Why space junk could threaten the future of interplanetary exploration
Plus: Don’t let "mini-monster" black holes suck you in.
Do you ever notice all the junk on Earth? It’s the wet wrappers on the sidewalk, the saccharine, straight-to-Netflix romcoms, the spam emails begging you to claim your free gift at Best Buy... There’s even junk in space. Lucky us.
Space junk also has its consequences. Case in point: Fragments from a Russian satellite might have damaged a Chinese satellite in 2021, and no one is particularly happy about it. We’ll get into that concerning story and other, more benevolent ones, but first, I’m Ashley Bardhan, the newsletter writer at Inverse. Take a moment to slow down, stop, and watch the satellites collide.
This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Thursday, January 13, 2022. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox. ✉️
What space junk and a Chinese satellite mean for the future of space
“Russia is back in space debris hot water,” writes Inverse science writer Jon Kelvey. “The update comes on the heels of a Russian military anti-satellite missile (ASAT) test in November, which destroyed a defunct Soviet spy satellite and generated more than 1,500 pieces of space debris.”
Now, the U.S. Space Force has announced that debris from a 90’s-era Russian launch may have damaged a Chinese weather satellite in March 2021. Although the satellite is still “somewhat operational,” the collision prompts an important discussion on space safety.
“Given that SpaceX plans to add tens of thousands of satellites in the coming years,” writes Kelvey, “space debris mitigation is something humans need to get a handle on or risk losing access to space entirely.”
Why we care: The millions of small, untrackable space debris clogging up our skies not only makes space unsafe for exploration but also threatens technology humans rely on, like Starlink.
Watch your head: This could be why Russia blew up its own satellite
A “mini-monster” could help explain how black holes form
The term “dwarf galaxy” may sound a little Snow White, but it’s more like an evil apple. These smaller galaxies can host gravity-sinking supermassive black holes, but they’re sometimes buried within, making it much more difficult for researchers to find them.
That doesn’t mean they never do. “On January 10,” writes Jennifer Walter, “researchers announced that they identified a supermassive black hole hidden inside the dwarf galaxy MRK 462.”
It’s one of the smallest supermassive black holes ever found, and it’s helping researchers better understand the physics of black holes.
Why we care: The discovery suggests there are more supermassive black holes hidden in other dwarf galaxies. Finding them could be key in answering two questions that dogs astrophysicists — how and when did black holes get so big?
Stay a while: Astronomers discover black holes hiding in unexpected places
Ketamine-assisted therapy could help heavy drinkers stay sober longer
A fascinating new study offers up an unexpected treatment for alcoholism: ketamine.
That’s right, the anesthetic medication and cameo-holder on Succession. “According to Celia Morgan, a professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and the study’s lead author,” writes Inverse contributor Kaitlin Sullivan, “‘ketamine shifts people’s mindsets, allowing them to see old problems in new ways.’”
Ketamine also makes the brain “more receptive to new learning,” Morgan says, which could be why participants who were put in the trial that involved ketamine and therapy stayed sober for 87 percent of the study’s follow-up period.
Why we care: This is the first phase II clinical trial to test if a low dose of ketamine combined with therapy can help treat recovering alcoholics. The study is scheduled to move to a phase III involving more participants, which could potentially lead to “the first new treatment for alcoholism in decades,” writes Sullivan.
Embrace possibility: Why ketamine could save your life
Tesla’s Supercharger network hits a major milestone
If you think about it, recharging your EV battery is a lot like doing ketamine. Actually, it’s not at all, but I couldn’t think of a better tie-in. The good news is that Tesla now operates its proprietary Superchargers in all 50 states.
“In a tweet announcing the development, Tesla claimed it was now possible to ‘drive anywhere in the US using the Supercharger network,’” writes Jordan Golson. Although Tesla’s 30,000-strong Supercharger network is certainly impressive, this isn’t exactly true.
“Tesla has covered most of the Interstate highway network, but parts of the plains (Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho are inaccessible,” writes Golson. “There are also gaps in Nevada, North Arkansas, and a handful of other places.”
Why we care: Tesla’s Supercharger network is a huge feat, and comes at an important time as the US continues to make the switch to greener transportation. But that can’t be possible until companies like Tesla recognize that rural EV owners need to drive, too.
Big things are coming: The solution to EV’s biggest challenge
The best space thriller on Netflix reveals a real lunar mystery
As you wind down in preparation for the weekend (just one more day!), you might consider watching Netflix’s latest sci-fi offering that isn’t entertainment-only.
“The grim backdrop for Netflix’s recent Korean sci-fi thriller, The Silent Sea, might seem like an unusual one,” writes Inverse science reporter Tara Yarlagadda, “What’s the connection between the deadly drought on Earth — likely driven by the climate crisis — and the lunar mission at the heart of this series?”
It’s Moon water, a grainy topic that has interested researchers for a long time.
This is why we care: Uncovering the real science behind some of our new and favorite TV shows helps us better understand our world and what we’re watching. Moon water may sound like it’s just pretend, but scientists told Inverse everything TV won’t. Just don’t expect to drink it anytime soon.
And back again: Netflix’s most realistic apocalypse movie reveals a controversial scientific debate
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- Song of the day: “Jupiter 4,” by Sharon Van Etten.