Sometimes it’s easy being an astronomer. When your celestial target is something simple and bright, the game can be pretty straightforward: point your telescope at the thing and just wait for all the juicy photons to pour on in.
But sometimes being an astronomer is tough, like when you’re trying to study the first stars to appear in the universe. They’re much too far away and too faint to see directly with telescopes (even the much-hyped James Webb Space Telescope will only be able to see the first galaxies, an accumulation of light from hundreds of billions of stars). To date, we don’t have any observations of the first stars, which is a major bummer.
Continue reading “Astronomers are hoping to see the very first stars and galaxies in the Universe”
You may never look at Uranus the same way again. It’s always worth combing through data from old space missions for new finds.
NASA’s researchers at the Goddard Space Flight Center recently did just that, looking at Voyager 2’s lone encounter with the planet Uranus to uncover an amazing find, as the planet seems to be losing its atmosphere to it’s lop-sided magnetic field at a high rate. The finding was published in a recent edition of Geophysical Research: Letters.
Continue reading “New Find Shows Uranus Loses Atmosphere to its Magnetic Field”
A hospitable star that doesn’t kill you with deadly flares. A rocky planet with liquid water and an agreeable climate. Absence of apocalyptic asteroid storms. No pantheon of angry, vengeful, and capricious gods. These are the things that define a habitable planet.
Now some scientists are adding one more criterion to the list: gin and tonic.
Continue reading “Astronomers Define the “Really Habitable Zone”. Planets Capable of Producing Gin and Tonic”
In the past few decades, astronomers have confirmed the existence of thousands of planets beyond our Solar System. Over time, the process has shifted from discovery to characterization in the hopes of finding which of these planets are capable of supporting life. For the time being, these methods are indirect in nature, which means that astronomers can only infer if a planet is inhabitable based on how closely it resembles Earth.
To aid in the hunt for “potentially habitable” exoplanets, a team of Cornell researchers recently created five models that represent key points in Earth’s evolution. These “snapshots” of what Earth looked like during various geological epochs could greatly enhance the search for extra-terrestrial life by providing a more complete picture of what a life-bearing planet could look like.
Continue reading “Five Snapshots of how the Earth Looked at Key Points in its History Could Help us Find Habitable Exoplanets”
There are all kinds of odd things in the sky. Things that defy our naming conventions, and our attempts to understand them. For instance, NGC 4618, the one-armed galaxy.
Continue reading “This Galaxy Has Only One Spiral Arm”
For almost a year now, SpaceX has been building a series of Starship prototypes that will test how the system fares when launched to orbit. Coming on the heels of successful hop tests with the Starship Hopper, these tests will validate the spacecraft and its Raptor engines in space. Unfortunately, the company has encountered some hiccups with these prototypes, where the first two exploded during pressure testing.
The first prototype, Starship Mk.1, exploded on the launchpad on November 20th, 2019, during a cryogenic loading test that sent its nose cone flying. The second prototype, SN1, also exploded during a pressure test on the evening of Feb. 28th, 2020, causing the fuselage to jump several meters in the air before hitting the ground and exploding again. Undeterred, Musk recently shared images of the components for the SN3 prototype undergoing assembly.
Continue reading “SpaceX Almost Ready to Start Testing its Third Starship Prototype. Let’s Hope it Doesn’t Explode”
I know you’re Googling “flocculent” right now, unless you happen to be a chemist, or maybe a home brewer.
You could spend each day of your life staring at a different galaxy, and you’d never even come remotely close to seeing even a tiny percentage of all the galaxies in the Universe. Of course, nobody knows for sure exactly how many galaxies there are. But there might be up to two trillion of them. If you live to be a hundred, that’s only 36,500 galaxies that you’d look at. Puts things in perspective.
Continue reading “This Galaxy is the Very Definition of “Flocculent””
In the past few decades, astronomers have been able to look farther into the Universe (and also back in time), almost to the very beginnings of the Universe. In so doing, they’ve learned a great deal about some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe and their subsequent evolution. However, there are still some things that are still off-limits, like when galaxies with supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and massive jets first appeared.
According to recent studies from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) and a team of astronomers from Japan and Taiwan provide new insight on how supermassive black holes began forming just 800 million years after the Big Bang, and relativistic jets less than 2 billion years after. These results are part of a growing case that shows how massive objects in our Universe formed sooner than we thought.
Continue reading “How were Supermassive Black Holes Already Forming and Releasing Powerful Jets Shortly After the Big Bang?”
Astronomers like observing distant young stars as they form. Stars are born out of a molecular cloud, and once enough of the matter in that cloud clumps together, fusion ignites and a star begins its life. The leftover material from the formation of the star is called a circumstellar disk.
As the material in the circumstellar disk swirls around the now-rotating star, it clumps up into individual planets. As planets form in it, they leave gaps in that disk. Or so we think.
Continue reading “Are the Gaps in These Disks Caused by Planets?”
Every second of every day, our sun spits out a stream of tiny high-energy particles, known as the solar wind. This wind blows throughout the solar system, extending far beyond the orbits of the planets and out into interstellar space.
But the farther from the sun the wind gets, the more slowly it streams, changing from the raging torrent that the inner planets experience (strong enough to cause the aurora) into nothing more than an annoying drizzle. And far enough away – about twice the orbit of Neptune – it meets and mingles with all the random bits of energetic junk just floating around amongst the stars.
Continue reading “The heliosphere looks a lot weirder than we originally thought”