Ep. 510: 2018 – Year in Review

2018 was an incredible year in space news. Rockets launched, landers landed, spacecraft were born and died. We learned tremendous new things about Universe around us, and today we’re here to look back fondly over the last 12 months to review the year in space that was.
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Download the show [MP3] | Jump to Shownotes | Jump to Transcript

Show Notes

OSIRIS-REx – https://www.asteroidmission.org/
James Webb Space Telescope delays – https://www.jwst.nasa.gov/
SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets – https://www.spacex.com/
Mars InSight Lander – https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/
Soyuz Space Crew Launch Failure 2018: Full Coverage
Russian spacewalkers perform ‘surgery’ on Soyuz spacecraft
Parker Solar Probe – http://parkersolarprobe.jhuapl.edu/
Saturn’s Rings are fading
China Launches a lander to the far side of the Moon
New dwarf planets: Goblin and Farout
Opportunity, Dawn and Kepler die
TESS launches
Underground liquid water on Mars
Gaia data release
Stephen Hawking Dies


Transcription services provided by: GMR Transcription

Fraser: Astronomy Cast, episode 510, 2018 in review. Welcome to Astronomy Cast, our weekly facts-based journey through the cosmos where we help you understand not only what we know but how we know what we know. I’m Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today. With me as always, Dr. Pamela Gay, senior scientist for the Planetary Science Institute and the director of CosmoQuest. Hey, Pamela, how are you doing?

Pamela: I’m doing okay. How are you doing?

Fraser: I’m doing great. Back from my Hawaii holiday, well relaxed. Last episode I was actually in Hawaii. And the episode didn’t sound too badly with my portable recorder. Again, Zoom’s for the win. If you want a portable recorder get a Zoom. They’re the best.

Pamela: Unless you’re going through international flights, in which case they will get you detained and you will hate them.

Fraser: Sure, but then you can record the whole experience and then, you know, post that online and everybody gets humiliated. So, you know, it’s a double-edged sword for them. Now before we get into this week’s show, we wanna give one last promotion for the hangout-a-thon. Now people, when they get this, it will have already happened, right?

Pamela: It will have already happened, but we’re taking donations through December 31.

Fraser: Okay, perfect.

Pamela: Any funds that come in before December 31 help us out. For those of you who haven’t heard yet, CosmoQuest lost its NASA grant. So we have a shiny, brand new institute with over 100 Ph.D. scientists to call our own, and no funding to science with. And we’re asking for your help to hold us over until we can apply for, and hopefully get, new federal funds.

Fraser: Yeah, Pamela is the absolute master of writing funding papers, proposals. That is the thing that she does the best and now with the loss of funding from NASA there’s gonna be all kinds of new funding requests going out to, I’m sure the National Science Foundation, and private foundations, and maybe NASA again. But these all take time and until then there is the science team that’s already doing the work and we wanna try and bridge the financing between what happens now so people don’t have to get laid off and we can keep going. So what we do through CosmoQuest and the work that we’re doing to try and help bridge that gap between regular folks and working scientists.

Please watch the hangout-a-thon and participate and more importantly help us out with your funds. And there’s gonna be lots of information at the – it’s hangoutathon.org?

Pamela: O-R-G.

Fraser: Yeah.

Pamela: And we have a ton of give-a-ways. There’s Funko Pops, there’s all sorts of just random – it’s largely stuff from Loot Crate. So stay tuned for all of the giveaways. And every time our ticker crosses over a new $100.00 mark we’re gonna give treats to the dogs. There’s a dog cam set up.

Fraser: Wow.

Pamela: Yeah, so please come help, please. Hangoutathon.O-R-G.

Fraser: We really appreciate and could use your help. And don’t worry, this is temporary and all those funds will come in and, you know, back to business as usual, science as usual. But this is a tough time. So let’s get on with the show. Actually, before we do, congratulations on winning a Parsec award, Pamela.

Pamela: Well, and congratulations to you as well and congratulations to Chad and Susie. We won!

Fraser: We won. Finally, we won. We’ve been in the running for Parsec award for it feels like a decade now. I had to go and make my own video series to win Parsec awards and you had to help out the astronomy –

Pamela: 365 Days of Astronomy.

Fraser: 365 Days of Astronomy and that won a Parsec award. But finally, Astronomy Cast won a Parsec award. So congratulations to everybody involved and a big thanks, definitely, to Chad and Susie for helping with the show.

