Watch This 12-Year Timelapse of Exoplanets Orbiting Their Star

Four faint exoplanets orbit star HR8799, which is represented by a star-shaped icon in the center. (The star itself was removed from the video because its glare is so intense that it blocks out the surrounding planets.) Credit: Jason Wang/Northwestern University.

Back in 2008, astronomers made a big announcement: for the first time, they had taken pictures of a multi-planet solar system, much like ours, orbiting another star. At the time, the star system, named HR8799 was known to have three planets, but follow-up observations a year later revealed a fourth world.

Astronomers have continued to watch this intriguing star system, and now, using observations from the last 12 years, astrophysicist Jason Wang has put together a time lapse video showing the orbital motions of the four planets.

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Freezing Ocean Might Not Be Responsible for Cryovolcanic Flows on Pluto’s Moon, Charon

Color-enhanced image of Pluto's largest moon, Charon, taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

In a recent study scheduled to be published in the journal Icarus in March 2023, a team of researchers led by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) modeled a potential correlation between an ancient freezing ocean with cryovolcanic flows and surface canyons on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. Their hypothesis was that when Charon’s interior ocean froze long ago, the significant stress put on the icy outer shell from the addition of more ice to the bottom of the existing shell could have been responsible for the cryovolcanic flows on the surface.

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South Korea’s Danuri Mission Sends Home Pictures of the Earth and Moon

Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) both ended 2022 and started 2023 on a very high note as its first-ever lunar orbiter, Danuri, sent back black-and-white images of the Earth with the Moon’s surface in the foreground that were photographed between December 24 and January 1, KARI announced in a January 3rd statement. Both the images and videos were taken less than 120 kilometers (75 miles) above the Moon’s surface, and will be “used to select potential sites for a Moon landing in 2032,” KARI added in the statement.

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Soon We’ll Detect Extreme Objects Producing Gravitational Waves Continuously

An artist's concept of a binary pair where a smaller star is feeding material to a neutron star. Perturbations in the neutron star may be sending a constant wash of gravitational waves through space. Courtesy Gabriel Pérez Díaz, SMM (IAC)
An artist's concept of a binary pair where a smaller star is feeding material to a neutron star. Perturbations in the neutron star may be sending a constant wash of gravitational waves through space. Courtesy Gabriel Pérez Díaz, SMM (IAC)

The cosmic zoo contains objects so bizarre and extreme that they generate gravitational waves. Scorpius X-1 is part of that strange collection. It’s actually a binary pair: a neutron star orbiting with a low-mass stellar companion called V818 Scorpii. The pair provides a prime target for scientists hunting for so-called “continuous” gravitational waves. Those waves should exist, although none have been detected—yet.

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The Outer Solar System Supplied a Surprising Amount of Earth’s Water

Credit: Shutterstock/NASA

In a recent study published in Science, a team of researchers at Imperial College London examined 18 meteorites containing the volatile element zinc to help determine their origin, as it has been long hypothesized that Earth’s volatiles materials, including water, were derived from asteroids closer to our home planet. However, their results potentially indicate a much different origin story.

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Scientists Examine Geological Processes of Monad Regio on Neptune’s Largest Moon, Triton

Global color mosaic of Neptune's largest moon, Triton, taken by NASA's Voyager 2 in 1989. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS)

In a recent study submitted to the journal Icarus, a team of researchers at the International Research School of Planetary Science (IRSPS) located at the D’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara in Italy conducted a geological analysis of a region on Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, known as Monad Regio to ascertain the geological processes responsible for shaping its surface during its history, and possibly today. These include what are known as endogenic and exogenic processes, which constitute geologic processes occurring internally (endo-) and externally (exo-) on a celestial body. So, what new insights into planetary geologic processes can we learn from this examination of Monad Regio?

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Astronomers are Working on a 3D map of Cosmic Dawn

The HERA radio telescope consists of 350 dishes pointed upward to detect 21-centimeter emissions from the early Universe. Credit: HERA Partnership

The frontiers of astronomy are being pushed regularly these days thanks to next-generation telescopes and scientific collaborations. Even so, astronomers are still waiting to peel back the veil of the cosmic “Dark Ages,” which lasted from roughly 370,000 to 1 billion years after the Big Bang, where the Universe was shrouded with light-obscuring neutral hydrogen. The first stars and galaxies formed during this same period (ca. 100 to 500 million years), slowly dispelling the “darkness.” This period is known as the Epoch of Reionization, or as many astronomers call it: Cosmic Dawn.

By probing this period with advanced radio telescopes, astronomers will gain valuable insights into how the first galaxies formed and evolved. This is the purpose of the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), a radio telescope dedicated to observing the large-scale structure of the cosmos during and before the Epoch of Reionization located in the Karoo desert in South Africa. In a recent paper, the HERA Collaboration reports how it doubled the array’s sensitivity and how their observations will lead to the first 3D map of Cosmic Dawn.

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Future Space Telescopes Could be 100 Meters Across, Constructed in Space, and Then Bent Into a Precise Shape

Graphic depiction of Bend-Forming of Large Electrostatically Actuated Space Structures. Credit: Zachary Cordero

It is an exciting time for astronomers and cosmologists. Since the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers have been treated to the most vivid and detailed images of the Universe ever taken. Webb‘s powerful infrared imagers, spectrometers, and coronographs will allow for even more in the near future, including everything from surveys of the early Universe to direct imaging studies of exoplanets. Moreover, several next-generation telescopes will become operational in the coming years with 30-meter (~98.5 feet) primary mirrors, adaptive optics, spectrometers, and coronographs.

Even with these impressive instruments, astronomers and cosmologists look forward to an era when even more sophisticated and powerful telescopes are available. For example, Zachary Cordero 
of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently proposed a telescope with a 100-meter (328-foot) primary mirror that would be autonomously constructed in space and bent into shape by electrostatic actuators. His proposal was one of several concepts selected this year by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program for Phase I development.

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NASA has Simulated a Tiny Part of the Moon Here on Earth

Using the Lunar Lab and Regolith Testbeds at NASA’s Ames Research Center, a team created this simulated lunar environment to study lighting conditions experienced at the unexplored poles of the Moon. Credit: NASA/Uland Wong.

Before going to the Moon, the Apollo astronauts trained at various sites on Earth that best approximated the lunar surface, such as the volcanic regions Iceland and Hawaii and deserts in the US Southwest.  To help prepare for upcoming robotic and human Artemis missions, a newly upgraded “mini-Moon” lunar testbed will allow astronauts and robots to test out realistic conditions on the Moon including rough terrain and unusual sunlight.

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Astronomers Prepare to Launch LuSEE Night, A Test Observatory on the Far Side of the Moon

Artist's impression of a radio telescope on the far side Moon. Credit: Vladimir Vustyansky

Astronomers have not yet been able to map large portions of the radio emissions from our universe because of interference from the Earth itself. A team of astronomers hopes to change that, beginning with the LuSEE Night mission to the far side of the Moon. It will launch in 2025 and chart a new pathway to Lunar observatories.

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