The Early Solar System Had a Gap Where the Asteroid Belt is Today

Wind the cosmic clock back a few billion years and our Solar System looked much different than it does today. About 4.5 billion years ago, the young Sun shone much like it does now, though it was a little smaller. Instead of being surrounded by planets, it was ensconced in a swirling disk of gas and dust. That disk is called a protoplanetary disk and it’s where the planets eventually formed.

There was a conspicuous gap in the early Solar System’s protoplanetary disk, between where Mars and Jupiter are now, and where the modern-day asteroid belt sits. What exactly caused the gap is a mystery, but astronomers think it’s a sign of the processes that governed planet formation.

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A map of River Beds on Titan for Dragonfly to Explore

Explorers either have the benefit of having maps or the burden of creating them.  Similarly, space explorers have been building maps as they go, using all available tools.  Those tools might not always be up to the task, but at least something is better than nothing.  Now, a new map of an exploration destination has emerged – a map of the river valleys of Titan.

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I Could Look at James Webb Unboxing Pictures all Day

On Oct. 12th, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrived safely at Port de Pariacabo in French Guiana after spending 16 days traveling between California and South America. Since then, the observatory was transported from California to French Guiana and brought to a cleanroom in the Guyanese Space Center (GSC). Here, crews “unboxed” the observatory from its protective cargo container in preparation for launch – now targetted for Dec. 18th.

These events were captured in a series of beautiful images recently shared by the Guyanese Space Center, the European Space Agency (ESA), and NASA via their JWST Twitter accounts (more are posted on the NASA JWST Flickr page). This process involved carefully lifting the telescope from its packing container and raising it vertically, the same configuration Webb its launches to space aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

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Uh oh, one of Lucy’s Solar Arrays Hasn’t Latched Properly

As we’re fond of saying here at UT, space exploration is hard. Many things can go wrong when launching thousands of kgs of highly engineered equipment that took years to develop into space.  Now, something seems to have gone wrong with NASA’s latest Discovery mission.  Lucy, launched successfully by a ULA rocket on October 16th, seems to have a solar panel that didn’t quite “latch.”

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Meteorites Found With Little Pieces of Other Stars

When Carl Sagan said, “We are all made of star stuff,” he didn’t just mean we were made up of parts of our own star. Other stars contributed to the material that built our solar system, and some of that “presolar” material is still present in a pristine form inside meteorites.  Now, a team led by Dr. Nan Liu at Washington University in St. Louis took a close look at some of the parts of meteorites that formed before the Sun.  They held some exciting surprises and answers.

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There are 6×10^80 Bits of Information in the Observable Universe

Since the beginning of the Digital Age (ca. the 1970s), theoretical physicists have speculated about the possible connection between information and the physical Universe. Considering that all matter is made up of information that describes the state of a quantum system (aka. quantum information), and genetic information is coded in our DNA, it’s not farfetched at all to think that physical reality can be expressed in terms of data.

This has led to many thought experiments and paradoxes, where researchers have attempted to estimate the information capacity of the cosmos. In a recent study, Dr. Melvin M. Vopson – a Mathematician and Senior Lecturer at Portsmouth University – offered new estimates of how much information is encoded in all the baryonic matter (aka. ordinary or “luminous” matter) in the Universe.

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Something Really Wants our Attention. One Object Released 1,652 Fast Radio Bursts in 47 Days

The energetic phenomena known as Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are one of the greatest cosmic mysteries today. These mysterious flashes of light are visible in the radio wave part of the spectrum and usually last only a few milliseconds before fading away forever. Since the first FRB was observed in 2007, astronomers have looked forward to the day when instruments of sufficient sensitivity would be able to detect them regularly.

That day has arrived with the completion of the 500-Meter FAST Radio Telescope (aka. Tianyan, “Eye of Heaven”). Since it commenced operations, this observatory has vastly expanded the number of detected FRBs. In fact, according to research led by the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAO/CAS), the observatory detected a total of 1,652 independent bursts from a single source in 47 days.

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