This Supernova Lit Up the Sky in 1181. Here’s What it Looks Like Now

A composite image of the remnant of supernova 1181. A spherical bright nebula sits in the middle surrounded by a field of white dotted stars. Within the nebula several rays point out like fireworks from a central star. G. Ferrand and J. English (U. of Manitoba), NASA/Chandra/WISE, ESA/XMM, MDM/R.Fessen (Dartmouth College), Pan-STARRS

Historical astronomical records from China and Japan recorded a supernova explosion in the year 1181. It was in the constellation Cassiopeia and it shone as bright as the star Vega for 185 days. Modern astronomers took their cue from their long-gone counterparts and have been searching for its remnant.

But it took them time to find it because they were looking for the wrong thing.

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A Giant Gamma-Ray Bubble is a Source of Extreme Cosmic Rays

An artist's depiction of a gamma-ray burst's relativistic jet full of very-high-energy photons breaking out of a collapsing star. Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are one of the most powerful phenomena in the Universe and something that astronomers have been studying furiously to learn more about their origins. In recent years, astronomers have set new records for the most powerful GRB ever observed – this includes GRB 190114C, observed by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2019, and GRB 221009A, detected by the Gemini South telescope in 2022. The same is true for high-energy cosmic rays that originate from within the Milky Way, whose origins are still not fully understood.

In a recent study, members of China’s Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO) Collaboration discovered a massive gamma-ray burst (designated GRB 221009A) in the Cygnus star-forming region that was more powerful than 10 peta-electronvolts (PeV, 1PeV=1015eV), over ten times the average. In addition to being the brightest GRB studied to date, the team was able to precisely measure the energy spectrum of the burst, making this the first time astronomers have traced cosmic rays with this energy level back to their source.

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China Tests an All-Solid Rocket

The launch of Gravity-1 from a modified cargo ship.
The Gravity-1 rocket blasts off, Haiyang, east China's Shandong Province, January 11, 2024. /CFP

China has a rich history in rocketry. It’s even found its place into Chinese legends with the wonderful tale of Wang Tu, who allegedly strapped himself to a chair adorned with rockets to experiment with rocket flight. The story goes that he launched and was never seen again! More recently however, a Chinese company has claimed to have launched the ‘World’s most powerful solid rocket’ capable of producing 600 tonnes of thrust and carrying 6,500kg into low Earth orbit. 

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Questions Remain on Chinese Rocket That Created an Unusual Double Crater on the Moon

A rocket body impacted the Moon on March 4, 2022, near Hertzsprung crater, creating a double crater roughly 28 meters wide in the longest dimension. Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

In November, we reported how an impact on the Moon from a Chinese Long March rocket booster created an unusual double crater. For a single booster to create a double crater, some researchers thought there must have been an additional – perhaps secret – payload on the forward end of the booster, opposite from the rocket engines. But that may not necessarily be the case.

Other researchers feel the extra mass wasn’t anything secretive, but possibly an inert structure such as a payload adapter added to the rocket to support the primary mission payload.

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There are Mysterious Polygons Beneath the Surface of Mars

China's Zhurong rover on Mars
An image from China's Zhurong rover shows spacecraft hardware in the foreground and Martian terrain in the background. (Credit: CNSA)

China’s Zhurong rover was equipped with a ground-penetrating radar system, allowing it to peer beneath Mars’s surface. Researchers have announced new results from the scans of Zhurong’s landing site in Utopia Planitia, saying they identified irregular polygonal wedges located at a depth of about 35 meters all along the robot’s journey. The objects measure from centimeters to tens of meters across. The scientists believe the buried polygons resulted from freeze-thaw cycles on Mars billions of years ago, but they could also be volcanic, from cooling lava flows.

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China’s Space Station, Seen from Orbit

Crew on the Shenzhou 16 mission returning from the Tiangong space station captured this image on their return trip back to Earth. Image Credit: China Manned Space Agency.

