling sandbox where upcoming sci-fi tales will emanate from.

Space.com: What were the origins of your first sci-fi novel and why did you choose this epic story?
Christopher Paolini: I grew up reading as much science fiction as fantasy. My dad is an old-school sci-fi fan and he had me watching the original “Star Trek” series and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “The Prisoner,” “Babylon 5,” all the good stuff. To me, sci-fi and fantasy are very similar in that they’re both speculative fiction and often deal with invented settings, invented social structures, and imaginary physics. Fantasy is often a backward-looking, nostalgic genre, where sci-fi is a very forward-looking genre and I enjoy that. 
In the real world, it’s important that humanity ultimately gets off planet Earth and establishes settlements elsewhere in the solar system and spreads throughout the Milky Way. For our own survival it’s imperative. I’m massively curious about the universe around us. If there were an option to get into a rocket and go start exploring the galaxy I’d do that. I would love to see what’s out there. Since that’s not possible at the moment, writing about it was the next best option, and that’s what drove me to write “To Sleep in a Sea Of Stars.” 
I’m very optimistic about the future, and yes we face a lot of challenges as a species, but we’ve accomplished amazing things in the past 30 years and we’re doing some fantastic stuff right now. We have SpaceX landing rockets on platforms so yeah! I’m very excited.

Christopher Paolini (Image credit: Tor Books)
Space.com: Can you take us on a quick jet around the plot of your new book?
Paolini: It’s a science fiction adventure full of alien planets and spaceships and lasers and heartache and explosions and, of course, tentacles. Biologist Kira Navarez is helping inspect an alien moon in preparation for a human colony. During the survey, she ends up finding something that she shouldn’t and her discovery sends the story racing off on this grand adventure. 
This is my love letter to sci-fi and I snuck in a lot of references to classic science fiction. I gave myself the luxury of doing that because “To Sleep in a Sea Of Stars” is set in the real world in a setting that I’m calling the Fractalverse. Anything I write that’s not explicitly fantasy will be something I write in the Fractalverse from hereon. It encompasses the real world of all known history, the deep past, and far future. It’s a big playground for telling lots of different types of stories.
Space.com: Where did your worldbuilding and research process take you on this project?
Paolini: I read a lot of science fiction but I wanted to do certain things with the technology in “To Sleep in a Sea Of Stars,” and that was a challenge for me. I did research on how spaceships would work, how warfare could work in zero-G, and where our technology would go in those areas. There’s a great website called Atomic Rockets, which has actually been used as a tool by the writers of “The Expanse” and “Mass Effect” and is a great resource for realistic sci-fi in the future.

(Image credit: Tor Books)
But the big thing is that I wanted to have faster-than-light travel. And the problem with that is that, according to the math as we know it today, if you travel faster than light you can time-travel and that’s not what I wanted. I didn’t want to create a future where the most common form of transportation between the stars would also act as a time machine. So the challenge I gave to myself was to find a system of FTL travel that didn’t contradict physics as we knew it, hadn’t been used by another sci-fi franchise, and didn’t allow for time travel. 
And that was difficult. I spent an entire year on research and talked with various physicists and scientists. I ended up finding a guy named Greg Meholic, who is a rocket engineer and works in various experimental theoretical physics with some other people. He had a novel view of physics that represented a theory of everything. So I contacted him and he kindly held my hand and he walked me through the implications of the theory. And that’s what formed the basis for my FTL section. 
All this was background work for the story, which I hope people find interesting and exciting. I actually have a fake scientific paper in the back of the book where I indulge in all the technobabble there.
Space.com: What was your reaction to the evocative cover art for “To Sleep in a Sea Of Stars?”
Paolini: I was very fortunate with this cover. When we started talking about the cover with my publisher, Tor, I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. I was extremely fortunate with my earlier novels, the “Eragon” series, to have some iconic, striking covers. There really isn’t anything quite like those covers and most people are familiar with them if they’ve been in the YA fantasy section of bookstores. 
So I was wondering if lightning was going to strike twice and Tor was very helpful in finding the best cover for this book. It was designed by a woman named Lindy Martin and I was even more impressed with the job she did because she hadn’t read it by the time she did the cover. She did a fantastic job. It really captures the feel of the title and the story itself that I was going for and that’s not easy. Since the title of the book is so long, the cover needed to be more typographic versus a painted scene.
It was important to me to present a beautiful package to the readers. We actually have seven pieces of interior art for the book, including gorgeous fractal galaxy end papers and the logo of the Fractalverse is embossed on the cover of the dust jacket. I did some of the art myself and the rest was done by my assistant Immanuela, who is a great artist herself.
Space.com: What wishes do you have for readers who pick up your new sci-fi saga?
Paolini: I poured my heart and soul into this novel. I put my characters through the wringer, but by the end of the book I want to leave people with a feeling of hope, maybe a tingle down their spine, and perhaps a bit of a bittersweet ache that the story has finally reached its conclusion.

