Using Quasars as a New Standard Candle to Define Distance A new study shows a way to use quasars to gauge distance in the early Universe. The simple question of ‘how far?’ gets at the heart of the history of modern astronomy. Looking out across our galactic backyard into the primordial Universe, different yardsticks—often referred to as ‘standard candles’ —are used to gauge various distances, from near to far. Now, astronomers may have another tool in their Universe-measuring arsenal. A recent study out of the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) looked at X-ray measurements of 2332 quasars in the Chandra Source Catalog compiled by NASA’s prolificRead More →

By Using Dashcams and Security Cameras, Astronomers Were Able to Track Down the Location of a Meteorite OK, all you meteorites that are falling to Earth … You are being watched! The ever-expanding use of security cameras, doorbell cams and vehicle dashcams have increased the number of fireballs that have been spotted streaking across the skies. And sometimes, all that visual data provides the side benefit of allowing rocks from space to be tracked and found. Back in February of 2020, hundreds of people across Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Austria and Hungary reported seeing a bright ball of light hurtling across the morning sky, along withRead More →

A LEGO® Version of the Very Large Telescope. It Even has a Laser Interferometer Interferometers are some of the most highly advanced sensor instruments that humans have made.  They are used in everything from astronomy to quantum mechanics and have profoundly impacted our understanding of science.  But not all interferometers have to be functional. A Dutch astronomer named Frans Snik has just designed one that, while it isn’t function, is inspiring all the same – and it happens to be made out of Lego. Mr. Snik is a prolific Lego builder, initially designing a model of the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) European Extremely Large TelescopeRead More →

NASA’s VIPER Rover Will Hunt for Water Near Nobile Crater at Moon’s South Pole NASA says its VIPER rover will head for the western edge of Nobile Crater near the moon’s south pole in 2023, targeting a region where shadowed craters are cold enough for water ice to exist, but where enough of the sun’s rays reach to keep the solar-powered robot going. Today’s announcement provides a focus for a mission that’s meant to blaze a trail for Artemis astronauts who are scheduled to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2024, and for a sustainable lunar settlement that could take shape byRead More →

How Could we Light our Cities and Still See the Night Sky? The night sky is a part of humanity’s natural heritage. Gazing up at the heavens is a unifying act, performed by almost every human that’s ever lived. Haven’t you looked up at the night sky and felt it ignite your sense of wonder? But you can’t see much night sky in a modern city. And the majority of humans live in cities now. How can we regain our heritage? Can quiet contemplation make a comeback? It may be possible, and a team of researchers from Spain, Portugal, and Italy have tackled the problem.Read More →

Accurately Forecasting the Weather on Mars and Titan Even meteorologists who forecast the weather on Earth admit that they can’t always accurately predict the weather at a specific location on our planet any given time. And so, attempting to forecast the atmospheric conditions on another world can be downright impossible. But a new study suggests that an oft-used forecasting technique on Earth can be applied to other worlds as well, such as on Mars or Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. “I believe the first accurate forecasts of perhaps a few Mars days may be only a decade away,” said lead author of the study published inRead More →

The Moon was Pummeled Even Harder by Asteroids Than it Looks The Moon’s pitted surface tells a tale of repeated impacts over a long period of time. While Earth’s active geology erases most evidence of impacts, the Moon has no mechanism that can do the same. So there it sits, stark evidence of an impact-rich past. The visible record of lunar cratering is used to understand Earth’s formation and history since periods of frequent impacts would affect both bodies similarly. But something’s wrong in our understanding of the Moon’s history. Impact crater dating, asteroid dynamics, lunar samples, impact basin-forming simulations, and lunar evolution modelling allRead More →

Astronomers See Carbon-Rich Nebulae Where Planets are Forming Understanding the birth of a planet is a challenging puzzle. We know that planets form inside clouds of gas and dust that surround new stars, known as protoplanetary disks. But grasping exactly how that process works – connecting the dots between a dust cloud and a finished planet – is not easy. An international team of astronomers is attempting to unlock some of those secrets, and have recently completed the most extensive chemical composition mapping of several protoplanetary discs around five young stars. Their research allows them to begin to piece together the chemical makeup of futureRead More →

ExoMars Will be Drilling 1.7 Meters to Pull its Samples From Below the Surface of Mars In about a year (Sept. 20th, 2021), the Rosalind Franklin rover will depart for Mars. As the latest mission in the ESA’s and Roscosmos’ ExoMars program, Rosalind Franklin will join the small army of orbiters, landers, and rovers that are working to characterize the Martian atmosphere and environment. A key aspect of the rover’s mission will involve drilling into the Martian soil and rock and obtaining samples from deep beneath the surface. To prepare for drilling operations on Mars, the ESA, Italian space agency (ASI), and their commercial partnersRead More →

Finally an Answer to why Gamma Rays are Coming From Seemingly Empty Space Gamma rays strike Earth from all directions of the sky. Our planet is bathed in a diffuse glow of high-energy photons. It doesn’t affect us much, and we don’t really notice it, because our atmosphere is very good at absorbing gamma rays. It’s so good that we didn’t notice cosmic gamma rays until the 1960s when gamma-ray detectors were launched into space to look for signs of atomic weapons tests. Even then, what we noticed were intense flashes of gamma rays known as gamma ray bursts. Gamma-ray bursts are bright but short-lived.Read More →

