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”
No matter which direction you look in the Universe, the view is basically the same if you look far enough. Our local neighborhood is populated with bright nebulae, star clusters, and dark clouds of gas and dust. There are more stars toward the center of the Milky Way than there are in other directions. But across millions, and billions, of light-years, galaxies cluster evenly in all directions, and everything starts to look the same. In astronomy, we say the Universe is homogeneous and isotropic. Put another way, the Universe is smooth.
Continue reading “The Universe is the Same, Everywhere We Look. Even More than Cosmologists Predicted”
At the bottom of the ocean in the South Pacific Gyre, there’s a sediment layer that is among the most nutrient-starved environments on Earth. Because of conditions in that area, there’s almost no “marine snow”—the shower of organic debris common in the ocean—that falls to the ocean floor. Without all that organic debris falling to the floor, there’s a severe lack of nutrients there, and that makes this one of the least hospitable places on Earth.
A team of researchers took sediment samples from that area, and extracted 101.5 million year old microbes. When they “fed” those microbes, they sprang back to life.
The results are expanding our knowledge of microbial life and how long it can be dormant when conditions force it to be.
Continue reading “Microbes Were Dormant for Over 100 Million Years, But They Were Able to Spring Back to Life”
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”
Our universe is best described by the LCDM model. That is an expanding universe filled with dark energy (Lambda), and dense clumps of cold dark matter (CDM). It is also sprinkled with regular matter that makes up planets, stars, and us, but that only makes up about 4% of the cosmos. While we don’t know what dark matter and dark energy are, we know how they behave, so the ?CDM model works exceptionally well. There’s just one small problem.
Continue reading “How Loop Quantum Gravity Could Match Anomalies in the CMB with Large Structures in the Modern Universe”
On July 5, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft arrived around Jupiter, becoming the second mission in history to study the gas giant from orbit – the last being the Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003. Since then, the spacecraft has gathered data on Jupiter’s atmosphere, composition, gravity field, and magnetic field in the hopes of learning more about how the planet formed and evolved.
In addition, the spacecraft has gathered some of the most breathtaking images ever taken of Jupiter and its system of moons. In fact, as the spacecraft was making another approach towards Jupiter on December 26th, 2019, it managed to capture the first infrared images of the moon Ganymede’s northern polar region. These images will inform future missions to this satellite, which could host life beneath its icy mantle.
Continue reading “Juno Captures Pictures of Ganymede for the First Time”
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”