Odyssey Gives Us a Cool New View of Mars Chances are that you’ve seen images of Earth from space, thanks to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), who regularly share stunning photos of our planet. These images provide us regularly with breathtaking views of cities, oceans, storms, eruptions, clouds, the curvature of the planet, and the way the atmosphere glows against the horizon. Thanks to NASA’s Mars Odyssey Orbiter, which has been in orbit for over 22 years, we now have an equally breathtaking view of Mars from orbit that captured what its curvature and atmosphere look like from space. The images wereRead More →

We Should Hit Peak Solar Activity Next Year You may be familiar with the solar cycle that follows a 22 year process shifting from solar minimum to maximum and back again.  It’s a cycle that has been observed for centuries yet predicting its peak has been somewhat challenging.  The Sun’s current cycle is approaching maximum activity which brings with it higher numbers of sunspots on its surface, more flares and more coronal mass ejections. A team from India now believe they have discovered a new element of the Sun’s magnetic field allowing them to predict the peak will occur early in 2024. The Sun isRead More →

It Doesn’t Take Much to Get Tilted Planets Chinese and Indian astronomers were the first to measure Earth’s axial tilt accurately, and they did it about 3,000 years ago. Their measurements were remarkably accurate: in 1120 BC, Chinese astronomers pegged the Earth’s axial tilt at 24 degrees. Now we know that all of the planets in the Solar System, with the exception of Mercury, have some tilt. While astronomers have puzzled over why our Solar System’s planets are tilted, it turns out it’s rather normal. Now that astronomers have observed so many other solar systems, they’ve learned that axial tilt is to be expected, evenRead More →

A Protoplanetary Disc Has Been Found… in Another Galaxy! Astronomers have imaged dozens of protoplanetary discs around Milky Way stars, seeing them at all stages of formation. Now, one of these discs has been found for the first time — excitingly — in another galaxy. The discovery was made using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile along with the , which detected the telltale signature of a spinning disc around a massive star in the Large Magellanic Cloud, located 160,000 light-years away. “When I first saw evidence for a rotating structure in the ALMA data I could not believe that we had detectedRead More →

There are Myterious Polygons Beneath the Surface of Mars China’s Zhurong rover was equipped with a ground-penetrating radar system, allowing it to peer beneath Mars’s surface. Researchers have announced new results from the scans of Zhurong’s landing site in Utopia Planitia, saying they identified irregular polygonal wedges located at a depth of about 35 meters all along the robot’s journey. The objects measure from centimeters to tens of meters across. The scientists believe the buried polygons resulted from freeze-thaw cycles on Mars billions of years ago, but they could also be volcanic, from cooling lava flows. A wireless camera took this ‘group photo’ of China’sRead More →

Contact Binary Asteroids are Common, but We’ve Never Seen One Form. So Let’s Make One Ever want to play a game of cosmic billiards? That’s commonly how the DART mission was described when it successfully changed the orbit of a near-Earth asteroid last year. If you want an idea of how it works, just Google it and an Easter egg from the search giant will give you a general idea. But DART was more like trying to brute force a billiards break – there are many other things you can do with a set of asteroids and impactors on the galactic stage. One of theRead More →

China’s Space Station, Seen from Orbit When the Space Age dawned in 1957, there were only two players: the USA and the USSR. The USA won the space race by being first to the Moon, though the USSR enjoyed its own successes. But here we are only a few decades later, and the USSR appears to be fading away while China is surging ahead. Nothing’s more emblematic of China’s surge than its Tiangong space station. China is sometimes secretive about its space activities. But not when it comes to Tiangong. China is sharing some images of the space station captured by their taikonauts on Shenzhou-16.Read More →

A Detailed Design for a Space Station at Sun-Earth L2 New ideas in space exploration come from all corners, and, by and large, the community welcomes anybody interested in the field. Having just read A City on Mars, it seems that even people who disagree with the idea that the age of space settlement is imminent will be accepted into the fold by enthusiasts. Now, a new entrant has joined – Daniel Akinwumi is a Nigerian graduate student at the University of Strathclyde who recently published his Master’s thesis detailing the design of the “intergalactic hub,” or I-HUB. The introductory section of the thesis laysRead More →

The Solar Radius Might Be Slightly Smaller Than We Thought Two astronomers use a pioneering method to suggest that the size of our Sun and the solar radius may be due revision. Our host star is full of surprises. Studying our Sun is the most essential facet of modern astronomy: not only does Sol provide us with the only example of a star we can study up close, but the energy it provides fuels life on Earth, and the space weather it produces impacts our modern technological civilization. Now, a new study, titled The Acoustic Size of the Sun suggests that a key parameter inRead More →

Titan Dragonfly is Go!…. for Phase C The surface exploration of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, just got one step closer to reality as NASA’s much-anticipated Dragonfly mission recently received approval from the powers that be to advance to Phase C, which is designated as Final Design and Fabrication, according to NASA’s Systems Engineering Handbook. This comes after the Dragonfly team successfully completed all the requirements for Phase B in March 2023, also known as the Preliminary Design Review or Preliminary Design and Technology Completion in the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook. “The Dragonfly team has successfully overcome a number of technical and programmatic challenges in thisRead More →

