TESS Finds its First Rogue Planet Well over 5,000 planets have been found orbiting other star systems. One of the satellites hunting for them is TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Astronomers using TESS think they are made a rather surprising discovery; their first free-floating – or rogue – planet. The planet was discovered using gravitational microlensing where the planet passed in front of a star, distorting its light and revealing its presence. We are all familiar with the eight planets in our Solar System and perhaps becoming familiar with the concept of exoplanets. But there is another category of planet, the rogue planets. TheseRead More →

There are Four Ways to Build with Regolith on the Moon Over the last few years I have been renovating my home. Building on Earth seems to be a fairly well understood process, after all we have many different materials to chose from. But what about future lunar explorers. As we head closer toward a permanent lunar base, astronauts will have very limited cargo carrying capability so will have to use local materials. On the Moon, that means relying upon the dusty lunar regolith that covers the surface. Researchers have now developed 20 different methods for creating building materials out of the stuff. They includeRead More →

Purple Bacteria — Not Green Plants — Might Be the Strongest Indication of Life Astrobiologists continue to work towards determining which biosignatures might be best to look for when searching for life on other worlds. The most common idea has been to search for evidence of plants that use the green pigment chlorophyll, like we have on Earth. However, a new paper suggests that bacteria with purple pigments could flourish under a broader range of environments than their green cousins. That means current and next-generation telescopes should be looking for the emissions of purple lifeforms. “Purple bacteria can thrive under a wide range of conditions,Read More →

See the Southern Ring Nebula in 3D Planetary nebula are some of nature’s most stunning visual displays. The name is confusing since they’re the remains of stars, not planets. But that doesn’t detract from their status as objects of captivating beauty and intense scientific study. Like all planetary nebula, the Southern Ring Nebula is the remnant of a star like our Sun. As these stars age, they will eventually become red giants, expanding and shedding layers of gas out into space. Eventually, the red giant becomes a white dwarf, a stellar remnant bereft of fusion that emanates whatever residual thermal energy it has without everRead More →

Hubble Has Accidentally Discovered Over a Thousand Asteroids The venerable Hubble Space Telescope is like a gift that keeps on giving. Not only is it still making astronomical discoveries after more than thirty years in operation. It is also making discoveries by accident! Thanks to an international team of citizen scientists, with the help of astronomers from the European Space Agency (ESA) and some machine learning algorithms, a new sample of over one thousand asteroids has been identified in Hubble‘s archival data. The methods used represent a new approach for finding objects in decades-old data that could be applied to other datasets as well. TheRead More →

NASA Restores Communications with Voyager 1 The venerable Voyager 1 spacecraft is finally phoning home again. This is much to the relief of mission engineers, scientists, and Voyager fans around the world. On November 14, 2023, the aging spacecraft began sending what amounted to a string of gibberish back to Earth. It appeared to be getting commands from Earth and seemed to be operating okay. It just wasn’t returning any useful science and engineering data. The team engineers began diagnostic testing to figure out if the spacecraft’s onboard computer was giving up the ghost. They also wanted to know if there was some other issueRead More →

Will We Know if TRAPPIST-1e has Life? The search for extrasolar planets is currently undergoing a seismic shift. With the deployment of the Kepler Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), scientists discovered thousands of exoplanets, most of which were detected and confirmed using indirect methods. But in more recent years, and with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the field has been transitioning toward one of characterization. In this process, scientists rely on emission spectra from exoplanet atmospheres to search for the chemical signatures we associate with life (biosignatures). However, there’s some controversy regarding the kinds of signatures scientistsRead More →

Astronaut Food Will Lose Nutrients on Long-Duration Missions. NASA is Working on a Fix Astronauts on board the International Space Station are often visited by supply ships from Earth with food among other things. Take a trip to Mars or other and the distances are much greater making it impractical to send fresh supplies. The prepackaged food used by NASA loses nutritional value over time so NASA is looking at ways astronauts can produce nutrients. They are exploring genetic engineering techniques that can create microbes with minimal ingredients.  Many of us take food and eating for granted. The food we can enjoy is usually flavoursomeRead More →

There Was a Doomed Comet Near the Sun During the Eclipse A surprise appearance of a new comet made the April 8th total solar eclipse all the more memorable. Any dedicated ‘umbraphile’ will tell you: no two eclipses are exactly the same. Weather, solar activity, and the just plain expeditionary nature of reaching and standing in the shadow of the Moon for those brief moments during totality assures a unique experience, every time out. The same can be said for catching a brief glimpse of what’s going on near the Sun, from prominences and the pearly white corona to the configuration of bright planets… andRead More →

The Ingenuity Team Downloads the Final Data from the Mars Helicopter. The Mission is Over I really can’t believe that the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars took its maiden voyage in April 2021. On the 16th April 2024, engineers at NASA have received the final batch of data from the craft which marks the final task of the team. Ingenuity’s work is not over though as it will remain on the surface collecting data. For the engineers at NASA, they have their sights set on Dragonfly, a new helicopter destined for Titan. When Ingenuity took off on its maiden voyage it became the first powered craftRead More →