Pictures from space! Our image of the day

Space can be a wondrous place, and we’ve got the pictures to prove it! Take a look at our favorite pictures from space here, and if you’re wondering what happened today in space history don’t miss our On This Day in Space video show here! 

Victor Glover leaves the station

(Image credit: NASA)
Jan. 27, 2021: Today, NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins are stepping outside the International Space Station for Glover’s first spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA). In this photo, you can see Glover preparing for the spacewalk, which will be his first. During the EVA, the pair will install a new antenna on the Columbus module on the outside of the space station. — Chelsea Gohd 
Preparing for ColKa

(Image credit: NASA EVA NBL)
Jan. 26, 2021: NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover will be stepping outside the confines of the International Space Station for a spacewalk tomorrow (Jan. 27, 2021) during which the pair will install European payloads outside the station. In this image, you can see European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen installing the Columbus Ka-band (ColKa) terminal, one of the things to be installed during the upcoming spacewalk, during a test at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. — Chelsea Gohd
An aurora from space

(Image credit: International Space Station/Twitter)
Jan. 25, 2021: These images, taken from the International Space Station, show Earth’s glowing, colorful aurora alongside lights coming from the cities on our planet’s surface down below. Aurora is a natural phenomenon in which colorful lights in the sky, which often appear as green, red, yellow or white, are displayed when electrically-charged particles from the sun interact with gases like oxygen or nitrogen in our planet’s atmosphere. — Chelsea Gohd. 
Science and spacewalk training

(Image credit: NASA)
Jan. 22, 2021: NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins flashes a big smile in a photo posted by the International Space Station on Jan. 21, 2021. The photo shows Hopkins with some other crew members and a pair of spacesuits in the background, surrounded by equipment, working on science experiments and training for an upcoming pair of spacewalks. — Chelsea Gohd

A barred spiral galaxy

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, G. Folatelli)
Jan. 21, 2021: NGC 613, a barred spiral galaxy 67 million light-years away in the southern constellation of Sculptor, shows its stunning stellar markings in this image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The galaxy, which was first discovered in 1798,  is most recognizable by its long “arms,” that spiral around its nucleus clearly. — Chelsea Gohd
‘Do not touch’ on the space station

(Image credit: ESA)
Jan. 20, 2020: A sign reading “do not touch” labels this Matiss experiment on board the International Space Station. The experiment tests the antibacterial capabilities of hydrophobic (water-repelling) surfaces on the space station. With experiments like this, researchers can learn more about how microscopic organisms like bacteria live in space and how the crew can keep the station clean of illness-causing microorganisms. — Chelsea Gohd
The Sahara from space

(Image credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Jan. 19, 2021: This stunning, sandy, sienna-hued landscape is the Tanezrouft Basin (a desolate region of the Sahara Desert) as seen by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 from space. The extremely arid plain is home to scorching temperatures, little water and vegetation and has even been nicknamed the “Land of Terror.” This image was captured as part of Copernicus Sentinel-2, a two-satellite mission that is part of the European Space Agency’s Copernicus program. — Chelsea Gohd
Space Launch System lights up

(Image credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz)
Jan. 18, 2021:  NASA’s first Space Launch System megarocket ignites its four main engines for a critical hot-fire test on Jan. 16 at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, apparently scaring some nearby birds in this stunning photo from NASA photographer Robert Markowitz.
During the test, the final trial of a series of tests called the Green Run, the SLS rocket fired its engines for just over 1 minute, less than the 8 minutes NASA had hoped for to replicate a full launch into orbit. But despite its shorter-than-planned duration, the test offered a dazzling sight to onlookers (and birds) at the test site. NASA engineers are analyzing the results of the test. — Tariq Malik
Spotting a supernova

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Banovetz and D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University); CC BY 4.0)
Jan. 15, 2021: The Hubble Space Telescope spotted a growing, gaseous supernova remnant, known as 1E 0102.2-7219, from a supernova explosion that occurred 1,700 years ago during the fall of the Roman Empire. The star that exploded in the event was from the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy located about 200,000 light-years away. 
At the time of the supernova event, people living in Earth’s southern hemisphere would have been able to see the light coming from this blast, though there are no known records of the event from humans on Earth. — Chelsea Gohd
Microbes and asteroids

