Echoes of Flares from the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole The supermassive black hole at the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy is a quiet monster. However, Sagittarius A* (or Sgr A* for short) is not totally dormant. Occasionally it gobbles down a blob of molecular gas or even a star and then suffers a bit of indigestion. That emits x-ray flares to surrounding space. Sgr A* is the closest supermassive black hole to Earth, at a distance of 26,000 light-years. Studying the nearby environment is tough due to the black hole’s intense gravitational pull. It distorts the view of nearby objects, making them difficultRead More →

Warp Drives Could Generate Gravitational Waves Will future humans use warp drives to explore the cosmos? We’re in no position to eliminate the possibility. But if our distant descendants ever do, it won’t involve dilithium crystals, and Scottish accents will have evaporated into history by then. Warp drives have their roots in one of the most popular science fiction franchises ever, but they do have a scientific basis. A new paper examines the science behind them and asks if a warp drive containment failure would emit detectable gravitational waves. The paper is titled “What no one has seen before: gravitational waveforms from warp drive collapse.”Read More →

An Astronaut Might Need Kidney Dialysis on the Way Home from Mars Long term space exploration comes with many challenges. Not least is how much toilet paper to take but more worryingly is the impact on human physiology. We have not evolved in a weightless environment, we are not used to floating around for months on end nor are we able to cope with increased levels of radiation. It is likely that organs like the kidneys will become damaged but it make take time for signs to appear. Researchers are developing ways to detect organ issues in the early stages and develop ways to protectRead More →

Moon Lander Detects Technosignatures Coming from Earth The search for life has to be one of the most talked about questions in science. The question is, what do you look for? The Odysseus lunar lander has recently detected signs of a technologically advanced civilisation…on Earth! The lander is equipped with an instrument called ROLSES which has probed the radio emissions from Earth as if it was an exoplanet to se if it could detect signs of life!  Odysseus was launched on 15 February, it was the Intuitive Machines lunar lander and it touched down in the solar polar region of the Moon seven days later.Read More →

NASA is Considering Other Ways of Getting its Mars Samples Home In 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero Crater on Mars. For the next three years, this astrobiology mission collected soil and rock samples from the crater floor for eventual return to Earth. The analysis of these samples is expected to reveal much about Mars’ past and how it transitioned from being a warmer, wetter place to the frigid and desiccated place we know today. Unfortunately, budget cuts have placed the future of the proposed NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission in doubt. As a result, NASA recently announced that it was seekingRead More →

Sulphur Makes A Surprise Appearance in this Exoplanet’s Atmosphere At our current level of knowledge, many exoplanet findings take us by surprise. The only atmospheric chemistry we can see with clarity is Earth’s, and we still have many unanswered questions about how our planet and its atmosphere developed. With Earth as our primary reference point, many things about exoplanet atmospheres seem puzzling in comparison and generate excitement and deeper questions. That’s what’s happened with GJ-3470 b, a Neptune-like exoplanet about 96 light-years away. Astronomers discovered the planet during a 2012 High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) campaign. The campaign was searching for short-period planetsRead More →

Catching Comet 13P Olbers This Summer A little known periodic comet graces northern hemisphere summer skies. Short summer nights presents a tough dilemma for nighttime astronomy: to stay up late, or wake up early? Summer 2024 gives you at least one reason to opt for the former, as periodic Comet 13P/Olbers graces the evening sky. The History of the Comet The comet was first spotted on the night of March 6th, 1815 by astronomer Heinrich Olbers (of Olbers’ Paradox fame) observing from Bremen, Germany. The orbit was later described by Carl Gauss and Friedrich Bessel as just shy of 74 years, about five years offRead More →

The Inner and Outer Milky Way Aren’t the Same Thickness, and that’s Surprising At first glance, the universe and night sky seem largely unchanging. The reality is very different, even now, a gas cloud is charging toward the Milky Way Galaxy and is expected to crash into us in 27 million years. A team of astronomers hoping to locate the exact position of the expected impact site have been unsuccessful but have accidentally measured the thickness of the Milky Way! Analysing radio data, they have been able to deduce the thickness of the inner and outer regions and discovered a dramatic difference between the two. Read More →

Starliner Has Five Leaks Many space fans have been following the successful launch of the Boeing Starliner, another commercial organisation aiming to make space more accessible. It successfully reached the International Space Station, delivering Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams into orbit but it wasn’t without a hitch. Three of its thrusters experienced problems and there were ‘five small leaks on the service module.’ The crew and ground teams are working through safety checks of power and habitability. To ensure a safe return of the astronauts NASA has extended the mission by four days to 18th June.  Boeing Starliner is a reusable (partly) spacecraft designed toRead More →

Astronomers Find the Slowest-Spinning Neutron Star Ever Most neutron stars spin rapidly, completing a rotation in seconds or even a fraction of a second. But astronomers have found one that takes its time, completing a rotation in 54 minutes. What compels this odd object to spin so slowly? When a massive supergiant star explodes as a supernova, it leaves a collapsed core behind. The extreme pressure forces protons and electrons to combine into neutrons. Since they’re made almost entirely of neutrons, we call them neutron stars. These stellar remnants are extremely small and extremely dense. Only black holes have greater density. Due to the conservationRead More →

