Thanks to the success of the Kepler mission, we know that there are multitudes of exoplanets of a type called “Hot Jupiters.” These are gas giants that orbit so close to their stars that they reach extremely high temperatures. They also have exotic atmospheres, and those atmospheres contain a lot of strangeness, like clouds made of aluminum oxide, and titanium rain.
A team of astronomers has created a cloud atlas for Hot Jupiters, detailing which type of clouds and atmospheres we’ll see when we observe different Hot Jupiters.
Continue reading “Extremely Hot Exoplanets Can Have Extreme Weather, Like Clouds of Aluminum Oxide and Titanium Rain”
In the past few decades, the number of planets discovered beyond our Solar System has grown exponentially. To date, a total of 4,158 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,081 systems, with an additional 5,144 candidates awaiting confirmation. Thanks to the abundance of discoveries, astronomers have been transitioning in recent years from the process of discovery to the process of characterization.
In particular, astronomers are developing tools to assess which of these planets could harbor life. Recently, a team of astronomers from the Carl Sagan Institute (CSI) at Cornell University designed an environmental “decoder” based on the color of exoplanet surfaces and their hosts stars. In the future, this tool could be used by astronomers to determine which exoplanets are potentially-habitable and worthy of follow-up studies.
Continue reading “What Are Some Clues to the Climates of Exoplanets?”
The Milky Way has a number of satellite galaxies; nearly 60 of them, depedending on how we define them. One of them, called the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy (Sgr d Sph), may have played a huge role when it comes to humans, our world and our little civilization. A collision between the Milky Way and the Sgr d Sph may have created the Solar System itself.
Continue reading “The Solar System Might Not Exist if There Wasn’t a Huge Galactic Collision with the Milky Way Billions of Years Ago”
If we want to understand how the Universe evolves, we have to understand how its large structures form and evolve. That’s why astronomers study galaxy formation. Galaxies are enormous structures of stars, planets, gas, dust, and dark matter, and understanding how they form is critical to understanding the Universe itself.
In 2017, astronomers working with ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array) discovered an ancient galaxy. This massive rotating disk galaxy was born when the Universe was only about 1.5 billion years old. According to the most accepted understanding of how galaxies form and evolve, it shouldn’t exist.
But there it is.
Continue reading “A Massive Rotating Disc Discovered in the Early Universe”
In these days of social distancing, it appears this beautiful little galaxy is leading by example, sitting all by itself in the middle of a cosmic void.
KK 246, also known as ESO 461-036, is a dwarf irregular galaxy, and ESA aptly described this picture as looking like “glitter spilled across a black velvet sheet.”
But the serene view can be deceiving.
Continue reading “This Dwarf Galaxy is all by Itself”
In a few decades, the Breakthrough Starshot initiative hopes to send a sailcraft to the neighboring system of Alpha Centauri. Using a lightsail and a directed energy (aka. laser) array, a tiny spacecraft could be accelerated to 20% the speed of light (0.2 c). This would allow Starshot to make the journey to Alpha Centauri and study any exoplanets there in just 20 years, thus fulfilling the dream of interstellar exploration within our lifetimes.
Naturally, this plan presents a number of engineering and logistical challenges, one of which involves the transmission of data back to Earth. In a recent study, Starshot Systems Director Dr. Kevin L.G. Parkin analyzes the possibility of using a laser to transmit data back to Earth. This method, argued Parkin, is the most effective way for humanity to get a glimpse of what lies beyond our Solar System.
Continue reading “How Will we Receive Signals From Interstellar Probes, Like Starshot?”
How to see SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo Two mission in orbit.
Update: As you probably know by now, yesterday’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch was scrubbed due to weather violations. This is a tough one, as seas need to be relatively calm along the entire Atlantic launch track, in the event of an abort. The next launch is set for Saturday, May 30th at 3:22 AM EDT/20:33 UT, with a backup launch date of Sunday, May 31st at 3:00 AM EDT/20:00 UT. As it stands, weather prospects for both dates are currently at a 60% chance for launch violation. The weather prospects and sighting graphics in this article are updated to reflect the new launch dates, and of course, we’ll be tracking changes on Twitter as @Astroguyz.
It’s been a long time coming.
Nearly nine years after Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-135 landed at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21st, 2011, crewed missions are about to resume from U.S. soil this week, with the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the historic Crew Dragon Demo 2 mission, carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station. And with any luck and clear skies willing, you may just be able to spy the mission chasing down the station this weekend.
Continue reading “Spot SpaceX’s Crew Dragon After This Weekend’s Historic Launch”
What would be the best method for exploring planetary atmospheres, such as at Mars, Venus or even Earth? One group of researchers are developing tiny, levitating “nanocardboard” aircraft that could hover in alien skies. They would fly like dust floating in beams of sunlight – but intelligently, and with a purpose.
“It’s exciting because it’s essentially a new mechanism of flight,” said Igor Bargatin from the University of Pennsylvania. “We’re talking about a structure half an inch in size that can fly around without any moving parts.”
Continue reading “Tiny Cardboard Aircraft Could Fly in the Skies of Mars”
Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 27th, NASA and SpaceX will make history as they conduct the long-awaited second demonstration of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Dubbed Demo-2, this mission will not only see SpaceX’s crewed spacecraft sent to space for the first time with astronauts aboard, it will also be the first time since 2011 (and the retiring of the Space Shuttle) that astronauts are launched from US soil.
Continue reading “NASA and SpaceX Gearing Up For Historic Crew Dragon Launch This Week”
The Antarctic Peninsula is the northernmost part of Antarctica, and has the mildest climate on the continent. In January, the warmest part of the year, the temperature averages 1 to 2 °C (34 to 36 °F). And it’s getting warmer.
Those warm temperatures allow snow algae to grow, and now scientists have used remote sensing to map those algae blooms.
Continue reading “The Coast of Antarctica is Starting to Turn Green”