Fortunately, as a member and supporter of The Planetary Society, you know that space brings us together. So if you're expecting to gather with extended family on this holiday season, avoid the politics. Instead, here are 5 conversation topics that can inspire and engage everyone.
There is a spacecraft orbiting Earth that is sailing on sunlight
The Planetary Society
LightSail 2 Spreads its Wings and Begins to Fly
On 23 July 2019, flight controllers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California commanded LightSail 2 to deploy its 32-square-meter sail. These images capture the deployment sequence as seen from one of the spacecraft’s 185-degree fisheye cameras. The view of Earth shows Baja California and part of Mexico. LightSail 2 is expected to continue to send back images as it orbits Earth until it reenters the atmosphere in approximately 1 year.
No holiday gathering is complete without discussing LightSail—The Planetary Society's crowd-funded, independently made cubesat that launched earlier this year. Just as sailboats use wind to cross the seas, so does LightSail use photons to control its orbit around Earth.
LightSail is an example of a new kind of spacecraft: one not made by governments but by people working together (approximately 50,000 of them!) to fund and build a low-cost, experimental mission. What is the future of these types of spacecraft? How will this democratization of space impact the future of exploration? What could be possible if spacecraft don't depend on limited sources of fuel, but instead can rely on endless sunlight for propulsion?
What would you put on your ultimate list of space goals? Submit your ideas and help build the ultimate space life list at https://www.planetary.org/spacegoals
Space exploration is far more than an abstract concept. It has an experiential—often reverent—nature that engages profound qualities of human experience. These moments of joy, excitement, and awe are what bring us together in a shared sense of purpose at The Planetary Society.
What would it mean if we found life floating (or swimming?) around in the dark oceans of distant moons? How would it change our understanding of biology? Would it provide new insights into medicine? What would be the philosophical implications of discovering a "second genesis" of life in our own solar system, and of the likelihood that life exists elsewhere?
How could we stop an asteroid coming to hit Earth?
But we have to find them first. Professional and amateur astronomers around the world are searching the skies, and NASA just announced that it will build a dedicated space telescope to search for hazardous NEOs. Is that a worthy investment by the world? Who should look for asteroids and which countries should have responsibility for deflecting one if it's on a collision course for Earth? How much of our survival should depend on luck, and how much should we invest into ensuring we are safe from such disasters?
This image of Earth is one of 60 frames taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990 from a distance of more than 6 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. In the image the Earth is a mere point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Our planet was caught in the center of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the Sun. This image is part of Voyager 1's final photographic assignment which captured family portraits of the Sun and planets.
While space is so big that, statistically speaking, there may be other intelligent life out there, it's very possible they could be so far away that we will never communicate with them, much less visit. It's also possible we humans are the only ones out here. While it may be an awful waste of space, there's no reason that the cosmos should bend to our desires. People are listening and looking for signals, but there is no data yet.
Either way, the only thing you know for sure is that you exist right here and right now. This moment is guaranteed, but that's it. When you share a meal with friends and family, they are the only humans in the entire universe like them, and you the only human in the universe like you. Why ruin that with politics? Take the cosmic perspective. Enjoy the meal.