Roman Fedortsov is a deep sea fisherman in Russia. And he’s been taking photos of OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?
Seriously, I just took a quick three-minute scroll through Fedortsov’s Twitter page, and he has photos of ocean creatures that look like they’re from the most twisted Jim Henson movie ever produced. (If Jim Henson did a ton of fucking acid.)
The English-language site Moscow Times posted a handful of the photos, but I’ve found even more on Fedortsov’s Twitter. The fisherman is reportedly based in Murmansk, which is a real place in Russia, and not another planet where Hell has opened up and set demons free to roam the land and the seas.
Pakistani nature photographer Atif Saeed managed to capture this stunning shot of a lion — just before it leapt at him.
Photo: Atif Saeed Fine Art Photography — republished at io9 with permission
This photograph was snapped by Atif Saeed (Facebook, Flickr) at a safari zoo park near Lahore. He got out of his jeep to take the photo, but the sound of the lens’s whizzing caught the lion’s attention. Saeed figures the big cat got as close as 10 feet, before he was able to reach the safety of his jeep.
Once safely inside his vehicle, Saeed started to laugh about what had happened. But after some retrospection he came to realize just how close he came to death — and vowed to never do anything quite as reckless again.
The Algerian town of Ain Sefra is known as the Gateway to the Sahara, and it’s not the kind of place that gets associated with winter weather. So imagine the surprise of amateur photographer Karim Bouchetata when he awoke to see his picturesque town and the surrounding sand dunes covered in a blanket of snow. Thankfully for us, he grabbed his camera.
Ain Sefra is located in northwest Algeria about 220 miles (350 km) south of the Mediterranean sea, and right on the northern hub of the Sahara desert. Bouchetata said he was “stunned” to see snow falling in the desert, telling Gizmodo it’s “an exceptionally rare occurrence.” This kind of thing happens about once every 10 years or so.
The last major snowfall—if it can be called that—to hit Ain Sefra was in February 1979 when it snowed for a whopping 30 minutes. Subsequent dustings of snow also appeared in 2005 and 2012. The desert town is located about 1,000 meters above sea level, and is surrounded by the Atlas Mountains.
Bouchetata said the snow looked amazing at it settled onto the bright orange sand dunes, creating a perfect opportunity to take some photos. The snow only lasted for one day, and has since melted away.
All photos courtesy Karim Bouchetata. You can see more of his photographshere.
Given how badly things are going here on planet Earth, it’s encouraging to see entrepreneurs working tirelessly to get us off this rock. From reusable rockets to Martian manifestos to asteroid mining, 2016 was a near like no other in the commercial space race. Here are the highlights.
SpaceX went on to have a string of successful drone ship landings last spring. Then, as if to remind everyone that progress doesn’t follow a straight line, it started attempting more difficult landings, and crashed again. That’s probably for the best, seeing as SpaceX is running out of hangar room for landed Falcon 9 rockets.
Elon Musk announced his plan to colonize Mars
Humans have talked of settling on Mars for more than half a century, but Musk is the man with the plan. At least, he’s the only tech billionaire who owns a rocket company and also seems keen on setting up a colony on the Red Planet. So when Musk talks about going to Mars, people pay attention.
And boy, did Musk talk Mars in September, when he divulged his vision for a vast cosmic migration at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico. The core of Musk’s plan to “make humanity a multi-planetary species” is an “Interplanetary Transport System”—basically, a fully-reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle that can carry hundreds of tons of propellant to low-Earth orbit to gas up a spacecraft, which in turn can send hundreds of people to Mars and back, for little more than the median price of a house in the United States.
While Musk’s presentation was chock full of sweet rocket renderings and inspiring one-liners—“the risk of fatality will be high” comes to mind—it’s difficult to say how much of this plan will actually materialize. In all likelihood, settling Mars at the scale Musk envisions will require significant public-private partnerships, broad international cooperation, and hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars. The question of who is going to pay for all of the research needed to develop Musk’s ITS, not to mention future Martian habitats and life support systems, is increasingly weighty in light of our incoming administration, which seems more interested in scrapping federal research programs than expanding them.
Luxembourg invested in asteroid mining
If humans want to permanently settle other words, we’re going to need to mine resources beyond Earth. With this lofty sentiment—and trillions of dollars worth of platinum—in mind, a handful of billionaire-backed startups have spent the last few years developing technology for extracting metals and water from nearby asteroids.
Then, in 2016, a new player arrived out of nowhere to take the space mining scene by storm: Luxembourg.
In February, a tiny European nation better known for world-class pastriesannounced it would be investing in asteroid mining technologies and partnering directly with leading firms like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources. In June, Luxembourg doubled down on its commitment to space mining, when it launched a $227 million fund to entice private companies to relocate within its borders. Luxembourg has also promised to draft up a new legal framework for exploiting asteroid resources, which would be the first of its kind in Europe.
Time will tell whether Luxembourg’s gamble on this speculative industry pays off. But as a landlocked nation with few natural resources and plenty of gold in the vaults, the fact that Luxembourg is planting its flag here early is not entirely surprising.
