Radio telescopes are facing a problem. All satellites -- whatever their function -- use radio waves to transmit information to the surface of the Earth. Just as light pollution can hide a starry night sky, radio transmissions can swamp out the radio waves astronomers use to learn about black holes, newly forming stars, and the evolution of galaxies. With tens of thousands of satellites expected to go into orbit in the coming years and increasing use on the ground, the radio spectrum is getting crowded. Radio quiet zones – regions, usually located in remote areas, where ground-based radio transmissions are limited or prohibited – have protected radio astronomy in the past. As the problem of radio pollution continues to grow, scientists, engineers and policymakers will need to figure out how everyone can effectively share the limited range of radio frequencies.
The rare sight of a Wolf-Rayet star – among the most luminous, most massive, and most briefly detectable stars known – was one of the first observations made by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in June 2022. Webb showed the star, WR 124, in unprecedented detail with its powerful infrared instruments. The star is 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagitta. As massive stars progress through their lifecycles, only some of them pass through a brief Wolf-Rayet phase before going supernova. This makes Webb’s detailed observations of this rare phase valuable to astronomers. Stars like WR 124 help astronomers understand a crucial period in the early history of the Universe because similar dying stars first seeded the young Universe with heavy elements forged in their cores – elements that are now common in the current era, including on Earth.
First discovered in 1911, superconductivity gives materials two key properties -- Electrical resistance vanishes and any semblance of a magnetic field is expelled, due to a phenomenon called the Meissner effect. The magnetic field lines have to pass around the superconducting material, making it possible to levitate such materials, something that could be used for frictionless high-speed trains, for example. Powerful superconducting electromagnets are already critical components of maglev trains, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) machines, particle accelerators, and quantum supercomputers. But the superconducting materials used in the devices work only at extremely low temperatures. This restriction makes them costly to maintain and too costly to extend to other potential applications. In an historic achievement, University of Rochester researchers have announced the creation of a superconducting material at a temperature and pressure low enough for practical applications. If these results can be replicated, it will be a game changer.
Welcome to the night sky report for March 2023 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In March, the stars of spring lie eastward. Look for the constellations Gemini and Cancer to spot interesting celestial features like star clusters M35, the Beehive Cluster (M44), and NGC 3923, an oblong elliptical galaxy with an interesting ripple pattern. Find the Y-shaped constellation Taurus the bull, high in the southwest. The Hyades star cluster forms the bull's face. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
The merger of two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole produce gigantic explosions of mostly heavy elements, emitting gamma-ray bursts and ejecting bright electromagnetic radiation in all directions. When two neutron stars collide, the phenomenon is referred to as a kilonova. What is special about these explosions is that when neutron stars collide, they produce an explosion that, contrary to what was believed until recently, is shaped like a perfect sphere. This discovery was made by astrophysicists from the University of Copenhagen. How this is possible is still a mystery, but the discovery may provide some new key insights into fundamental physics.
Powered by supermassive black holes swallowing matter in the centers of galaxies, Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) are the most powerful compact steady sources of energy in the Universe. The brightest Active Galactic Nuclei have long been known to far outshine the combined light of the billions of stars in their host galaxies. Although the possibility of dust dimming the light from Active Galactic Nuclei has been recognized for a long time, the amount has been considered controversial and was widely believed to be negligible. Now, new research reveals that the energy output of Active Galactic Nuclei has been underestimated by not recognizing the extent to which their light is dimmed by dust and Active Galactic Nuclei (like Quasars and Blazars) are much more powerful than previously thought.
During 1957, the US and the Soviet Union worked diligently on plans to orbit satellites as part of the 1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY). Given the Cold War competition between the two superpowers, the first to launch a satellite could claim technological preeminence. The Soviet Union leaped ahead of the US and stunned the world when they orbited Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957. Through the combined efforts of JPL and the Army Ballistic Missile Ballistic Agency, Explorer 1 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 31, 1958 -- 65 years ago today. There was a nail-biting wait before tracking stations confirmed that Explorer 1 had gone successfully into orbit around Earth. With the launch of Explorer 1, the United States officially entered the space age. Explorer 1 followed a looping flight path that orbited Earth once every 114 minutes. The satellite went as high as 2565 kilometers (1594 miles) and as low as 362 kilometers (225 miles) above Earth. Explorer 1 stopped transmitting when its batteries ran out on May 23, 1958. It stayed in orbit for a dozen years, making a fiery reentry over the Pacific Ocean on March 31, 1970.
