Are the Gaps in These Disks Caused by Planets?

Astronomers like observing distant young stars as they form. Stars are born out of a molecular cloud, and once enough of the matter in that cloud clumps together, fusion ignites and a star begins its life. The leftover material from the formation of the star is called a circumstellar disk.

As the material in the circumstellar disk swirls around the now-rotating star, it clumps up into individual planets. As planets form in it, they leave gaps in that disk. Or so we think.

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How Will Clouds Obscure the View of Exoplanet Surfaces?

In 2021, NASA’s next-generation observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), will take to space. Once operational, this flagship mission will pick up where other space telescopes – like Hubble, Kepler, and Spitzer – left off. This means that in addition to investigating some of the greatest cosmic mysteries, it will also search for potentially habitable exoplanets and attempt to characterize their atmospheres.

This is part of what sets the JWST apart from its predecessors. Between its high sensitivity and infrared imaging capabilities, it will be able to gather data on exoplanet atmospheres like never before. However, as a NASA-supported study recently showed, planets that have dense atmospheres might also have extensive cloud cover, which could complicate attempts to gather some of the most important data of all.

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The heliosphere looks a lot weirder than we originally thought

Every second of every day, our sun spits out a stream of tiny high-energy particles, known as the solar wind. This wind blows throughout the solar system, extending far beyond the orbits of the planets and out into interstellar space.

But the farther from the sun the wind gets, the more slowly it streams, changing from the raging torrent that the inner planets experience (strong enough to cause the aurora) into nothing more than an annoying drizzle. And far enough away – about twice the orbit of Neptune – it meets and mingles with all the random bits of energetic junk just floating around amongst the stars.

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Highest Resolution Mosaic Image of the Surface of Bennu

NASA and the University of Arizona have released a stunning new global map of asteroid Bennu. At 2 inches (5 cm) per pixel, this is the highest-resolution global map of any planetary body. This hi-res map will help guide the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to the surface of the asteroid to collect a sample, currently scheduled for late August 2020.

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Even More Repeating Fast Radio Bursts Discovered

In September of 2017, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) in British Columbia commenced operations, looking for signs of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) in our Universe. These rare, brief, and energetic flashes from beyond our galaxy have been a mystery ever since the first was observed a little over a decade ago. Of particular interest are the ones that have been found to repeat, which are even rarer.

Before CHIME began collecting light from the cosmos, astronomers knew of only thirty FRBs. But thanks to CHIME’s sophisticated array of antennas and parabolic mirrors (which are especially sensitive to FRBs) that number has grown to close to 700 (which includes 20 repeaters). According to a new study led by CHIME researchers, this robust number of detections allows for new insights into what causes them.

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This Powerful Ion Engine Will Be Flying on NASA’s DART Mission to Try and Redirect an Asteroid

Despite humanity’s current struggle against the novel coronavirus, and despite it taking up most of our attention, other threats still exist. The very real threat of a possible asteroid strike on Earth in the future is taking a backseat for now, but it’s still there.

Though an asteroid strike seems kind of ephemeral right now, it’s a real threat, and one that—unlike a coronavirus—has the potential to end humanity. Agencies like NASA and the ESA are still working on their plans to protect us from that threat.

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Following Comet Y1 ATLAS: the ‘Lost Comet’ of Spring

Comet Y1 ATLAS

Got clear skies? If you’re like us, you’ve been putting the recent pandemic-induced exile to productive use, and got out under the nighttime sky. And though 2020 has yet to offer up a good bright ‘Comet of the Century’ to keep us entertained, there have been a steady stream of good binocular comets for northern hemisphere viewers, including C/2017 T2 PanSTARRS and C/2019 Y4 ATLAS. This week, I’d like to turn your attention to another good binocular comet that is currently at its peak: the ‘other’ comet ATLAS, C/2019 Y1 ATLAS.

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Weekly Space Hangout: March 25, 2020 – Amy Shira Teitel’s Fighting for Space

Hosts: Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)

Allen Versfeld (https://www.urban-astronomer.com/ / @uastronomer)

Carolyn Collins Petersen (TheSpaceWriter.com / @spacewriter)

Alex Teachey (alexteachey.com /@alexteachey

We are pleased to once again welcome our good friend Amy Shira Teitel back to the WSH to chat about her most recent labor of love, her new book Fighting for Space which tells the story of female pilots who dreamed of being the first American woman in space.

Amy is no stranger to the WSH, and long time viewers will remember back to the time when she was a regular contributor to the show. Amy’s science writing career began with her blog Vintage Space in which she wrote about spaceflight history. Her first book was Breaking the Chains of Gravity (2015) which she followed up with Apollo Pilot in 2016.

Perhaps one of the more entertaining and fun things Amy was known for is her “Live Tweeting” recreations of historic space flights on their various anniversaries throughout the year.

Amy earned a Bachelor’s degree in History of Science and Technology and Classics (U. of King’s College and Dalhousie University) and a Master’s degree in Science and Technology Studies (York University).

Learn more about Fighting For Space, including where to get your own copy, by visiting http://www.amyshirateitel.com/fighting-for-space.html

Amy continues to write for The Vintage Space – you can find her most recent stories here: https://medium.com/@AmyShiraTeitel

Learn more about Amy by visiting http://www.amyshirateitel.com/home.html

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Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden has Passed Away

Last Wednesday (March 18th), the world was saddened to hear of the death of Apollo astronaut Alfred “Al” Worden, who passed away after suffering a stroke at an assisted living facility in Texas. A former Colonel in the US Marine Corps who obtained his Bachelor of Science from West Point Academy in 1955 and his Master of Science at the University of Michigan in 1963, Worden went on to join NASA.

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How Researchers Produce Sharp Images of a Black Hole

In April of 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration history made history when it released the first image of a black hole ever taken. This accomplishment was decades in the making and triggered an international media circus. The picture was the result of a technique known as interferometry, where observatories across the world combined light from their telescopes to create a composite image.

This image showed what astrophysicists have predicted for a long time, that extreme gravitational bending causes photons to fall in around the event horizon, contributing to the bright rings that surround them. Last week, on March 18th, a team of researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) announced new research that shows how black hole images could reveal an intricate substructure within them.

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