Juno Reveals a Giant Lava Lake on Io NASA’s Juno spacecraft came within 1,500 km (930 miles) of the surface of Jupiter’s moon Io in two recent flybys. That’s close enough to reveal new details on the surface of this moon, the most volcanic object in the Solar System. Not only did Juno capture volcanic activity, but scientists were also able to create a visual animation from the data that shows what Io’s 200-km-long lava lake Loki Patera would look like if you could get even closer. There are islands at the center of a magma lake rimmed with hot lava. The lake’s surface isRead More →

What’s the Most Effective Way to Explore our Nearest Stars? It was 1903 that the Wright brothers made the first successful self-propelled flight. Launching themselves to history, they set the foundations for transatlantic flights, supersonic flight and perhaps even the exploration of the Solar System. Now we are on the precipice of travel among the stars but among the many ideas and theories, what is the ultimate and most effective way to explore our nearest stellar neighbours? After all, there are 10,000 stars within a region of 110 light years from Earth so there are plenty to choose from.  It’s not just the stars thatRead More →

Radiating Exoplanet Discovered in “Perfect Tidal Storm” Can tidal forces cause an exoplanet’s surface to radiate heat? This is what a recent study accepted to The Astronomical Journal hopes to address as a team of international researchers used data collected from ground-based instruments to confirm the existence of a second exoplanet residing within the exoplanetary system, HD 104067, along with using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission to identify an additional exoplanet candidate, as well. What’s unique about this exoplanet candidate, which orbits innermost compared to the other two, is that the tidal forces exhibited from the outer two exoplanets are potentially causing theRead More →

The Giant Planets Migrated Between 60-100 Million Years After the Solar System Formed Untangling what happened in our Solar System tens or hundreds of millions of years ago is challenging. Millions of objects of wildly different masses interacted for billions of years, seeking natural stability. But its history—including the migration of the giant planets—explains what we see today in our Solar System and maybe in other, distant solar systems. New research shows that giant planet migration began shortly after the Solar System formed. Planetary migration is a well-established idea. The Grand-Tack Hypothesis says that Jupiter formed at 3.5 AU, migrated inward to 1.5 AU, andRead More →

Artemis Astronauts Will Deploy New Seismometers on the Moon Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Apollo astronauts set up a collection of lunar seismometers to detect possible Moon quakes. These instruments monitored lunar activity for eight years and gave planetary scientists an indirect glimpse into the Moon’s interior. Now, researchers are developing new methods for lunar quake detection techniques and technologies. If all goes well, the Artemis astronauts will deploy them when they return to the Moon. Fiber optic cable is the heart of a seismology network to be deployed on the Moon by future Artemis astronauts. The new approach, called distributed acoustic sensing (DAS),Read More →

Ice Deposits on Ceres Might Only Be a Few Thousand Years Old The dwarf planet Ceres has some permanently dark craters that hold ice. Astronomers thought the ice was ancient when they were discovered, like in the moon’s permanently shadowed regions. But something was puzzling. Why did some of these shadowed craters hold ice while others did not? Ceres was first discovered in 1801 and was considered a planet. Later, it was thought to be the first asteroid ever discovered, since it’s in the main asteroid belt. Since then, our expanding knowledge has changed its definition: we now know it as a dwarf planet. EvenRead More →

The Mystery of Cosmic Rays Deepens Cosmic rays are high-energy particles accelerated to extreme velocities approaching the speed of light. It takes an extremely powerful event to send these bits of matter blazing through the Universe. Astronomers theorize that cosmic rays are ejected by supernova explosions that mark the death of supergiant stars. But recent data collected by the Fermi Gamma-ray space telescope casts doubt on this production method for cosmic rays, and has astronomers digging for an explanation. It’s not easy to tell where a cosmic ray comes from. Most cosmic rays are hydrogen nuclei, others are protons, or free-flying electrons. These are chargedRead More →

NASA Confirms that a Piece of its Battery Pack Smashed into a Florida Home NASA is in the business of launching things into orbit. But what goes up must come down, and if whatever is coming down doesn’t burn up in the atmosphere, it will strike Earth somewhere. Even Florida isn’t safe. Careful consideration goes into releasing debris from the International Space Station. Its mass is measured and calculated so that it burns up during re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. But in March 2024, something didn’t go as planned. It all started in 2021 when astronauts replaced the ISS’s nickel hydride batteries with lithium-ion batteries. ItRead More →

Are Titan’s Dunes Made of Comet Dust? A new theory suggests that Titan’s majestic dune fields may be have come from outer space. Researchers had always assumed that the sand making up Titan’s dunes was locally made, through erosion or condensed from atmospheric hydrocarbons. But researchers from the University of Colorado want to know: Could it have come from comets? The dunes of Titan When the Cassini spacecraft arrived in orbit around Saturn, nobody had ever seen beneath the thick soupy atmosphere of Titan. So when it dropped the Huygens lander, and began probing Titan with cloud-penetrating radar, scientists were surprised to learn that TitanRead More →

The Solar Wind is Stripping Oxygen and Carbon Away From Venus The BepiColombo mission, a joint effort between JAXA and the ESA, was only the second (and most advanced) mission to visit Mercury, the least explored planet in the Solar System. With two probes and an advanced suite of scientific instruments, the mission addressed several unresolved questions about Mercury, including the origin of its magnetic field, the depressions with bright material around them (“hollows”), and water ice around its poles. As it turns out, BepiColombo revealed some interesting things about Venus during its brief flyby. Specifically, the two probes studied a previously unexplored region ofRead More →