Not All Black Holes are Ravenous Gluttons

This artist’s impression shows the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole. The light comes from gas and dust that's heated up before it's drawn into the black hole. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Some Supermassive Black Holes (SMBHs) consume vast quantities of gas and dust, triggering brilliant light shows that can outshine an entire galaxy. But others are much more sedate, emitting faint but steady light from their home in the heart of their galaxy.

Observations from the now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope help show why that is.

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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. 

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JWST and Chandra Team Up for a Stunning View of Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A

This image of Cassiopeia A comes from a combination of data from the Chandra X-ray telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI; IR: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/Milisavljevic et al., NASA/JPL/CalTech; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/J. Schmidt and K. Arcand

NASA’s long-lived Chandra X-ray Observatory teamed up with JWST for the first time, producing this incredibly detailed image of the famous supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. JWST first looked at the remnant in April 2023, and noticed an unusual debris structure from the destroyed star, dubbed the “Green Monster.” The combined view has helped astronomers better understand what this unusual structure is, plus it uncovered new details about the explosion that created Cas A.

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A Collection of New Images Reveal X-Rays Across the Universe

NASA/CXC/SAO, JPL-Caltech, MSFC, STScI, ESA/CSA, SDSS, ESO.

One of the miracles of modern astronomy is the ability to ‘see’ wavelengths of light that human eyes can’t. Last week, astronomers put that superpower to good use and released five new images showcasing the universe in every wavelength from X-ray to infrared.

Combining data from both Earth- and ground-based telescopes, the five images reveal a diverse set of astronomical phenomena, including the galactic centre, the death throes of stars, and distant galaxies traversing the cosmos.

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Could We Resurrect the Spitzer Space Telescope?

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope ceased operations in 2020. A new mission might bring it back to life. Image Credit: Rhea Space Activity

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope served the astronomy community well for 16 years. From its launch in 2003 to the end of its operations in January 2020, its infrared observations fuelled scientific discoveries too numerous to list.

Infrared telescopes need to be kept cool to operate, and eventually, it ran out of coolant. But that wasn’t the end of the mission; it kept operating in ‘warm’ mode, where observations were limited. Its mission only ended when it drifted too far away from Earth to communicate effectively.

Now the US Space Force thinks they can reboot the telescope.

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Astronomers Find an Earth-Sized World That May Be Carpeted in Volcanoes

LP 791-18 d, shown here in an artist's concept, is an Earth-size world about 90 light-years away. The gravitational tug from a more massive planet in the system, shown as a blue disk in the background, may result in internal heating and volcanic eruptions – as much as Jupiter’s moon Io, the most geologically active body in the solar system. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (KRBwyle)

Astronomers think they’ve found an extrasolar planet covered in volcanoes like Jupiter’s moon Io, but this world is about the same size as Earth. Designated LP 791-18 d, the planet is probably tidally locked around a small, red dwarf star about 90 light-years away in the constellation Crater. There are two other more massive planets in the system, and their tidal interactions could cause enough tidal flexing that it unleashes planet-wide volcanoes on LP 791-18 d.

Planet d is located within the habitable zone of the star, and with all the other conditions, astronomers think it might be temperate enough on the permanent night side of this world to allow water to exist.

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Hubble and Spitzer Team up to Find a Pair of Waterworld Exoplanets

Artist’s impression of a water world, where half of its mass consists of water. Just like our Moon, the planet is bound to its star by tidal forces and always shows the same face to its host star. Credit: Pilar Montañés

As of December 19th, 2022, 5,227 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in 3,908 systems, with over 9,000 more awaiting confirmation. While most of these planets are Jupiter- or Neptune-sized gas giants or rocky planets many times the size of Earth (Super-Earths), a statistically significant number have been planets where water makes up a significant part of their mass fraction – aka. “water worlds.” These planets are unlike anything we’ve seen in the Solar System and raise several questions about planet formation in our galaxy.

In a recent study, an international team led by researchers from the University of Montreal’s Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) found evidence of two water worlds in a single planetary system located about 218 light-years away in the constellation Lyra. Based on their densities, the team determined that these exoplanets (Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d) are lighter than rocky “Earth-like” ones but heavier than gas-dominated ones. The discovery was made using data from NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope and the venerable Hubble Space Telescope.

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Hubble has Characterized 25 Hot Jupiters. Here’s What we Know so far

Archival observations of 25 hot Jupiters by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have been analysed by an international team of astronomers, enabling them to answer five open questions important to our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres. Amongst other findings, the team found that the presence of metal oxides and hydrides in the hottest exoplanet atmospheres was clearly correlated with the atmospheres' being thermally inverted.

Hot Jupiters are giant exoplanets – even more massive than Jupiter – but they orbit closer to their star than Mercury. When they were first discovered, hot Jupiters were considered oddballs, since we don’t have anything like them in our own Solar System. But they appear to be common in our galaxy. As exoplanets go, they are fairly easy to detect, but because we don’t have up-close experience with them, there are still many unknowns.

A new study used archival data from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to study this class of giant gas exoplanets, and undertook one of the largest surveys ever of exoplanet atmospheres. The researchers said they employed high performance computers to analyses the atmospheres of 25 hot Jupiters using data from about 1,000 hours of telescope observations. Their findings, published in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, help to answer several long-standing questions about hot Jupiters.

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Apparently, This Nebula Looks Like Godzilla. Do you see it?

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope imaged this cloud of gas and dust. The colors represent different wavelengths of infrared light and can reveal such features as places where radiation from stars had heated the surrounding material. Any resemblance to Godzilla is purely imaginary. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We’ve written often about how pareidolia — the human tendency to see faces or other features in random images — works its magic across the cosmos. There’s the famous face on Mars, Bigfoot on Mars, and even Han Solo on Mercury.

But now, just in time for Halloween, here’s a monster in a picture from the Spitzer Space Telescope. One astronomer sees Godzilla … or is it Cookie Monster?

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The Milky Way Broke one of its Arms

A contingent of stars and star-forming clouds was found jutting out from the Milky Way's Sagittarius Arm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Milky Way galaxy is our home, and yet in some ways, it is the least understood galaxy. One of the biggest challenges astronomers have is in understanding its large-scale structure. Because we’re in the midst of it all, mapping our galaxy is a bit like trying to map the size and shape of a wooded park while standing in the middle of it.

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