New Hubble Image Shows Dark Cocoons Where New Stars are Forming Star formation is a complex process. But in simple terms, a star forms due to clumps and instabilities in a cloud of molecular hydrogen called a Giant Molecular Cloud (GMC). As more and more gas accumulates and collapses inward, the pressure becomes immense, the gas eventually heats up to millions of degrees, and fusion begins. But what happens to the gas that remains as the young star forms? Some of it can form a type of dark halo called a frEGG—a free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globule. And, proving that the Universe is indeed strange, theRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Wolf-Rayet Stars In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! You should be wary of today’s topic: Wolf-Rayet stars! When giant stars die, they blow up in tremendous supernova explosions. But before doing so, they go through a very strange, but brief, cycle in their lives. Wolf-Rayet stars were discovered by the French astronomers Charles Wolf and Georges Rayet at the Paris Observatory in 1867. They found three stars that had unusually strong emission lines in the spectra, meaning elements in those stars were getting heated to extremely high temperatures. The mystery of what Wolf-Rayet stars actuallyRead More →

This was Juno’s View on its 37th Flight Past Jupiter As originally planned, Juno’s 37th close pass by Jupiter – called Perijove 37 – would have been its last. Per the original mission outline, the Juno spacecraft would have been programed to plunge into Jupiter on Perijove 37 as a mission-ending self-sacrifice. Destroying Juno would protect the Jovian moons from potential contamination from any microbes from Earth that may have attached itself to spacecraft. But, as it stands now, Juno is just getting started. With a mission extension granted earlier this year, Juno will continue to operate until at least 2025, with 42 extra orbitsRead More →

“Irresponsible” Russian Anti-Satellite Test Creates Orbital Debris Field, Endangering the Space Station and Crew Early Monday, November 15, 2021, the International Space Station Flight Control team in Houston told the crew that due to a to satellite breakup, a debris field was created near the station’s orbital path. The astronauts and cosmonauts were told to “shelter in place” on board the Soyuz and SpaceX capsules attached to the ISS. What became apparent as the day wore on is that the debris field was the result of a “destructive” test by Russia of an anti-satellite missile system against one of their own satellites. Experts from theRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Electromagnetism In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! There’s a lot to see with today’s topic: electromagnetism! We’ve known about features of the electromagnetic force for a long time. We knew that the Sun generated light (and we debated if the Moon did too). We knew that we felt warm by the fire. We had discovered “lodestones”, which were seemingly magical rocks that would always point North. We witnessed lightning and were wary of electric eels. Over time, we came to understand even more, especially through scientific investigation. We found that light could be described asRead More →

Our Complete Guide to November’s ‘Almost Total’ Lunar Eclipse Friday morning’s partial lunar eclipse will flirt with with totality, as the longest for more than a century. If you’re like us, we never miss a chance to catch a lunar eclipse, be it penumbral, partial or total. Lunar eclipses are a great time to catch the surety of the clockwork Universe at its best, as the Moon slides into and then exits the Earth’s shadow. First the bad news: Friday morning’s eclipse in the early hours of November 19th isn’t completely total. However, the good news is that at its maximum around 9:04 Universal TimeRead More →

A Black Hole has been Found Lurking Just Outside the Milky Way Astronomers have found a smaller, stellar-mass black hole lurking in a nearby satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way.  The black hole has been hiding in a star cluster named NGC 1850, which is one of the brightest star clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The black hole is 160,000 light-years away from Earth, and is estimated to be about 11 times the mass of our Sun. Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, astronomers found the black hole when they noticed a star with a peculiar motion among theRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Weak Force In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! You’ll be surprised by the power of today’s topic: the weak force! The weak nuclear force doesn’t get a lot of love. Even though it was discovered before its sibling, the strong force, it got stuck with a much less impressive name. Physicists in the 1930’s realized that the force must exist when they were trying to understand a process called beta decay, where a neutron inside an atomic nucleus will spontaneously decide to become a proton, and in the process an electron shoots out of theRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Strong Nuclear Force In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! Feel the power of today’s topic: the strong force! The strong force was named before we understood it. By the mid-twentieth century, he had realized that atomic nuclei were made of bundles of protons and neutrons. The protons have positive electric charge, and the neutrons are neutral (as their name suggests). The positive charges of the protons should make them repel each other, so there had to be something else, some new force, to hold them together inside the nuclei. In the 1970’s physicists realized thatRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Baryon Acoustic Oscillations In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! Listen carefully for today’s topic: baryon acoustic oscillations! The early universe was a pretty intense place. So intense that it was a plasma, which is a fancy physics word for a high-energy soup of particles and radiation. And like any other soup, high-energy or otherwise, there can be sound waves. Sound waves are just waves of pressure traveling from one place to another, and the early universe was a thunderous cacophony. Sound waves of all sorts of different strengths and intensities crashed everywhere. And then oneRead More →