(Image credit: NASA)
Jan. 14, 2021: The “BioAsteroid” payload from the University of Edinburgh runs aboard the European Space Agency’s Kubik facility in the Columbus module on the International Space Station. The miniature laboratory contains asteroid-like rocky fragments and microbes (a mixture of bacteria and fungi). Scientists hope to use this experiment to understand better how these microscopic little organisms interact with the asteroid-like material, which could later inform asteroid mining efforts. — Chelsea Gohd
Watching the weather from space

(Image credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Jan. 13, 2021: In this view from space captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite, you can see a heavy blanket of snowfall over much of Spain. The image, snapped at 5:40 a.m. EST (1040 GMT) on Jan. 12, shows most of the country covered in snow following storm Filomena, which brought the heaviest snowfall that Spain has seen for 50 years. 
Copernicus Sentinel-3 is a two-satellite mission that, with a variety of instruments, observes and monitors Earth’s surface from above. — Chelsea Gohd
Pool practice

(Image credit: NASA EVA NBL)
Jan. 12, 2021: Astronauts practice for spaceflight here on Earth in a number of unique ways, including underwater. In this image, astronauts practiced a maneuver designed for the International Space Station underwater at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which is operated by NASA. At this testing facility, astronauts get completely suited up as if they were about to go out on a spacewalk and perform spacewalk tasks underwater on a mock space station. 
Later this month, NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins will put their training to the test as they will embark on a spacewalk during which they will install a small, fridge-sized device on the outside of the space station’s Columbus module. — Chelsea Gohd
Neon lights

(Image credit: ESA/XMM-Newton, L. Oskinova/Univ. Potsdam, Germany)
Jan. 11, 2021: This strange, green glow is actually a new type of star that, until recently, hadn’t been observed in X-ray light. Scientists think that this star formed when two white dwarf stars (the leftover stellar cores of stars like our sun) merged into one another, forming a new object that emits X-ray light instead of being destroyed in the collision. — Chelsea Gohd
Galactic fireworks

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Leroy, K. S. Long; CC BY 4.0)
Jan. 8, 2021: The galaxy NGC 6946, nicknamed “the Fireworks Galaxy,” can be seen in this stunning image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The galaxy got its explosive nickname because, while our Milky Way galaxy has an average of just 1-2 supernovas per century, NGC 6946 has had 10 in the last century. 
“The Fireworks Galaxy,” the structure of which is somewhere between a full spiral and a barred spiral, can be found 25.2 million light-years from Earth on the border of the constellations Cepheus and Cygnus. — Chelsea Gohd
Reflecting on the sun 

(Image credit: ESA/Royal Observatory of Belgium)
Jan. 7, 2021: What might look like an artistic mosaic from afar is actually 366 images of the sun throughout the year 2020, taken by the European Space Agency’s Proba-2 satellite. Proba-2 continuously monitors the Sun and, in this collection of photos, there is one image selected for each day (the “extra” day is from February 29, 2020 which was leap day). These images, which were taken by Proba-2’s SWAP camera (which captures ultraviolet wavelengths to show the Sun’s extreme atmosphere), have a number of “easter eggs” including partial solar eclipses visible on June 21 and December 14. — Chelsea Gohd
Space radishes

(Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Jan. 6, 2021: This up-close photo shows a radish grown to perfection. These radishes serve as a control crop for the radishes currently being grown as part of the Plant Habitat-02 (PH-02) experiment in the microgravity environment onboard the International Space Station. This crop of radishes was grown in the Advanced Plant Habitat inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. — Chelsea Gohd
A new year in space

(Image credit: Victor Glover/Twitter)
Jan. 5, 2021: The astronauts currently living and working on the International Space Station posed for a festive photo to ring in the new year as 2020 became 2021. NASA astronaut Victor Glover shared the photo on Twitter with the caption “God bless you and this new year! I pray for renewed strength, compassion, and truth and that we can all be surrounded by family and friends…” Glover flew to the space station as part of SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, the company’s first fully operational crewed mission to space. — Chelsea Gohd
Salad, anyone?

