Astronomers Try to Directly Observe Epsilon Eridani b. No Luck. Maybe Webb Can Find it?

Direct imaging of Epsilon Eridani

Back in the year 2000, Epsilon Eridani b was discovered. It is a Jupiter-like exoplanet 10.5 light years away but it has taken decades of observations to learn more about the planet. One thing that remains a mystery is it’s orbit which, until recently has been unknown. There has never been a direct image of the planet either, so now, it’s the turn of JWST to see what it can do. 

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These Rocks Formed in an Ancient Lake on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to search for signs that Mars’ Gale Crater conditions could support microbial life. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to search for signs that Mars’ Gale Crater conditions could support microbial life. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

We already know that water has existed on the surface of Mars but for how long? Curiosity has been searching for evidence for the long term presence of water on Mars and now, a team of researchers think they have found it. The rover has been exploring the Gale Crater and found it contains high concentrations of Manganese. The mineral doesn’t form easily on Mars so the team think it may have formed as deposits in an ancient lake. It is interesting too that life on Earth helps the formation of Manganese so its presence on Mars is a mystery.

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Does the Milky Way Have Too Many Satellite Galaxies?

Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: ESA

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are well known satellite galaxies of the Milky Way but there are more. It is surrounded by at least 61 within 1.4 million light years (for context the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years away) but there are likely to be more. A team of astronomers have been hunting for more companions using the Subaru telescope and so far, have searched just 3% of the sky. To everyone’s surprise they have found nine previously undiscovered satellite galaxies, far more than expected. 

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First Light from Einstein Probe: A Supernova Remnant

Supernova remnant Puppis A

On 9 January 2024, the Einstein probe was launched, its mission to study the night sky in X-rays. The first image from the probe that explores the Universe in these energetic wavelengths has just been released. It shows Puppis A, the supernova remnant from a massive star that exploded 4,000 years ago. The image showed the expanding cloud of ejecta from the explosion but now, Einstein will continue to scan the skies for other X-ray events. 

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Galaxies Evolved Surprisingly Quickly in the Early Universe

Galactic Bar

Anyone familiar with astronomy will know that galaxies come in a fairly limited range of shapes, typically; spiral, elliptical, barred-spiral and irregular. The barred-spiral galaxy has been known to be a feature of the modern universe but a study from astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope has recently challenged that view. Following on observations using the James Webb Space Telescope has found the bar feature in some spiral galaxies as early as 11 billion years ago suggesting galaxies evolved faster in the early Universe than previously expected. 

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Measuring Exoplanetary Magnetospheres with the Square Kilometer Array

Earth's magnetosphere

Life on Earth would not be possible without food, water, light, a breathable atmosphere and surprisingly, a magnetic field. Without it, Earth, and its inhabitants would be subjected to the harmful radiation from space making life here, impossible. If we find exoplanets with similar magnetospheres then those worlds may well be habitable. The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) which is still under construction should be able to detect such magnetospheres from radio emissions giving us real insight into our exoplanet cousins. 

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Psyche is Still Sending Data Home at Broadband Speeds

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is shown in a clean room at the Astrotech Space Operations facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 8, 2022. DSOC’s gold-capped flight laser transceiver can be seen, near center, attached to the spacecraft. NASA/Ben Smegelsky

When I heard about this I felt an amused twinge of envy. Over the last year I have been using an unimpressive 4G broadband service and at best get 20 Mbps, NASA’s Psyche mission has STILL been getting 23 Mbps at 225 million km away! It’s all thanks to the prototype optical transmission system employed on the probe. It means it can get up to 100 times more data transmission rate than usual radio. 

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Astronomers Will Get Gravitational Wave Alerts Within 30 Seconds

Astronomers and astrophysicists could use these alerts and information to understand how neutron stars behave and study nuclear interactions between neutron stars and black holes colliding.

Any event in the cosmos generates gravitational waves, the bigger the event, the more disturbance. Events where black holes and neutron stars collide can send out waves detectable here on Earth. It is possible that there can be an event in visible light when neutron stars collide so to take advantage of every opportunity an early warning is essential. The teams at LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA observatories are working on an alert system that will alert astronomers within 30 seconds fo a gravity wave event. If warning is early enough it may be possible to identify the source and watch the after glow. 

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Japan’s Lunar Lander Survives its Third Lunar Night

Lunar surface seen by SLIM

Space travel and exploration was never going to be easy. Failures are sadly all too common but it’s wonderful to see missions exceed expectations. The Japanese Space Agency’s SLIM lunar lander was only supposed to survive a single day but it’s survived three brutal, harsh lunar nights and is still going. The temperatures plummet to -170C at night and the lander was never designed to operate into the night. Even sat upside down on the surface it’s still sending back pictures and data. 

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Black Holes Can Halt Star Formation in Massive Galaxies

This research published in Nature is the first direct confirmation that supermassive black holes are capable of shutting down galaxies

It’s difficult to actually visualise a universe that is changing. Things tend to happen at snails pace albeit with the odd exception. Take the formation of galaxies growing in the early universe. Their immense gravitational field would suck in dust and gas from the local vicinity creating vast collections of stars. In the very centre of these young galaxies, supermassive blackholes would reside turning the galaxy into powerful quasars. A recent survey by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals that black holes can create a powerful solar wind that can remove gas from galaxies faster than they can form into stars, shutting off the creation of new stars.

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