There’s always more than one way to look at the world. There’s also more than one way to look at a galaxy. And sometimes combining those ways of looking can result in something truly special.
That is what happened recently when a team of astronomers from seven different universities in four different countries used three different telescopes to produce an absolutely spectacular image of a galaxy and its surrounding magnetic field.
Exoplanets have been a particularly hot topic of late. More than 4000 of them have been discovered since the first in 1995. Now one more can potentially be added to the list. This one is orbiting Gliese 3470, a red dwarf star located in the constellation Cancer. What makes this discovery particularly interesting is that this planet wasn’t discovered by any professional astronomers using high tech equipment like the Kepler Space Telescope. It was found entirely by amateurs.
What’s the most interesting fact you know about Uranus? The fact that its rotational axis is completely out of line with every other planet in the solar system? Or the fact that Uranus’ magnetosphere is asymmetrical, notably tilted relative to its rotational axis, and significantly offset from the center of the planet? Or the fact that it’s moons are all named after characters from Shakespeare or Alexander Pope?
All of those facts (with the exception of the literary references) have come from a very limited dataset. Some of the best data was collected during a Voyager 2 flyby in 1986. Since then, the only new data has come from Earth-based telescopes. While they’ve been steadily increasing in resolution, they have only been able to scratch the surface of what may be lurking in the system surrounding the closest Ice Giant. Hopefully that is about to change, as a team of scientists has published a white paper advocating for a visit from a new Flagship class spacecraft.
While actually walking on the sun is still just a dream of Smash Mouth fans, humanity has gotten a little bit closer to our nearest solar neighbor with the recent launch of the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter (SolO).
SolO has just produced its first round of photographs of the sun in action and they are already revealing some features that have been unseen until now. Those features might even hold the key to understanding one of the holy grails of heliophysics.
Do road trips actually require roads? Not if you’re NASA’s Curiosity rover, who is embarking on an extended 1 mile long road trip this summer up the side of Mount Sharp.
The rover will be moving between two “units” of Gale Crater, where it has been exploring since 2014. It’s wrapping up experiments in the “clay-bearing unit”, which resulted in the highest concentrations of clay found during the mission. It’s now moving to the “sulfate-bearing unit”, which is expected to contain an abundance of sulfates, such as gypsum and Epsom salts.
Venus has always been a bit of the odd stepchild in the solar system. It’s similarities to Earth are uncanny: roughly the same size, mass, and distance from the sun. But the development paths the two planets ended up taking were very different, with one being the birthplace of all life as we know it, and the other becoming a cloud-covered, highly pressurized version of hell. That cloud cover, which is partially made up of sulfuric acid, has also given the planet an air of mystery. So much so that astronomers in the early 20th century speculated that there could be dinosaurs roaming about on the surface.
Some of that mystery will melt away if a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory gets a chance to launch their newest idea for a mission to the planet, the Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topograph, and Spectroscopy (or VERITAS) mission.
The open source movement has been a fixture in the software and electronics worlds for over a decade now. Open source components serve as the basis from everything from 3D printed Iron Man figures to the Linux computer operating system. Now there’s a new open source project that ambitious creatives can undertake: building their very own Mars Curiosity Rover.
Dark matter is one of the least understood aspects in physics. The evidence for dark matter is from its gravitational influence on galactic scales which cannot be explained by the presence of conventional matter. Despite its large gravitational interactions, it is notoriously difficult to learn about dark matter as it does not interact with electromagnetic fields, hence the name of “dark” matter.
But just because it is difficult to get it to interact with anything on the electromagnetic spectrum does not mean it is impossible to detect other feeble interactions it may have. A team of theoretical physicists from Caltech have recently proposed a novel type of experiment that may just hold the key to understanding dark matter with specific types of interactions.
When NASA’s new Perseverance Martian rover launches in a little over a month it will have a small robotic stow-away on board. Ingenuity is a small helicopter, with a fuselage about the size of a softball and two extending rotors that measure about 4 feet across. It was attached to the bottom of the rover’s chassis in April, and NASA recently released details about it’s technically challenging release process.
Before the team of NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers started designing the release mechanism though, they had to decide what Ingenuity’s mission would actually be. Ultimately, the helicopter will serve as the first powered experimental test flight on any extraterrestrial body. NASA is hoping it will be the first of many, leading to future helicopters on Mars that could allow mission scientists to peer into previously inaccessible places, such as craters and cliffs, from the air. If Ingenuity is successful, it could pave the way to many future air based scientific and scouting missions.
Normally the images from NASA’s Curiosity rover, currently sitting near “Bloodstone Hill” on Mars, are of alien vistas and rock outcroppings that conspiracy theorists constantly try to anthropomorphize into UFOs. However, the rover is also excellently positioned to capture a unique perspective of an alien sky. And that is exactly what it did recently when it captured an image of both Venus and Earth in the same Martian night sky. The images were actually taken in two separate frames, though the two planets were visible in the sky at the same time.