NASA's Upcoming SPHEREx Mission Will map the Entire Universe in Infrared Every 6 Months

Illustration of the SPHEREx satellite. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The universe is cold and dark. And yet, within the dark, there is a faint glow of warmth. Across the sky, there are objects that emit infrared light, similar to the light that warms your hands near a campfire. By observing this light, astronomers can see the cosmos in a way that looks very different from that seen by our eyes.

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The Sun Didn't Have any Sunspots for 70 Years, now we Might Know why

The Sun as seen over the years. Credit: NASA

Sunspots are one of the ways we can measure the activity level of the Sun. Generally, the more sunspots we observe, the more active the Sun is. We’ve been tracking sunspots since the early 1600s, and we’ve long known that solar activity has an 11-year cycle of high and low activity. It’s an incredibly regular cycle. But from 1645 to 1715 that cycle was broken. During this time the Sun entered an extremely quiet period that has come to be known as the Maunder Minimum. In the deepest period of the minimum, only 50 sunspots were observed, when typically there would be tens of thousands. We’ve never observed such a long period of quiet since, and we have no idea why it occurred.

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New Radio Images of Bizarre “Odd Radio Circles” Which are Vastly Bigger Than the Milky Way

Artist depiction of an Odd Radio Circle. Credit: CSIRO

In radio astronomy, circle-shaped objects are fairly common. Since diffuse ionized gas often emits radio light, objects such as supernova remnants, planetary nebulae, and even star-forming regions can create circular arcs of diffuse gas. But in 2019 astronomers began to discover radio circles they couldn’t explain, in part because they are so large.

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It's Confirmed. We now Know of More Than 5,000 Exoplanets

An artist view of countless exoplanets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This week the official count of known exoplanets crossed 5,000. On the one hand, there isn’t anything special about 5,000 vs 4,900 or 5,100, but on the other hand, crossing this threshold is an indication of how far we’ve come, and how quickly things will change in the future.

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Astronomers Could Detect Gravitational Waves by Tracking the Moon's Orbit Around the Earth

An artist view of primordial gravitational waves. Credit: Carl Knox, OzGrav/Swinburne University of Technology

Gravitational waves are notoriously difficult to detect. Although modern optical astronomy has been around for centuries, gravitational wave astronomy has only been around since 2015. Even now our ability to detect gravitational waves is limited. Observatories such as LIGO and Virgo can only detect powerful events such as the mergers of stellar black holes or neutron stars. And they can only detect waves with a narrow range of frequencies from tens of Hertz to a few hundred Hertz. Many gravitational waves are produced at much lower frequencies, but right now we can’t observe them. Imagine raising a telescope to the night sky and only being able to see light that is a few shades of purple.

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A new way to Confirm Hawking's Idea That Black Holes Give off Radiation

In honor of Dr. Stephen Hawking, the COSMOS center will be creating the most detailed 3D mapping effort of the Universe to date. Credit: BBC, Illus.: T.Reyes

Nothing can escape a black hole. General relativity is very clear on this point. Cross a black hole’s event horizon, and you are forever lost to the universe. Except that’s not entirely true. It’s true according to Einstein’s theory, but general relativity is a classical model. It doesn’t take into account the quantum aspects of nature. For that, you’d need a quantum theory of gravity, which we don’t have. But we do have some ideas about some of the effects of quantum gravity, and one of the most interesting is Hawking radiation.

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If Axions are Dark Matter, we've got new Hints About Where to Look for Them

Artist rendering of the dark matter halo surrounding our galaxy. For quasars, the dark matter halos are much more massive. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
Artist rendering of the dark matter halo surrounding our galaxy. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

If dark matter is out there, and it certainly seems to be, then what could it possibly be? That is perhaps the biggest mystery of dark matter. The only known particles that match the requirement of having mass and not interacting strongly with light are neutrinos. But neutrinos have low mass and zip through the cosmos at nearly the speed of light. They are a form of “hot” dark matter, so they don’t match the observed data that require dark matter to be “cold.” With neutrinos ruled out, cosmologists look toward various hypothetical particles we haven’t discovered, and perhaps the most popular of these are known as axions.

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Neutron Stars Could be the Best way to Measure Dark Energy

An artistic rendering of two neutron stars merging. Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State/A. Simonnet

Dark energy is central to our modern theory of cosmology. We know the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, and the clearest explanation is that some kind of energy is driving it. Since this energy doesn’t emit light, we call it dark energy. But simply giving dark energy a name doesn’t mean we fully understand it. We can see what dark energy does, but its fundamental nature is perhaps the biggest scientific mystery we have.

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Astronomers see Dead Planets Crashing Into Dead Stars

Artist’s impression of a white dwarf accreting planetary material from a circumstellar debris disk. Credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

When our Sun dies, the Earth will die with it. As a star of middling mass, the Sun will end its life by swelling into a red giant star. After a last cosmic moment of brilliance, the remnant core of the Sun will collapse into a white dwarf. This won’t occur for billions of years, but the mass and composition of the Sun means a white dwarf is its inevitable fate.

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