Blue Origin nailed a dramatic launch-escape test
In late September, private space tourism company Blue Origin decided to do something very odd: destroy its famous New Shepard rocket, which had already flown and landed four times. It’s not that Blue Origin had anything against the poor rocket, but it was conducting a launch escape test, wherein the crew capsule separates from the first-stage booster at an altitude of 16,000 feet. (Launch escape systems like this can be used during crewed flights in the event of an emergency.) During the launch escape, the booster itself gets slammed with a lot of off-axis force, the most likely outcome of which is fiery destruction.
At least, that’s what everyone thought. But, in proof that things occasionally turn out better than we expect, the New Shepard rocket didn’t crash and explode in the desert. The booster and the crew capsule made a clean separation, after which both landed softly back on Earth. It the first successful in-flight test of a launch escape system since the 1960s, and an epic sight to behold. It was also the latest sign that Blue Origin may be ready to start flying tourists to suborbital space next year.
A private company received permission to land on the Moon
Over the summer, Moon Express, a little-known startup founded by billionaire tech entrepreneur Naveen Jain, received Federal Aviation Administrationclearance to stick a robotic lander on Earth’s nearest neighbor. By late 2017, Moon Express hopes to land on the Moon, capture photos and video footage, and—if it can travel 500 meters across the surface and beam said images back to Earth—nab itself a $20 million Lunar XPRIZE from Google.
Whether or not Moon Express wins the XPRIZE, the fact that it was granted explicit US government permission to land on a celestial body is a noteworthy first. Currently, there’s no legal framework in the US governing the activities of American companies once they’re on orbit or beyond. Some are hopeful that the feds’ positive decision regarding Moon Express will pave a path for other companies looking to explore and commercialize space, but so far, the FAA hasn’t given any indication that this will be the case. As space lawyer Joanne Gabrynowicz told Gizmodo, right now, everything is on a case-by-case basis.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped other nations interested in Google’s XPRIZE from devising lunar landing schemes—and it isn’t clear that a lack of explicit federal permission will dissuade other American companies from trying, either. For now, at least, space remains the wild west.
The International Space Station geared up for space taxis
For several years, NASA has partnered with commercial rocket companies to resupply the International Space Station. But paying companies to haul up freeze-dried food is just the beginning of what NASA envisions to be a much broader public-private partnership when it comes to the American space program.
Virgin Galactic was one of the first private space companies to make a name for itself, but in recent years it’s suffered some major setbacks, including adisastrous 2014 flight test that killed one pilot and seriously injured another. So you can imagine the size of Richard Branson’s grin when his dashing new space plane, the VSS Unity, took to the skies over the Mojave desert earlier this month.
The VSS Unity, which was introduced in February, is the latest iteration of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which will hopefully—one day—ferry well-heeled thrill-seekers to the edge of space and back. December’s flight test marked the space plane’s very first solo glide, following four “captive” flights aboard a carrier plane. According to Virgin Galactic, the plane achieved a maximum speed of about 460 miles per hour during ten minutes of free-flight at an altitude of 50,000 feet.
But while the plane looks hella cool, and December’s flight test no doubt sat well with Branson and Virgin Galactic’s Abu Dhabi investors, when exactly the first space tours are going to launch is anybody’s guess. According to Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, the answer is soon.
Going to the Moon is officially hip again, thanks in no small part to Google, which is offering $20 million to the first private company that can land on our nearest neighbor, roll around a bit, and beam images back to Earth. The latest contender for that sweet sweet X-Prize money is a Japanese company, which has just obtained a launch vehicle for the shiny metal cheese grater rover it plans to send to the Moon late next year.
On Tuesday, Google Lunar X-Prize contestant Team HAKUTO, a product of the Japanese startup ispace Inc, announced it’ll be partnering with the India-based Team Indus to get its lunar rover to the Moon. Team Indus already has a contract to launch its own rover, aboard a rocket developed by the Indian Space Research Organization, in December 2017. For Team HAKUTO, whose rideshare with US-based team Astrobioticrecently fell through, the partnership comes just in the nick of time—the window to secure a launch vehicle to compete for the X-Prize closes at the end of the year.
Also known as “NASCAR on the Moon,” Google’s $30 million Lunar X-Prize seeks to spur private companies to develop technologies for crawling around on, studying, and perhaps even strip-mining Earth’s nearest neighbor. The lion’s share of the prize money, $20 million, will go to the first private company that can land on the Moon, do a 500 meters (1,640 feet) -dash, and send high-definition photos and video back to Earth.
Another $5 million will be awarded to the second place team, while an additional $5 million of prize money is available to teams that meet “bonus” challenges, which include traveling to the Apollo sites, and discovering water ice. To be competitive, teams must demonstrate that 90 percent of their mission costs are privately funded.
The news that Team Hakuto will be competing for the Lunar X-Prize comes just a few weeks after a German team, PT Scientists, announced it had secured a ride to the Moon next year, so get ready for Audi on the moon (no, seriously). The American company Moon Express will also be throwing downwith the blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration, as will Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL.
Time is running out for the rest of the 16 Lunar X-Prize teams to buy their tickets to orbit. But even if there are only four contestants, this should still be quite a spectacle.