Webb telescope images show an unprecedented and ‘chaotic’ view of the center of our galaxy

The James Webb telescope is back with some more gorgeous images. This time, the telescope eyed the center of the Milky Way galaxy, shining a light on the densest part of our surrounding environs in “unprecedented detail.” Specifically, the images are sourced from a star-forming region called Sagittarius C, or Sgr C for short.

This area is about 300 light-years from the galaxy’s supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A, and over 25,000 light-years from a little blue rock called Earth. All told, the region boasts over 500,000 stars and various clusters of protostars, which are stars that are still forming and gaining mass. The end result? A stunning cloud of chaos, especially when compared to our region of space, which is decidedly sparse in comparison.

As a matter of fact, the galactic center is “the most extreme environment” in the Milky Way, as stated by University of Virginia professor Jonathan Tan, who assisted the observation team. There has never been any data on this region with this “level of resolution and sensitivity”, until now, thanks to the power of the Webb telescope.

At the center of everything is a massive protostar that weighs more than 30 times our sun. This actually makes the area seem less populated than it actually is, as this solar object blocks light from behind it, so not even Webb can see all of the stars in the region. So what you’re looking at is a conservative estimate of just how crowded the area is. It’s like the Times Square of space, only without a Guy Fieri restaurant (for now.)

James Webb telescope image.
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and S. Crowe (University of Virginia).

The data provided by these images will allow researchers to put current theories of star formation to “their most rigorous test.” To that end, Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument captured large-scale emission imagery from ionized hydrogen, the blue on the lower side of the image. This is likely the result of young and massive stars releasing energetic photons, but the vast size of the region came as a surprise to researchers, warranting further study.

The observation team’s principal investigator, Samuel Crowe, said that the research enabled by these and forthcoming images will allow scientists to understand the nature of massive stars which is akin to “learning the origin story of much of the universe.”

This is obviously not the first interesting image produced by the James Webb telescope. We’ve seen stars born in the Virgo constellation, water around a comet in the main asteroid belt and a fairly offputting view of the Pillars of Creation, among others. It’s seen things you people wouldn't believe and, luckily, it won’t all be gone like tears in the rain because of the internet and because Webb’s still out there.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/webb-telescope-images-show-an-unprecedented-and-chaotic-view-of-the-center-of-our-galaxy-185912370.html?src=rss

SpaceX loses another Starship and Super Heavy rocket in double explosion during test

SpaceX's second test flight of its Starship spacecraft — which it hopes will one day ferry humans to the moon and Mars — ended in an explosion Saturday morning minutes after taking off from the company's spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas. Starship launched just after 8AM ET atop a Super Heavy rocket, the largest rocket in the world. 

Moments after completing stage separation, when the Super Heavy booster detached itself from Starship, the rocket's first stage exploded. Starship, however, continued on for several more minutes, surpassing the flight time of its predecessor. A faint explosion could be seen in the livestream around the 8-minute mark, and hosts confirmed soon after that they'd lost contact with the craft. 

Unlike in its first test, which came to an end about 24 miles above Earth's surface, Starship was able to reach space this time around. At the time of its explosion, the livestream's tracker clocked it at an altitude of about 92 miles.

Today’s flight was also SpaceX’s first attempt at its new separation technique called “hot staging,” in which it fired up Starship’s engines before the craft detached from the still-firing first stage. It managed to complete the motions before Super Heavy exploded, with Starship already far away. SpaceX will now have to figure out tweaks to its booster to help it withstand future hot-staging attempts.

But, as with the last test that ended in an explosion, SpaceX is still billing it all as a success. Kate Tice, one of the livestream's hosts and a quality engineering manager for SpaceX, said it was “an incredibly successful day, even though we did have a RUD — or rapid unscheduled disassembly — of both the Super Heavy booster and the ship. We got so much data and that will all help to improve for our next flight.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/spacex-loses-another-starship-after-rocket-explodes-during-test-flight-143503845.html?src=rss

Watch SpaceX’s Starship lift off for its second fully integrated test flight

At 8AM ET today, SpaceX will open a 20-minute launch window for Starship's second-ever fully integrated test flight. If everything goes well during the pre-flight procedures, and if the weather cooperates, then we'll see the company's spacecraft make another attempt to reach space. SpaceX completed Starship's first fully integrated launch in April. While it was considered a success, the company wasn't able to meet all its objectives and had to intentionally blow up the spacecraft after its two stages failed to separate. 

