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Portal:Outer space

The Outer space Portal

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 simply 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 of outer space, 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 matter 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 dark energy, a type of vacuum energy that is poorly understood. 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. This was followed by manned rocket flights and, then, manned Earth orbit, first achieved by Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union in 1961. Due to the high cost of getting into space, manned spaceflight has been limited to low Earth orbit and the Moon. On the other hand, unmanned spacecraft have reached all of the known planets in the Solar System.

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.

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The Earth seen from Apollo 17

Planetary habitability is the measure of an astronomical body's potential for developing and sustaining life. It may be applied both to planets and to the natural satellites of planets. The only absolute requirement for life is an energy source (usually but not necessarily solar energy), but the notion of planetary habitability implies that many other geophysical, geochemical, and astrophysical criteria must be met before an astronomical body is able to support life. The idea that planets beyond Earth might host life is an ancient one, though historically it was framed by philosophy as much as physical science. The late 20th century saw two breakthroughs in the field. To begin with, the observation and robotic exploration of other planets and moons within the solar system has provided critical information on defining habitability criteria and allowed for substantial geophysical comparisons between the Earth and other bodies. The discovery of extrasolar planets—beginning in 1995 and accelerating thereafter—was the second milestone. It confirmed that the Sun is not unique in hosting planets and expanded the habitability research horizon beyond our own solar system.

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Kepler's Supernova
Credit: NASA

This Supernova remnant of Kepler's Supernova (SN 1604) is made up of the materials left behind by the gigantic explosion of a star. There are two possible routes to this end: either a massive star may cease to generate fusion energy in its core, and collapse inward under the force of its own gravity, or a white dwarf star may accumulate material from a companion star until it reaches a critical mass and undergoes a similar collapse. In either case, the resulting supernova explosion expels much or all of the stellar material with great force.

Astronomical events

2 November, 07:21 Moon occults Saturn
2 November, 17:33 Moon occults Pluto
7 November, 08:31 Moon at apogee
11 November, 15:20 Mercury at inferior conjunction; transit
12 November, 13:34 Full moon
18 November, 05:00 Leonids peak
23 November, 07:32 Moon at perigee
26 November, 15:06 New moon
28 November, 10:30 Mercury at greatest western elongation
28 November, 10:49 Moon occults Jupiter
29 November, 21:03 Moon occults Saturn
30 November, 03:47 Moon occults Pluto

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