All right, let’s move on. 2018 was an incredible year in space news. Rockets launched, landers landed, spacecraft were born and died. We learned tremendous new things about the universe around us and today we’re here to look back fondly over the last 12 months to review the year in space that was. The year in space that was. Now I – one of the real advantages for me maintaining my new email newsletter is I’ve got this really great, concise list of all of the space news that happened. So just before the show I said to Pamela, hey, should I prepare a list of the stuff? And she was like oh, that’d be great. And it took me a couple of minutes because I got this great list. So you should totally be on my email newsletter.

But I was able to pull this. I think I’ve got, like, 18 things. I was actually looking at it, it was a big year. I think one of the biggest years that we’ve seen in the history of Astronomy Cast. So I am prepared emotionally for the show to run a little long and will try not to get super anxious about the length of it. So do you wanna pick from that lovely list and pick one that you wanna talk about?

Pamela: Oh, man. So for me OSIRIS-REx is the most cool of the cool. We have a little spaceship that could. It took off all the way back in 2016 and just about a week ago it made it to Bennu. So it’s now at a near-Earth asteroid, it has begun its imaging run, and it’s gonna go in and it’s gonna grab a rock and bounce back off and eventually make its way back to Earth. And one of the reasons that I’m so super cool – I find this project so super cool and I’m super excited, is CosmoQuest wrote the software that’s going to be used in part to find the rock that they’re bringing back to Earth.

And this is one of the things that are also so frustrating is it’s like you mean I might not be doing CosmoQuest while my software’s doing awesome things? Damn! Okay, but – and then its, of course, sister program Hayabusa2 at Ryugu. So we have spacecraft at a near-Earth asteroid, it’s a carbonaceous chondrite, and we have one at a near-Earth asteroid that is a meteor one and we’re bringing rocks back from both. And all the science, all the science, is going to happen. It’s awesome.

Fraser: Yeah, and we were actually there, of course, for the launch of OSIRIS-REx in Florida and it’s great to see the whole system come together now. Now here it is at Bennu, getting closer and closer. And I loved – we are now at this point where it’s now in its high orbit, but when it was approaching and you were getting these full rotation images, and amazingly, how Bennu, like Ryugu, looked like this ten-sided die, this some kind of polyhedron that was floating in space. Clearly this is a shape that we’re gonna see more of as we explore more and more of the asteroid belt and more and more of these tiny objects out there. But just so exciting to see the higher resolution as you’re seeing the asteroid, as the spacecraft is approaching the asteroid, and seeing bigger and bigger details.

And then when you see that full revolution of it and you’re like what’s that? And what’s that over there? And I wanna see that rock up close. I can just imagine the difficult time that the folks at – who are running OSIRIS-REx are gonna have to be to make choices about which of these spots they wanna touch down on. I know right now they are shortlisting the potential locations where they’re going to do their landing attempts. They’ve got a few landing attempts that they can make. And just this amazing idea that they’re gonna be able to collect a sample and bring it back to Earth.

So I highly agree. I would say that is – you snuck in Hayabusa, which I had said is a second thing, but I think by doing so – so I wanna give Hayabusa, then, a little more credit, which is this amazing Japanese mission just came – I mean, obviously we had all been tracking it, but I don’t think anybody had really expected how exciting this mission was going to be and how innovative this Japanese mission was going to be in coming together. The spacecraft was powered by a really cool ion engine, so it was very able to get there with not a lot of energy. It was able to approach its asteroid target, Ryugu.

Same kind of thing. You saw this wonderful approach on it. And then it had a whole collection of ways that it was going to try and will continue to try to explore. And I think one of my favorite ones was the German lander, if we can even call that, that landed down on the surface of Ryugu and then just kind of flip-flopped around for a while, sampling –

Pamela: It was essentially a wind-up toy. [Inaudible] [00:09:37] wind-up toy.

Fraser: Yeah, sampling whatever it could find until it ran out of batteries. And I just love…and just as a comparison, right, that the costs were very low and that it really looked like the Japanese were willing to just try every crazy idea to see what’s gonna work. And I love that balance of let’s send a mission, but let’s also perform a bunch of experiments at the same time and just new techniques to try this out. So kudos to both OSIRIS-REx and Bennu. OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa. So I’ll let you choose another one.
Pamela: Well, we can do kudos to a rock, I’m just not sure what it did to deserve the kudos.