(Image credit: NASA)
Dec. 28, 2020:  This crop of radishes on the International Space Station is a welcome sight of green for astronauts living aboard the orbiting lab. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins grew the space veggies in the Plant Habitat-02 as part of an experiment to study how plants grow in space, and how it affects the nutrition and taste of food plants for astronauts. — Tariq Malik
Earthrise for Christmas

(Image credit: NASA)
Dec. 25, 2020:  Three NASA astronauts had a Christmas like no one on Earth in 1968. That’s because the Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders were visiting the moon. This iconic Earthrise image was captured by the astronauts on Christmas Eve, showing all of humanity from the vantage point of the lunar orbit.  — Tariq Malik
A Starship flies

(Image credit: SpaceX)
Dec. 24, 2020: SpaceX’s Starship SN8 prototype lifts off from a pad near Boca Chica, Texas in this view from stunning Dec. 8 test launch of the 12-story rocket. The finned spacecraft flew to an altitude of nearly 8 miles, flipped over and glided back to Earth making an epic explosion during its landing attempt. Despite the explosion, SpaceX hailed the test launch as a successful trial of the Starship concept. A new vehicle, called SN9, is already on the launch pad awaiting its own test flightOn Dec. 23, SpaceX released a new video recap showcasing the Starship SN8 flight. — Tariq Malik
A ‘Molten Ring’ in the cosmos

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Jha; Acknowledgment: L. Shatz)
Dec. 23, 2020: This image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the Einstein ring GAL-CLUS-022058s. Einstein rings are created when the light from distant objects like galaxies pass by an extremely massive object. Because of the process known as gravitational lensing, this light is bent and distorted into this amazing, bright curve or “ring.” Scientists can use these rings to study galaxies that might otherwise be too faint or far away to see. — Chelsea Gohd
Space bubbles

(Image credit: Technical University Darmstadt)
Dec. 22, 2020: This “space bubble” was created by the Multiscale Boiling experiment otherwise known as Rubi. Installed in the Fluid Science Laboratory in the Columbus module of the International Space Station, Rubi helps researchers to understand how boiling acts in the weightless environment of space. In this image, you can see electrostatic forces pulling the bubble upwards. — Chelsea Gohd
A far-off galaxy

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Rosario Acknowledgement: L. Shatz)
Dec. 21, 2020: In this image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, you can see the galaxy NGC 1947, a lenticular galaxy or disc galaxy that’s lost most of its interstellar matter. Lenticular galaxies, because of their lost matter, don’t have a lot of star formation happening within them. This galaxy was discovered almost 200 years ago and rests in the constellation Dorado (The Dolphinfish) 40 million light-years from Earth. — Chelsea Gohd
Snow from space

(Image credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Dec. 17, 2020: After a bout of heavy snowfall, the snow-covered Alps can be seen from space in this image snapped by the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission. Copernicus Sentinel-3 is made up of two satellites and collects data for the European Copernicus environmental monitoring program. With this image, it captured the aftermath of two snowstorms in the Austrian and Italian Alps during which up to a collective 9.8 feet (3 meters) of snow fell. — Chelsea Gohd
A dark storm reverses on Neptune

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and L.A. Sromovsky and P.M. Fry (University of Wisconsin-Madison))
Dec. 16, 2020: Astronomers spotted a dark swirling vortex on Neptune suddenly reverse direction using the Hubble Space Telescope. The storm, discovered in 2018 using Hubble, began in Neptune’s northern hemisphere and was traveling towards the equator. Scientists expected that as this happened the storm would become less and less visible. However, in August 2020, scientists using Hubble noticed the storm changing direction going back northwards. — Chelsea Gohd. 
Saturn and Jupiter in the evening sky

(Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Dec. 15, 2020: In this photograph taken from Shenandoah National Park in Luray, Virginia, you can see the planets Saturn and Jupiter nestled close together in the sky at sunset. Saturn and Jupiter are nearing a “great conjunction” on Dec. 21. During the exciting, astronomical event, the two planets will appear to be so close together in the sky, they will be just a tenth of a degree apart from one another. — Chelsea Gohd
Working in space

(Image credit: NASA)
Dec. 14, 2020: Expedition 64 crew members, including NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Soichi Noguchi, worked together to explore medical therapies for both cancer and heart conditions. Members of the crew also swapped out U.S. spacesuits inside of SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon resupply ship as one suit was returned to the station and one will go back to Earth for maintenance. — Chelsea Gohd
A sparkling, cosmic masterpiece

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Saha (NOAO); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America))
Dec. 11, 2020: This image seems almost too cartoonish and sparkly to be real, but it is yet another stunning, unique view of the cosmos snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope. To capture this image, Hubble used a single infrared filter with its Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The image depicts stars near the center of the active galaxy Caldwell 96 (or NGC 2516). There are also a number of background galaxies that are visible (though fuzzy) in the image. — Chelsea Gohd
SN8’s test flight goes explosively well

