Be sure to observe Jupiter this week, during its finest apparition of a lifetime.
You’ve never seen Jove like this. Jupiter opposition season for 2022 is upon us tonight, as the King of the Planet shines rising in the east opposite to the setting Sun in the west. This is the very best time to catch Jupiter and its retinue of moons, as they dominate the sky throughout the night. And although Jupiter reaches opposition as seen from the Earth nearly every year, this one is special as it’s the closest to the Earth in our lifetimes, and the nearest for the 21st century.
One of the more famous features of Space Age 2.0 is the rise of the commercial space industry, also known as “NewSpace.” While the space agencies of the world plan to send astronauts back to the Moon (this time, to stay), crewed missions to Mars, and robotic missions to every corner of the Solar System, NewSpace companies are offering cost-effective launch services, sending commercial astronauts to space, and commercializing Low Earth Orbit (LEO). There’s also the prospect of space tourism, with companies like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX offering suborbital flights, trips to LEO, and beyond!
China, one of the fastest-growing nations in space, is looking to offer commercial flights to suborbital space. According to senior rocket scientists Yang Yiqiang, who spoke to the state-run China Global Television Network (CGTN), China will send its first group of commercial passengers on a spaceflight, with ticket prices ranging between $287,200 to $430,800 (2 to 3 million yuan). While China is a relative newcomer to the commercial space scene, this announcement signals its intent to catch up to companies based in the U.S. and other space competitors.
Way back in 1979, astronomers spotted two nearly identical quasars that seemed close to each other in the sky. These so-called “Twin Quasars” are actually separate images of the same object. Even more intriguing: the light paths that created each image traveled through different parts of the cluster. One path took a little longer than the other. That meant a flicker in one image of the quasar occurred 14 months later in the other. The reason? The cluster’s mass distribution formed a lens that distorted the light and drastically affected the two paths.
Photosynthesis is probably the most important chemical reaction for life on Earth. It is the process plants use to transform sunlight into energy it can use. Through it, plants can produce carbohydrates they can use (and we can eat when we harvest plants), generating oxygen as a by-product. Photosynthesis is why Earth’s atmosphere is about 20% oxygen. No photosynthesis, no life on Earth as we know it.
This next week will mark a scientifically valuable achievement for NASA’s Juno mission, as the pioneering spacecraft is slated to fly within 358 kilometers (222 miles) of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa on September 29 at 5:36 a.m. EDT (2:36 a.m. PDT) as part of its extended mission to explore the Jupiter system. A flyby this close to Europa’s surface will allow Juno to acquire some of the highest-resolution images ever taken of the icy moon. For context, the last mission to explore Europa in depth was NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which got within 351 kilometers (218 miles) of the surface on January 3, 2000.
James Webb is currently experiencing problems with its MIRI instrument. The problem is due to increased friction in one of MIRI’s mechanisms in the Medium-Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) mode. The observatory is otherwise healthy, but the team decided to stop observations using MRS mode until they find a solution.
Until 1959, humans had only seen one side of the Moon. The Moon is tidally locked with Earth, and so we can only see one side from the Earth’s surface. It took the soviet Luna 3 spacecraft to capture a blurry image for humans to get their first glimpse of the lunar far side. Because of this, many people imagine that the Moon has always been this way. But as a recent study shows, that isn’t quite true.
SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk recently took to Twitter and hinted that the much-anticipated Starship—currently undergoing upgrades in preparation for its upcoming maiden flight—could launch as soon as November.
Responding to a question from a curious Twitter account asking about updates for Starship’s orbital flight date, Musk responded, “Late next month maybe, but November seems highly likely. We will have two boosters & ships ready for orbital flight by then, with full stack production at roughly one every two months.” As usual, his tweet garnered thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets.
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of researchers led by Monash University in Australia have verified the existence of a rare hexagonal structure of diamond called lonsdaleite, within ureilite meteorites from the inside of a dwarf planet that formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.
Lonsdaleite is named after Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, a famous British pioneering crystallographer responsible for developing several X-ray methods for studying crystal structures, and was the first woman elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society in 1945. This study holds the potential for further unlocking the secrets of the formation of our solar system, and was conducted with collaboration from RMIT University, the Australian Synchrotron and Plymouth University, and CSIRO.
In its first few months of operation, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is already proving that it was well worth the wait! To date, it has provided astronomers with the most detailed and precise images of the cosmos, conducted observations of iconic galaxies and nebulae, peered to the very edge of the Universe, and obtained spectra from distant exoplanets. These resulting images, made public through the JWST Early Release Science (ERS) program, have provided a good cross-section of what this next-generation observatory can do.
Among its many objectives, the JWST will provide valuable insights into the formation and evolution of exoplanet systems through direct imaging. Using data from the ERS, an international team of astronomers and astrophysicists conducted a direct imaging study of a brown dwarf companion (VHS 1256-1257 b) orbiting within a triple brown dwarf system approximately 69.0 light-years away. The spectra they obtained from this body provided a detailed composition of its atmosphere, which included an unexpected find – clouds made of silicate minerals (aka. sand)!