Astronomers confront massive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A* At the center of the Milky Way is a supermassive black hole, 4.3 million times bigger than the sun, known as Sagittarius A*. Until recently, it was not clear how much of the matter at the heart of the galaxy was Sagittarius A*. Astronomers measured the velocities of four distant stars around the black hole. The movement of the stars indicates the mass at the galaxy’s center is composed almost entirely of matter from Sagittarius A*, leaving little room for stars, other black holes, interstellar dust and gas, or dark matter.Read More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Globular Clusters In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! You’ll feel a little old and red with today’s topic: globular clusters! In globular clusters you will find a lot of older, redder stars packed closely together. In many ways, they’re the retirement homes for the galaxy. Globular clusters are relatively small, with most no more than a couple dozen parsecs across. But each one contains hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of stars. That puts the average distance between stars at about 1 light-year, but in their cores the stars pack together over a thousand timesRead More →

Exoplanet Found With a Highly Eccentric Orbit The study of extrasolar planets has revealed some interesting things in recent decades. Not only have astronomers discovered entirely new types of planets – Super Jupiters, Hot Jupiters, Super-Earths, Mini-Neptunes, etc. – it has also revealed new things about solar system architecture and planetary dynamics. For example, astronomers have seen multiple systems of planets where the orbits of the planets did not conform to our Solar System. According to a new study led by the University of Bern, an international team of researchers recently observed a Mini-Neptune (TOI-2257 b) orbiting a red dwarf star roughly 188.5 light-years fromRead More →

New insights into seasons on a planet outside our solar system Imagine being in a place where the winds are so strong that they move at the speed of sound. That’s just one aspect of the atmosphere on XO-3b, one of a class of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system), known as hot Jupiters. The eccentric orbit of the planet also leads to seasonal variations hundreds of times stronger than what we experience on Earth. In a recent paper, a McGill-led research team, provides new insight into what seasons looks like on a planet outside our solar system. The researchers also suggest that the ovalRead More →

Europa Clipper’s Thermal Imaging System was Tested Here on Earth The highly anticipated Europa Clipper mission, set to launch in 2024, will investigate Jupiter’s moon Europa. This icy moon with a subsurface ocean is considered one of the most enticing places in our Solar System where life might exist. To look beneath Europa’s icy crust, the Clipper mission has a host of instruments looking for plumes and ‘hot spots.’ A thermal emissions imager, called E-THEMIS (Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System) recently passed a major testing hurdle recently by capturing its “first light” images with its infrared camera. The camera is being developed at Arizona StateRead More →

Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument creates largest 3D map of the cosmos The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) has capped off the first seven months of its survey run by smashing through all previous records for three-dimensional galaxy surveys, creating the largest and most detailed map of the universe ever. Yet it’s only about 10% of the way through its five-year mission. Once completed, that phenomenally detailed 3D map will yield a better understanding of dark energy, and thereby give physicists and astronomers a better understanding of the past—and future—of the universe. Meanwhile, the impressive technical performance and literally cosmic achievements of the survey thus farRead More →

Astronomers find evidence for a second supermoon beyond our solar system Astronomers have reported a second, super-sized moon orbiting a Jupiter-sized planet beyond our solar system. If confirmed, the sighting could mean that exomoons are as common in the universe as exoplanets, and that big or small, such moons are a feature of planetary systems. But it could be a long wait. The first-ever sighting of an exomoon four years ago is still awaiting confirmation, and verification of this newest candidate could be as equally long and contentious. phys.org Go to SourceRead More →

Researchers propose new explanation for Moon’s half-century magnetic mystery Rocks returned to Earth during NASA’s Apollo program from 1968 to 1972 have provided volumes of information about the Moon’s history, but they’ve also been the source of an enduring mystery. Analysis of the rocks revealed that some seemed to have formed in the presence of a strong magnetic field—one that rivaled Earth’s in strength. But it wasn’t clear how a Moon-sized body could have generated a magnetic field that strong. phys.org Go to SourceRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Interstellar Medium In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! You’ll have a lot of time to contemplate today’s topic: the interstellar medium! What fills the vast spaces between the stars? Mostly nothing – those expanses would register as a vacuum in a laboratory here on Earth. But it’s not completely, totally, 100% empty. If you look closely, and wait long enough, you’ll see a beehive of activity. Charged particles zipping by. Tiny grains of dust drifting around. Atoms and molecules slowly waltzing. This is the interstellar medium. These characters from from all sorts of places. SomeRead More →

Fast Radio Bursts can now be Tracked in Real-Time Located in the Okanagan Valley outside of Penticton, British Columbia, there is a massive radio observatory dedicated to observing cosmic radio phenomena. It’s called the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), a cylindrical parabolic radio telescope that looks like what snowboarders would call a “half-pipe.” This array is part of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO), overseen by the National Research Council (NRC). Originally, the observatory was meant to detect radio waves from neutral hydrogen gas in the early Universe. Today, it is used for other objectives, such as detecting and studying Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs).Read More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Ionosphere In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! You’ll find today’s topic absolutely sizzling: the ionosphere! In the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere, the intense UV and X-ray radiation from the Sun bombards molecules and atoms, causing them to split apart. The resulting positively charged nuclei are called ions, and the free electrons are called…free electrons. These charged particles behave differently than normal neutral molecules, especially when it comes to how they interact with radio waves. This process only happens in the upper atmosphere because the intense radiation from the Sun has a hard timeRead More →

China’s Lander Has Detected Water on the Moon China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander has found evidence of hydroxyl (OH) on the Moon. Hydroxyl is a close chemical cousin of water, H2O. While several other orbital missions have detected OH on the Moon previously, Chang’e-5 marks the first time it has been detected by a spacecraft sitting on the lunar surface. Chang’e-5 is most famous for its sample return mission, which brought a sample of lunar regolith back to Earth in December of 2020. However, for the detection of hydroxyl, the Chang’e-5 lander used instruments on board to look at the area around the landing site. ScientistsRead More →

Cosmic ‘spider’ found to be source of powerful gamma-rays Using the 4.1-meter SOAR Telescope in Chile, astronomers have discovered the first example of a binary system where a star in the process of becoming a white dwarf is orbiting a neutron star that has just finished turning into a rapidly spinning pulsar. The pair, originally detected by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, is a “missing link” in the evolution of such binary systems. phys.org Go to SourceRead More →

Astronomers Watch a Star Die and Then Explode as a Supernova It’s another first for astronomy. For the first time, a team of astronomers have imaged in real-time as a red supergiant star reached the end of its life. They watched as the star convulsed in its death throes before finally exploding as a supernova. And their observations contradict previous thinking into how red supergiants behave before they blow up. A team of astronomers watched the drama unfold through the eyes of two observatories in Hawaii: Pan-STARRS on Haleakala, Maui, and the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii Island. Their observations were part ofRead More →

The Milky Way’s Most Recent Meal was a Galaxy it Gobbled up 8-10 Billion Years ago A central aspect of galactic evolution is that they must eat or be eaten. Dark energy strives to push galaxies apart, but gravity tries to pull them together. As a result, galaxies tend to form into local groups. As these superclusters of galaxies become more isolated due to cosmic expansion, they gravitationally turn on each other, and in time the largest galaxies of the group will consume the smaller ones. The Milky Way is one of the larger galaxies in our local group, and so it has consumed smallerRead More →

International collaboration offers new evidence of a gravitational wave background The results of a comprehensive search for a background of ultra-low frequency gravitational waves has been announced by an international team of astronomers including scientists from the Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy at the University of Birmingham. phys.org Go to SourceRead More →