Sulphur Makes A Surprise Appearance in this Exoplanet’s Atmosphere

This artist's illustration shows the Neptune-like exoplanet GJ 3470b, which has an atmosphere rich in sulphur. The planet's atmosphere holds clues to how it and other similar planets formed. Image Credit: Department of Astronomy, UW–Madison

At our current level of knowledge, many exoplanet findings take us by surprise. The only atmospheric chemistry we can see with clarity is Earth’s, and we still have many unanswered questions about how our planet and its atmosphere developed. With Earth as our primary reference point, many things about exoplanet atmospheres seem puzzling in comparison and generate excitement and deeper questions.

That’s what’s happened with GJ-3470 b, a Neptune-like exoplanet about 96 light-years away.

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The Inner and Outer Milky Way Aren’t the Same Thickness, and that’s Surprising

Illustration depicting the Smith Cloud on its journey to the Milky Way Creator: NRAO/AUI/NSF Credit: B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

At first glance, the universe and night sky seem largely unchanging. The reality is very different, even now, a gas cloud is charging toward the Milky Way Galaxy and is expected to crash into us in 27 million years. A team of astronomers hoping to locate the exact position of the expected impact site have been unsuccessful but have accidentally measured the thickness of the Milky Way! Analysing radio data, they have been able to deduce the thickness of the inner and outer regions and discovered a dramatic difference between the two. 

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Starliner Has Five Leaks

Boeing Starliner

Many space fans have been following the successful launch of the Boeing Starliner, another commercial organisation aiming to make space more accessible. It successfully reached the International Space Station, delivering Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams into orbit but it wasn’t without a hitch. Three of its thrusters experienced problems and there were ‘five small leaks on the service module.’ The crew and ground teams are working through safety checks of power and habitability. To ensure a safe return of the astronauts NASA has extended the mission by four days to 18th June. 

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Astronomers Find the Slowest-Spinning Neutron Star Ever

This artist's illustration shows CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope with two versions of the puzzling, newly-discovered celestial object: neutron star and white dwarf. Image Credit: Carl Knox, OzGrav

Most neutron stars spin rapidly, completing a rotation in seconds or even a fraction of a second. But astronomers have found one that takes its time, completing a rotation in 54 minutes. What compels this odd object to spin so slowly?

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How a Single Atomic Sensor Can Help Track Earth’s Glaciers

Earth observations are one of the most essential functions of our current fleet of satellites. Typically, each satellite specializes in one kind of remote sensing – monitoring ocean levels, for example, or watching clouds develop and move. That is primarily due to the constraints of their sensors – particularly the radar. However, a new kind of sensor undergoing development could change the game in remote Earth sensing, and it recently received a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant to further its development.

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Next Generation Satellites Might Skim the Atmosphere, Using Air as a Propellant

Surrey Space Centre aims to enable extremely low-altitude spacecraft orbits in the upper atmosphere, thanks to funding from the UK Space Agency.

Satellites in orbit use rocket propulsion to maintain their altitude. These engines require fuel to power their chemical or ion engines but when the fuel runs out, the orbit slowly erodes with the satellite re-entering the atmosphere. A new type of electrical propulsion has been developed that has no need for onboard fuel. Instead it syphons air particles out of the atmosphere and accelerates them to provide thrust. Much like an ion engine but this time, the fuel source is air making it ideal for low Earth orbits. 

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The Nearby Star Clusters Come from Only Three Places

The most well-known open cluster is probably the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. The Japanese call it the Subaru cluster, and keen observers might recognize its pattern on the Subaru automobile logo. New research shows that the Pleiades and more than 150 other star clusters all originated in only three star-forming regions. Image: By NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory., Public Domain,

Many astronomy-interested people know of the Hyades and the Pleiades. They’re star clusters in the Taurus constellation. They’re two out of a handful of star clusters that are visible to the unaided eye under dark sky conditions.

It turns out that these clusters, along with more than 150 other nearby clusters, all originated in only three massive star-forming regions.

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Frost Seen on Olympus Mons for the First Time

This simulated perspective oblique view shows Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano not only on Mars but in the entire solar system. The volcano measures some 600 km across. CREDIT Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (A. Valantinas)

It’s been known for years that there are large quantities of water ice locked up in the Martian poles. Around the equator however it is a barren dry wasteland devoid of any surface ice. Recent observations of Mars have discovered frost on the giant shield volcanoes but it only appears briefly after sunrise and soon evaporates. Estimates suggest that 150,000 tons of water cycle between the surface and atmosphere on a daily basis. 

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Remembering Apollo 8 Astronaut Bill Anders

The official NASA portrait of William Anders, who served as lunar module (LM) pilot for Apollo 8, the first lunar orbit mission in December 1968. Credit: NASA.

Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, who took the iconic “Earthrise” photo of our home planet from the Moon in 1968, was killed on June 7, 2024. Anders was flying alone in his Beechcraft T-34 Mentor aircraft  when the plane plunged into the waters off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Anders was 90.

“At every step of Bill’s life was the iron will of a pioneer, the grand passion of a visionary, the cool skill of a pilot, and the heart of an adventurer who explored on behalf of all of us,” said NASA Administrator Bill in Nelson in a statement. “His impact will live on through the generations. All of NASA, and all of those who look up into the twinkling heavens and see grand new possibilities of dazzling new dreams, will miss a great hero who has passed on.”

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