Astronaut Blood and Urine Could Help Build Structures on the Moon Thinking outside the box has always been a strong suit of space exploration.  Whether taking a picture of the Earth in a sunbeam or attempting to land a rocket on a floating ship, trying new things has been a continual theme for those interested in learning more about the universe.  Now, a team from the University of Manchester has come up with an outside-the-box solution that could help solve the problem of building infrastructure in space – use astronauts themselves as bioreactors to create the building blocks of early colonies. Concrete is typically usedRead More →

Perseverance has Already Detected Over 300 Dust Devils and Vortices on Mars Dust devils are generally used as a trope in media when the writers want to know that an area is deserted. They signify the desolation and isolation that those places represent. Almost none of the settings of those stories are close to the isolation of Perseverance, the Mars rover that landed on the planet earlier this year.  Fittingly, the number of dust devils Perseverance has detected is also extremely high – over 300 in its first three months on the planet.  The paper discussing those findings, written by Brian Jackson of Boise StateRead More →

Astronauts Have Used Bacteria to Extract Useful Metals out of Rocks History has viewed mining as a job that requires a lot of heavy machinery and physical labor.  Pulling valuable material out of the ground has been necessary for human progress for thousands of years.  That progress has led to an alternative method of getting those resources out of the Earth or other celestial bodies. The new technique relies on a symbiotic life partner that has co-habited with us for millennia – bacteria. A recent experiment conducted by ESA’s Biorock investigation team shows that this process – known as “biomining” – might be the mostRead More →

If Aliens Are Out There, We’ll Meet Them in a Few Hundred Million Years Seventy years ago, Italian-American nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi asked his colleagues a question during a lunchtime conversation. If life is common in our Universe, why can’t we see any evidence of its activity out there (aka. “where is everybody?”) Seventy years later, this question has launched just as many proposed resolutions as to how extraterrestrial intelligence (ETIs) could be common, yet go unnoticed by our instruments. Some possibilities that have been considered are that humanity might be alone in the Universe, early to the party, or is not in a positionRead More →

Something big Just hit Jupiter! In 1994, the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) impacted Jupiter, which had captured the comet shortly before (and broken apart by its gravity). The event became a media circus as it was the first direct observation of an extraterrestrial collision of Solar System objects. The impact was so powerful that it left scars that endured for months and were more discernible than Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Since then, astronomers have observed multiple objects impacting Jupiter, and it is expected that such impacts happen all the time (though unobserved). On September 13th, 2021, at 22:39:30 UTC (06:39:30 PM EDT; 03:39 PM:30 PDT),Read More →

SpaceX Launches Four Civilians to Space with Inspiration4! Today, history was made when the first all-civilian spaceflight launched from Launch Complex 39A at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The purpose of this flight was to raise awareness and funds for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and offer inspiration to people all over the world. Operated by SpaceX and sponsored by Jared Isaacman and Shift4Payments, this flight illustrates how accessibility to space is growing by leaps and bounds. The mission began at 08:02 PM local time (05:02 PM PST) as the Crew Dragon spacecraft blasted off the launch pad atop a SpaceX FalconRead More →

Cosmic Rays Erode Away All But the Largest Interstellar Objects So far we know of only two interstellar objects (ISO) to visit our Solar System. They are ‘Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov. There’s a third possible ISO named CNEOS 2014-01-08, and research suggests there should be many more. But a new research letter shows that cosmic ray erosion limits the lifespan of icy ISOs, and though there may be many more of them, they simply don’t last as long as thought. If it’s true, then ‘Oumuamua was probably substantially larger when it started its journey, wherever that was. The title of the research letter is “Erosion ofRead More →

Here’s How to Watch Inspiration4 Blast off on Wednesday. On the evening of Wednesday, September 15th, history will be made as a crew of four commercial astronauts launch to orbit aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience. This flight will be operated by SpaceX, sponsored by Jared Isaacman (CEO of Shift4Payments) and represents the first all-civilian spaceflight in history. The launch will take place tonight at 08:00 PM EDT (05:00 PM PDT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. The purpose of this mission is to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which specializes in the treatment of childhood cancersRead More →

A 6-Year Search of the Outer Solar System Turns up 461 new Objects In the near future, astronomers will benefit from the presence of next-generation telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST). At the same time, improved data mining and machine learning techniques will also allow astronomers to get more out of existing instruments. In the process, they hope to finally answer some of the most burning questions about the cosmos. For instance, the Dark Energy Survey (DES ), an international, collaborative effort to map the cosmos, recently released the results of their six-year survey ofRead More →

Why is James Webb Traveling to the Launch Site by Boat and not an Airplane? The James Webb Space Telescope has faced a lot of questions during its arduous journey to completion. Some of the questions have been posed by concerned legislators, mindful of the limitations of the public purse as the telescope’s cost ballooned. But the budget wrangling and the cost overruns are behind us now. The question that needs an answer is, why is it travelling to its launch site by boat and not airplane? At this point in time, the ground-breaking space telescope has cost around 10 billion USD. That’s a lotRead More →