No, This Isn’t a Doorway on Mars A Mastcam image from the Mars Curiosity rover captures what looks like a doorway into a rock ledge. It was formed when layered rock cracked and eroded away. Courtesy NASA Mars Curiosity Rover team. The planet Mars has a lot of intriguing geological features, but a doorway in the side of some sedimentary rock on the flank of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) isn’t one of them. In fact, no such doorway on Mars (supposedly created by aliens) exists. But, there is a break in the rock that really, really does look like one. The fact that it isn’tRead More →

House UFO Hearing Brings a Few Answers and More Questions For the first time in more than half a century, Congress conducted a public hearing into the state of the Pentagon’s study of unidentified aerial phenomena — which is the new name for mysteries once known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, told a hearing organized by the House Intelligence subcommittee on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and counterproliferation that military reports about UFOs — sorry, I mean UAPs — have been “frequent and continuing.” Today’s hearing follows up on a Pentagon report that was issued last year and listed 144Read More →

Carbon-12 is an Essential Building Block for Life and Scientists Have Finally Figured Out How it Forms in Stars Artist’s impression of a red giant star. Their cores are cauldrons where carbon-12 is produced. Credit:NASA/ Walt Feimer Each of us is, as it says in Max Ehrmann’s famous poem “Desiderata”, a child of the universe. It speaks metaphorically about our place in the cosmos, but it turns out to be a very literal truth. Our bodies contain the stuff of stars and galaxies, and that makes us children of the cosmos. To be more precise, we are carbon-based life forms. All life on Earth isRead More →

Merging Supermassive Black Holes Gives us a New Way to Measure the Universe The study of black holes has advanced immensely in the past few years. In 2015, the first gravitational waves were observed by scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). This finding confirmed what Einstein predicted a century before with General Relativity and offered new insight into black hole mergers. In 2019, scientists with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration shared the first image of a supermassive black hole (SMBH), which resides at the center of the M87 galaxy. Earlier this month, the EHT announced that they had also acquired the firstRead More →

Did a 5th Giant Planet Mess up the Orbits of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune? The solar system’s current planetary orbits seem stable, but that’s only because the planets have settled into them over billions of years.  The early solar system was a much different place than that seen today, and for almost 20 years, scientists thought they had a good handle on how it got that way.  But more recently, data had started pointing to some flaws in that understanding – especially about how the giant planets in the outer solar system got where they are today.  Now an international team of astrophysicists thinksRead More →

Scouring Through old Hubble Images Turned up 1,000 new Asteroids Researchers have found over 1,700 asteroid trails in archived Hubble data from the last 20 years. While many of the asteroids are previously known, more than 1,000 are not. What good are another 1,000 asteroids? Like all asteroids, they could hold valuable clues to the Solar System’s history. As time passes and more and more telescopes perform more and more observations, their combined archival data keeps growing. Sometimes discoveries lurk in that data that await new analytical tools or renewed efforts from scientists before they’re revealed. That’s what happened in an effort called the HubbleRead More →

Engineers Design an Electrical Microgrid for a Lunar Base For seventy years, Albuquerque-based Sandia National Laboratories has been developing electrical microgrids that increase community resilience and ensure energy security. Applications include the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security (SPIDERS), designed to support military bases abroad, and independent power systems for hospitals and regions where electrical grids are at risk of being compromised by natural disasters (like hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes). In the coming years, Artemis Program, NASA will be sending astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era and establish a “sustained program of lunar exploration.” ToRead More →

Astronomers Find a Star That Contains 65 Different Elements Have you ever held a chunk of gold in your hand? Not a little piece of jewelry, but an ounce or more? If you have, you can almost immediately understand what drives humans to want to possess it and know where it comes from. We know that gold comes from stars. All stars are comprised primarily of hydrogen and helium. But they contain other elements, which astrophysicists refer to as a star’s metallicity. Our Sun has a high metallicity and contains 67 different elements, including about 2.5 trillion tons of gold. Now astronomers have found aRead More →

A Recently Discovered Double Binary System is Unstable. Stars Could Collide, Leading to a Supernova Multiple star systems are very common in the Milky Way. While most of these systems are binary systems consisting of two stars, others contain three, four, or even six stars. These systems tend to be pretty stable since unstable systems tend to break apart or merge fairly quickly, but sometimes you can get a kind of meta-stable system. One that lasts long enough for stars to evolve while still being stable in the end. And that end could be a supernova. It all comes down to gravitational dynamics. In NewtonianRead More →

Cosmic Rays can Help Keep the World’s Clocks in Sync The world has a robust, accurate timekeeping system that regulates our clocks. Humanity uses it for everything we do, from our financial systems to satellite navigation, computer and phone networks, and GPS. But the current system is not perfect, and has vulnerabilities to cyber-attack and disruption. Given the importance of accurate timekeeping to our society (as a fundamental underpinning of life in the 21st century), experts are always looking for ways to improve the system and add redundancy. Researchers at the University of Tokyo have taken a big step in this direction, developing a newRead More →

