Jupiter at Opposition 2022, Closest in 59 Years

Be sure to observe Jupiter this week, during its finest apparition of a lifetime.

You’ve never seen Jove like this. Jupiter opposition season for 2022 is upon us tonight, as the King of the Planet shines rising in the east opposite to the setting Sun in the west. This is the very best time to catch Jupiter and its retinue of moons, as they dominate the sky throughout the night. And although Jupiter reaches opposition as seen from the Earth nearly every year, this one is special as it’s the closest to the Earth in our lifetimes, and the nearest for the 21st century.

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Gravity Really Tangled up the Light From a Distant Quasar

quasar lensed
The SDSS J1004+4112 gravitational lens creates five images of a distant quasar. Credit: European Space Agency, NASA, Keren Sharon (Tel-Aviv University) and Eran Ofek (CalTech))

Way back in 1979, astronomers spotted two nearly identical quasars that seemed close to each other in the sky. These so-called “Twin Quasars” are actually separate images of the same object. Even more intriguing: the light paths that created each image traveled through different parts of the cluster. One path took a little longer than the other. That meant a flicker in one image of the quasar occurred 14 months later in the other. The reason? The cluster’s mass distribution formed a lens that distorted the light and drastically affected the two paths.

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The Moon’s Poles Have “Wandered” Over Billions of Years

A gravity map of the Moon with (left) and without (right) many craters. Credit: Smith, et al

Until 1959, humans had only seen one side of the Moon. The Moon is tidally locked with Earth, and so we can only see one side from the Earth’s surface. It took the soviet Luna 3 spacecraft to capture a blurry image for humans to get their first glimpse of the lunar far side. Because of this, many people imagine that the Moon has always been this way. But as a recent study shows, that isn’t quite true.

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Webb Scans a Nearby Brown Dwarf and Finds it has Clouds Made of Sand

An artist's conception of a brown dwarf. A new study identifies CK Vulpeculae as the remnant of a collison between a brown dwarf and a white dwarf. Image: By NASA/JPL-Caltech (http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/image/114) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
An artist's conception of a brown dwarf. A new study identifies CK Vulpeculae as the remnant of a collison between a brown dwarf and a white dwarf. Image: By NASA/JPL-Caltech (http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/image/114) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In its first few months of operation, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is already proving that it was well worth the wait! To date, it has provided astronomers with the most detailed and precise images of the cosmos, conducted observations of iconic galaxies and nebulae, peered to the very edge of the Universe, and obtained spectra from distant exoplanets. These resulting images, made public through the JWST Early Release Science (ERS) program, have provided a good cross-section of what this next-generation observatory can do.

Among its many objectives, the JWST will provide valuable insights into the formation and evolution of exoplanet systems through direct imaging. Using data from the ERS, an international team of astronomers and astrophysicists conducted a direct imaging study of a brown dwarf companion (VHS 1256-1257 b) orbiting within a triple brown dwarf system approximately 69.0 light-years away. The spectra they obtained from this body provided a detailed composition of its atmosphere, which included an unexpected find – clouds made of silicate minerals (aka. sand)!

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The World’s Ground Stations are Getting Ready to Watch a Spacecraft Crash Into an Asteroid Next Week!

NASA's DART spacecraft is due to collide with the smaller body of the Didymos binary asteroid system on Sept. 26th, 2022. Credit: ESA

On September 26th, NASA’s Double-Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) will rendezvous with the Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Didymos. By 01:14 UTC (07:14 PM EDT; 04:14 PM PDT), this spacecraft will collide with the small moonlet orbiting the asteroid (Dimorphos) to test the “kinetic impactor” method of planetary defense. This method involves a spacecraft striking an asteroid to alter its orbit and divert it from a trajectory that would cause it to collide with Earth. The event will be broadcast live worldwide and feature data streams from the DART during its final 12 hours before it strikes its target.

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Neptune and Its Rings Glow in Webb Telescope’s Portrait

JWST view of Neptune and rings
An infrared image from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope shows Neptune and its rings. Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / Joseph DePasquale

The first picture of Neptune to be taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals the latest, greatest details of the ice giant’s atmosphere, moons and rings in infrared wavelengths.

Some of those details — for example, faint bands of dust that encircle Neptune — haven’t been brought to light since the Voyager 2 probe zoomed past in 1989.

“It has been three decades since we last saw those faint, dusty bands, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” astronomer Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist on the JWST team who specializes in Neptune, said today in a news release. Neptune’s brighter rings stand out even more clearly.

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Astronomy For Equity: Building Hope Through the Night Sky

Roaya Astronomical Clubs in Libyan Schools is a project of Roaya for Astronomy and Space Applications, a Libyan youth group created in 2012 that became a government-recognized Non-Governmental Foundation in 2021. The project is supported through partnerships with the Libya Ministry of Education. Image courtesy of A4E.

Have you ever attended a star party, where amateur astronomers set up telescopes and invite the public to take a look at the night sky? If so, then you understand and appreciate how much these part-time but incredibly enthusiastic stargazers love to share the wonders of our Universe with others.  

That type of passion and generosity of heart is the basis of a new organization that hopes to harness the proven capability of astronomy to bring hope, wonder and science to marginalized and isolated students and communities around the world.

Astronomy For Equity (A4E) looks to bring together existing resources within communities in war-torn or developing countries, and provide the tools and resources to support experienced volunteers and teachers for public education programs that are already in place. Their first initiative will help get telescopes to astronomy students in Libya.

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Uh oh, There’s a Problem With one of Webb’s Science Instruments

James Webb

James Webb is currently experiencing problems with its MIRI instrument. The problem is due to increased friction in one of MIRI’s mechanisms in the Medium-Resolution Spectroscopy (MRS) mode. The observatory is otherwise healthy, but the team decided to stop observations using MRS mode until they find a solution.

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Should Low Earth Orbit be a protected environmental ecosystem?

Conceptual image of streaks of light across a starry sky, to illustrate the pollution of near-earth space
The growing population of mega-constellations of satellites in Low-Earth Orbit may constitute an ecological threat.

An article published in Nature Astronomy makes a strong case to declare the orbital space around earth an ecologically protected environment. It was part of a submission to the US Court of Appeals in August last year and was filed by several organisations in response to license amendments granted by the FAA to SpaceX for Starlink satellites. To understand why this is so important, it may help to remember that orbital space is a “common” area, like “International Waters” in our oceans, so it is not currently protected by a single country or organization.

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Astronomers Find a Sun-like Star Orbiting a Nearby Black Hole

Gaia BH1 is a Sun-like star co-orbiting with a black hole estimated at 10 times the Sun's mass. Credit: ESO/L. Calcada

In 1916, Karl Schwarzchild theorized the existence of black holes as a resolution to Einstein’s field equations for his Theory of General Relativity. By the mid-20th century, astronomers began detecting black holes for the first time using indirect methods, which consisted of observing their effects on surrounding objects and space. Since the 1980s, scientists have studied supermassive black holes (SMBHs), which reside at the center of most massive galaxies in the Universe. And by April 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration released the first image ever taken of an SMBH.

These observations are an opportunity to test the laws of physics under the most extreme conditions and offer insights into the forces that shaped the Universe. According to a recent study, an international research team relied on data from the ESA’s Gaia Observatory to observe a Sun-like star with strange orbital characteristics. Due to the nature of its orbit, the team concluded that it must be part of a black hole binary system. This makes it the nearest black hole to our Solar System and implies the existence of a sizable population of dormant black holes in our galaxy.

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