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How a high-priority star system could help us understand our own

Plus: The Webb telescope gets an extension.

Voyager probe travels through space, flies over the Eagle Nebula. Elements of this photo furnished b...
Juan Bautista Ruiz/Moment/Getty Images

Who knew dirt could make such beautiful memories? Last week, Inverse Daily asked you to share your most creative stories involving dirt, and you did not disappoint. Peggy H. recalls selling mud pies with her friend Annie: “We made five cents for each pie.” Sara P. made mud pies, too, using pink stock flowers like “actual cake decorations.” Everett G. would have made a good client for both Peggy and Sara. “Today's three-year-olds can boot up a computer and open their favorite app,” he writes. “When I was three years old, I ate mud.”

Much like the James Webb Space Telescope, these tender, messy moments help us understand why we’re here, standing on Earth or caking our hands with earth. Now, look up instead and read stories about the Webb telescope, Venus, and more. I’m newsletter writer Ashley Bardhan. Thank you for reading.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Tuesday, January 25, 2022. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox. ✉️

The very start of the Webb telescope’s fantastic journey.

Andrew Richard Hara/Getty Images News/Getty Images

How a key Webb telescope target could finally answer why we are here

The fully flowered James Webb Space Telescope will help researchers stare far into space and spot far away exoplanets. Movies have made us eager for discoveries of strange dust and alien languages only Amy Adams can speak, but according to NASA exoplanet expert Knicole Colòn, what’s really high priority for researchers is a star system not unlike our own.

That system is TRAPPIST-1, which gets its name from the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope that first observed “three exoplanets orbiting the star in May of 2016 using the transiting method, whereby dips in the star’s light betrayed the planets’ existence to astronomers,” writes Managing Editor Claire Cameron.

There are a lot of things scientists want to know about the ultra-cool red dwarf. Are its exoplanets rocky, like our planet Earth? And more importantly, are any of them habitable?

Read the full story.

Why are you here?: Ancient footprints likely belong to a human ancestor we have yet to find

The Webb telescope is in it for the long haul.

Adrian Mann/Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

NASA reveals new science mission timeline for the James Webb Space Telescope

More good news for the James Webb Space Telescope-heads out there — the telescope was initially slated for a five-year-long mission, but its butter-smooth launch will keep it going for more than 20.

“The James Webb Space Telescope launched with 300 kilograms of fuel onboard its upper stage — enough to park the telescope, essentially, at a point called Lagrangian point 2 (L2) — a position in space where the gravitational pull of two large celestial bodies (the Sun and the Earth) keep a third, smaller object (the Webb) in place,” writes science editor John Wenz.

“On Monday, the telescope made a critical maneuver to situate itself there, the ESA confirmed.”

“Everything had to go just right for the spacecraft to reach this point,” continues Wenz, “and according to Mike Menzel, NASA mission systems engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope, it did all that and more — extending the life of the craft by decades.”

Continue reading.

So many timelines, so little time: Elon Musk reveals ambitious timeline for getting to Mars

The original Flaming Hot Cheeto.

Freelanceimages/Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Rocket Lab Venus mission launch date and plans for the ambitious exploration

Some men might be from Mars, but Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck is much more interested in Venus. Beck tells Inverse that his company has “‘our own private mission on [the] Electron [rocket] going in 2023 to Venus,’” the sweltering planet of his dreams.

No, really. It’s hot. Like “inhospitable to robots, with an atmosphere that reaches 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit” hot, “hot enough to melt lead,” writes Mike Brown. “Mars, by comparison, has an average temperature of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit.”

But that’s not enough to deter Rocket Lab, which, if successful, will “‘have a crack at seeing if we can discover what’s in that atmospheric zone,’” Beck says in [a] 2020 livestream, explaining how it could be home to life. “‘Who knows? You may hit the jackpot.’”

Continue reading.

It’s a strange new world: Seven mysteries about Venus that three new missions could solve

Ah, fresh smog.


How does air quality affect longevity? Brain study reveals a beneficial link

Living in my polluted city, I occasionally forget what fresh air smells like. Half-frozen dog poop and the mystery liquid pooling in the sidewalk? Now those are smells I’m familiar with. According to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, that stinky familiarity comes to my health’s detriment. “Multiple studies link poor air quality to shorter life expectancy, risk of respiratory problems, and developing the brain condition dementia later in life,” writes Elana Spivack. Go figure.

But Spivack doesn’t want to worry you too much. “Living with improved air quality doesn’t mean you need to live in a remote paradise sequestered from all particulate matter,” she writes. “Taking small, manageable steps — including one action many of us are already doing on a daily basis — can lower your exposure to polluted air and may safeguard your brain’s health over the long term.”

Continue reading.

Take a deep breath: THC “breathalyzers” are getting better, but will they do more harm than good?

Five-year-old Sara P. celebrates the sunflower she grew in Mill Valley, California.

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  • On this day in history: January 25 1984, was a big day in space history — Ronald Reagan directed NASA to “develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade” during his State of the Union address. By November 1998, a Russian Proton rocket brought the first piece of the ISS to orbit.
  • Song of the day: Souvlaki Space Station,” by Slowdive.
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