Space Wars: The Private Sector Strikes Back
Government agencies such as NASA have been the brains behind space exploration for decades with much success. Such agencies put the first man in space, landed on the moon, and built the first reusable space vessel.
However, since the private venture behind SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 for its series of manned flights, a new age of space exploration has begun.
In fact, many companies in the private sector have started to achieve great milestones. Our infographic today, created by Visual Capitalist, documents the companies in space that are now vying for space supremacy.
The Old Guard
Rooted in the lucrative government space contracts of the past, the Old Guard consists primarily of defense and aerospace behemoths such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital Sciences.
To put things in perspective, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed formed in 2006, charges the US Air Force a $1 billion retainer just to be “ready” to launch a satellite into space. To actually launch a satellite is another $380 million more.
Seeing this stagnant situation as a business opportunity were tech billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson, who have helped form The New Guard.
The New Guard
The price tag that is advertised for a launch of the Falcon 9 with SpaceX right now is $57 million. Compared to ULA prices above, this is a meaningful step in market disruption. It’s only the beginning.
Companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries plan to harvest asteroids in space for water and metals such as PGMs (platinum group metals). Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to bring super rich tourists to experience space in coming years for $250,000 a pop.
However, space isn’t for the faint of heart. Recent accidents in 2014 have made clear the elements of human and financial risk that space flight brings. In October, Orbital Sciences’ unmanned Antares rocket exploded over Virginia. A few days later, Virgin’s manned test flight of the SpaceShipTwo ended in calamity with one death and one serious injury to test pilots.
These challenging realities are part of embarking to new frontiers. So far, such incidents and risks have not deterred companies from their endeavours yet. Which companies will succeed in their quests in this new industry?
The truth is out there.
Visualizing the Origin of Elements
You’re likely familiar with the periodic table, but do you know the origin of elements? This graphic shows where our solar system’s elements come from.
Visualizing the Origin of Elements
Most of us are familiar with the periodic table of elements from high school chemistry. We learned about atoms, and how elements combine to form chemical compounds. But perhaps a lesser-known aspect is where these elements actually come from.
Today’s periodic table showing the origin of elements comes to us from Reddit user u/only_home, inspired by an earlier version created by astronomer Jennifer Johnson. It should be noted that elements with multiple sources are shaded proportionally to reflect the amount of said element produced from each source.
Let’s dive into the eight origin stories in more detail.
The Big Bang
The universe began as a hot, dense region of radiant energy about 14 billion years ago. It cooled and expanded immediately after formation, creating the lightest and most plentiful elements: hydrogen and helium. This process also created trace amounts of lithium.
Low Mass Stars
At the beginning of their lives, all stars create energy by fusing hydrogen atoms to form helium. Once the hydrogen is depleted, stars fuse helium into carbon and expand to become red giants.
From this point on, the journey of a low and a high mass star differs. Low mass stars reach a temperature of roughly one million kelvin and continue to heat up. Outer layers of helium and hydrogen expand around the carbon core until they can no longer be contained by gravity. These gas layers, known as a planetary nebula, are ejected into space. It is thought that a low mass star’s death creates many heavy elements such as lead.
Exploding White Dwarfs
In the wake of this planetary nebula expulsion, a carbon core known as a “white dwarf” remains with a temperature of about 100,000 kelvin. In many cases, a white dwarf will simply fade away.
Sometimes, however, white dwarfs gain enough mass from a nearby companion star to become unstable and explode in a Type 1a supernova. This explosion likely creates heavier elements such as iron, nickel, and manganese.
Exploding Massive Stars
Massive stars evolve faster and generate much more heat. In addition to forming carbon, they also create layers of oxygen, nitrogen, and iron. When the core contains only iron, which is stable and compact, fusion ceases and gravitational collapse occurs. The star reaches a temperature of over several billion kelvin—resulting in a supernova explosion. Astronomers speculate that a variety of elements, including arsenic and rubidium, are formed during such explosions.
Exploding Neutron Stars
When a supernova occurs, the star’s core collapses, crushing protons and neutrons together into neutrons. If the mass of a collapsing star is low enough—about four to eight times that of the sun—a neutron star is formed. In 2017, it was discovered that when these dense neutron stars collide, they create heavier elements such as gold and platinum.
Cosmic Ray Spallation
The shockwaves from supernova explosions send cosmic rays, or high energy atoms/subatomic particles, flying through space. When these cosmic rays hit another atom at nearly the speed of light, they break apart and form a new element. The elements of lithium, beryllium, and boron are products of this process.
