There’s Chang’e-6 on the Far Side of the Moon

The newest phase of China’s lunar exploration project is soon coming to an end. On June 20th, the Chang’e 6 sample return mission starts its journey back to Earth from the far side of the Moon, having already collected samples and blasted itself back into lunar orbit. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s look at some of the more memorable images that have come out of this mission so far.

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Baby Stars are Swarming Around the Galactic Center

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The vicinity of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way’s center, is hyperactive. Stars, gas, and dust zip around the black hole’s gravitational well at thousands of kilometers per hour. Previously, astronomers thought that only mature stars had been pulled into such rapid orbits. However, a new paper from the University of Cologne and elsewhere in Europe found that some relatively young stars are making the rounds rather than older ones, which raises some questions about the models predicting how stars form in these hyperactive regions.

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Rotation Curves of Galaxies Stay Flat Indefinitely

In his classic book On the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the philosopher Thomas Kuhn posited that, for a new scientific framework to take root, there has to be evidence that doesn’t sit well within the existing framework. For over a century now, Einstein’s theory of relativity and gravity has been the existing framework. However, cracks are starting to show, and a new paper from researchers at Case Western Reserve University added another one recently when they failed to find decreasing rotational energy in galaxies even millions of light years away from the galaxy’s center.

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Which Stars are Lethal to their Planets?

Many years ago, there was a viral YouTube video called “History of the entire world, i guess,” which has been an endless source of internet memes since its release. One of the most prominent is also scientifically accurate—when describing why animals couldn’t start living on land, the video’s creator, Bill Wurtz, intones, “The Sun is a deadly laser.” 

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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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A Mission To Find 10 Million Near Earth Asteroids Every Year

So far, scientists have found around 34,000 near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) that could serve as humanity’s stepping stone to the stars. These balls of rock and ice hold valuable resources as we expand throughout the solar system, making them valuable real estate in any future space economy. But the 34,000 we know of only make up a small percentage of the total number of asteroids in our vicinity – some estimates theorize that up to 1 billion asteroids larger than a modern car exist near Earth. A project from the Trans Astronautics Corp (TransAstra), an asteroid-hunting start-up based in California, hopes to find the missing billion.

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Landing on Pluto May Only Be A Hop Skip and Jump Away

There are plenty of crazy ideas for missions in the space exploration community. Some are just better funded than others. One of the early pathways to funding the crazy ideas is NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts. In 2017 and again in 2021, it funded a mission study of what most space enthusiasts would consider only a modestly ambitious goal but what those outside the community might consider outlandish—landing on Pluto.

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Euclid is Finding Free Floating Planets in Orion Too

There are likely millions of “rogue” or free-floating planets (FFPs) spread through the galaxy. These planets, which aren’t big enough to become stars but also aren’t beholden to a star’s gravity, are some of the hardest objects for astronomers to spot, as they don’t give off their own light, and can only be seen when they cross in front of something that does give off its own light. Enter Euclid, a space telescope that launched last year. Its primary mission is to observe the universe’s history, but a new paper describes an exciting side project – finding FFPs in Orion.

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A Mission to Uranus Could Also be a Gravitational Wave Detector

Despite being extraordinarily difficult to detect for the first time, gravitational waves can be found using plenty of different techniques. The now-famous first detection at LIGO in 2015 was just one of the various ways scientists had been looking. A new paper from researchers from Europe and the US proposes how scientists might be able to detect some more by tracking the exact position of the upcoming Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP).

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It’s Time for Hardworking Hubble to Slow Down a Little

Thirty-four years is a long time for a telescope. Yet, that is how long the veteran workhorse of NASA’s space telescope fleet has been operating. Admittedly, Hubble was served by several repair missions during the space shuttle era. Still, the system has been floating in the void and taking some of humanity’s most breathtaking pictures ever captured since April 24th, 1990. But now, time seems to be finally catching up with it, as NASA plans to limit some of its operations to ensure its continued life, starting with gyroscopes. 

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