A CubeSat is Flying to the Moon to Make Sure Lunar Gateway’s Orbit is Actually Stable Before this decade is over, NASA will send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. As part of the Artemis Program, NASA also plans to establish the infrastructure that will allow for a “sustained program of lunar exploration.” A key part of this is the Lunar Gateway, an orbiting space station that will facilitate regular trips to and from the lunar surface. In addition to being a docking point for ships going to and from Earth, the station will also allow for long-duration missionsRead More →

What’s the Right Depth to Search for Life on Icy Worlds? Are we alone? Is there life beyond Earth? These are the questions that plague the very essence of science, and in particular, planetary science. Unfortunately, robotic exploration of exoplanetary systems currently remains out of reach due to the literal astronomical distances to get there. For context, our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.25 light years away, or a mind-blowing 40,208,000,000,000 km (25,000,000,000,000 miles) from Earth. Finding an intelligent civilization might be out of reach for now but searching for any forms of life beyond Earth is very much possible within the confines of ourRead More →

Astronomers Finally Catch a Nova Detonating on a White Dwarf as it’s Happening On July 7, 2020, the X-ray instrument eROSITA captured an astronomical event that – until then – had only been theorized and never seen. It saw the detonation of a nova on a white dwarf star, which produced a so-called fireball explosion of X-rays. “It was to some extent a fortunate coincidence, really,” said Ole König from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), who led the team of scientists who have published a new paper on the discovery. “These X-ray flashes last only a few hours and are almost impossible to predict, but the observationalRead More →

This is it! Meet the Supermassive Black Hole at the Heart of the Milky Way On April 10th, 2019, the international consortium known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) announced the first-ever image of a supermassive black hole (SMBH). The image showed the bright disk surrounding the black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy (aka. Virgo A). In 2021, they followed up on this by acquiring an image of the core region of the Centaurus A galaxy and the radio jet emanating from it. Earlier this month, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced that the EHT would be sharing the results from itsRead More →

We’ve Now Seen Planet-Forming Disks Around Hundreds of Young Stars. What Do They Tell Us? Is our Solar System comparable to other solar systems? What do other systems look like? We know from exoplanet studies that many other systems have hot Jupiters, massive gas giants that orbit extremely close to their stars. Is that normal, and our Solar System is the outlier? One way of addressing these questions is to study the planet-forming disks around young stars to see how they evolve. But studying a large sample of these systems is the only way to get an answer. So that’s what a group of astronomersRead More →

Our Complete Guide to This Weekend’s Total Lunar Eclipse Don’t miss one of the top astronomical events for 2022: Sunday night’s total lunar eclipse. The first eclipse season of 2022 reaches its climax this coming weekend, with a fine total lunar eclipse transpiring on Sunday night into Monday morning. All of South America and most of North America will see the eclipse in its entirety, while Alaska and western Canada will see totality underway at moonrise, and western Europe will see the reverse at moonset near dawn. The Circumstances for Sunday Night’s Eclipse Eclipses occur when the nodes where the Moon’s orbit intersect the eclipticRead More →

InSight Just Detected a Record-breaking Marsquake: Magnitude 5! This spectrogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. The marsquake struck the Red Planet on May 4 , 2022 and measured magnitude 5 . Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH/Zurich. May 4th is unofficially known in sci-fi circles as Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth Be With You”) here on Earth. But, on another planet, far, far away, the date is now infamous to one of its robotic inhabitants. That’s the day the Mars InSight lander felt one of the strongest marsquakes ever to hit that world. It registered magnitude 5 and was the latest 1,313 quakes theRead More →

‘The Clocks are Telling Lies:’ A New Book from Universe Today Writer Scott Alan Johnston Scott Alan Johnston (that’s me!) joined the Universe Today team just over a year ago. Since then, I’ve written over 50 space news stories for the website – time flies when you’re having fun! But when I’m not writing articles here on Universe Today, I’m a historian of science, and I recently released a new book about the history of timekeeping. Have you ever wondered why we tell time the way we do? Well, history buffs, come along for a journey: For nearly all of human history, time was aRead More →

Martian Dust is Starting to Darken Ingenuity’s Solar Panels Like every solar-panel-powered vehicle on Mars, maintaining electrical power always becomes an issue at some point in the mission. Last week, mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory lost contact with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. While they were able to re-establish communications, which is done through the Perseverance rover, engineers know that keeping Ingenuity’s batteries charged is going to be increasingly difficult as the dark winter is on the way to Jezero Crater. The engineering team had to do some trouble-shooting to figure out the issue, but they reported that the communications dropout on May 3,Read More →

These are the Best Places to Search for Habitable Exomoons Our Solar System contains eight planets and more than 200 moons. The large majority of those moons have no chance of being habitable, but some of them—Europa and Enceladus, for example—are strong candidates in the search for life. Is it the same in other solar systems? Moons in our Solar System show as much variety as planets, maybe more. There are moons where a sheath of ice tens of kilometres thick hides a warm ocean. There’s a moon with stable bodies of surface liquid. There’s a moon that experiences near-constant volcanic activity. Some moons formedRead More →