Supernova explosions also create very heavy elements with unstable nuclei. Over time, these nuclei eject a neutron or proton, or a neutron decays into a proton and electron. This process is known as radioactive decay and often creates lighter, more stable elements such as radium and francium.
Not Naturally Occurring
There are currently 26 elements on the periodic table that are not naturally occurring; instead, these are all created synthetically in a laboratory using nuclear reactors and particle accelerators. For example, plutonium can be created when fast-moving neutrons collide with a common uranium isotope in a nuclear reactor.
Discoveries Yet to be Made
There is still some uncertainty as to where elements with a middle-range atomic number—neither heavy nor light—come from. As scientific breakthroughs emerge, we will continue to learn more about the elements that make up the mass of our solar system.
Visualized: The Mass of the Entire Solar System
This interactive data visualization illustrates how the different planetary objects in our solar system compare based on their individual masses.
Visualized: The Mass of the Entire Solar System
In space, everything feels weightless due to the lack of gravity.
So how do you measure the weight of objects in space? You don’t. When it comes to the cosmos, all that matters is mass.
Today’s interactive data visualization comes from Reddit user Ranger-UK, and is designed by Daniel Caroli. It delves into the different masses which make up our solar system, and how they all compare in size.
A Star Is Born
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Sun eclipses all other nearby objects by mass. At the heart of our solar system, this yellow dwarf’s gravity is what holds it all together.
The Sun actually makes up 99.8% of our entire solar system’s mass — and we’re lucky to be living in the other 0.2%. Responsible for all life on Earth, it’s no wonder that various cultures have worshiped the Sun throughout history, and even dedicated deities to it.
Currently in its middle years — the sun is over four billion years old, and it’s predicted to remain stable for another five billion years. After this, it will overtake the orbits of Mercury and Venus and then shrink back to the size of a white dwarf.
Out Of This World
The gas giants are all more than ten times as massive as Earth, even though they’re mainly made up of hydrogen and helium. They dominate the Solar System’s real estate — once the Sun is taken out of the equation, of course.
In order, here’s how the planets stack up:
|Jupiter||Gas giant||1,898,600 x 10²¹ kg||69,911 ±6 km||1.326g/cm³|
|Saturn||Gas giant||568,460 x 10²¹ kg||58,232 ±6 km (*without rings)||0.687g/cm³|
|Neptune||Gas giant||102,430 x 10²¹ kg||24,622 ±19 km||1.638g/cm³|
|Uranus||Gas giant||86,832 x 10²¹ kg||25,362 ±7 km||1.27g/cm³|
|Earth||Terrestrial planet||5,974 x 10²¹ kg||6.371 ±0.01 km||5.514g/cm³|
|Venus||Terrestrial planet||4,869 x 10²¹ kg||6,051.8 ±1 km (*without gas)||5.243g/cm³|
|Mars||Terrestrial planet||642 x 10²¹ kg||3,389.5 ±0.2 km||3.9335g/cm³|
|Mercury||Terrestrial planet||330 x 10²¹ kg||2,439.7 ±1 km||5.427g/cm³|
Satellites Out of Control
The further away from the Sun you go, the more moons can be found orbiting planets. Earth’s singular moon is the fifth largest of almost 200 natural satellites found in the solar system.
Mars has two moons that don’t make it into the visualization above due to their low masses:
- Phobos: 1.08×10^16 kg
- Deimos: 2.0×10^15 kg
Here’s a breakdown of some other moons out there:
Total named: 53
Biggest moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Io, Europa
These four can be seen easily with some help from binoculars.
Total named: 53
Biggest moons: Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, Dione, and Tethys
Total named: 27
Biggest moons: Titania, Oberon, Ariel, Umbriel
Total named: 14
Biggest moon: Triton, which is as big as the dwarf planet Pluto.
Pluto and some “leftovers” of the solar system lie in the distant region of the doughnut-shaped Kuiper belt, between 30 to 50 astronomical units (AU) away. Beginning at the orbit of Neptune, the belt encompasses some of those objects in the visualization categorized as “other”.
So far, we’ve only managed to set foot on our own moon. NASA’s Opportunity rover helped us explore the Red Planet virtually for over 14 years, while the Curiosity is still going strong.
Who knows what else lurks beyond the edges of our solar system?
It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth… I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
— Neil Armstrong, looking back at the Earth from the Moon (July 1969)
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