Friday, April 12, 2019

🚀 Finally! A Photo of a Black Hole's Event Horizon, Beresheet Crashes into the Moon, Falcon Heavy's Perfect Launch (and Landings), and More...


What A Week...

Normally I pick one story from the week and highlight it up here so you stay informed. This week was one of the craziest I've ever seen in all my time in space journalism.

This week, we had the release of the first picture of a black hole taken by the Event Horizon Telescope, the first commercial launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket (the successful landing of all three boosters), and the loss of Israel's Beresheet lander which crashed into the Moon. And there's more! 

So let's get into it. And then, a nap.

Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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Earth 2.0

The New Planet Hunters. Who Will Find Earth 2.0?

We now know of thousands of confirmed exoplanets, with many more candidates. And there are now dozens of planet hunting telescopes on Earth and in space, using a range of techniques to find tens of thousands more.

There's a new class of instruments and missions in the works that'll give us an incredible understanding about the planets orbiting other stars. One of these will be the one to find Earth 2.0.

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Black hole

It's Finally here. The First Ever Image of a Black Hole

We've been waiting for two years since the Event Horizon Telescope gathered the data from the supermassive black holes at the heart of the Milky Way and galaxy M87. And this week they finally announced the results, revealing, the black hole from M87. You can see the black hole's event horizon at the heart of the fiery accretion disk, where matter is whirling around at close to the speed of light before plunging into the 6 billion solar mass black hole. What a stunning accomplishment. 

And if you're interested, I also made a video about it.


Beresheet Crashed

Sad news from the SpaceIL team on Thursday when their Beresheet lunar lander crashed onto the surface of the Moon. We're still waiting to hear all the details, but in the final moments, the spacecraft was going way too fast for a soft landing, and then the signal cut out. We can only assume the worst. This is another reminder that space is hard, and reaching out to another world and landing on it is one of the most complex things humanity can attempt. I'm hoping they'll try again.

Falcon Heavy

Falcon Heavy Success! All Three Boosters Land Safely

Like I said, crazy week. On Thursday we also saw the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying the Arabsat-6A telecommunications satellite. The launch had originally been scheduled for Wednesday, but high winds caused it to be scrubbed until Thursday. At the right time, it leaped off the launch pad, delivered the payload to geosynchronous transfer orbit, with the side boosters and central core all landing safely back on Earth. Perfect!


Starman Will Return to us in 2047 to Share his Wisdom

The last time a Falcon Heavy launched, it was carrying Elon Musk's red Tesla into an orbit out beyond the orbit of Mars. On board was the test dummy Starman. It now looks like our next close encounter with the car and dummy will be in 2047, when our orbits align and it returns to the vicinity of Earth. What secrets will he have learned in deep space? Will we have to call him V'Ger? Only time will tell.


Voyager and Pioneer's Grand Tour of the Milky Way

Speaking of spacecraft sent out into deep space, it's been decades since the launch of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft on an escape trajectory from the Solar System. Where will the go? What will they see? Astronomers have calculated which stars in the Milky Way they'll get relatively close to in the coming eons. 

Dr. Katie Bouman

Dr. Katie Bouman's Older TED Talk is one of the Best Ways to Understand the Black Hole Photograph

When Dr. Katie Bouman recorded this TED talk several years ago, she was a grad student tasked with creating the algorithm that would pull together the data from the Event Horizon Telescope. She gave this long before she knew what the final result would actually look like, but it shows you a real insight into why this week's announcement is so exciting, and how well it matched to the expectations of the researchers.

Dark matter

Now We Know That Dark Matter Isn't Primordial Black Holes

One theory to explain the mysterious dark matter that surrounds galaxies is primordial black holes, left over from the formation of the Universe. But new observations from an international team of astronomers have discounted this theory with one of the most rigorous tests to date. They gazed at the Andromeda galaxy, and if the intervening space is filled with black holes, we should see momentary lensing events as the black holes pass in front of various stars. The team didn't see them, narrowing down the possibility that dark matter is black holes.

Space Station

NASA Creates a Comprehensive Catalog of all the Microbes and Fungi Living on the International Space Station

Despite what you've heard, the International Space Station isn't like a gym locker room, crawling with deadly microbes. But it does have its own ecosystem of bacteria and fungi. Astronauts have taken samples of the various surfaces on the station, and researchers on Earth have studied the lifeforms, producing a detailed catalog of everything non-astronaut that's alive on the space station.


Metal Asteroid Psyche Might Have Had Volcanoes of Molten Iron

Asteroid Psyche is pretty much made of solid metal, thought to be the core of a planetoid that was destroyed in a collision. One feature that NASA's upcoming mission to the asteroid might see are the remnants of ancient metal volcanoes. A time when the object was still molten inside and cooling, and liquid iron was erupting in volcanoes across its surface. It would have been a bizarre sight.


NASA Sounding Rockets Created the Most Bizarre Artificial Auroras Above the Skies of Norway

In order to test their theories about the upper atmosphere, NASA launched two rockets into the skies above Norway. On their way up, the rockets released various particles into the atmosphere that reacted with auroras in the sky, producing the most bizarre light show. The effect was beautiful, like fireworks, but also scientifically fascinating, as astronomers could watch the flow of charged particles interacting with the auroral wind.


The World's Glaciers are Down by 9 Trillion Tonnes of Ice in the Last Half Century

Thanks to climate change, temperatures have been on the rise for the last half century, and because of this, the world's glaciers are melting. Researchers have calculated that the loss so far is 9,000 gigatons - 9 trillion tonnes. Right now we're losing 335 billion tonnes of ice a year from glaciers, which is corresponding to a 1 mm rise in sea levels every year. One of those glaciers, sadly, is the one above my own city in Courtenay, British Columbia. Every year it shrinks, and it's expected to disappear forever very soon.

Solar Storm

Space Weather Forecasts can now give Satellites One Whole Day of Warning when a Killer Solar Storm is Inbound

When that next killer solar storm hits the Earth, it could disrupt our energy grid and disable satellites. Fortunately, scientists have figured out a warning system that should give satellite operators one whole day to prepare for the impact of a solar storm. This would give them time to safely shut down their satellites, and hopefully minimize the impact as the storm of energetic particles washes over the Earth. Perhaps we could take similar precautions down here on Earth too.

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday

Horsehead Nebula

This is a photograph of the iconic Horsehead Nebula, captured by @daveschlaudt. It's a region of dark gas and dust located about 1,500 light-years from Earth. The actual horsehead part is only 3-4 light-years tall.

We have featured nearly 1,000 astrophotographers on our Instagram page, which has more than 166,000 followers. Want to do a takeover? Use the hashtag #universetoday and I'll check out your photos.


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