OSIRIS-REx Did One Last Close Flyby of Asteroid Bennu. It’s Almost Time to Come Home

After more than two years in orbit around asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is ready to come home. It’s bringing with it a pristine sample of space rocks that geologists here on Earth are eager to study up close. The sample will arrive in September 2023, but we won’t have to wait nearly that long for new data from OSIRIS-REx. Last week, the probe carried out one final flyby of Bennu, in an effort to photograph the sample collection site. The photographs are being downlinked now, and should be here by midweek.

If you’ve been following the OSIRIS-REx mission, you probably already know why scientists are keen to see these photographs, but if you haven’t, hold on to your hats – it’s a wild story.

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Jupiter Could Make an Ideal Dark Matter Detector

So, you want to find dark matter, but you don’t know where to look? A giant planet might be exactly the kind of particle detector you need! Luckily, our solar system just happens to have a couple of them available, and the biggest and closest is Jupiter. Researchers Rebecca Leane (Stanford) and Tim Linden (Stockholm) released a paper this week describing how the gas giant just might hold the key to finding the elusive dark matter.

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Roman Telescope Could Turn up Over 100,000 Planets Through Microlensing

Recently we reported on a haul of 2,200 new exoplanets from the 2 year primary mission of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). But that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of exoplanet hunting.  If calculations from NASA are correct the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope could detect up to 100,000 new exoplanets when it launches in 2025.

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The Closest Star Cluster to Earth is Being Dismantled in Front of our Eyes

Star clusters are interesting inhabitants of the sky.  They vary in sizes, distances, and number of stars, but almost all are spectacular to look at.  And most of them are in the process of being torn apart.  That is certainly the case for the Hyades star cluster – the closest one to Earth at only 153 light years away.  The problem is, there is something causing a lot more destruction than would be expected given the mass and energy in the surrounding space.  Now, a team of scientists from ESA have a theory as to what the cause of the destruction might be – a mysterious dark matter sub-halo.

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Simulating the Universe a Trillionth of a Second After the Big Bang

The Big Bang remains the best way to explain what happened at the beginning of the Universe.   However, the incredible energies flowing during the early part of the bang are almost incomprehensive to our everyday experience.  Luckily, computers aren’t so attached to normal human ways of thinking and have long been used to model the early universe right after the Bang.  Now, a team from the University of Göttingen have created the most comprehensive model of what exactly happened in that very early stage of the universe – one trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

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Newly Forming Stars Don’t Blast Away Material as Previously Believed. So Why Do They Stop Growing?

We thought we understood how stars are formed. It turns out, we don’t. Not completely, anyway. A new study, recently conducted using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, is sending astronomers back to the drawing board to rewrite the accepted model of stellar formation.

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A Very Powerful Solar Storm Hit the Earth Back in 1582

“A great fire appeared in the sky to the North, and lasted three nights,” wrote a Portuguese scribe in early March, 1582. Across the globe in feudal Japan, observers in Kyoto noted the same fiery red display in their skies too. Similar accounts of strange nighttime lights were recorded in Leipzig, Germany; Yecheon, South Korea; and a dozen other cities across Europe and East Asia.

It was a stunning event. While people living at high latitudes were well aware of auroras in 1582, most people living closer to the equator were not. The solar storm that year was unlike anything in living memory, and it was so strong it brought the aurora to latitudes as low as 28 degrees (in line with Florida, Egypt, and southern Japan). People this close to the equator had no frame of reference for such dazzling nighttime displays, and many took it as a religious portent.

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Rocks and Other Features at Perseverance’s Landing Site are Getting Navajo Names

On Feb. 18th, 2021, after spending six months in transit, the Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero Crater on Mars. By March 4th, it began driving short distances and calibrating its instruments in preparation for all the science operations it will conduct. Most recently, Perseverance began studying its first scientific target, a rock that has been named “Máaz” – the Navajo word for “Mars.”

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New Binocular Nova Cas 2021 Flares in Cassiopeia

Nova Ca 2021

A ‘new star’ erupted into visibility over the past weekend, and continues to brighten.

It began, as all modern astronomical alerts seem to, with one tweet, then two. Early on the morning of Friday, March 19th, we started seeing word that a nova was spotted in the constellation of Cassiopeia the Queen, near its border with Cepheus. At the time, the nova was at magnitude +10 ‘with a bullet,’ and still brightening. A formal notice came that same night from the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) with Alert Notice 735 on the discovery of the first nova in Cassiopeia for 2021, Nova Cassiopeiae 2021, or N Cas 2021.

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