Enjoy Five New Images from the Euclid Mission

The central, brightest region of this Euclid image is the Messier 78 star formation region. This is the widest and deepest image of this often-imaged region ever taken. Image Credit: ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, image processing by J.-C. Cuillandre (CEA Paris-Saclay), G. Anselmi LICENCE CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

We’re fortunate to live in these times. Multiple space telescopes feed us a rich stream of astounding images that never seems to end. Each one is a portrait of some part of nature’s glory, enriched by the science behind it all. All we have to do is revel in the wonder.

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Galaxies in the Early Universe Preferred their Food Cold

This illustration shows a galaxy forming only a few hundred million years after the big bang, when gas was a mix of transparent and opaque during the Era of Reionization. Data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows that cold gas is falling onto these galaxies. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

One of the main objectives of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is to study the early Universe by using its powerful infrared optics to spot the first galaxies while they were still forming. Using Webb data, a team led by the Cosmic Dawn Center in Denmark pinpointed three galaxies that appear to have been actively forming just 400 to 600 million years after the Big Bang. This places them within the Era of Reionization, when the Universe was permeated by opaque clouds of neutral hydrogen that were slowly heated and ionized by the first stars and galaxies.

This process caused the Universe to become transparent roughly 1 billion years after the Big Bang and (therefore) visible to astronomers today. When the team consulted the data obtained by Webb, they observed that these galaxies were surrounded by an unusual amount of dense gas composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, which likely became fuel for further galactic growth. These findings already reveal valuable information about the formation of early galaxies and show how Webb is exceeding its mission objectives.

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Fish are Adapting to Weightlessness on the Chinese Space Station

A female specimen of a zebrafish (Danio rerio). Azul, Wikimedia Commons.

Four zebrafish are alive and well after nearly a month in space aboard China’s Tiangong space station. As part of an experiment testing the development of vertebrates in microgravity, the fish live and swim within a small habitat aboard the station.

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Marvel at the Variety of Planets Found by TESS Already

The hunt for new exoplanets continues. On May 23rd, an international collaboration of scientists published the NASA TESS-Keck Catalog, an effort to publicly release over 9000 radial velocity measurements collected by NASA’s space-based Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the ground-based Keck Observatory, located in Hawai’i, and the Automated Planet Finder, located at the Lick Observatory in California. An accompanying analysis of these validated 32 new planetary candidates and found the masses of 126 confirmed planets and candidates with a wide range of masses and orbits. Let’s dig into some details.

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NASA is Practicing for the Moon With Partial Space Suits

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Andre Douglas push a tool cart loaded with lunar tools through the San Francisco Volcanic Field north of Flagstaff, Arizona, as they practice moonwalking operations for Artemis III. NASA/Josh Valcarcel

In just a few short years, NASA hopes to put humans back on the lunar surface. The first moonwalk in more than 50 years is scheduled for no earlier than September 2026 as part of the Artemis III mission. In preparation, astronauts, scientists, and flight controllers are conducting simulated spacewalks here on Earth.

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This is the Largest Planet-Forming Disk Ever Seen

The center of this composite image shows IRAS 23077, likely the largest planet-forming disk ever seen, which looks like a giant cosmic butterfly. Credit: Radio: SAO/ASIAA/SMA/K. Monsch et al; Optical: Pan-STARRS

Roughly 1,000 light-years from Earth, there is a cosmic structure known as IRAS 23077+6707 (IRAS 23077) that resembles a giant butterfly. Ciprian T. Berghea, an astronomer with the U.S. Naval Observatory, originally observed the structure in 2016 using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS). To the surprise of many, the structure has remained unchanged for years, leading some to question what IRAS 2307 could be.

Recently, two international teams of astronomers made follow-up observations using the Submillimeter Array at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Hawaii to better understand IRAS 2307. In a series of papers describing their findings, the teams revealed that IRAS 23077 is actually a young star surrounded by a massive protoplanetary debris disk, the largest ever observed. This discovery offers new insight into planet formation and the environments where this takes place.

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The Habitable Worlds Observatory Could See Lunar and Solar ‘Exo-Eclipses’

Exo-moon
An artist's conception of an exoplanet with a large orbiting exomoon. Credit: University of Columbia/Helena Valenzuela Widerström

A future space observatory could use exo-eclipses to tease out exomoon populations.

If you’re like us, you’re still coming down from the celestial euphoria that was last month’s total solar eclipse. The spectacle of the Moon blocking out the Sun has also provided astronomers with unique scientific opportunities in the past, from the discovery of helium to proof for general relativity. Now, eclipses in remote exoplanetary systems could aid in the hunt for elusive exomoons.

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Astronomers Discover the Second-Lightest “Cotton Candy” Exoplanet to Date.

A NASA illustration of the giant planet WASP-193b and its star. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA)

The hunt for extrasolar planets has revealed some truly interesting candidates, not the least of which are planets known as “Hot Jupiters.” This refers to a particular class of gas giants comparable in size to Jupiter but which orbit very closely to their suns. Strangely, there are some gas giants out there that have very low densities, raising questions about their formation and evolution. This is certainly true of the Kepler 51 system, which contains no less than three “super puff” planets similar in size to Jupiter but is about one hundred times less dense.

These planets also go by the moniker “cotton candy” giants because their density is comparable to this staple confection. In a recent study, an international team of astronomers spotted another massive planet, WASP-193b, a fluffy gas giant orbiting a Sun-like star 1,232 light-years away. While this planet is roughly one and a half times the size of Jupiter, it is only about 14% as massive. This makes WASP-193b the second-lightest exoplanet observed to date. Studying this and other “cotton candy” exoplanets could provide valuable insight into how these mysterious giants form.

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The Venerable Hubble Space Telescope Keeps Delivering

The Hubble Space Telescope is amazing! It's still going strong more than 34 years after it was launched. This Hubble image showcases a nearly edge-on view of the lenticular galaxy NGC 4753. ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Kelsey

The world was much different in 1990 when NASA astronauts removed the Hubble Space Telescope from Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay and placed it into orbit. The Cold War was ending, there were only 5.3 billion humans, and the World Wide Web had just come online.

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Not All Black Holes are Ravenous Gluttons

This artist’s impression shows the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole. The light comes from gas and dust that's heated up before it's drawn into the black hole. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Some Supermassive Black Holes (SMBHs) consume vast quantities of gas and dust, triggering brilliant light shows that can outshine an entire galaxy. But others are much more sedate, emitting faint but steady light from their home in the heart of their galaxy.

Observations from the now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope help show why that is.

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