Sorry Spock, But “Vulcan” Isn’t a Planet After All

This artist's illustration shows the exoplanet Eridani b, aka Vulcan, home of Star Trek's Commander Spock. Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that the planet isn't really there. Image Credit: JPL-Caltech

In 2018, astronomers detected an exoplanet around the star 40 Eridani. It’s about 16 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. The discovery generated a wave of interest for a couple of reasons. Not only is it the closest Super-Earth around a star similar to our Sun, but the star system is the fictional home of Star Trek’s Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock.

It’s always fun when a real science discovery lines up with science fiction.

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A Mini-Neptune in the Habitable Zone in a Binary Star System

Sometimes, it seems like habitable worlds can pop up almost anywhere in the universe. A recent paper from a team of citizen scientists led by researchers at the Flatiron Institute might have found an excellent candidate to look for one – on a moon orbiting a mini-Neptune orbiting a star that is also orbited by another star.

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Astronomy Generates Mountains of Data. That’s Perfect for AI

A drone's view of the Rubin Observatory under construction in 2023. The 8.4-meter telescope is getting closer to completion and first light in 2025. The telescope will create a vast amount of data that will require special resources to manage, including AI. Image Credit: Rubin Observatory/NSF/AURA/A. Pizarro D

Consumer-grade AI is finding its way into people’s daily lives with its ability to generate text and images and automate tasks. But astronomers need much more powerful, specialized AI. The vast amounts of observational data generated by modern telescopes and observatories defies astronomers’ efforts to extract all of its meaning.

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The Sun’s Magnetic Field Might Only Be Skin Deep

A new study suggests sunspots and solar flares could be generated my a magnetic field within the Sun's outermost layers. This shows the Sun's magnetic fields overlaying an image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. NASA/SDO/AIA/LMSAL

It’s coming back! Sunspot AR3664 gave us an amazing display of northern lights in mid-May and it’s now rotating back into view. That means another great display if this sunspot continues to flare out. It’s all part of solar maximum—the peak of an 11-year cycle of solar active and quiet times. This cycle is the result of something inside the Sun—the solar dynamo. A team of scientists suggests that this big generator lies not far beneath the solar surface. It creates a magnetic field and spurs flares and sunspots.

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Volcanoes Were Erupting on Venus in the 1990s

3D model of Venus

Start talking about Venus and immediately my mind goes to those images from the Venera space probes that visited Venus in the 1970’s. They revealed a world that had been scarred by millennia of volcanic activity yet as far as we could tell those volcanoes were dormant. That is, until just now.  Magellan has been mapping the surface of Venus and between 1990 and 1992 had mapped 98% of the surface. Researchers compared two scans of the same area and discovered that there were fresh outflows of molten rock filling a vent crater! There was active volcanism on Venus. 

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Enjoy Five New Images from the Euclid Mission

The central, brightest region of this Euclid image is the Messier 78 star formation region. This is the widest and deepest image of this often-imaged region ever taken. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi LICENCE CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

We’re fortunate to live in these times. Multiple space telescopes feed us a rich stream of astounding images that never seems to end. Each one is a portrait of some part of nature’s glory, enriched by the science behind it all. All we have to do is revel in the wonder.

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Mars InSight Has One Last Job: Getting Swallowed by Dust on the Red Planet

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE imager captured this view of dust-covered InSight lander on Mars. Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE imager captured this view of dust-covered InSight lander on Mars. Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

Normally you don’t want dust to get into your spacecraft. That was certainly true for the InSight mission to Mars, until it died. Now, however, it’s acting as a dust collector, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) scientists couldn’t be happier.

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Merging Black Holes Could Give Astronomers a Way to Detect Hawking Radiation

Simulation of merging supermassive black holes. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Noble

Nothing lasts forever, including black holes. Over immensely long periods of time, they evaporate, as will other large objects in the Universe. This is because of Hawking Radiation, named after Stephen Hawking, who developed the idea in the 1970s.

The problem is Hawking Radiation has never been reliably observed.

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Starlinks Can Produce Surprisingly Bright Flares to Pilots

This diagram and artist illustration demonstrates how sunlight reflects off a Starlink version 1.5 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

How can sunlight reflecting off SpaceX’s Starlink satellites interfere with ground-based operations? This is what a recently submitted study hopes to address as a pair of researchers investigate how Starlink satellites appear brighter—which the researchers also refer to as flaring—to observers on Earth when the Sun is at certain angles, along with discussing past incidents of how this brightness has influenced aerial operations on Earth, as well. This study holds the potential to help spacecraft manufacturers design and develop specific methods to prevent increased brightness levels, which would help alleviate confusion for observers on Earth regarding the source of the brightness and the objects in question.

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A Weather Satellite Watched a Space Rock Burn Up Above Spain and Portugal

A map of the track of the vaporizing space rock that lit up skies over Portugal and Spain on May 18, 2024. The track was created from position measurements of the fireball flashes as seen by ESA's MeteoSat weather satellite. Courtesy ESA.
A map of the track of the vaporizing space rock that lit up skies over Portugal and Spain on May 18, 2024. The track was created from position measurements of the fireball flashes as seen by ESA's MeteoSat weather satellite. Courtesy ESA.

It’s been a momentous May for skywatchers around the world. First the big auroral event of May 10-11, next a flaming space rock entering over Spain and Portugal. The inbound object was captured by ground-based cameras and the MeteoSat Third Generation Imager in geostationary orbit.

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