You could think of the satellites as big, imposing spaceships flying through Earth's orbit like giant animals, but that could not be further from the truth. Many modern satellites are tiny, but they do a lot of very important work, and the International Space Station has just dropped another one over Australia. His task will be to find missing matter.
The minisatellite is called CubeSat because it is shaped like a box and this particular CubeSat will look into the Milky Way and examine its halo. What is a galaxy halo? Well, dear reader, I'm so glad you asked!
You see, when it comes to explaining the universe, astronomers have a pretty big problem in their hands. Based on past research and observations, scientists believe that they have a pretty good idea of how much of the universe is made up of normal matter (that's the Earth, the Moon, and even you), dark matter (really, nobody knows what that is) ) and dark energy (a mysterious force that makes the universe bigger). Unfortunately, there is not nearly enough normal matter for their calculations to be meaningful.
Based on all the data that exists today, only about half of the normal matter that should exist has been considered, and no one really knows where the rest of it went. One theory is that it exists in the form of gas-containing "halos" that surround established galaxies. NASA's tiny satellite was commissioned to study these gases and the shape of their massive cloud around the Milky Way. By knowing their shape, researchers can estimate their mass and perhaps fill in the holes in their calculations of normal matter in the universe.
The minisatellite weighs only about 26 pounds and measures one foot on its longest side, according to NASA. Small satellites such as these make it easier for researchers to conduct research because they can put many of them into orbit at a fraction of the cost of larger hardware. Let's hope that this one finds something cool.