First Person on Mars Will Likely be a Woman, Says NASA Boss

NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann at an event in August 2018
NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann at an event in August 2018
Bill Ingalls, NASA via Getty Images

In what is sure to be one giant leap for humankind, the head of NASA has announced that the first astronaut to set foot on Mars is “likely to be” female. As CNN reports, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made the comment while appearing as a guest on a recent episode of Science Friday, a science and technology radio show.

At one point in the conversation, Bridenstine fielded a question from Grab Your Wallet Alliance co-founder Shannon Coulter, who asked in a tweet whether a woman would be involved in the next Moon landing, which could occur in 2028, if NASA gets its wish.

“The answer is absolutely,” Bridenstine answered. “In fact, it’s likely to be a woman—the first next person on the Moon. It’s also true that the first person on Mars is likely to be a woman.”

It is too early to tell which female astronauts might be eligible for the Mars mission, which is tentatively scheduled for the 2030s. However, Bridenstine said the space agency is committed to having a “broad and diverse set of talent.” Currently, 34 percent of active NASA astronauts are women. While the gender gap has not yet been closed, it’s still a significant change from 1978, when six women (including Sally Ride) became the first American female astronauts. In addition, women comprised half of the 2013 astronaut class and five of 12 astronauts in the 2017 class, as well as half of the most recent class of flight directors.

The first all-female spacewalk will take place on March 29, rounding out National Women’s History Month. Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch will be assisted by flight directors Mary Lawrence and Kristen Facciol on the ground during the roughly seven-hour spacewalk. These events typically involve making repairs to the International Space Station—a job that has traditionally been undertaken by men.

[h/t CNN]

A Rare Unicorn Meteor Outburst Could Be Visible for Less Than an Hour on Thursday

joegolby/iStock via Getty Images
joegolby/iStock via Getty Images

Your chances of seeing a unicorn this week are slim, but if you look up on Thursday night, you may see something that's almost as extraordinary. As Sky & Telescope reports, the upcoming Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower could produce a meteor outburst, which means there could be multiple shooting stars per second streaming from the unicorn constellation.

What is a unicorn meteor shower?

There's nothing particularly magical about the Alpha Monocerotids. They appear to originate near the star Procyon, which is next to the constellation Monoceros, the Greek name for unicorn.

The shower is known for occasionally packing a dense flurry of activity into a brief viewing window. The meteors appear between November 15 through the 25th of each year, and peak around the 22nd. Several times a century, the shower treats sky gazers to an "outburst" of shooting stars that lasts less than an hour.

Such an outburst is predicted for 2019. According to astronomers Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen, the Earth is on track to pass through a thick portion of the tail of the unknown comet that provides debris for the shower. The conditions are almost the same as they were in 1995, when the Alpha Monocerotids lit up the sky at a rate of 400 meteors per hour, which is approaching meteor storm levels. For that reason, the scientists are expecting shooting stars to appear in the same numbers this time around.

How to see the meteor outburst

Timing is crucial if you want to catch the Alpha Monocerotids, even more than with regular meteor showers. The outburst is expected to start at 11:15 p.m. EST and last just 15 to 40 minutes. Luckily, the sun will be fully set by then and the crescent moon won't rise until after 2 a.m, creating optimal viewing conditions for the eastern half of the country. The shooting stars are fast—traveling at 40 miles per second—and they come at random. Don't be surprised to wait a minute between meteors during some parts of the outburst and less than a second at others.

[h/t Sky & Telescope]

The Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend—Here's the Best Way to Watch It

mdesigner125/iStock via Getty Images
mdesigner125/iStock via Getty Images

We're nearing the end of 2019, but there are still a few astronomical events to catch before the year is s out. This Sunday—November 17—the Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak. Here's everything you need to know before viewing the spectacle.

What is the Leonid meteor shower?

Like all meteor showers, the Leonids are caused by meteoroids from outer space burning up on their descent toward Earth. These particular shooting stars come from the rocky tail of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. Each November, debris from the comet pummels the Earth's atmosphere, causing meteors to light up the sky at rates that can exceed 1000 per hour.

The Leonids won't reach that frequency this year. According to EarthSky, the meteors would peak at a rate of around 10 to 15 per hour in a dark, moonless sky. But because the moon will be bright this weekend, sky-gazers will likely see less of them, with only the brightest shooting stars shining through.

How to See the Leonids

For your best chance of spotting the Leonids, look up the night of Sunday, November 17 and early in the morning of Monday, November 18. The shower reaches its peak after midnight. The moon will be in its waning gibbous phase at that time, so even with clear skies, viewing conditions won't be ideal. But there are ways to increase your chances of seeing as many meteors as possible. Try finding a large object to stand under—such as a tree or building—that will block your view of the moon. If you don't see anything right away, be patient: The more time you give your eyes to adjust to the darkness, the more likely you are to spot a shooting star.

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