Research Work Begins on the Habitable Worlds Observatory

This artist’s concept features one of multiple initial possible design options for NASA’s Habitable Worlds Observatory. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

NASA are planning on building a telescope to hunt for habitable worlds. The imaginatively named ‘Habitable Worlds Observatory’ is at least a decade away but NASA have started to develop the underlying technology needed. The contracts have been awarded to three companies to research the next-generation optics, mission designs and telescope features at a cost of $17.5 million. Work should begin late summer 2024.

Continue reading “Research Work Begins on the Habitable Worlds Observatory”

Roman Space Telescope Will Be Hunting For Primordial Black Holes

This artist's illustration shows what primordial black holes might look like. In reality, the black holes would struggle to form accretion disks, as shown Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

When astrophysicists observe the cosmos, they see different types of black holes. They range from gargantuan supermassive black holes with billions of solar masses to difficult-to-find intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs) all the way down to smaller stellar-mass black holes.

But there may be another class of these objects: primordial black holes (PBHs) that formed in the very early Universe. If they exist, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope should be able to spot them.

Continue reading “Roman Space Telescope Will Be Hunting For Primordial Black Holes”

Roman Will Learn the Ages of Hundreds of Thousands of Stars

By carefully observing star spots, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will determine stellar ages. It needs some help from AI though. Image Credit: NASA and STScI

Astronomers routinely provide the ages of the stars they study. But the methods of measuring ages aren’t 100% accurate. Measuring the ages of distant stars is a difficult task.

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope should make some progress.

Continue reading “Roman Will Learn the Ages of Hundreds of Thousands of Stars”

Nancy Grace Roman will Map the Far Side of the Milky Way

Spiral galaxy seen in visible and infrared

The Galaxy is a collection of stars, planets, gas clouds and to the dismay of astronomers, dust clouds. The dust blocks starlight from penetrating so it’s very difficult to learn about the far side of the Galaxy. Thankfully the upcoming Nancy Grace Roman telescope has infrared capability so it can see through the dust. A systematic survey of the far side of the Milky Way is planned to see what’s there and could discover billions of objects in just a month. 

Continue reading “Nancy Grace Roman will Map the Far Side of the Milky Way”

Roman Could Finally Tell Us if Primordial Black Holes Exist

An image based on a supercomputer simulation of the cosmological environment where primordial gas undergoes the direct collapse to a black hole. Credit: Aaron Smith/TACC/UT-Austin.
An image based on a supercomputer simulation of the cosmological environment where primordial gas undergoes the direct collapse to create black holes. Credit: Aaron Smith/TACC/UT-Austin.

When the Universe erupted into existence with the Big Bang, all of its matter was compressed into a tiny area. Cosmologists theorize that in some regions, subatomic matter may have been so tightly packed that matter collapsed into primordial black holes. If these primordial black holes exist, they’re small, and they could be hiding among the population of free-floating planets.

Continue reading “Roman Could Finally Tell Us if Primordial Black Holes Exist”

How Can We Bring Down the Costs of Large Space Telescopes?

Our space telescopes are becoming more and more powerful. But they're also enormously expensive. Can we bring the cost down? Image Credit: STScI/NASA/ESA/CSA

We’re all basking in the success of the James Webb Space Telescope. It’s fulfilling its promise as our most powerful telescope, making all kinds of discoveries that we’ve been anticipating and hoping for. But the JWST’s story is one of broken budgets, repeated requests for more time and money, and near-cancellations.

Can we make space telescopes less expensive?

Continue reading “How Can We Bring Down the Costs of Large Space Telescopes?”

If Rogue Planets are Everywhere, How Could We Explore Them?

This artist’s impression shows an example of a rogue planet with the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex visible in the background. Rogue planets have masses comparable to those of the planets in our Solar System but do not orbit a star, instead roaming freely on their own. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/S. Guisard

At one time, astronomers believed that the planets formed in their current orbits, which remained stable over time. But more recent observations, theory, and calculations have shown that planetary systems are subject to shake-ups and change. Periodically, planets are kicked out of their star systems to become “rogue planets,” bodies that are no longer gravitationally bound to any star and are adrift in the interstellar medium (ISM). Some of these planets may be gas giants with tightly bound icy moons orbiting them, which they could bring with them into the ISM.

Like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, these satellites could have warm water interiors that might support life. Other research has indicated that rocky planets with plenty of water on their surfaces could also support life through a combination of geological activity and the decay of radionuclides. According to a recent paper by an international team of astronomers, there could be hundreds of rogue planets in our cosmic neighborhood. Based on their first-ever feasibility analysis, they also indicate that deep space missions could explore these unbound objects more easily than planets still bound to their stars.

Continue reading “If Rogue Planets are Everywhere, How Could We Explore Them?”

ESA's Euclid Mission is Off to Explore the Dark Universe

Artist impression of the Euclid mission in space. Credit: ESA

On Saturday, July 1st (Canada Day!), the ESA’s Euclid space telescope lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This next-generation astrophysics mission will spend the next few weeks flying to the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange Point, where it will spend the next six years observing one-third of the sky. During that time, Euclid will observe billions of galaxies to a distance of 10 billion light-years, leading to the most extensive 3D map of the Universe ever created. This map will help astronomers and cosmologists resolve the lingering mystery of Dark Matter and Dark Energy (DM & DE).

Continue reading “ESA's Euclid Mission is Off to Explore the Dark Universe”

Two New Space Telescopes Will Bring Dark Energy Into Focus

High-resolution illustration of the Euclid and Roman spacecraft against a starry background. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, ESA/ATG medialab

Since the 1990s, thanks to observations by the venerable Hubble Space Telescope (HST), astronomers have contemplated the mystery of cosmic expansion. While scientists have known about this since the late-1920s and early-30s, images acquired by Hubble‘s Ultra Deep Fields campaign revealed that the expansion has been accelerating for the past six billion years! This led scientists to reconsider Einstein’s theory that there is an unknown force in the Universe that “holds back gravity,” which he named the Cosmological Constant. To astronomers and cosmologists today, this force is known as “Dark Energy.”

However, not everyone is sold on the idea of Dark Energy, and some believe that cosmic expansion could mean there is a flaw in our understanding of gravity. In the near future, scientists will benefit from next-generation space telescopes to provide fresh insight into this mysterious force. These include the ESA’s Euclid mission, scheduled for launch this July, and NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST), the direct successor to Hubble that will launch in May 2027. Once operational, these space telescopes will investigate these competing theories to see which holds up.

Continue reading “Two New Space Telescopes Will Bring Dark Energy Into Focus”

A Rogue Earth and Neptune Might Have Been Found in Older Data

An artist's illustration of a rogue planet, dark and mysterious. Image Credit: NASA

Scientists have found what appear to be rogue planets hidden in old survey data. Their results are starting to define the poorly-understood rogue planet population. In the near future, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will conduct a search for more free-floating planets, and the team of researchers developed some methods that will aid that search.

Continue reading “A Rogue Earth and Neptune Might Have Been Found in Older Data”