by Ryan Whitwam

In the hunt for exoplanets, astronomers are only rarely able to look upon a world directly with even the most powerful telescopes. So, it’s always notable when we can actually see a new exoplanet. Scientists from the University of Hawaii report they have spotted a new exoplanet only 35 light-years away, and we can see this one because it’s enormous and very far from its host star. In fact, it might set the record for most distant.

The exoplanet was discovered as part of the COol Companions ON Ultrawide orbiTS (COCONUTS) program. As the name implies, this…


by Ryan Whitwam

The age of the dinosaurs lasted more than a hundred million years, which is an unfathomable long time compared with humanity’s mere 300,000 years on this planet. Most species of dinosaurs met their end about 65 million years ago when a large object smacked into the Yucatan peninsula. A team of scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is trying to identify the source of this impact, and the data currently indicates similar asteroids could be more common than we thought.

Even with millions of years of weathering and tectonic drift, the signs of that fateful impact…


by Ryan Whitwam

Astronomers around the world were universally fascinated in 2017 when 1I/2017 U1 came cruising through the solar system. This object, known more commonly as ʻOumuamua, was the very first interstellar visitor to be detected in our solar system. Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb has gained a measure of notoriety for his claim that ʻOumuamua could be a piece of alien technology. Now, a group has backed an initiative called The Galileo Project, which will allow Loeb and others to search for more interstellar objects with the hope that one of them will be indisputably alien in origin.

ʻOumuamua…


by Ryan Whitwam

NASA’s Europa Clipper is one of the agency’s most ambitious and important missions of the coming decade. This spacecraft will conduct multiple close passes over the streaked surface of Europa, looking for hints of the moon’s vast underground oceans. However, NASA’s plan to launch on the Space Launch System (SLS) has been scrapped. Now, NASA will go with the SpaceX Falcon Heavy instead, following through on a proposal made early this year.

The launch is currently on the books for October 2024, but the spacecraft won’t arrive at the Jovian moon until late in the decade. At…


by Ryan Whitwam

Hubble has been orbiting Earth for decades, capturing incredible images of the cosmos that aren’t possible with other instruments. That’s not because Hubble is the biggest, and it’s certainly lacking in modern technology. Hubble is unmatched because of where it is, far above Earth’s murky atmosphere. A new project from Durham University, Princeton University, NASA, and others envisions a cheaper way to get telescopes into a similarly unobscured position. It’s called SuperBIT, and instead of rockets, it relies on balloons.

As we watch NASA put the finishing touches on the long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope, it’s apparent…


by Ryan Whitwam

The sky is full of stars, and for the first time in human history, we know what’s orbiting some of them. There are more than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets, but just a few have been directly imaged. A young gas giant called PDS 70c is one of them, and now astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have spotted something new: a moon-forming disc around the exoplanet.

Most of the known exoplanets were discovered via the transit method, which is the basis for NASA’s (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) TESS instrument and the dearly departed Kepler Space Telescope…


by Ryan Whitwam

Astronomers announced earlier this year that an enormous 62-mile (100-kilometer) object was creeping inward from the fringes of the solar system. We didn’t know what this mysterious visitor was at the time, but a recent development has shed light on the subject. The object, now officially designated C/2014 UN271, began forming a coma or tail in recent weeks. That confirms it’s a comet, and it may be the largest one ever discovered.

UN271 first appeared in astronomical observations in 2014, but it wasn’t until June of this year that scientists were able to identify it in the…


by Ryan Whitwam

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope had a rough start to the summer. After more than 30 years of observing the cosmos, the telescope suffered a major computer failure in June. NASA worked on the issue over the next few weeks, arriving at a solution last week. Now, the fully restored Hubble has started doing science again. NASA has now released the first new images since the failure.

The issues began on June 13th when the iconic spacecraft dropped into safe mode after the payload computer stopped communicating with the main computer. This system is supposed to manage all…


by Ryan Whitwam

Two years ago, scientists working with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) made history by releasing the first-ever photo of a black hole. The image confirmed many of our ideas about these massive collapsed stars, but the team didn’t stop there. The latest data release focuses on a different target, an active galaxy known as Centaurus A. You’ve probably seen images of Centaurus A in the past — it’s one of the brightest galaxies in the sky. You’ve never seen it like this, though.

The Event Horizon Telescope is not a single instrument. It is composed of radio…


by Ryan Whitwam

Physicists are still arguing over whether black holes have “ hair,” but we’re pretty sure neutron stars have mountains. These dead stars are extreme in every respect, from their magnetic field to gravitational influence, but the only thing extreme about the mountains is how small they are. A new analysis of neutron star physics predicts the “mountains” on the surface are less than a millimeter tall.

A neutron star is what’s left of a medium-large star (10–25 solar masses) after it exhausts its nuclear fuel and explodes in a supernova. Stars that are a bit larger can…

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