Not Saying it was Aliens, but ‘Oumuamua Probably Wasn’t a Nitrogen Iceberg… On October 19th, 2017, astronomers made the first-ever detection of an interstellar object (ISO) passing through our Solar System. Designated 1I/2017 U1′ Oumuamua, this object confounded astronomers who could not determine if it was an interstellar comet or an asteroid. After four years and many theories (including the controversial “ET solar sail” hypothesis), the astronomical community appeared to land on an explanation that satisfied all the observations. The “nitrogen iceberg” theory stated that ‘Oumuamua was likely debris from a Pluto-like planet in another solar system. In their latest study, titled “The Mass BudgetRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Cosmic Microwave Background In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! Get a good look at today’s topic: the cosmic microwave background! The cosmic microwave background, or CMB, is all around you. Indeed, it’s by far the brightest object in the entire universe, responsible for over 99% of all photons. And it’s a baby picture of the universe. When our cosmos was very young, it was much smaller, hotter, and denser than it is today. Indeed it was so hot and dense that all the matter in the universe was a plasma, with the electrons ripped outRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Wormholes In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! Take a strange trip through today’s topic: wormholes! Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen were the first to realize that wormholes might exist. First you take a normal black hole – you know, a singularity surrounded by an event horizon where nothing can escape. Then you take its mirror image, a white hole, which is a singularity surrounded by an event horizon where nothing can ever enter. When you combine the two together, you get a wormhole, a connected tunnel between two points in space. Ah, there is oneRead More →

Understanding the Early Universe Depends on Estimating the Lifespan of Neutrons When we look into the night sky, we see the universe as it once was. We know that in the past the universe was once warmer and denser than it is now. When we look deep enough into the sky, we see the microwave remnant of the big bang known as the cosmic microwave background. That marks the limit of what we can see. It marks the extent of the observable universe from our vantage point. The cosmic background we observe comes from a time when the universe was already about 380,000 years old.Read More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Gravity In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! I hope you’re sitting down for today’s topic: gravity! Gravity is by far the oldest force. And I mean that in two really wild ways. First off, in our theories of how the four forces of nature work, in the earliest moments of the universe there was only one, single, unified force. As the cosmos expanded and cooled, however, the forces began to break away from each other. The first to do so: gravity. And since then it hasn’t even called. Gravity is also the first force toRead More →

Fungi Were Able to Absorb Radiation on the ISS. Could Astronauts Grow Their own Radiation Shields in Space? A lack of effective radiation shielding is one of the biggest challenges still to be overcome if humans are to embark on long-term voyages into deep space. On Earth, the planet’s powerful magnetosphere protects us from the deadliest forms of radiation – those produced by solar flares, and galactic cosmic rays arriving from afar – that stream through the Solar System. Astronauts on the International Space Station, some 408km above the Earth, receive elevated levels of radiation, but are close enough to Earth that they still receiveRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Type-1a Supernovae In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! Today’s topic is almost too hot to handle: Type-1a Supernovae! Let’s say you have a binary star system, which is common enough. Let’s say that one of the stars is bigger than the other (happens all the time), and goes through its usual stellar life cycle faster. Eventually it dies, shedding its outer layers and leaving behind a white dwarf star. After a considerable amount of time, eventually the companion star catches up in its own life cycle, swelling and becoming a red giant. Sometimes, that redRead More →

Landsat 9’s First Images are Here The latest satellite in the Landsat family of Earth observation spacecraft has collected its “first light” images of our planet. Landsat 9 launched on September 27, 2021 and it continues the nearly 50-year tradition of making critical observations to help with energy and water management, forest monitoring, human and environmental health, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture. The first images were taken on October 31, and have now been posted online. Our lead image shows (left) rectangles of farm fields in southern Ontario, sandwiched between Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, and (right) snow and glaciers in the HimalayanRead More →

Hubble is Back Online — Partially The Hubble Space Telescope has been in ‘safe mode’ since October 23, with all of the science instruments offline and unavailable for observations. However, engineers have now been able to bring one instrument, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), back online, and have restarted its science observations. NASA said engineers are still investigating the issue as the other four instruments remain offline. The underlying cause appears to be a “synchronization error” which means the instruments could not sync up to collect data properly. An earlier update from NASA said the root cause appeared to be a timing problem inRead More →

Astronomy Jargon 101: Type-II Supernovae In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! You’ll have a blast learning about today’s topic: Type-II Supernovae! When stars like our sun die, they turn themselves inside out in a gory, grisly display of fundamental elements. Despite the carnage it winds up being a pretty sight, creating the beautiful planetary nebulae. But for stars bigger than the sun, they go out with a bang. The problem is fusion. That’s how stars get their energy. Right now our sun is burning through several mountains’ worth of hydrogen every single second, leaving behind helium. As itRead More →