How a Single Atomic Sensor Can Help Track Earth’s Glaciers Earth observations are one of the most essential functions of our current fleet of satellites. Typically, each satellite specializes in one kind of remote sensing – monitoring ocean levels, for example, or watching clouds develop and move. That is primarily due to the constraints of their sensors – particularly the radar. However, a new kind of sensor undergoing development could change the game in remote Earth sensing, and it recently received a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant to further its development. That new sensor technology is known as a Rydberg sensor, and itRead More →

Next Generation Satellites Might Skim the Atmosphere, Using Air as a Propellant Satellites in orbit use rocket propulsion to maintain their altitude. These engines require fuel to power their chemical or ion engines but when the fuel runs out, the orbit slowly erodes with the satellite re-entering the atmosphere. A new type of electrical propulsion has been developed that has no need for onboard fuel. Instead it syphons air particles out of the atmosphere and accelerates them to provide thrust. Much like an ion engine but this time, the fuel source is air making it ideal for low Earth orbits.  Tracing back the invention ofRead More →

The Nearby Star Clusters Come from Only Three Places Many astronomy-interested people know of the Hyades and the Pleiades. They’re star clusters in the Taurus constellation. They’re two out of a handful of star clusters that are visible to the unaided eye under dark sky conditions. It turns out that these clusters, along with more than 150 other nearby clusters, all originated in only three massive star-forming regions. Open star clusters like Hyades and Pleiades contain hundreds of stars that are loosely bound together by mutual gravitation. They have fewer stars than globular clusters and aren’t as tightly packed. They also aren’t spherical like globulars;Read More →

Frost Seen on Olympus Mons for the First Time It’s been known for years that there are large quantities of water ice locked up in the Martian poles. Around the equator however it is a barren dry wasteland devoid of any surface ice. Recent observations of Mars have discovered frost on the giant shield volcanoes but it only appears briefly after sunrise and soon evaporates. Estimates suggest that 150,000 tons of water cycle between the surface and atmosphere on a daily basis.  The polar caps of Mars have been the subject of many studies in particular, since the discovery of water ice in 2008. TheyRead More →

Remembering Apollo 8 Astronaut Bill Anders Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, who took the iconic “Earthrise” photo of our home planet from the Moon in 1968, was killed on June 7, 2024. Anders was flying alone in his Beechcraft T-34 Mentor aircraft  when the plane plunged into the waters off the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Anders was 90. “At every step of Bill’s life was the iron will of a pioneer, the grand passion of a visionary, the cool skill of a pilot, and the heart of an adventurer who explored on behalf of all of us,” said NASA Administrator Bill in NelsonRead More →

A Mission To Find 10 Million Near Earth Asteroids Every Year So far, scientists have found around 34,000 near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) that could serve as humanity’s stepping stone to the stars. These balls of rock and ice hold valuable resources as we expand throughout the solar system, making them valuable real estate in any future space economy. But the 34,000 we know of only make up a small percentage of the total number of asteroids in our vicinity – some estimates theorize that up to 1 billion asteroids larger than a modern car exist near Earth. A project from the Trans Astronautics Corp (TransAstra), anRead More →

A Recent Solar Storm Even Had an Impact on Mars Planet Earth is in for some amazing geomagnetic storms in the next year or so. That’s because it’s in a period of peak activity called “solar maximum” (solar max, for short). But, what happens at other planets, especially Mars, during this time? Mars mission scientists got a sneak peek at the effect of a major solar storm thanks to one hitting the Red Planet on May 20th, 2024. During that event, the Curiosity Mars rover’s Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) measured a very sharp increase in radiation during the solar storm. At the same time, theRead More →

Was Earth’s Climate Affected by Interstellar Clouds? Scientists scour the Earth and the sky for clues to our planet’s climate history. Powerful and sustained volcanic eruptions can alter the climate for long periods of time, and the Sun’s output can shift Earth’s climate over millions of years. But what about interstellar hydrogen clouds? Can these regions of gas and dust change Earth’s climate when the planet encounters them? Interstellar clouds aren’t all the same. Some are diffuse, while some are much denser. New research in Nature Astronomy says that our Solar System may have passed through one of the dense clouds two or three millionRead More →

Webb Sees Asteroids Collide in Another Star System The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) continues to make amazing discoveries. This time in the constellation of Pictor where, in the Beta Pictoris system a massive collision of asteroids. The system is young and only just beginning its evolutionary journey with planets only now starting to form. Just recently, observations from JWST have shown significant energy changes emitted by dust grains in the system compared to observations made 20 years ago. Dust production was thought to be ongoing but the results showed the data captured 20 years ago may have been a one-off event that has sinceRead More →

If Gravity Can Exist Without Mass, That Could Explain Dark Matter Dark Matter is Nature’s poltergeist. We can see its effects, but we can’t see it, and we don’t know what it is. It’s as if Nature is playing tricks on us, hiding most of its mass and confounding our efforts to determine what it is. It’s all part of the Universe’s “missing mass” problem. Actually, it’s our problem. The Universe is what it is. It’s our understanding of the Universe, mass, and gravity that’s the problem. And a solution is proving to be elusive. Whatever the missing mass is or whatever causes the effectsRead More →