Back in 2015, construction began on a new telescope called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI). Later this year, it will begin its five-year mission. Its goal? To create a 3D map of the Universe with unprecedented detail, showing the distribution of matter.
That detailed map will allow astronomers to investigate important aspects of cosmology, including dark energy and its role in the expansion of the Universe.
Continue reading “A New Telescope is Ready to Start Searching for Answers to Explain Dark Energy”
The Chinese space agency is building a brand new space station, and they’re going about it in a suitably impressive way: an ambitious schedule of 11 planned launches crammed into only two years. When it’s done, the 66-ton space station will host crews of three astronauts for up to six months at a time, lasting for a planned 10 years before de-orbiting.
The new station, slated to open for spacey business in 2023, will feature three modules: a main living space and two modules designed to host experiments from collaborators around the world investigating everything from space technologies to zero-gee biology.
The first module should go up – if everything goes as planned – in the first quarter of 2022 onboard the heavy-lift Long March 5B rocket, which made a controversial debut recently when its main stage rocket fell back in pieces scattered across the eastern Atlantic (and bits of Africa) in a haphazard way shortly after launch. The remaining launches will place the experimental modules, as well as supplies and some folks to run the place.
Speaking of folks to run the place, the Chinese space agency announced plans to select their latest batch of astronauts this July. According to recent statements, the selection will for the first time include civilians with science and engineering backgrounds, not just military personnel from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
In addition to the cool new space station, the Chinese are also planning to launch a cool new telescope, dubbed “Xuntian”. It will have the same size mirror as the Hubble Space Telescope, but be able to image a much wider field of view on the sky. The new telescope will share the same orbit as the space station (an altitude of 340-450 kilometers with an orbital inclination of 43 degrees), allowing the telescope to dock with the station for repairs and upgrades.
Where do they come from, those beguiling singularities that flummox astrophysicists—and the rest of us. Sure, we understand the processes behind stellar mass black holes, and how they form from the gravitational collapse of a star.
But what about the staggering behemoths at the center of galaxies, those supermassive black holes (SMBH) that can grow to be billions of times more massive than our Sun?
How do they get so big?
Continue reading “Supermassive Black Holes Grew by Consuming Gas and Entire Stars”
When Canadian astronomer Robert Weryk discovered `Oumuamua passing through our Solar System with the Pan-STARRS telescope, in October 2017, it caused quite a stir. It was the first interstellar object we’d ever seen coming through our neighbourhood. The excitement led to speculation: what could it be?
There was lots of fun conjecture on its origins. Was it an alien spacecraft? A solar sail? Or something more prosaic?
Continue reading “Interstellar Oumuamua Was a Dark Hydrogen Iceberg”
It looks like the InSight Lander’s Mole instrument is making some progress. After months of perseverance, the team operating the instrument has succeeded in getting the Mole at least some distance into the ground.
That’s a victory in itself, considering all the setbacks there’ve been. But it’s too soon to celebrate: there’s quite a ways to go before the Mole can deliver any science.
Continue reading “Finally! Mars InSight’s Mole is Now Underground”
Astronomers don’t know exactly when the first stars formed in the Universe because they haven’t been observed yet. And now, new observations from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest the first stars and galaxies may have formed even earlier than previously estimated.
Why? We *still* haven’t seen them, even with the best telescope we’ve got, pushed to its limits.
Continue reading “Hubble Looked as Far Back in Time as it Could, and Still Couldn’t See the First Generation of Stars in the Universe”
In the standard model of cosmology, dark energy fills the universe. It causes the universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate, and it makes up more than 70% of the cosmos. But there’s a problem. When we measure the rate of cosmic expansion in different ways, we get results that disagree with each other.
Continue reading “A New Test Confirms Dark Energy and the Expansion of the Universe”
There’s an unusual paradox hampering research into parts of the Milky Way. Dense gas blocks observations of the galactic core, and it can be difficult to observe in visible light from our vantage point. But distant galaxies don’t always present the same obstacles. So in some ways, we can observe distant galaxies better than we can observe our own.
In order to gain a better understanding of the Galactic Center (GC) and the Interstellar Medium (ISM), a team of astronomers used a telescope called the Wisconsin H-Alpha Mapper (WHAM) to look into the core of the Milky Way in part of the optical light spectrum.
Continue reading “Astronomers Find the Source of the Huge Bubbles of Gas Flowing Out of the Milky Way, Still No Idea What Caused Them”
Amazing things happen in the day-to-day sky that often go unnoticed during our normal routine. Just such a curious ‘non-event’ happened this week, when Venus reached inferior conjunction between the Earth and the Sun on its race from the dusk to the dawn sky. And what’s even more amazing, is the fact that some skilled observers followed this passage and caught sight of Venus as a tiny blazing ‘ring of fire’ silhouetted against the dazzling sky.
Continue reading “Spying a Rare ‘Ring of Fire’ Around Venus at Inferior Conjunction”
Mars only has two moons: Phobos and Deimos. They’re strange, for moons, little more than lumpy, potato-shaped chunks of rock. They’re much too small for self-gravitation to have made them round. And one of them, Deimos, has an unusually tilted orbit.
What does that slight tilt tell us about Deimos? About Mars?
Continue reading “Evidence that Mars Used to Have a Ring”