The United States Government has declared that it will no longer be performing tests of Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons. In a public statement during a visit to the Vandenberg Space Force Base, Vice President Kamala Harris confirmed that this policy has the primary purpose of setting an example to other countries. It represents an important step in the direction of establishing “space norms” for all countries to follow.
ASAT weapons go as far back as the early years of the Cold War. According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems, ASAT weapons were designed for strategic and tactical military purposes. Satellites have long been used by the military for navigation, communication, and gathering intel on enemy movements and activities through sophisticated satellite imaging: Spy satellites.
It’s nice to have a feel-good story every once in a while, so here’s one to hold off the existential dread: the Earth isn’t likely to get flung off into deep space for at least 100,000 years. In fact, all of the Solar System’s planets are safe for that time frame, so there is good news all around, for you and your favorite planetary body.
Black holes. They used to be theoretical, up until the first one was found and confirmed back in the late 20th Century. Now, astronomers find them all over the place. We even have direct radio images of two black holes: one in M87 and Sagittarius A* in the center of our galaxy. So, what do we know about them? A lot. But, there’s more to find out. A team of astronomers using Chandra X-ray Observatory data has made a startling discovery about a central supermassive black hole in a quasar embedded in a distant galaxy cluster. What they found provides clues to the origin and evolution of supermassive black holes.
Within the Solar System, most of our astrobiological research is aimed at Mars, which is considered to be the next-most habitable body beyond Earth. However, future efforts are aimed at exploring icy satellites in the outer Solar System that could also be habitable (like Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and more). This dichotomy between terrestrial (rocky) planets that orbit within their a system’s Habitable Zones (HZ) and icy moons that orbit farther from their parent stars is expected to inform future extrasolar planet surveys and astrobiology research.
In fact, some believe that exomoons may play a vital role in the habitability of exoplanets and could also be a good place to look for life beyond the Solar System. In a new study, a team of researchers investigated how the orbit of exomoons around their parent bodies could lead to (and place limits on) tidal heating – where gravitational interaction leads to geological activity and heating in the interior. This, in turn, could help exoplanet-hunters and astrobiologists determine which exomoons are more likely to be habitable.
Making a 3D map of our galaxy would be easier if some stars behaved long enough to get good distances to them. However, red supergiants are the frisky kids on the block when it comes to pinning down their exact locations. That’s because they appear to dance around, which makes pinpointing their place in space difficult. That wobble is a feature, not a bug of these massive old stars and scientists want to understand why.
So, as with other challenging objects in the galaxy, astronomers have turned to computer models to figure out why. In addition, they are using Gaia mission position measurements to get a handle on why red supergiants appear to dance.
Stars form inside massive clouds of gas and dust called molecular clouds. The Nebular Hypothesis explains how that happens. According to that hypothesis, dense cores inside those clouds of hydrogen collapse due to instability and form stars. The Nebular Hypothesis is much more detailed than that short version, but that’s the basic idea.
The problem is that it only explains how single stars form. But about half of the Milky Way’s stars are binary pairs or multiple stars. The Nebular Hypothesis doesn’t clearly explain how those stars form.
Magnetars are some of the most fascinating astronomical objects. One teaspoon of the stuff they are made out of would weigh almost one billion tons, and they have magnetic fields that are hundreds of millions of times more powerful than any magnetic that exists today on Earth. But we don’t know much about how they form. A new paper points to one possible source – mergers of neutron stars.
When white dwarfs go wild, their planets suffer through the resulting chaos. The evidence shows up later in and around the dying star’s atmosphere after it gobbles up planetary and cometary debris. That’s the conclusion a team of UCLA astronomers came to after studying the nearby white dwarf G238-44 in great detail. They found a case of cosmic cannibalism at this dying star, which lies about 86 light-years from Earth.
If that star were in the place of our Sun, it would ingest the remains of planets, asteroids, and comets out to the Kuiper Belt. That expansive buffet makes this stellar cannibalism act one of the most widespread ever seen.
Mapping the interior of the ice giants is difficult, to say the least. Not only are they far away and therefore harder to observe, but their constant ice cover makes it extremely hard to detect what lies underneath. So scientists must devise more ingenious ways to see what’s inside them. A team from the University of Idaho, Cal Tech, Reed College, and the University of Arizona think they might have come up with a way – to look at the structure of Neptunes’ and Uranus’ rings.