When the Space Age dawned in 1957, there were only two players: the USA and the USSR. The USA won the space race by being first to the Moon, though the USSR enjoyed its own successes. But here we are only a few decades later, and the USSR appears to be fading away while China is surging ahead.

Nothing’s more emblematic of China’s surge than its Tiangong space station.

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A Chinese Booster (and Additional Secret Payload) Caused a Double Crater on the Moon

A rocket body impacted the Moon on March 4, 2022, near Hertzsprung crater, creating a double crater roughly 28 meters wide in the longest dimension. Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Last year, astronomers warned that a large piece of debris was on a collision course with the Moon. Initially, they speculated that it was a SpaceX booster but later zeroed in on a Chinese Long March 3C rocket booster that launched the Chang’e 5 mission. When it did impact on March 4, 2022, astronomers noted a strange double crater.

A new paper suggests that it couldn’t have been a single object breaking up since there’s no atmosphere on the Moon. Instead, the booster must have been carrying an additional, undisclosed payload.

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Plants Could Grow in Lunar Regolith Using Bacteria

Plants grown in a volcanic ash lunar simulant (left) compared with those grown in the lunar soil (right) Credit: UF/IFAS/Tyler Jones

In the next decade, NASA, China, and their international and commercial partners plan to establish habitats on the Moon. Through the Artemis Program, NASA will deploy the orbiting Lunar Gateway and the Artemis Base Camp on the lunar surface. Meanwhile, China (and its partner Roscosmos) will deploy the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), consisting of an orbital and surface element. The creation of this infrastructure will enable a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development” that could lead to a permanent human presence there.

To ensure that humans can work and live sustainably beyond Earth, astronauts and crews will need to be able to harvest local resources to see to their needs – in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). This includes using lunar water ice and regolith to grow plants, providing astronauts with food and an additional source of oxygen and biomass. To test the potential for growing plants on the Moon, a Chinese research team conducted a series of experiments where they grew tobacco plants in simulated lunar soil with the help of bacteria.

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Gaia is so Accurate it Can Predict Microlensing Events

ESA/Gaia/DPAC; CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO. Acknowledgement: A. Moitinho.

The ESA’s Gaia Observatory continues its astrometry mission, which consists of measuring the positions, distances, and motions of stars (and the positions of orbiting exoplanets) with unprecedented precision. Launched in 2013 and with a five-year nominal mission (2014-2019), the mission is expected to remain in operation until 2025. Once complete, the mission data will be used to create the most detailed 3D space catalog ever, totaling more than 1 billion astronomical objects – including stars, planets, comets, asteroids, and quasars.

Another benefit of this data, according to a team of researchers led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is the ability to predict future microlensing events. Similar to gravitational lensing, this phenomenon occurs when light from background sources is deflected and amplified by foreground objects. Using information from Gaia‘s third data release (DR3), the team predicted 4500 microlensing events, 1664 of which are unlike any we have seen. These events will allow astronomers to conduct lucrative research into distant star systems, exoplanets, and other celestial objects.

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China Set Up a Tiny Farm on the Moon in 2019. How Did it Do?

A 3D reconstruction based on image processing and data analysis shows two cotton leaves grown in the Chang’e-4 lander on the far side of the moon. Image Credit: Chongqing University.

On January 3rd, 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 lander touched down on the far side of the Moon and deployed the Yutu rover. In addition to its many instruments, the rover carried an important science experiment known as the Biological Experiment Payload (BEP). Over the next eight days, this payload conducted a vital experiment where it attempted to grow the first plants on the Moon. Included in the payload were cotton, potato, arabidopsis, and rape seeds, along with fly eggs, yeast, and 18 ml (0.6 fluid oz) of water, which was kept at a constant atmospheric pressure.

The results of this experiment will help inform future Bioregenerative Life Support System (BLSS), which will prove vital to habitats and missions beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). A team of scientists from China recently released a study that reviewed the experiment, its results, and its potential implications for future missions to the Moon, Mars, and other deep-space locations. As they concluded, the experiment demonstrated that plants can grow on the Moon despite the intense radiation, low gravity, and prolonged intense light.

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