Fraser: Yeah.

Pamela: So it’s really been a year of spacecraft wins and spacecraft loses. And it’s that punctuation of highs and lows where it’s not like the ‘90s where it was just like things launch. Okay, we’re cool, things launch. We’re cool.

Fraser: Wait 15 years for the thing to happen, yeah.

Pamela: Yeah, so we also had, of course, the delay of the Space Launch Systems and James Webb Space Telescope. And those delays increased the costs of both programs and, I mean, other things can’t get done.

Fraser: Where we are right now is the James Webb, I think, has been pushed to 2021.

Pamela: March 30, 2021.

Fraser: And the Space Launch System, I’m not sure what the latest date is, but it’s definitely been pushed back beyond 2020? It was gonna launch in 2019, I think now it’s in 2020. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets pushed again. NASA did fairly detailed examinations of both projects and showed that the contractors had dropped the ball on both of them. I believe it was Northrop Grumman working on the James Webb. They had cost overruns and problems with quality control. It was Boeing with the Space Launch System and there were some problems with that.

And so we are at this place now where these missions are gobbling up all of the budget. They’re too big to fail, too big to cancel, but they’re gonna need billions and billions of dollars more before they can actually launch. And we’re in this really kind of scary limbo with both of these missions. I mean, James Webb will be the most incredible telescope that has – that human beings have ever launched. But it is –

Pamela: And the greatest example of the sunk cost fallacy.

Fraser: Well, yeah. I mean, that’s the question, right? When do you throw in the towel and say forget it, we’re just not gonna launch this thing? $6 billion? $8 billion? Yeah, it’s the sunk cost fallacy. And then you match that with the Space Launch System, which will be the most powerful rocket system eventually ever launched by human beings when it’s in its final block two configuration. Which looks like that’s not gonna happen. While at the same time you’ve got other really interesting rockets coming together from private companies. So that was a really rough year. It just felt like a lot of bad news just kept dropping. And clearly, the delays were already sunk into the machine and we just didn’t know. It’s just that it hadn’t been revealed and this year we got all the bad news.

Pamela: And one of the problems with the Space Launch System is there’s a very, very limited number of launches planned. And with just a few score launches and they’re already planned out several years. Here we are spending billions and billions and billions on development of a rocket that will launch two or three times a year as opposed to Falcons, which go up two or three times a week.

Fraser: A day, yeah.

Pamela: Yeah, twice in one day. So the question starts to become are we better off? And this was actually getting asked at some political meetings in the past few weeks. Are we better off putting our eggs in a different basket and perhaps launching things in smaller pieces with the VFR or one of the other heavier lift? Yes, Space Launch Systems is predicted to be the heaviest launch vehicle we’ve ever had. But we can make things that are smaller and that’s okay.

Fraser: And so I guess that leads into what was just an absolutely stunning year for the private launch companies, starting with obviously SpaceX. They broke the record for the largest number of launches ever done by any single organization, more than many countries. I think China was more. So SpaceX just launched a ridiculous amount of rockets. And of course the piece de resistance is that they used rockets multiple times. So one of their rockets was launched a third time and several rockets were launched two times. So probably into – well, I don’t wanna make any predictions, that’ll be next week, but we’re gonna see rockets hit four or five, six times.

And of course – and this is gonna seem crazy, but it’s been so long, but the Falcon Heavy launched at the beginning of the year and we, of course, predicting the launch of the Falcon Heavy. There hasn’t been another Falcon Heavy launch since then, but –

Pamela: He’s jumping plants is the thing. This is Elon Musk. It’s constant innovation.

Fraser: Yeah, and so to see the two rockets land for the Falcon Heavy, not the third one, that was unfortunate, but to see the two side boosters land simultaneously was one of my greatest experiences as a space nerd. And to see – and there’s going to be more Falcon Heavy launches in 2019 is the plan. And then that goes along with all of the plans that were going on with the starship and the super heavy. We can’t call it the BFR anymore. And we don’t even know now what this thing’s even gonna look like, right? At this point –

Pamela: There is the random tweet of oh, I totally revolutionized everything.

Fraser: Yeah, solved it. Like, what?

Pamela: Dude.

