With a Small Network of Satellites Around Mars, Rovers Could Navigate Autonomously

small satellites at Mars
An artist's concept for a smallsat constellation around Mars for polar exploration. Courtesy Serena Molli.

When it comes to “on the ground” exploration of Mars, rovers make pretty good advance scouts. From Pathfinder to Perseverance, we’ve watched as these semi-autonomous robots do what human explorers want to do in the future. Now, engineers are studying ways to expand rover exploration on Mars. One thing they’re thinking about: communication satellite constellations for Mars surface navigation.

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Mauna Loa is Erupting for the First Time in 40 Years. Here’s What it Looks Like From Space.

Mauna Loa eruption
Fissure 3 of the current Mauna Loa eruption on the Big island of Hawaii. Courtesy USGS.

A sleeping giant of a volcano woke up this past week on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa, which last erupted in the early 1980s, has been rattling the island with earthquakes for weeks. Finally, on November 27th, the mountain opened up. Not only did residents see this eruption, but NASA and NOAA satellites captured an infrared view of it.

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BlueWalker 3 is a Cellphone Tower in Space and One of the Brightest Objects Ever Launched. Astronomers Aren’t Happy.

BlueWalker 3
Trails in the night sky left by BlueWalker 3 are juxtaposed against the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, a Program of NSF's NOIRLab. The lights from Tucson, Arizona, are seen in the background.

It seems our nighttime skies are hosting another new communications network. In recent years, we’ve seen Starlink trains of satellites moving against the backdrop of stars, and more OneWeb satellites will soon be heading to orbit. Now, it’s BlueWalker 3, a prototype test satellite for a new communications constellation aimed at cell phones. Think of it as the first of many “cell towers in space” providing communications access for people around the globe.

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The Second-Closest Supermassive Black Hole Might be in a Nearby Dwarf Galaxy

Leo 1 dwarf spheroidal galaxy has a supermassive black hole
Leo I appears as a faint patch to the right of the bright star, Regulus. Astronomers say it appears to have a supermassive black hole Credit: Scott Anttila Anttler

There’s a little galaxy in the Milky Way’s cosmic neighborhood called Leo 1. It’s a dwarf spheroidal that lies less than a million light-years away from us. Surprisingly, it has a supermassive black hole about the same mass as Sagittarius A* in our galaxy. That’s unusual in several ways, and astronomers want to know more about it.

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JWST Detects Signs of Active Chemistry and Clouds in the Atmosphere of Exoplanet WASP-39 b

WASP-39 b
This is an illustration (artist’s impression) showing what the exoplanet WASP-39 b could look like, based on current understanding of the planet. Courtesy NASA/JWST.

NASA’s JWST data just keeps on delivering amazing discoveries. Back in July, it observed the exoplanet WASP-39 b and found fingerprints of atoms and molecules and active chemical reactions in its clouds. Now, a team of scientists extends that discovery with a much deeper analysis of the data.

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The Milky Way’s Stellar Halo Isn’t a Sphere After All

stellar halo around the milky way
The Milky Way's anatomy includes a rounded stellar halo That view is changing with new data. Image courtesy ESA.

Our galaxy’s stellar halo is giving astronomers some new food for thought. It turns out everyone thought the halo was spherical. But, it’s not. That’s news to everyone who said it was spherical. According to a new measurement done by a team at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, it has a tilted, oblong football shape. This all tells astronomers an interesting tale about our galaxy’s ancient history.

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Hubble Sees a Dense Cloud of Gas and Dust That’s About to Become a Star

A small, dense cloud of gas and dust called CB 130-3 blots out the center of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
A small, dense cloud of gas and dust called CB 130-3 blots out the centre of this HST image. Courtesy NASA/ESA/STScI

The process of star birth begins in a shroud of gas and dust. Hubble Space Telescope (HST) excels in showing detailed views of these stellar crêches because there’s still a lot to learn about them. Its latest image shows an object called a “dense core”, where a stellar embryo could already exist.

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Perseverance has Found a Nice Patch of Sandstone on Mars

Sandstone on Mars in Jezero Crater
This image of “Yori Pass” was taken by a Hazcam imager aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on Nov. 5, 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s rolling geology robot shared a great image of sandstone that it found on Mars in Jezero Crater. It’s in a region called “Yori Pass”, which is part of an ancient river delta. Perseverance will take rock samples there for the upcoming Sample Return Mission. They should tell more about what happened with water in this region. And maybe they’ll show evidence of life.

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Gamma-ray Bursts Don’t Always Signal the Birth of a Black Hole, Sometimes It’s Just a New Neutron Star

gamma-ray burst from neutron star merger
Artist rendering of colliding neutron stars. Credit: Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science

Way out in the universe, a long time ago, a proto-magnetar was born. The birth was heralded by a gamma-ray burst (GRB), followed by a blast of strange emissions. Astronomers once assumed that GRBs like this came from black hole births. However, observations of the new object by astronomers in England show there’s more than one way to cause a GRB. And, there’s more than one type of GRB.

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Divers Have Found a Piece of the Space Shuttle Challenger Off the Coast of Florida 

Space Shuttle Challenger memorial poster
A memorial poster of space shuttle Challenger's orbiter tribute, or OV-099, which hangs in Firing Room 4 of the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Courtesy NASA.

Nearly 37 years ago the world watched in stunned horror as an explosion destroyed the space shuttle Challenger. The accident occurred 73 seconds after liftoff and killed seven astronauts. Memories of shuttle pieces falling into the sea remain with everyone who witnessed the catastrophe.

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