The Youngest Exoplanet Ever Seen?

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

According to the most widely-accepted theory by astronomers, planetary systems begin as massive clouds of gas and dust (aka. a nebula) that experience gravitational collapse at the center to form new stars. The remaining matter in the system forms a “circumplanetary disk” around the star, which gradually accretes to form young planets. Studying disks in the earliest stages of planetary formation could help answer some hard questions about how the Solar System formed over 4.5 billion years ago.

Studying these disks requires observatories capable of capturing light in the far-infrared part of the spectrum – precisely what the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) was built for. While studying a young star (AS 209) located about 395 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus, a team of scientists observed a circumplanetary disk that appeared to have a Jupiter-mass planet embedded in it. This could constitute the youngest exoplanet ever detected, and its continued study could provide a treasure-trove of data for astronomers.

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Even a Cyclical Universe Needed to Come From Somewhere

Could our Universe be part of a wider Multiverse? And could these other Universes support life? Credit: Jaime Salcido/EAGLE Collaboration

In the beginning…

The first words of the book of Genesis make a declarative statement. God created Heaven and Earth, and thus begins the cosmic story. While not all creation myths have an act of beginning, most do. Humans are storytellers, and we like stories with a beginning. This origin need is deep within us and is even part of our scientific worldview. As is so often said in science, effects have causes. This cause and effect process is a powerful tool for understanding the world around us, but it’s not without its problems, particularly with the origin of the universe.

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SpaceX Super Heavy Fires Just one of its Engines. Imagine What it’ll be Like When it Fires all 33

Credit: SpaceX

Engineers and technicians at the SpaceX Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, are working on getting the fully-stacked Starship and Super Heavy prototypes ready for their orbital launch test. The most recent step consisted of a static fire test with the BN7 Super Heavy prototype, where the booster was placed on the orbital launch pad and fired one of its thirty-three Raptor 2 engines. News of the test was shared via SpaceX’s official Twitter account and showed the BN7 blasting the launch pad, leading many to wonder what the orbital launch test will look like!

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Hazegrayart Shows how Rocket Lab's Reusable Neutron Rocket Could Work

Credit: Rocket Lab

There’s little doubt that we live in a new Space Age, defined by increasing access, greater competition, and the commercial space industry. The titans of this industry are well known and have even become household names. There are old warhorses like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and United Launch Alliance and fast-rising stars like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Virgin Galactic, and others. But New Zealand and California-based company Rocket Lab has also made a name for itself in recent years, moving from low-cost expendable rocket launches to reusable rockets.

In particular, their new Neutron Rocket design has been turning some heads since it first debuted in late 2021. The most recent design of this rocket features some very interesting features, which include a new engine, a new shell, and a “Hungry-Hippo” reusable fairing built from advanced carbon composites. Beginning in 2024, Rocket Lab hopes to conduct regular launches with Neutron to service the growing “satellite megaconstellation” market. Thanks to an animator who goes by the handle Hazegrayart, we now have a video of what this might look like.

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Perseverance has Found a ‘Cat Hair’ in its Drill Chuck. What is it?

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its SHERLOC WATSON camera, located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm. This image was acquired on Aug. 4, 2022 (Sol 517). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

After each use of one of the tools at the end of the Perseverance rover’s arm, the mission’s engineering team always takes images of the tool to make sure everything is still in working order.

Last week the rover’s drill was used to take a core sample from a rock – the 12th such sample that has now been stored and sealed for possible future retrieval in a proposed sample return mission. The team then took images of the drill and sample collection system components. In those images, two small pieces of debris were visible: a small object on the coring bit (which is stored in the bit carousel) and a small hair-like object on the drill chuck.

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It’s Been 10 Years Since Curiosity Landed on Mars, and the Rover is Still Going Strong

Curiosity on Mars
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to take this 360-degree panorama of at the “Avanavero” drill site. The panorama is made up of 127 individual images taken on June 20, 2022, the 3,509th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, and stitched together back on Earth. The color has been adjusted to match the lighting conditions as the human eye would perceive them on Earth. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

For a spacecraft that’s traveled millions of kilometers across space and driven on the surface of Mars, Curiosity is holding up pretty darned well. That’s the assessment from the operations team at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This week they celebrated ten years of the rover’s exploration across one of the more forbidding terrains in the solar system.

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South Korea’s First Orbital Mission to the Moon is on its Way

A graphic showing the orbital path the Danuri Lunar Pathfinder spacecraft will take to go into orbit around the Moon. Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)

South Korea launched its first robotic mission to the Moon last week, as a SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched the Danuri Lunar Pathfinder mission on August 4, 2022 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The spacecraft was placed into a fuel-saving lunar transfer orbit, and it should arrive in lunar orbit in December.

Translated, Danuri means “enjoy the Moon.”

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Astronomers List 88 Distant Galaxies They Want to Look at With JWST. Some Are Less Than 200 Million Years Old.

distant galaxies behind a nearby galaxy cluster.
The galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as seen by NIRCam on JWST. It's gravitational lensing properties are helping astronomers identify 88 distant galaxies in this field of view for further study. Courtesy NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Way back in the earliest ages of the universe, the first galaxies were born. Astronomers want to know more about them. They’re especially interested to know exactly when these distant galaxies formed and what their stars were like. Now that JWST is a working observatory, astronomers are excited to use its data to explore those early epochs. They’re eager to see the most distant objects, and—as seems likely—do a rejiggering of the cosmic timeline after the Big Bang.

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