Fraser: What is it gonna look like? What’s it gonna be? We don’t know. Yeah, so the name has changed, we saw a new design where it looked very much like a [inaudible] [00:16:56] rocket, some kind of old-timey 1950’s Pulp Fiction rocket. And now we’re looking at – we don’t even know what it’s gonna be like because he’s like I made it so much better and I’m not gonna tell you. So now we gotta wait for all that. So still, SpaceX, you won, you killed it, you crushed it. You absolutely dominated this year. You made rockets land on top of rockets, you made rockets used multiple times, bigger rockets, and you’ve, of course, gave us so much fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the future of what the starship is going to do to the rest of the industry.

Pamela: I just want video of them catching a fairing though. They had this speedboat with a giant net. And the fact that they’re zooming around in the ocean trying to cath these fairings is deeply amusing to me and I – all I want for Christmas is video of that occurring.

Fraser: Yeah. No word from – not a lot happened with Blue Origin. They had some more tests of the New Shepherd. We’re going to – we saw the launch manifest information about the New…Glenn, which is their monster rocket. But we’re still waiting a couple years for that to actually launch. But I’ve seen the building. I’ve seen where they’re building the Blue Origin rockets and it’s big. They’ve got a huge facility out at Cape Canaveral where they’re building new rockets. So I think – I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more details. Again, I can’t resist going into 2019. I’m not going to do it. Pick another story.

Pamela: Okay, InSight. It actually has a seismograph tilted two or three degrees sideways. A seismograph placed on the surface of Mars. Soon we will know whether or not the red planet is solid all the way through.

Fraser: The launch and landing of Mars InSight on Mars was – yeah, was great, was spectacular and went –

Pamela: Well, the launch was not spectacular. The launch was rather boring.

Fraser: Foggy.

Pamela: Yes. Quiet. Muffled.

Fraser: Were you there for that?

Pamela: No, but David Joseph Wesley and Rockson Phoenix were and I got reports.

Fraser: West Coast Vandenberg is apparently – you never get to see your rocket launch. You can just see the fog and the fog – you hear noise and the fog sort of gets a little brighter over there somewhere. And apparently –

Pamela: You have to go mountain climbing and watch it emerge from the fog.

Fraser: Yeah, so it’s a tough place to watch rockets launch from. But, yeah, I mean amazing, right? A super sensitive seismometer sitting on the surface of Mars right now. It’s about to deploy its probe. It gave us kind of a recording of what the wind sounds like on Mars, it faked it with its seismometer.

Pamela: It tried.

Fraser: Yeah. It’s still not an actual, proper microphone on the surface of Mars, but what a wonderful thing to know. And of course the big question is what’s inside Mars? We don’t know. Is it gummy bears? Or is it –

Pamela: Dragons?

Fraser: Dragons? We don’t know. And only with a seismometer that’s going to accurately measure the temperature gradient from the core to the surface and a seismometer to detect the Mars quakes will we get a better sense and be able to rule out gummy bears or dragons and maybe go towards some combination of liquid, solid, metallic core. So, awesome. But I think with InSight, it’s gonna get very boring very quickly because it has placed its seismometer, it’s about to deploy its temperature probe, and then it’s gonna have to listen very quietly, can’t do anything because it’s gonna be listening for everything. So we’re, I think we’re gonna hear a lot less news from InSight now that it’s done all of its deployments. It’ll be the forgotten lander.

Pamela: And it has landed somewhere so boring on Mars they couldn’t figure out where they were located from horizon features and they had to figure out where they were by imaging it with high-rise.

Fraser: Yeah. All right. So I’m gonna talk about the – in human space flight we had a bit of a scare, which was the Soyuz rocket launch, and this was back in October. There was two astronauts, cosmonaut went – were going to go to space and shortly into – just after the deployment of the solid rocket boosters there was a problem with the launch and they had to abandon and abort the mission. The astronauts were recovered safely. But this caused a big concern, which was that without a fresh Soyuz delivered to the International Space Station, the International Space Station could only go for a little while having astronauts on board until the astronauts would have to abandon the space station. And this was a big risk.

This calls into question this agreement that the Americans have with the Russians to be able to launch spacecraft, called into question just this whole program and the way this is done. And you could see this – it had shades of the Columbia disaster and the Challenger disaster. You could see that there was this big risk that was happening. And I’m glad to say just in the last couple of weeks another Soyuz has launched, astronauts delivered safely to the space station, disaster averted.

