A New Instrument Gives the Very Large Telescope an Even Sharper View of the Cosmos

ERIS, the Very Large Telescope’s newest infrared eye on the sky, reveals the inner ring of the galaxy NGC 1097 in stunning detail, in this comparison view. Credit: ESO/ERIS team.

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal in northern Chile, is undoubtedly one of the premier ground-based observatories. But a new infrared instrument recently installed on the telescope has made the VLT even better.

The Enhanced Resolution Imager and Spectrograph (ERIS) was delivered to Chile in December, 2021 and the first test observations were carried out beginning in February of this year. ESO, the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, an international organization which coordinates the use of VLT and several other observatories, says this infrared instrument “will be able to see further and in finer detail, leading the way in Solar System, exoplanet and galaxy observations.”

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NASA's Report Details a Dark Time in American History but Finds no Direct Evidence That Webb Fired People for Their Sexual Orientation

1963 photo showing Dr. William H. Pickering, (center) JPL Director, President John F. Kennedy, (right). NASA Administrator James Webb in background. They are discussing the Mariner program, with a model presented. Credit: NASA

NASA has announced the release of the James Webb History Report, a document detailing their investigation into the namesake of the next-generation space telescope that took to space on December 25th, 2021. Months before it launched, the observatory became the subject of controversy when it was revealed that Webb was involved in the so-called “Lavender Scare.” After reviewing the relevant documents and collections located by their historians, NASA decided not to rename its flagship observatory.

The Final Report, titled “NASA Historical Investigation into James E. Webb’s Relationship to the Lavender Scare,” was compiled by NASA Chief Historian Brian C. Odom (Ph.D., MLIS) and can be accessed through NASA’s servers.

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JWST Detects Signs of Active Chemistry and Clouds in the Atmosphere of Exoplanet WASP-39 b

WASP-39 b
This is an illustration (artist’s impression) showing what the exoplanet WASP-39 b could look like, based on current understanding of the planet. Courtesy NASA/JWST.

NASA’s JWST data just keeps on delivering amazing discoveries. Back in July, it observed the exoplanet WASP-39 b and found fingerprints of atoms and molecules and active chemical reactions in its clouds. Now, a team of scientists extends that discovery with a much deeper analysis of the data.

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The Milky Way’s Stellar Halo Isn’t a Sphere After All

stellar halo around the milky way
The Milky Way's anatomy includes a rounded stellar halo That view is changing with new data. Image courtesy ESA.

Our galaxy’s stellar halo is giving astronomers some new food for thought. It turns out everyone thought the halo was spherical. But, it’s not. That’s news to everyone who said it was spherical. According to a new measurement done by a team at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, it has a tilted, oblong football shape. This all tells astronomers an interesting tale about our galaxy’s ancient history.

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Volcanoes are the worst. They’ve caused extinctions on Earth, and probably killed Venus

This is a computer-generated, three-dimensional perspective of the surface of Venus showing Maat Mons. It's Venus's highest volcano and is 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) high. The viewpoint is located 634 kilometers (393 miles) north of Maat Mons at an elevation of 3 kilometers (2 miles) above the terrain. Lava flows extend for hundreds of kilometers across the fractured plains shown in the foreground, to the base of Maat Mons. The vertical scale in this perspective has been exaggerated 10 times. Credits: NASA/JPL

Is there anything good about volcanoes? They can be violent, dangerous, and unpredictable. For modern humans, volcanoes are mostly an inconvenience, sometimes an intriguing visual display, and occasionally deadly.

But when there’s enough of them, and when they’re powerful and prolonged, they can kill the planet that hosts them.

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A Mission to Venus Could Sample its Atmosphere Directly, Searching for Life

We’ve reported in the past about the Venus Life Finder (VLF) mission, which is currently in the proposal stage but could potentially one day explore the Venusian clouds for signs of life. What exactly that life would look like is anyone’s guess. Therefore, the instrumentation the mission will use to find that life will be critical. Enter Fluid-Screen (FS), a technology developed by a start-up company spun out of Yale by Dr. Monika Weber. It could potentially directly detect life in the Venusian atmosphere – if only it could deal with the sulfuric acid.

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Hubble Sees a Dense Cloud of Gas and Dust That’s About to Become a Star

A small, dense cloud of gas and dust called CB 130-3 blots out the center of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
A small, dense cloud of gas and dust called CB 130-3 blots out the centre of this HST image. Courtesy NASA/ESA/STScI

The process of star birth begins in a shroud of gas and dust. Hubble Space Telescope (HST) excels in showing detailed views of these stellar crêches because there’s still a lot to learn about them. Its latest image shows an object called a “dense core”, where a stellar embryo could already exist.

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Artemis I has Completed its First Flyby of the Moon

A portion of the far side of the Moon looms large just beyond the Orion spacecraft in this image taken on the sixth day of the Artemis I mission by a camera on the tip of one of Orion s solar arrays. Credit: NASA.

The Orion spacecraft made its first close flyby of the Moon on Monday, November 21, coming as close as 81 statute miles (130 km) from the lunar surface. As the Artemis 1 mission’s uncrewed spacecraft flew past the far side of the Moon, Orion’s orbital maneuvering system engine fired for 2 minutes and 30 seconds to successfully put the capsule into the desired orbit for the mission, called a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.

“This burn is setting Orion up to orbit the Moon, and is largest propulsive event so far, as Artemis is hunting the Moon,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis Mission Manager at a briefing on Monday.

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Einstein's Predictions for Gravity Have Been Tested at the Largest Possible Scale

The first image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, featuring . Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

According to the Standard Model of Particle Physics, the Universe is governed by four fundamental forces: electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force, and gravity. Whereas the first three are described by Quantum Mechanics, gravity is described by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Surprisingly, gravity is the one that presents the biggest challenges to physicists. While the theory accurately describes how gravity works for planets, stars, galaxies, and clusters, it does not apply perfectly at all scales.

While General Relativity has been validated repeatedly over the past century (starting with the Eddington Eclipse Experiment in 1919), gaps still appear when scientists try to apply it at the quantum scale and to the Universe as a whole. According to a new study led by Simon Fraser University, an international team of researchers tested General Relativity on the largest of scales and concluded that it might need a tweak or two. This method could help scientists to resolve some of the biggest mysteries facing astrophysicists and cosmologists today.

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Scroll Through the Universe with This Cool Interactive Map

Expansion of the Universe (Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team)

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) continues to pad its space community résumé with their interactive map, “The map of the observable Universe”, that takes viewers on a 13.7-billion-year-old tour of the cosmos from the present to the moments after the Big Bang. While JHU is responsible for creating the site, additional contributions were made by NASA, the European Space Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation.

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