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Portal:Outer space

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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 Hubble Space Telescope as seen from the departing Space Shuttle Atlantis, flying Servicing Mission 4 (STS-125), the fifth and final human spaceflight to visit the observatory.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by a Space Shuttle in 1990 and remains in operation. A 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared. The telescope is named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble. Although not the first space telescope, Hubble is one of the largest and most versatile, and is well known as both a vital research tool and a public relations boon for astronomy. The HST was built by the United States space agency NASA, with contributions from the European Space Agency, and is operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute. Space telescopes were proposed as early as 1923. Hubble was funded in the 1970s, with a proposed launch in 1983, but the project was beset by technical delays, budget problems, and the Challenger disaster. When finally launched in 1990, scientists found that the main mirror had been ground incorrectly, compromising the telescope's capabilities. The telescope was restored to its intended quality by a servicing mission in 1993.

Selected image

Astronomical orders of magnitude
Credit: Dave Jarvis

An illustration of relative astronomical orders of magnitude, starting with the terrestrial planets of the Solar System in image 1 (top left) and ending with the largest known star, VY Canis Majoris, at the bottom right. The biggest celestial body in each image is shown on the left of the next frame.

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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