Pamela: It was one of those things, this occurred right when I got to Australia and I was sitting there thinking – or it happened right when I got to Sydney and I was sitting there thinking huh, I should probably go to bed. And then I checked Twitter and I was like I’m not going to bed until these people have landed because they might have just pulled nine G’s and that would be bad. It was one of these things where they got lucky because the second stage failed early enough that they didn’t get as high up as they might have, which means that they didn’t pull as many G’s as they might have on their way back down.

Fraser: It still sounded like no fun.

Pamela: Yeah.

Fraser: Yeah, but it is a relief. Now, there was a lot of development in 2018 of the replacements. There’s the Boeing Dreamliner, the CST-100, and there’s the Crew Dragon capsule that is gonna be coming from SpaceX. Both of those, we’ve seen a lot of development. Both of those aren’t gonna be tested until 2019 at this point. But –

Pamela: Astronauts were selected and are being trained.

Fraser: And the space suits have been made and all of this. So it’s just – it would have been too late to save the station and to keep it crewed. And, you know, tremendous amount of work is done by the astronauts in maintenance to close the station down and just leave it running up there for six months, a year.

Pamela: And then the cosmonauts just periodically attack it with a knife. That will be my favorite video of any spacewalk ever. Did you see that video?

Fraser: Yeah, I did, I did, yeah, where they were just digging into the – they were performing rocket surgery.

Pamela: And it did coin the – we now have brain surgeons and rocket scientists and rocket surgeons. So while Mission Control was like no, you need to take a break and stop it, what are you doing, except in Russian, one of the cosmonauts was just going at it with a knife and shredding through the external insulation on the Soyuz capsule trying to dig in from the other side and figure out exactly what it was that caused the puncture that they’d had that was causing the ISS to leak atmosphere.

Fraser: Yeah. You know, it was a really big year for space missions. Less of a big year for cosmological news. I didn’t find a lot of big cosmology news this year, but there was a lot of just things happening with missions. The Parker Solar Probe blasted off becoming the fastest spacecraft ever launched by human beings. We got the first pictures of the solar atmosphere from Parker Solar Probe with Mercury caught in one of these blasts coming out of the sun. And over the next couple of years, Parker Solar Probe is just gonna get closer and closer and closer to the sun and taking pictures, the quality of which we’ve never seen.

And I love just the construction of Parker with this gigantic heat shield that it turns to face the sun when it’s at the closest point along its orbit to protect itself from the deadly radiation that’s coming off the sun. And then it zips out into – farther away, anyway, and then comes back again. And a really exciting mission, a really great launch, and a really exciting capability for us to be able to take these close-up views of what is probably the most important object in the entire solar system. You know, we wouldn’t be here without the sun so it makes sense to kind of understand it a little better.

Pamela: We did have – while it wasn’t the year of cosmology, it was the year of the exoplanet. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array has really hit its stride. It is returning image after image after image of protoplanetary disks, showing us how solar systems are in the process of forming. We’ve had the Kepler data is continuing to return results as people reprocess, process it over. We have TESS launched, is checking out, should return planets.

Fraser: Already has.

Pamela: Okay, it already has. There’s so much planet stuff and then of course we have Gaia returning everything local. And it redefined local by kind of meaning everything in the early – or everything in the inner part of our galaxy.

Fraser: Yeah, I have continued to say that I think Gaia is, up to this point, the most exciting mission that’s in operation right now. Whenever I look on Astro Ph for new stories, I see multiple stories based on Gaia data. Here’s all the pulsars around us, here are all the white dwarfs around us, these are all – now we know how big the large Magellanic Cloud is and oh, turns out we now know that Albireo is a visual binary and not an actual binary star. It just goes on and on and on and on and on. And we found a sibling star to the sun. Thanks, Gaia, right?

By having that detailed knowledge of all of these stars, their positions, their locations, what they’re made out of and then matching that against other large surveys of the sky, you’re just learning whatever you wanna find out. And we’re only halfway through Gaia. We haven’t even gotten to the best part where it’s gonna start to dump tens of thousands of exoplanets into our lap, map out dark matter. It’s gonna single-handedly, I think, revolutionize our understanding of the universe.

Pamela: And it makes the faltering of so many other observatories a little bit easier to bear. We had Hubble go down for a while, we had Chandra go down for a while, and we’re watching as the great observatories…they’re all well beyond their life expectancy. These are your senior citizens that when they pass it’s like you lived a good life, we’re okay with this. But we’re not okay with this because we don’t have future generations off being built. We have Gaia now and there’s no other great observatories really waiting.

