In recent decades, over 4,000 extrasolar planets have been confirmed beyond our Solar System. With so many planets available for study, astronomers have learned a great deal about the types of planets that exist out there and what kind of conditions are prevalent. For instance, they have been able to get a better idea of just how common habitable planets are (at least by our standards).
As it turns out, a surprisingly high number of planets out there could support life. That is the conclusion reached by a team of astronomers and planetary scientists who conducted a study of the possible sizes of habitable zones (HZ) based on stellar classification. After considering many planets could stably orbit within them, they came to the conclusion that stars with no Jupiter-sized gas giants can have as many as seven habitable planets!
Continue reading “Some Stars Could Support as Many as 7 Habitable Planets”
On Thursday, July 30th, NASA launched the most sophisticated Mars rover ever built atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.This mission includes the Perseverance rover (Curiosity‘s sister vehicle) and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, both of which are being flown on a seven-month journey by the Mars 2020 spacecraft.
In a minor hiccup, the Mars 2020 spacecraft entered safe mode a few hours after launch, apparently due to a temperature anomaly. This was the conclusion reached by mission controllers after receiving telemetry data on the spacecraft via the NASA Deep Space Network. Luckily, the spacecraft is working nominally and is on its way toward Mars to join in the search for evidence of past (and present) life!
Continue reading “Perseverance Went Into Safe Mode Shortly After Launch, But it’s Fine”
It’s been a busy week for SpaceX! Yesterday (Sunday, Aug. 2nd), astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley returned from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the same Crew Dragon spacecraft that had carried them to space two months before. With their safe return, the first crewed mission to launch from US soil in almost a decade (Demo-2) was complete, signaling that NASA has restored domestic launch capability to the US.
In all the hubbub, another major SpaceX accomplishment went largely unnoticed. This was the successful completion of a full-duration static fire test by the SN5 Starship prototype, which took place at the company’s South Texas Launch Facility near Boca Chica on Thursday, July 30th. With this milestone reached, SpaceX is moving ahead with the next major test of the SN5, the long-awaited 150 meter (~500 foot) hop test!
Continue reading “SpaceX Just Completed a Static Fire of Starship Prototype SN5. Next Comes the Hop”
Comets visit the inner Solar System, and leave without saying goodbye. Maybe they leave a trail of dust behind, and when the Earth passes through it, we get a pretty light show in the night sky, in the form of a meteor shower. Likewise, asteroids frequently go whizzing by, though they don’t leave us with a pyrotechnic display.
Sometimes these rocky interlopers head straight for Earth. And when they do, the results can be cataclysmic, like when an asteroid struck Earth about 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and 75% of life on Earth. Other times, it’s not quite as cataclysmic, but still devastating, like in about 2350 BC, when debris from a disintegrating comet may have caused the collapse of an ancient empire.
But regardless of the severity of any of these individual events, the conclusion is crystal clear: Earth’s history is intertwined with the coming and going of space rocks. The evidence is all around us, sort of.
Continue reading “Ancient Meteorites Can be Found Embedded in Rocks, Like Fossils”
There’s always more than one way to look at the world. There’s also more than one way to look at a galaxy. And sometimes combining those ways of looking can result in something truly special.
That is what happened recently when a team of astronomers from seven different universities in four different countries used three different telescopes to produce an absolutely spectacular image of a galaxy and its surrounding magnetic field.
Continue reading “This Is Fascinating. An Image of a Galaxy’s Magnetic Field”
In the past few decades, the study of extrasolar planets has grown by leaps and bounds, with the confirmation of over 4000 exoplanets. With so many planets available for study, the focus of exoplanet-researchers is shifting from discovery to characterization. In the coming years, new technologies and next-generation telescopes will also enable Direct Imaging studies, which will vastly improve our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres.
To facilitate this process, astronomers will rely on costly technologies like coronagraphs and starshades, which block out the light of a star so any planets orbiting it will become more visible. However, according to a new study by an international team of astronomers and cosmologists, eclipsing binary stars could provide all the shading that’s needed to directly image planets orbiting them.
Continue reading “There are Natural Starshades Out There, Which Would Help Astronomers Image Exoplanets”
Quasars are the most powerful sources of light in the universe, but sometimes they’re hard to find. A team of astronomers used the Chandra X-ray Space Telescope to find some diamonds in the rough.
Continue reading “Supermassive black holes can cloak themselves in a cocoon of dust, making them invisible even when they should be bright quasars”
Astronomers recently spotted a rare type of supernova explosion that was accompanied by a massive flare of ultraviolet radiation. Untangling the mystery of the UV flash could help unravel the mysterious nature of these supernova explosions, and even help us understand the age of the universe.
Continue reading “There’s a flash of ultraviolet just as a white dwarf is exploding as a supernova”
Exoplanets have been a particularly hot topic of late. More than 4000 of them have been discovered since the first in 1995. Now one more can potentially be added to the list. This one is orbiting Gliese 3470, a red dwarf star located in the constellation Cancer. What makes this discovery particularly interesting is that this planet wasn’t discovered by any professional astronomers using high tech equipment like the Kepler Space Telescope. It was found entirely by amateurs.
Continue reading “Saturn-sized Planet Found in the Habitable Zone of Another Star. The First Planet Completely Discovered by Amateur Astronomers”
It is a widely-accepted theory today that when the first stars formed in our Universe (ca. over 13 billion years ago), they quickly came together to form globular clusters. These clusters then coalesced to others to form the first galaxies, which have been growing through mergers and evolving ever since. For this reason, astronomers have long-suspected that the oldest stars in the Universe are to be found in globular clusters.
The study of stars in these clusters is therefore a means of determining the age of the Universe, which is still subject to some guesswork. In this vein, an international team of astronomers and cosmologists recently conducted a study of globular clusters in order to infer the age of the Universe. Their results indicate that the Universe is about 13.35 billion years old, a result that could help astronomers learn more about the expansion of the cosmos.
Continue reading “According to Globular Clusters, the Universe is 13.35 Billion Years Old”