(Image credit: SpaceX)
Dec. 10, 2020: SN8, SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype, launched on its first high-altitude test flight last night (Dec. 9, 2020) taking off at 5:45 p.m. EST (2245 GMT) from SpaceX’s facility near Boca Chica, Texas. After a spectacular take-off, SN8 guided itself back to the ground where it landed near the launch stand. While the vehicle performed well throughout the test it came in a little too fast for the landing and touched down explosively. Still, the merits of the test flight were many and the SpaceX team, and most notably its founder Elon Musk, was thrilled with how it went. — Chelsea Gohd
A 3D printed test ring

(Image credit: ESA)
Dec. 9, 2020: This shiny little piece of metal is a test segment from what is known as a launch interface ring, a ring that secures a satellite in place for its tough journey from Earth to space. The ring from which this segment was plucked was 3D printed with an aluminum-magnesium-scandium alloy as part of a European Space Agency Project designed to improve the technique known as LIRAM (Launch Interface Rings by Additive Manufacturing). — Chelsea Gohd
A cosmic wonderland

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Zabludoff)
Dec. 8, 2020: In this image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, you can see the sparkling, sprawling wonder of space. Featured in this image is the galaxy SDSS J225506.80+005839.9. This galaxy with its long (not exactly catchy) name can be seen in the center right of this image. The recently discovered galaxy lies about 500 million light-years from Earth and is a perfect example of what can be discovered by space telescopes like Hubble. — Chelsea Gohd
New Zealand from space

(Image credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Dec. 7, 2020: The Banks Peninsula on the South Island of New Zealand shows off its striking colors in this stunning image taken from space. This image was taken by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, which is made up of two satellites that orbit our planet, scouring its surface collecting data and paying close attention to bodies of water and how they change over time. — Chelsea Gohd
Russia’s wild rocket launch

(Image credit: Russian Federation Ministry of Defense)
Friday, Dec. 4, 2020: This amazing close-up shows a view of a Soyuz-2 rocket’s first stage engines as it launched three new Gonets-M communications satellites and a military nanosatellite into orbit for Russia’s Ministry of Defense. The launch occurred Wednesday (Dec. 2) at 10:14 p.m. EST (0114 GMT or 3:14 a.m. Moscow time Thursday, Dec. 3) at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. You can watch an amazing video of the launch here. — Tariq Malik
Hubble spots a strange galaxy

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Filippenko)
Nov. 30, 2020: The Hubble Space Telescope spotted the galaxy NGC 2770 in this close-up view. The galaxy has been home to four different observed supernovae over the years, making it unusual and especially interesting to scientists studying the far-out cosmos. One of the supernovae spotted in the galaxy, SN 2015bh, was first thought to possibly not be a supernova but rather a strange outburst from an old, massive star. However, it was later correctly classified as a supernova created when a star 8-50 times as massive as our sun died. 
Happy ‘Black Hole’ Friday!

(Image credit: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Nov. 27, 2020: While people flock to stores online and in person for annual Black Friday sales, NASA wants you to think a bit more cosmic with Black Hole Friday. 
This image is an artist’s depiction of a black hole, an object with such a strong gravitational pull that not even light can escape. What falls in can’t get out. Check out our black hole primer here and wow you’re friends for cosmic facts while searching for Black Friday deals! — Tariq MalikWhere Do Black Holes Lead?The strangest black holes in the universeNo Escape: Dive Into a Black Hole (Infographic)
The first space Thanksgiving

(Image credit: NASA)
Nov. 26, 2020: For 20 years, American astronauts have regularly celebrated Thanksgiving off Earth aboard the International Space Station. But it wasn’t always so. 
Before the International Space Station (which saw its first crew in 2000), space Thanksgiving were a sporadic affair. The First Space Thanksgiving occurred in 1973, when the three-person crew of Skylab 4 (Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue) visited NASA’s Skylab space station. 
Thanksgiving in space 2020: Here’s what astronauts will eat in orbit (video)Related: How NASA tech helped make your Thanksgiving food safeThis image is a view of that Thanksgiving, with Gibson (left) and Carr tucking in to their holiday meal. They actually skipped lunch due to their busy schedule on that day, but opted to combine two meals for the holiday dinner. Unlike today, the astronauts did not have special Thanksgiving dinner food items.   — Tariq Malik
Living in space