Fraser: Apart from James Webb. Remember James Webb? But, you know, it’ll never launch. So, you know. Okay, so you mentioned this earlier but I thought I would just shine a light on this is that we lost a bunch of spacecraft this year. A lot of really important spacecraft. We lost the Kepler spacecraft, which of course had been on – which we thought we had lost years ago, but they had come up with a really clever fix and now Kepler was able to continue observing and finding exoplanets.

We lost the Dawn mission. That was expected. It ran out of fuel after having visited both Vesta and Ceres, ran out of fuel but made some amazing discoveries about both of those worlds. And I think the one that really felt most heartbreaking was the loss of Opportunity, the Opportunity rover on the surface of Mars. A big dust storm took over the entire –

Pamela: They’re still listening for it.

Fraser: Then we’ll make that a 2019 prediction that we’ll find Opportunity again.

Pamela: I wanna have a princess bride kind of – not fully dead, just mostly dead.

Fraser: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s dead.

Pamela: Yeah, I do, too.

Fraser: Right. But I mean, a global dust storm took over the entire planet, was darker – it was thicker and worse than anything we had seen in modern history in our observations of Mars. It was the worst dust storm that we have ever recorded. And reduced the light to the point that Opportunity wasn’t able to fill its solar panels, wasn’t able to keep itself warmed up and in the cold Martian night it ran below its critical temperature and died.

So it’s out there somewhere. Some future Mars explorer will use it to communicate for home and stay alive. So I’m sure Opportunity has another job. But, thank you – I mean, Opportunity, of course, was only expected to last three months, lasted, I don’t know, like a million years. So it did its job and it’s bittersweet, but it sure did a lot of work.

Pamela: And Dawn. Dawn just ran out of fuel to point its solar panels at the sun. And so it’s out there at Ceres –

Fraser: Somewhere.

Pamela: – doing its dead robot thing.

Fraser: Right. Another interesting mission, this is a story unfolding and this is the Chinese launched their Chang’e 4 lander, or Chang’e 4 mission, and they’re gonna be putting their next lander and this time onto the far side of the moon. And this is, of course, the side of the moon that faces away from us. There is no dark side, but there is a far side. And for the first time we’re going to see the surface of the far side of the moon as a little Chinese rover is going to noodle around. And the complexity was being able to retransmit data back to Earth. And so the – China has already launched a relay satellite –

Pamela: Communications.

Fraser: Yeah, to the far side. And so it’s gonna be able to transmit whatever the rover sees. So the relay satellite is in position and right now the lander, rover, is on its way to the moon and we’re gonna see the whole thing unfold next year. Can’t wait.

Pamela: So, yeah, that’s cool. And planetary science seems to be really where a lot of the cool success is coming and it’s also where a lot of the politics is currently. So we had people being like space force. No, please don’t do that. The returning to Mars, the returning to the moon efforts. We continue to look forward to the Europa clipper. Mike Brown continues his explorations of the outer solar system. And we have two fabulous new dwarf planets and I don’t know how to pronounce the second one.

Fraser: Farout.

Pamela: It is pronounced – I wanted to be like Farot or something.

Fraser: No, Farout, man. So the Goblin and Farout are the two candidate dwarf planets that have been added to the list. But they’re actually the other team’s. That’s not Mike Brown’s team, that’s the other team of planet hunters who are also finding all of the objects out there.

But I think you mentioned Space Force and I think that’s a big part is that the Trump Administration put a lot of emphasis on human space exploration. We saw good budgets for planetary science coming in to NASA. So actually for space exploration and for planetary science, it’s actually been a really good year and it looks like the future of the – unless there’s a government shutdown, stay tuned.

But for now, actually, both human space exploration and robotic space exploration look really well and place a lot of projects that seemed underfunded have gotten fully funded, projects that looked like they were gonna get delayed have gone forward, and there’s a lot of really creative ideas that are coming together for returning to the moon, using that as a stepping stone to Mars. And we’ve heard this before, but I heard all the right things this year, all the right lip service, to these goals so we’ll see what happens, how it all unfolds over the next – it’ll make the inevitable cancellation that more heartbreaking. And I’m so cynical about this.

Pamela: And you’re not even the one who’s gonna be streaming for 40 hours trying to raise your salary for your staff.

