Very Large Telescope uncovers closest pair of supermassive black holes yet Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), astronomers have revealed the closest pair of supermassive black holes to Earth ever observed. The two objects also have a much smaller separation than any other previously spotted pair of supermassive black holes and will eventually merge into one giant black hole. phys.org Go to SourceRead More →

NASA Simulation Shows What Happens When Stars Get Too Close to Black Holes What happens to a star when it strays too close to a monster black hole? Astronomers have wondered why some stars are ripped apart, while others manage to survive a close encounter with a lurking black hole, only a little worse for wear. To figure out the dynamics of such an event, scientists built a supercomputer simulation and tested it out on eight different types of stars. The stars were sent towards a virtual black hole, 1 million times the mass of the Sun. What they found was surprising. The stars theyRead More →

The Parker Solar Probe is getting pelted by hypervelocity dust. Could they damage spacecraft? There’s a pretty significant disadvantage to going really fast – if you get hit with anything, even if it is small, it can hurt.  So when the fastest artificial object ever – the Parker Solar Probe – gets hit by grains of dust that are a fraction the size of a human hair, they still do damage.  The question is how much damage, and could we potentially learn anything from how exactly that damage happens?  According to new research from scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB), the answerRead More →

New study shows the largest comet ever observed was active at near-record distance A new study by University of Maryland astronomers shows that comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein (BB), the largest comet ever discovered, was active long before previously thought, meaning the ice within it is vaporizing and forming an envelope of dust and vapor known as a coma. Only one active comet has been observed farther from the sun, and it was much smaller than comet BB. phys.org Go to SourceRead More →

The Decadal Survey is out! What new Missions and Telescopes are in the Works? It’s that time again.  Once every ten years, the American astronomy community joins forces through the auspices of the National Academies to produce one of the most important and influential reports in their discipline – the decadal survey.  This report has been the impetus for some of the great observational instruments of our time, including Spitzer, the Large Millimeter Array, and Chandra. Upcoming heavy-hitting observatories, such as Nancy Grace Roman and Vera C. Rubin, also spawned from suggestions made in the Decadal Survey.  In short, if you want to get aRead More →

This is a Classic Example of a Reflection Nebula, Where the Reflected Light From Young Hot Stars Illuminates a Protostellar Cloud of Gas and Dust The interplay of energy and matter creates beautiful sights. Here on Earth, we enjoy rainbows, auroras, and sunsets and sunrises. But out in space, nature creates extraordinarily dazzling structures called nebulae that can span hundreds of light-years. Nebulae are probably the most beautiful objects out there. While searching for young stars and their circumstellar disks, Hubble captured a classic reflection nebula. A nebula starts with a cloud of interstellar dust. There are many clouds of dust out there in space,Read More →

A Gravitational Lens Shows the Same Galaxy Three Times Images from the Hubble Space Telescope are often mind-bending in both their beauty and wealth of scientific wonder. And sometimes, Hubble captures light-bending images too. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) snapped a photo of a galaxy where the light has been bent by gravitational lensing, so that the galaxy show up not just once, but three times. But the multiple views aren’t exact replicas of each other — they appear as different shapes. Take a look at the clumps of light in the bottom right corner of the image. The galaxy, with a license-plate-like nameRead More →

Study inspects subdwarf B stars in the open cluster NGC 6791 Using NASA’s Kepler spacecraft and the MMT telescope in Arizona, an international team of astronomers has investigated a population of subdwarf B stars in an open cluster known as NGC 6791. Results of the study, published November 18 on arXiv.org, deliver essential information regarding the properties of these stars, which could be crucial in advancing our knowledge about this cluster. phys.org Go to SourceRead More →

NASA Launches DART, to Learn how to Defend the Earth From a Future Asteroid Impact In the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, Nov. 24th, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) launched from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base (SFB) in California. This spacecraft is the world’s first full-scale mission to demonstrate technologies that could someday be used to defend our planet from Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) that could potentially collide with Earth. Put simply, the DART mission is a kinetic impactor that will evaluate a proposed method for deflecting asteroids. Over the next ten months, the DART mission will autonomouslyRead More →

It’s Time to Stop Doing Anti-Satellite Tests Earlier this month, the Russian military conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test, launching a PL19 Nudol interceptor missile at a now-defunct Soviet-era intelligence satellite, KOSMOS 1408. The impact obliterated the spacecraft, creating a debris field consisting of approximately 1500 pieces of trackable debris, and potentially hundreds of thousands of pieces that are too small to monitor with ground-based radar. In the aftermath of the test, the debris field crossed the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) repeatedly, causing the crew to take emergency precautions and shelter in their descent capsules, ready for a quick return to EarthRead More →

Stars Getting Kicked out of the Milky Way can Help us map its Dark Matter Halo Dark matter is notoriously difficult to study. It’s essentially invisible to astronomers since it can’t be seen directly. So astronomers rely on effects such as the gravitational lensing of light to map its presence in the universe. That method works well for other galaxies, but not so well for our own. To map dark matter in the Milky Way, we rely mostly on the motions of stars in our galaxy. Since dark matter attracts regular matter gravitationally, the method works well for areas of the galaxy where there areRead More →

‘Gangotri wave’ connecting two of Milky Way’s spiral arms discovered A team of researchers from Germany, France and the U.K. has discovered a long thin filament of dense gas connecting two of the Milky Way galaxy’s spiral arms. In their paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the group describes their work studying carbon monoxide gas in the galaxy. phys.org Go to SourceRead More →

A Machine-Learning Algorithm Just Found 301 Additional Planets in Kepler Data Looking to the future, astronomers are excited to see how machine learning – aka. deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – will enhance surveys. One field that is already benefitting in the search for extrasolar planets, where researchers rely on machine-learning algorithms to distinguish between faint signals and background noise. As this field continues to transition from discovery to characterization, the role of machine intelligence is likely to become even more critical. Take the Kepler Space Telescope, which accounted for 2879 confirmed discoveries (out of the 4,575 exoplanets discovered made to date) during itsRead More →

Astronomers Find a Planet That Orbits its Star in Just 16 HOURS! Mercury is the speed champion in our Solar System. It orbits the Sun every 88 days, and its average speed is 47 km/s. Its average distance from the Sun is 58 million km (36 million mi), and it’s so fast it’s named after Mercury, the wing-footed God. But what if instead of Mercury, Jupiter was closest to the Sun? And what if Jupiter was even closer to the Sun than Mercury and far hotter? In a remote solar system about 855 light-years away, there’s a planet that makes Mercury seem like a slow,Read More →

The Severe Pacific Northwest Flooding Seen From Space The State of Washington and the Province of BC are in a state of emergency following days of severe wind, rain, and flooding. The situation began when an “atmospheric river” (a plume of moisture) extended over the Pacific Northwest, triggering severe rainfall that caused already-rising rivers to overflow. This led to blocked roads, mudslides, fallen bridges, and thousands of animals drowning in farmland areas. This extensive damage was photographed from space by Earth observation satellites, one of which was the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel mission and the International Space Station (ISS). These images captured theRead More →