(Image credit: NASA)
Nov. 24, 2020: NASA astronaut Shannon Walker gets to work aboard the International Space Station after launching to the orbiting laboratory last Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. Walker flew alongside NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, named Resilience, as part of the Crew-1 mission. 
A space-y cinnamon bun

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Tully; Acknowledgment: Gagandeep Anand)
Nov. 23, 2020: The faint galaxy UGC 12588 looks kind of like a cosmic cinnamon bun in this image snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope. The spiral galaxy, which appears circular with some white accents (adding to its dessert-like appearance), can be found in the constellation Andromeda. 
Now, while UGC 12588 is a spiral galaxy, its “arms” of stars and gas are fairly faint and closely swirled in its center, making it slightly different from a “classic” spiral galaxy. 
— Chelsea Gohd
A space amethyst

(Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNAM/J. Toalá et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI)
Tuesday, November 18, 2020: The planetary nebula IC 4593 shines like a brilliant purple amethyst in space in this view from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. 
IC 4593 is about 7,800 light-years from Earth and is the farthest planetary nebula that can be seen with Chandra. This view includes some visible-light observations from the Hubble Space Telescope combined with Chandra’s X-ray view, according to a NASA image description. The Hubble views are the pink and green hues, while Chandra’s X-ray detections show as purple.
Planetary nebulas aren’t related to planets at all. They are super-hot bubbles of gas from dying stars that form when the star sheds its outer layers as it contracts. — Tariq Malik
A Dragon flies over Earth

(Image credit: NASA)
Tuesday, November 17, 2020: Backdropped by a blanket of clouds, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station with four Expedition 64 crew members in this view captured from the orbiting laboratory. The spacecraft docked with the space station Monday night at 11:01 p.m. EST (0401 Nov. 17 GMT). — Hanneke Weitering 
Liftoff!

(Image credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA)
Monday, November 16, 2020: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with a Crew Dragon spacecraft on top, lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to deliver four new Expedition 64 crew members to the International Space Station. The Crew-1 mission lifted off from Launch Complex 39A yesterday (Nov. 15) at 7:27 p.m. EDT (0027 GMT on Nov. 16), and it is expected to dock with the International Space Station tonight at 11 p.m. EST (0400 Nov. 17 GMT). — Hanneke Weitering 
ESO’s New Technology Telescope is back in action

(Image credit: ESO)
Wednesday, November 11, 2020: The three brightest planets in the night sky flaunt their colorful features in this montage of images captured by the European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope, located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. After taking a hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, the telescope captured these images to test out its instruments before resuming science operations. 
The relative sizes of the three planets in this montage is proportional to their apparent size in the night sky. Mars appears a bit bigger than usual because the photo was taken around the same time the Red Planet was at opposition, the point in its orbit where it is directly opposite the sun in Earth’s sky, in mid-October. The Red Planet was also at its closest point to Earth on Oct. 6. — Hanneke Weitering 
Crew Dragon on the launch pad

(Image credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA)
Tuesday, November 10, 2020: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket stand ready to launch NASA’s Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station. The rocket went vertical on the pad at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida, early this morning after rolling out from the horizontal integration facility overnight. SpaceX is scheduled to launch the Crew-1 mission with NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, on Saturday (Nov. 14). — Hanneke Weitering 
Space Dragon

(Image credit: SpaceX)
Monday, November 9, 2020: A new space dragon is born as SpaceX’s next Crew Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts arrives at the Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida ahead of a Nov. 14 launch. The spacecraft reached SpaceX’s Pad 39A hangar on Nov. 5 after a short trip from its processing facility at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 
The spacecraft will launch four astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA as part of the Crew-1 mission, SpaceX’s first operational crewed flight for NASA under the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The Crew-1 astronauts — NASA’s Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi — arrived at the launch site on Sunday.Live updates: SpaceX’s Crew-1 astronaut launch for NASA
A ring around the moon

(Image credit: Juan Carlos Muñoz-Mateos/ESO)
Friday, November 6, 2020: A lunar “halo” glows like an orb in the night sky above the Very Large Telescope in northern Chile, in this photo by European Southern Observatory astronomer Juan Carlos Muñoz-Mateos. This optical phenomenon occurs when moonlight gets refracted by tiny ice crystals and water droplets in the atmosphere. — Hanneke Weitering 
Orion gets dressed for launch