Fraser: Yeah, no, I know, I know. I’ll give you a couple of hours. I’ll be there.

Pamela: I know. I know. If you want science and you think it needs more funding, put your wallet where your mouth is. Donate to CosmoQuest, hangoutathon.org. We need your help.

Fraser: A couple of more pieces of news. One that just came around just this week is we’ve learned that Saturn’s rings are dying.

Pamela: Yeah. I don’t know what to say to that one. They’re about 100 million years old they now think.

Fraser: They have 100 million years left.

Pamela: Okay.

Fraser: They’re about halfway through their life so they probably are 100 million years old and then they’ve got about 100 million years left. And it looks like Saturn is just gobbling them up.

Pamela: It’s a thing. Something reached its [inaudible] [00:36:46] and got shredded, became the rings.

Fraser: And if you listen back to older episodes of Astronomy Cast we would argue about whether the rings were young or old. Turns out they’re young and they’re gonna die.

Pamela: All good things come to an end.

Fraser: Right.

Pamela: The only certainty is the heat death of the universe.

Fraser: But it feels fortunate that here we are in the solar system at a time when Saturn had these beautiful, icy rings.

Pamela: We keep finding things that break the cosmological principle. This idea that we don’t live in a special time or a special place. We seem to at least live in a special enough time that we get to see Saturn’s rings, that our planet is capable of supporting life, and all these other things. And a lot of really good dice throws happened.

Fraser: Let’s see. What else? So in interesting – just a few more quick ones. There was some really interesting findings of underground water on Mars. And this was announced earlier this year. And of course we know there’s water on Mars in the form of the big polar icecaps and now they found that there are icy sheets of water on Mars just below the regolith. But for the first time they found what looks like some kind of underground lake, salty lake, that could be a reservoir of water that future explorers could tap into to be able to – and also could be an ideal place to search for life because we know that wherever we have briny, salty water here on Earth, we have life. So it would be an ideal place to go and look.

Pamela: And at the same time the black streaks on Mars, once again, had people coming up with ways it might not be water.

Fraser: And I think one last thing that I’ve got on my list is we have to say a sad farewell to Dr. Stephen Hawking who passed away, finally, after living with a terrible disease, ALS, for a longer time than –

Pamela: Far longer than –

Fraser: – many of us have been alive and still continuing to do cutting edge physics locked into a prison of his own body, was a celebrity but also was still a working scientist. And unfortunately this year he succumbed to his disease and passed away. And I think we all really felt the impact of his legacy. And it’s sad to see him go and to know that – but when you think about what we all do with our lives, our healthy, full-bodied lives, and what he was able to do with such a terrible condition, it always makes me go I gotta do more. I think what he went through and what he was able to accomplish is an inspiration for the rest of us to try to live up to our potential. And that’s one of the things that I really think about.

Pamela: And he wasn’t perfect. There were lots of cases of basically; I’ll just say not niceness across his lifetime. But…in terms of someone who accomplished a whole lot with a whole lot working against him, it’s still kind of amazing.

Fraser: Yeah, so if you have one, pour one out for Stephen Hawking if you haven’t already, egg nog. And we’ll miss you. We’ll miss you. We’ll miss having your presence in all of the science that’s going on. All right, I think we went through all of the things that we talked about that happened in 2018. Next week we will look forward into 2019 and try to listen – maybe we’ll listen to our predictions, see what happened. And make some more predictions that we will ignore for 2019. Pamela, of course, it’s been an absolute pleasure working with you and here’s to many, many more years.

Pamela: To many more years.

Fraser: All right. We’ll see you next week. And come to the hangout-a-thon and donate.

Pamela: Yes.

Fraser: All right. Bye, everybody.

Pamela: Bye-bye.

Female Speaker: Thank you for listening to Astronomy Cast, a nonprofit resource provided by the Planetary Science Institute, Fraser Cane, and Dr. Pamela Gay. You can find show notes and transcripts for every episode at Astronomy Cast. You can email us at info@astronomycast.com, tweet us @AstronomyCast, like us on Facebook, and watch us on YouTube. We record our show live on YouTube every Friday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, 12:00 p.m. Pacific, or 1900 UTC. Our intro music was provided by David Joseph Wesley, the outro music is by Travis Searle, and the show was edited by Susie Murph.

[End of Audio]

Duration: 43 minutes

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