The year 2003 was shaping up to be an ambitious one for NASA, with six space shuttle missions planned, five to continue construction of the ever-growing and permanently occupied International Space Station. The first flight of the year, STS-107 aboard NASA’s oldest orbiter Columbia, the first shuttle mission dedicated to microgravity research in nearly five years, would not travel to the space station but fly a 16-day solo mission. The seven-member crew would conduct many of the 80 planned U.S. and international experiments aboard a Spacehab Double Research Module in Columbia’s payload bay. The astronauts’ exceeded scientists’ expectations in terms of the science obtained during their 16 days in space. Tragically, the astronauts perished when Columbia broke apart during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003.
Welcome to the night sky report for February 2023 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In February, the Winter Triangle is your guide to the night sky. The northern hemisphere is treated to views of the stars Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse, as well as awe-inspiring views of the Orion Nebula, sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Proposing an alternative model for how the universe came to be, a team of astrophysicists suggests that all black holes—from those as tiny as a pin head to those covering billions of miles—were created instantly after the Big Bang and account for all dark matter. That’s the implication of a study by astrophysicists at the University of Miami, Yale University, and the European Space Agency that suggests that black holes have existed since the beginning of the universe ¬¬and that these primordial black holes could be as-of-yet unexplained dark matter. Dark matter — which has never been directly observed — is thought to constitute the majority of matter in the universe and act as the unseen scaffolding upon which galaxies form and develop. Physicists have spent years looking at a variety of dark matter candidates, including hypothetical particles such as sterile neutrinos, Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPS), and axions. If this new black hole hypothesis is proven true with data collected from the James Webb Space Telescope, the discovery may transform scientific understanding of the origins and nature of two cosmic mysteries: dark matter and black holes.
In December 2022, a chatbot called ChatGPT stunned the world with its impressive writing abilities. Developed by OpenAI, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and deployment company based in San Francisco, ChatGPT interacts with users in a simple conversational way. The quality results produced by the program have been so good that some secondary schools and colleges have already banned it for fear that students might use it to write essays. Microsoft Corporation is reportedly planning to incorporate ChatGPT into its Bing web search engine and Office products later this year. What does the unrelenting progress in AI mean for the future? Is AI likely to threaten certain jobs in the years to come? I put ChatGPT to the test and asked it to write an Astromart article. Here are the results.
Happy New Year and welcome to the night sky report for January 2023 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The January sky is filled with bright stars in the constellations Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Canis Major, and Canis Minor. Find these cosmic gems by looking toward the southeast in the first few hours after it gets dark. The northern hemisphere also features beautiful views of Capella - a pair of giant yellow stars, Aldebaran - a red giant star, two star clusters - the Hyades (Caldwell 41) and the Pleiades (M45), and the Crab Nebula (M1, NGC 1952). As a special treat during the month, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is observable with binoculars or a small telescope in the predawn sky for Northern Hemisphere observers as it works its way swiftly across the northern sky. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Seventy Five years ago, December 23, 1947, three scientists at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, demonstrated a small semiconductor device, the transistor, which had remarkable electronic amplification and switching properties. John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley, the three Bell Labs inventors of the transistor, had been investigating the properties of semiconductors to see if they could come up with an acceptable substitute for the vacuum tubes and electro-mechanical relays used in telephone networks of the day. Little did they know that their invention would change the world. Today, there are transistors in every place where an electronic device can be found, including satellites and spacecraft. The transistor is the workhorse of electronic technology -- the device that heralded the start of the digital age. Transistors are the basic building block of all integrated circuits. Entire industries based on semiconductors were created in its wake. Indeed, technology as we know it today would not be possible without the transistor.
Fifty years ago today, the crew of Apollo 17 completed humanity’s last voyage to the Moon, leaving the lunar surface for the final time. On December 14, 1972, Commander Gene Cernan spoke the now famous quote, “We leave as we came and God willing, we shall return -- with peace and hope for all mankind.” On November 16 of this year, NASA took the next major step in returning to the Moon with the launch of Artemis I. Millions around the world watched live as the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launched the Orion spacecraft on its 25 day mission that saw the un-crewed vehicle log over 1.4 million miles and travel farther (40,000 miles beyond the far side of the Moon) than any human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled. Orion made its initial flight around the Moon and has returned stunning images rivaling the Apollo 8 “Earthrise.” This historic milestone represents a truly monumental achievement. But this is only the first step.
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