(Image credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)
Thursday, November 5, 2020: NASA’s first Orion spacecraft to visit the moon is gearing up for its historic Artemis 1 launch in 2021. The spacecraft, which consists of a crew capsule built by Lockheed Martin and service module from the European Space Agency, has been wrapped up in its protective three-piece fairing for the upcoming launch.Artemis 1 will launch the Orion capsule on NASA’s first Space Launch System megarocket on a trip around the moon in late 2021. Here’s an in depth look at NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the moon by 2024. 
Atlas V stands ready for launch

(Image credit: ULA)
Wednesday, November 4, 2020: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket stands ready to launch the NROL-101 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, on. The mission is scheduled to lift off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida today at 5:54 p.m. EST (2254 GMT), and you can watch the launch live here on Space.com. — Hanneke Weitering 
Election 2020 in Space

(Image credit: NASA/Kate Rubins via Twitter)
Tuesday, November 3, 2020: It’s election day on Earth in space, but the only American off Earth right now has already cast her vote in today’s 2020 presidential election. 
We don’t know who NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, shown here at her homemade voting booth on the International Space Station, but we do know how. Astronauts in space during an election have been able to vote from orbit since 1997, when NASA and the Texas election officials laid out a cosmic absentee ballot process for any American caught in space on voting day. Rubins, who launched into space on Oct. 14, cast her ballot on Oct. 22 and shared this view of her polling place.  

Hurricane Zeta seen from space

(Image credit: NASA)
Monday, November 2, 2020: Hurricane Zeta churns in the Gulf of Mexico in this view captured from the International Space Station on Wednesday (Oct. 28), as the Category 2 storm approached Louisiana. In the upper foreground of the image is Russia’s Progress 76 cargo resupply spacecraft, which is docked to the Russian Pirs module. At the bottom of the frame is Russia’s Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft, which brought three crew members to the space station on Oct. 14. — Hanneke Weitering 
It’s the great pumpkin, Hubble!

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, and W. Keel (University of Alabama))
Oct. 30, 2020: Just in time for Halloween, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a “pumpkin patch” made up of two galaxies just starting to collide, spanning 109,000 light-years across. The galaxies, NGC 2292 and NGC 2293, are pumpkin-orange in color because of the aging stars in the galaxies, which appear red. 
Exploring at the space station

(Image credit: NASA/International Space Station/Twitter)
Oct. 29, 2020: This photo shows the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station which continues to orbit around Earth from 254 miles (409 kilometers) away. The robotic arm, a collaboration with Canada, helps to make repairs on the space station and astronauts have used it complete activities on spacewalks outside of the space station. 
Kate in space

(Image credit: NASA/Twitter)
Oct. 28, 2020: Expedition 64 NASA astronaut Kate Rubins floats on the International Space Station where she’ll be living, working and researching as part of a myriad of science experiments alongside her crewmates. Rubins launched to the space station Oct. 14, 2020 alongside two Russian cosmonauts. 
Orion gets ready

(Image credit: NASA / Radislav Sinyak)
Oct. 27, 2020: NASA’s Orion spacecraft is one more step closer to being completed and launched to the moon. Here, three spacecraft jettison fairings are prepared to be installed and secured around the Orion craft. Orion is set to fly as part of the agency’s Artemis program and will fly the first woman and the next man to land on the moon. 
A galactic waterfall

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, SDSS, J. Dalcanton; Acknowledgment: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla))
Oct. 26, 2020: Galaxy NGC 2799 (on the left) and galaxy NGC 2798 (on the right) form a “galactic waterfall,” which stands out in this image snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope. These are interacting galaxies, which influence each other and may eventually even merge. 
Chris Cassidy returns home

(Image credit: NASA/GCTC/Denis Derevtsov)
Oct. 23, 2020: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy landed back on Earth Oct. 22, 2020 after a stint aboard the International Space Station. Cassidy can be seen here outside the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft that he and his crewmates, cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin, landed in near the town of Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. 
Collecting an asteroid

(Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)
Oct. 22, 2020: In this 16-image series, you can see NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft using its 11-foot robotic arm TAGSAM taking a sample from asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20, 2020. The arm’s “head” briefly touched down on the asteroid’s surface, where it emitted a puff of nitrogen gas. This gas stirred up asteroid material that was then collected into a container in TAGSAM. 
A free-floating stellar nursery

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai)
Oct. 21, 2020: The Hubble Space Telescope, which celebrated its 30th year of exploration and discovery earlier this year, snapped this image of the star-forming nursery formerly known as J025157.5+600606. This special type of stellar nursery is what’s known as a “Free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globules” or frEGGs. 
Juice grows a pair of wings

