There’s Chang’e-6 on the Far Side of the Moon

The newest phase of China’s lunar exploration project is soon coming to an end. On June 20th, the Chang’e 6 sample return mission starts its journey back to Earth from the far side of the Moon, having already collected samples and blasted itself back into lunar orbit. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s look at some of the more memorable images that have come out of this mission so far.

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The Great Red Spot Probably Formed in the Early 1800s

"Great Red Spot from P7 Flyover". Credit: NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Jason Major © public domain

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS) is one of the Solar System’s defining features. It’s a massive storm that astronomers have observed since the 1600s. However, its date of formation and longevity are up for debate. Have we been seeing the same phenomenon all this time?

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Almost a Third of Early Galaxies Were Already Spirals

The graceful winding arms of the grand-design spiral galaxy M51 stretch across this image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. New JWST observations of the early Universe are upending our understanding of galaxy evolution. Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, A. Adamo (Stockholm University) and the FEAST JWST team

In the years before the JWST’s launch, astronomers’ efforts to understand the early Universe were stymied by a stubborn obstacle: the light from the early Universe was red-shifted to an extreme degree. The JWST was built with extreme redshifts in mind, and one of its goals was to study Galaxy Assembly.

Once the JWST activated its segmented, beryllium eye, the Universe’s most ancient, red-shifted light became visible.

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New Simulation Explains how Supermassive Black Holes Grew so Quickly

Supermassive Black Hole Survey. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/PSU/F. Zou et al./N.Trehnl/The TNG Collaboration

One of the main scientific objectives of next-generation observatories (like the James Webb Space Telescope) has been to observe the first galaxies in the Universe – those that existed at Cosmic Dawn. This period is when the first stars, galaxies, and black holes in our Universe formed, roughly 50 million to 1 billion years after the Big Bang. By examining how these galaxies formed and evolved during the earliest cosmological periods, astronomers will have a complete picture of how the Universe has changed with time.

As addressed in previous articles, the results of Webb‘s most distant observations have turned up a few surprises. In addition to revealing that galaxies formed rapidly in the early Universe, astronomers also noticed these galaxies had particularly massive supermassive black holes (SMBH) at their centers. This was particularly confounding since, according to conventional models, these galaxies and black holes didn’t have enough time to form. In a recent study, a team led by Penn State astronomers has developed a model that could explain how SMBHs grew so quickly in the early Universe.

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Webb is an Amazing Supernova Hunter

80 objects (circled in green) that changed in brightness over time, as seen by JWST. Most of these are supernovae. NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, JADES Collaboration

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has just increased the number of known distant supernovae by tenfold. This rapid expansion of astronomers’ catalog of supernovae is extremely valuable, not least because it improves the reliability of measurements for the expansion of the universe.

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Astronomers Find the Slowest-Spinning Neutron Star Ever

This artist's illustration shows CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope with two versions of the puzzling, newly-discovered celestial object: neutron star and white dwarf. Image Credit: Carl Knox, OzGrav

Most neutron stars spin rapidly, completing a rotation in seconds or even a fraction of a second. But astronomers have found one that takes its time, completing a rotation in 54 minutes. What compels this odd object to spin so slowly?

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The Nearby Star Clusters Come from Only Three Places

The most well-known open cluster is probably the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. The Japanese call it the Subaru cluster, and keen observers might recognize its pattern on the Subaru automobile logo. New research shows that the Pleiades and more than 150 other star clusters all originated in only three star-forming regions. Image: By NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory. http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2004/20/image/a/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7805481

Many astronomy-interested people know of the Hyades and the Pleiades. They’re star clusters in the Taurus constellation. They’re two out of a handful of star clusters that are visible to the unaided eye under dark sky conditions.

It turns out that these clusters, along with more than 150 other nearby clusters, all originated in only three massive star-forming regions.

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Instead of Losing its Atmosphere, an Exoplanet Puffed Up and Held Onto it

Artist's impression of the "hot Neptune" Phoenix orbiting its red giant star. Credit: Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa/JHU

To date, astronomers have confirmed the existence of 5638 extrasolar planets in 4,199 star systems. In the process, scientists have found many worlds that have defied expectations. This is certainly the case regarding “hot Neptunes,” planets that are similar to the “ice giants” of the outer Solar System but orbit much closer to their stars. But when a Johns Hopkins University-led team of astronomers discovered TIC365102760 b (aka. Pheonix), they observed something entirely unexpected: a Neptune-sized planet that retained its atmosphere by puffing up.

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