Telescopes Didn’t Always Play Nicely with Each Other. That’s About to Change Those readers who have dabbled with astronomical imaging will be familiar with the technique of taking multiple images and then stacking them together to improve the strength of the signal, yielding better images. Taking this technique further many research projects require date of the same object spanning longer time frames than a nights observing. This data is usually captured from different locations and under different conditions. The problem has been matching the observations across all these survey runs. Researchers have shared a new approach to calculate if separate images of the same objectRead More →

A Tiny Quadcopter Could Gather Rocks for China’s Sample Return Mission Space exploration is always changing. Before February 2021 there had never been a human made craft flying around in the atmosphere of another world (other than rocket propelled landers arriving or departing). The Mars Perseverance rover changed that, carrying with it what can only be described as a drone named Ingenuity.  It revolutionised planetary exploration and now, China are getting in on the act with a proposed quadcopter for a Mars sample return mission. Our exploration of Mars has generally been limited to orbiters, landers and rovers. The orbiters are fantastic at getting planetRead More →

JWST Reveals a Newly-Forming Double Protostar As our newest, most perceptive eye on the ongoing unfolding of the cosmos, the James Webb Space Telescope is revealing many things that were previously unseeable. One of the space telescope’s science goals is to expand our understanding of how stars form. The JWST has the power to see into the cocoons of gas and dust that hide young protostars. It peered inside one of these cocoons and showed us that what we thought was a single star is actually a binary star. The JWST’s image of the Herbig Haro object 797 (HH 797) is the telescope’s Picture ofRead More →

Why Don’t We See Robotic Civilizations Rapidly Expanding Across the Universe? In 1950, while sitting down to lunch with colleagues at the Los Alamos Laboratory, famed physicist and nuclear scientist Enrico Fermi asked his famous question: “Where is Everybody?” In short, Fermi was addressing the all-important question that has plagued human minds since they first realized planet Earth was merely a speck in an infinite Universe. Given the size and age of the Universe and the way the ingredients for life are seemingly everywhere in abundance, why haven’t we found any evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth? This question has spawned countless proposed resolutions sinceRead More →

The Second Most Energetic Cosmic Ray Ever Found “Oh My God,” someone must have said in 1991 when researchers detected the most energetic cosmic ray ever to strike Earth. Those three words were adopted as the name for the phenomenon: the Oh-My-God particle. Where did it come from? Some unknown, extraordinarily powerful event out there in the cosmos sent this single particle all the way to Earth as a signal of its occurrence. Nobody knows where it came from nor what type of particle Oh-My-God was. Cosmic rays are typically protons; whatever this particle was, it was extraordinarily energetic. It had 40 million times moreRead More →

If Warp Drives are Impossible, Maybe Faster Than Light Communication is Still on the Table? I’m sure many readers of Universe Today are like me, fans of the science fiction genre. From the light sabres of Star Wars to the neuralyzer of Men in Black, science fiction has crazy inventions aplenty and once science fiction writers dream it, scientists and engineers try and create it. Perhaps the holy grail of science fiction creations is the warp drive from Star Trek and it is fair to say that many have tried to work out if it is even possible to travel faster than the speed ofRead More →

For its Next Trick, Gaia Could Help Detect Background Gravitational Waves in the Universe Ripples in a pond can be captivating on a nice sunny day as can ripples in the very fabric of space, although the latter are a little harder to observe.  Using the highly tuned Gaia probe, a team of astronomers propose that it might just be possible to detect gravitational waves through the disturbance they impart on the movement of asteroids in our Solar System! In the teaser I said that gravitational waves were difficult to observe, largely because they are invisible and incredibly fast, travelling at the speed of lightRead More →

Vampire Stars Get Help from a Third Star to Feed Some stars are stuck in bad binary relationships. A massive primary star feeds on its smaller companion, sucking gas from the companion and adding it to its own mass while diminishing its unfortunate partner. These vampire stars are called Be stars, and up until now, astronomers thought they existed in binary relationships. But new research shows that these stars are only able to feed on their diminutive neighbour because of a third star present in the system. Be stars are a sub-type of B stars. B is the stars’ spectral type, so both B andRead More →

Simulating a Piece of Space Junk When a spacecraft dies, it loses the ability to maintain its direction in space. Additionally, as the spacecraft’s orbit begins to decay, the thin atmosphere interacts with the spacecraft, causing it to tumble unpredictably. ESA’s Clean Space Initiative hopes to remove the most hazardous space debris. This means capturing dead satellites that are in a death spiral. To help begin the project Researchers observed over 20 objects in space over two year and then recreated their spin to develop plans to retrieve them. Retrieving a tumbling spacecraft will require a brave robot to take on the task! This illustrationRead More →

Aerocapture is a Free Lunch in Space Exploration When spacecraft return to Earth, they don’t need to shed all their velocity by firing retro-rockets. Instead, they use the atmosphere as a brake to slow down for a soft landing. Every planet in the Solar System except Mercury has enough of an atmosphere to allow aerobraking maneuvers, and could allow high-speed exploration missions. A new paper looks at the different worlds and how a spacecraft must fly to take advantage of this “free lunch” to slow down at the destination. Aerobraking uses repeated dips into the atmosphere – i.e., atmospheric drag — to gradually slow theRead More →