(Image credit: Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands)
Oct. 20, 2020: The ten solar panels for the European Space Agency’s Juice (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) spacecraft are ready to be turned into solar wings. The panels arrived at Airbus Defense and Space in the Netherlands and, with five solar panels on each side of the spacecraft, the panels will fold up inside the launcher and then eventually deploy like wings for the probe. 
Stars of Orion twinkle over ALMA

(Image credit: Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO)
Monday, October 19, 2020: The constellation of Orion, the hunter sparkles above the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile’s Atacama Desert in this image by European Southern Observatory photo ambassador Yuri Beletsky. Two of the 66 radio telescopes that make up ALMA are shown in this view. Located on top of the 16,000-foot (5,000 meters) Chajnantor plateau, ALMA’s location provides the dark, dry skies that are crucial for observing the cosmos in millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths. — Hanneke Weitering 
BepiColombo swings by Venus

(Image credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Oct. 16, 2020: Yesterday (Oct. 15), the European-Japanese probe BepiColombo swung by Venus, one of its nine gravity assist maneuvers, on its long winding journey to Mercury. At Venus, the craft snapped a number of photos with the cameras aboard its Mercury Transfer Module. The probe is set to eventually arrive in Mercury’s orbit in 2025. 
Thomas Pesquet trains for space

(Image credit: ESA/NASA – James Blair)
Oct. 15, 2020: European space agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet trains at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in preparation for his 2021 mission to the International Space Station. Here he is training for the Time experiment, which was first run in 2017 and which explores the hypothesis that time speeds up in microgravity. 
Astronauts blast off to space

(Image credit: Roscosmos)
Oct. 14, 2020: This morning at 1:45 am EDT (0545 GMT), NASA astronaut Kate Rubins launched to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. After a speedy arrival at the space station, the trio will begin a six-month stay living and working on the orbiting lab. 
The Laguna San Rafael National Park from space

(Image credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Oct. 13, 2020: The European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission spotted the Laguna San Rafael National Park in Chile from space. This orbiting satellite has five instruments onboard that allow it to not only observe Earth below, but also monitor atmospheric conditions like temperature and humidity. 
Lost in space: A Mars probe camera

(Image credit: CNSA)
Oct. 12, 2020: A tiny camera tumbles out into deep space after being ejected by China’s Tianwen-1 Mars probe 15 million miles from Earth. The image, released Oct. 1, was captured as Tianwen-1 heads to Mars. The camera was able to snap photos of Tianwen-1, which carries a Mars orbiter, lander and rover that are due to arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. 
Sunset captured from space

(Image credit: Chris Cassidy/NASA)
Oct. 9, 2020: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who is currently stationed aboard the International Space Station, posted a photo to Twitter that shows what sunset looks like from space. His photo shows the sunset a video camera is capturing as the station’s robotic arm maneuvers around the Cygnus spacecraft. 
James Webb has passed another test

(Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn)
Oct. 8, 2020: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has completed a set of milestone tests, enduring shaking and rattling created to simulate the conditions it will experience when it launches to space. The tests are more formally known as “acoustic” and “sine-vibration” testing, and were completed in two separate facilities at Northrop Grumman’s Space Park in California. 
Expedition 64

(Image credit: NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin)
Oct. 7, 2020: The Expedition 64 prime and backup crew members pose together on Oct. 6 before the prime crew launches to the International Space Station on Oct. 14. From left to right are the prime crew NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos and Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos and then the backup crew members Petr Dubov of Roscosmos, Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.
SpaceX’s 13th Starlink batch

(Image credit: SpaceX)
Oct. 6, 2020: This morning (Oct. 6), SpaceX launched its 13th batch of Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit. The 60 satellites launched atop the two-stage Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. This takeoff followed a two-week launch delay that was caused by bad weather.  Read the full story!
A spiral in Lupus

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Riess et al.; CC BY 4.0; Acknowledgement: Mahdi Zamani)
Oct. 2, 2020: The spiral galaxy NGC 5643, which rests in the constellation of Lupus (the Wolf) stands out in this image by the Hubble Space Telescope. This galaxy lies about 60 million light-years from Earth and recently was home to the supernova 2017cbv. 
SpaceX attempts to launch

(Image credit: SpaceX)
Oct. 1, 2020: Twin SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets can be seen in this single shot, taken at Kennedy Space Center before the company’s latest Starlink launch attempt Oct. 1, 2020, which was scrubbed. SpaceX continues to launch batches of its Starlink satellites, working to build a constellation of satellites to provide internet service here on Earth.