On the 12th of April 2017, the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn took a minute to look back towards its home planet and snap a picture. At the time, the Earth, Moon, and all 7.125 billion humans were about 1.8 billion kilometers away. The fortuitous image catches Earth sitting between the A and F rings of Saturn, with the Keeler and Encke gaps visible as well. Cassini hasn't taken many pics of home, but this is probably my favourite so far.
On 22 April 2017, Cassini will take a gravity assist from Saturn's largest moon Titan and start the first of 22 orbits that slowly bring it closer to the cloud-tops of the gas giant. In September, this intrepid spacecraft will burn up in its atmosphere, but it's legacy will live on.
A super massive black hole lurks at the centre of most galaxies. This fact alone indicates that black holes and galaxies must somehow co-evolve, each shepherding the others growth and function. But how do black holes and their host galaxies physically act on each other?
In some recent work done using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, astrophysicists have found evidence of massive periodic jets shooting out from the centre of galaxy NGC 4696 (the 4696th galaxy in the New General Catalogue). Every 5 to 10 million years, the jets turn on, dumping a massive amount of mass and energy out into the galaxy and its surrounding environment. This black hole 'heart beat' may help answer the question: how do black holes shape their galactic environment?
On the 24th of April, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched into Earth orbit. After a bit of a rocky start, HST soon became one of the most important telescopes humans have ever built. Over its 27 years in orbit it has helped shape and guide our understanding of the Universe; from measuring the furthest galaxies to imaging smashed asteroids in the belt between Jupiter and Mars, it has contributed to many of the current astronomical fields.
For its birthday each year, HST releases a new 'spectacular image' to celebrate. This year, the image is of the two spiral galaxies NGC 4302 and 4298 (the 4302nd and 4298th galaxies in the New General Catalogue). Looking forward to many more insights from HST!
Two NASA Satellites were used to create this image of the straight of Gibraltar: Suomi NPP, and Aqua. The images were processed and combined to highlight the blooms of phytoplankton in the area, which has been caught up in the turbulent ocean currents moving through the strait.
A newly discovered exoplanet, LHS 1140b, is being called the "best place to look for signs of life beyond the Solar System." The reason is because of a confluence of factors: the planet is likely rocky, orbits a relatively quiet star, passes in-front of its star from Earth's point-of-view every 25 days, and likely has an atmosphere. At the moment, studying that atmosphere in detail is not possible; however, with the next generation of telescopes coming online in the coming years (TMT, ELT, JWST), exoplanet atmospheres will become the new science.
At the moment, we know of over 3500 planets orbiting stars other than the Sun; check out exoplanet.eu for up-to-date information.
A short description of the upcoming Grand Finale of the Cassini Spacecraft. Over the next 5 months, Cassini will make 22 plunges between Saturn's rings and the planet itself. No craft has ever been that close. During this final phase, Cassini will make close up measurements of the rings for the first time, image the planet's cloud-tops in unprecedented detail, and even answer long-standing questions like: how fast does Saturn actually rotate?
It's going to be a very interesting 5 months.
This composite image of Earth and its moon, as seen from Mars, combines the best Earth image with the best moon image from four sets of images acquired on Nov. 20, 2016, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (@HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to venture into space. At just after 9 am local time at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Gagarin launched into low earth orbit, completed a full orbit in 108 minutes, and returned safely. This achievement not only firmly set the Soviet Union has the leader in space technology at the time, but marked the beginning of the human exploration of space. Internationally, April 12 is now "Yuri's Night," an evening of celebration meant to highlight the impressive achievement of Gagarin and the Soviet Union, and to promote the further exploration of space. At a Yuri's Night event you might find dancing, space-themed drinks, artwork, and bunch of space nerds having fun!
Gagarin's flight occurred only 57 years after the Wright brothers took to the air at Kitty Hawk. The following decade after Gagarin's flight also saw unprecedented steps forward in aviation and space exploration, culminating with the United States landing humans on the Moon.
While our steps out into space have been impressively quick, relatively speaking, humans have only begun to explore what space has to have offer. Over the coming decades, we will undoubtedly see many more 'firsts,' but 1961 will always mark the original first step.
The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is light that has been travelling towards us for almost the entire age of the Universe. The light was set on its path at the moment atoms formed, just 400,000 years after the big bang, and about 13.8 billion years ago. As the Universe matured and expanded, galaxies and galaxy clusters formed, hot beds of star formation, gas, dust, black holes, and other matter. As the light from the big bang encountered the galaxy clusters, the hot gas would scatter the light away. Finally, 13.8 billion years later, the CMB light gets to Earth, but with voids in it coverage of the sky. There are dark holes, where no CMB light made it through. These holes, or voids, betray the galaxy clusters encountered along the way.
In this image from Astronomy Picture of the Day, two different kinds of light have been overlain on top of each other. An image from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA; sees radio light) displays the CMB in blue. The rest of the image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, which sees in optical/UV. The yellow smudges are galaxies, and the black void is where the hot gas has scattered the CMB light.
In early April 2017, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), a division of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), announced a new robotic explorer to be launched towards Mars in 2024: the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX). The goal is not to observe the red planet, but its two moons: Phobos and Deimos. These two moons (about 25 km wide) are just a fraction the size of Earth's Moon (about 3400 km wide), and their origins are still disputed. Maybe Phobos and Deimos were once asteroids, freely roaming the solar system, but which were captured into the gravitational well of Mars. An alternate hypothesis is they are ejecta: launched into space by a large impactor striking Mars billions of years ago.
In order to answer this question, ISAS/JAXA will attempt something very difficult: a sample return mission. MMX will launch towards Mars in 2024, arriving in 2025. Over three years MMX will study the moons up close, after which it will take samples and transport them back to Earth for 2029. Sample return is difficult to do; humans have had only partial success with robotic sample return missions in the past.