Portal:Space

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Outer space

The interface between the Earth's surface and outer space. The Kármán line at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) is shown. The layers of the atmosphere are drawn to scale, whereas objects within them, such as the International Space Station, are not.

Outer space, or just space, is the expanse that exists beyond the Earth and between celestial bodies. Outer space is not completely empty—it is a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles, predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, neutrinos, dust, and cosmic rays. The baseline temperature, as set by the background radiation from the Big Bang, is 2.7 kelvins (−270.45 °C; −454.81 °F). The plasma between galaxies accounts for about half of the baryonic (ordinary) matter in the universe; it has a number density of less than one hydrogen atom per cubic metre and a temperature of millions of kelvins; local concentrations of this plasma have condensed into stars and galaxies. Studies indicate that 90% of the mass in most galaxies is in an unknown form, called dark matter, which interacts with other matter through gravitational but not electromagnetic forces. Observations suggest that the majority of the mass-energy in the observable universe is a poorly understood vacuum energy of space, which astronomers label dark energy. Intergalactic space takes up most of the volume of the Universe, but even galaxies and star systems consist almost entirely of empty space.

Outer space does not begin at a definite altitude above the Earth's surface. However, the Kármán line, an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) above sea level, is conventionally used as the start of outer space in space treaties and for aerospace records keeping. The framework for international space law was established by the Outer Space Treaty, which entered into force on 10 October 1967. This treaty precludes any claims of national sovereignty and permits all states to freely explore outer space. Despite the drafting of UN resolutions for the peaceful uses of outer space, anti-satellite weapons have been tested in Earth orbit.

Humans began the physical exploration of space during the 20th century with the advent of high-altitude balloon flights, followed by manned rocket launches. Earth orbit was first achieved by Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union in 1961, and unmanned spacecraft have since reached all of the known planets in the Solar System. Due to the high cost of getting into space, manned spaceflight has been limited to low Earth orbit and the Moon.

Outer space represents a challenging environment for human exploration because of the hazards of vacuum and radiation. Microgravity also has a negative effect on human physiology that causes both muscle atrophy and bone loss. In addition to these health and environmental issues, the economic cost of putting objects, including humans, into space is very high.

Selected article

MESSENGER image of Mercury with three visible colors mapped to 1000 nm, 700 nm, and 430 nm wavelengths

Mercury is the innermost planet in the Solar System. It is also the smallest, and its orbit is the most eccentric (that is, the least perfectly circular) of the eight planets. It orbits the Sun once in about 88 Earth days, completing three rotations about its axis for every two orbits. The planet is named after the Roman god Mercury, the messenger to the gods. Mercury's surface is heavily cratered and similar in appearance to Earth's Moon, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years. Due to its near lack of an atmosphere to retain heat, Mercury's surface experiences the steepest temperature gradient of all the planets, ranging from a very cold 100 K at night to a very hot 700 K during the day. Mercury's axis has the smallest tilt of any of the Solar System's planets, meaning that there are no seasons on its surface. Mercury and Venus can each make appearances in Earth's sky both as a morning star and an evening star (because they are closer to the Sun than the Earth), and at times Mercury can technically be regarded as a very bright object when viewed from Earth; however, its proximity in the sky to the Sun makes it more difficult to see than Venus.

Selected image

Color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey
Credit: NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory

The Pleiades (also known as M45 or the Seven Sisters) is an open cluster in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest to the Earth of all open clusters, probably the best known and certainly the most striking to the naked eye.

Astronomical events

5 October, 22:18 Moon at perigee
9 October, 00:00 Draconids peak
9 October, 03:47 New moon
16 October, 07:16 Mars at southern solstice
17 October, 19:15 Moon at apogee
22 October, 08:00 Orionids peak
24 October Uranus at opposition
24 October, 16:45 Full moon
26 October, 14:18 Venus at inferior conjunction
31 October, 20:22 Moon at perigee

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