As a result of that incident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had grounded Starship while authorities conducted an investigation. They found that the explosion scattered debris across 385 acres of land, caused pulverized concrete to rain down on areas up to 6.5 miles northwest of the pad site, and started a wildfire at Boca Chica State Park. The FAA required SpaceX to make 63 corrective actions before it could give the company clearance to fly its reusable spacecraft again. 

SpaceX said that this flight will debut several changes it implemented due to what happened during Starship's first test flight. They include a new hot-stage separation system, a new electronic Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system for Super Heavy Raptor engines, reinforcements to the pad foundation and a water-cooled steel flame deflector.

The company's live broadcast of the launch starts at 7:24AM ET on its website and on X. If the Starship's stages can successfully separate this time around, its upper stage will fly across the planet before splashing down off a Hawaiian coast.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/watch-spacexs-starship-lift-off-for-its-second-fully-integrated-test-flight-121559318.html?src=rss

SpaceX prepares for Starship’s second test flight after securing FAA clearance

SpaceX aims to send Starship to space for its second test flight on November 17, now that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given it the clearance to do so. The company completed its next-generation spacecraft's first fully integrated launch in April, but it wasn't able to meet all its objectives, including having its upper stage fly across our planet before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the ocean near Hawaii. SpaceX had to intentionally blow up the vehicle in the sky after an onboard fire had prevented its two stages from separating. 

According to federal agencies, debris from the rocket explosion was found across 385 acres of land on SpaceX's facility and at Boca Chica State Park. It caused wildfire to break out on 3.5 acres of state park land and had led to a "plume cloud of pulverized concrete that deposited material up to 6.5 miles northwest of the pad site." The FAA grounded Starship until SpaceX took dozens of corrective actions, including a vehicle redesign to prevent leaks and fires. As Space notes, the agency finished its safety review in September, but it still had to work with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to finish an updated environmental review of the spacecraft. 

For now, the FAA has given SpaceX the license to fly Starship for one flight. The company will open the spacecraft's two-hour launch window at 8AM EST on November 17, and if all goes well, Starship will fly across the planet and splash down off a Hawaiian coast as planned. Starship, of course, has to keep acing test flights before it can go into service. The fully reusable spacecraft represents SpaceX's future, since the company plans to use it for missions to geosynchronous orbit, the moon and Mars. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/spacex-prepares-for-starships-second-test-flight-after-securing-faa-clearance-035159364.html?src=rss

NASA can’t talk to its Mars robots for two weeks because the sun is in the way

NASA’s Mars exploration robots will be on their own for the next two weeks while the space agency waits out a natural phenomenon that will prevent normal communications. Mars and Earth have reached positions in their orbits that put them on opposite sides of the sun, in an alignment known as solar conjunction. During this time, NASA says it’s risky to try and send commands to its instruments on Mars because interference from the sun could have a detrimental effect.

To prevent any issues, NASA is taking a planned break from giving orders until the planets move into more suitable positions. The pause started on Saturday and will go on until November 25. A Mars solar conjunction occurs every two years, and while the rovers will be able to send basic health updates home throughout most of the period, they’ll go completely silent for the two days when the sun blocks Mars entirely. 

That means the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, the Ingenuity helicopter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Odyssey and MAVEN orbiters will be left to their own devices for a little while. Their onboard instruments will continue to gather data for their respective missions, but won’t send this information back to Earth until the blackout ends.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/nasa-cant-talk-to-its-mars-robots-for-two-weeks-because-the-sun-is-in-the-way-213022922.html?src=rss

ESA releases stunning first images from Euclid, its ‘dark universe detective’

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released the first images from its Euclid space telescope — a spacecraft peering 10 billion years into the past to create the largest 3D map of the universe yet. From the distinctive Horsehead Nebula (pictured above) to a “hidden” spiral galaxy that looks much like the Milky Way, Euclid is giving us the clearest look yet at both known and previously unseen objects speckling enormous swathes of the sky.

Euclid is investigating the “dark” universe, searching for signs of how dark energy and dark matter have influenced the evolution of the cosmos. It’ll observe one-third of the sky over the next six years, studying billions of galaxies with its 4-foot-wide telescope, visible-wavelength camera and near-infrared camera/spectrometer. Euclid launched in July 2023, and while its official science mission doesn't start until early 2024, it’s already blowing scientists away with its early observations.

Perseus cluster of galaxies as seen by the Euclid spacecraft

Euclid’s observation of the Perseus Cluster (above), which sits 240 million light-years away, is the most detailed ever, showing not just the 1,000 galaxies in the cluster itself, but roughly 100,000 others that lay farther away, according to ESA. The space telescope also caught a look at a Milky-Way-like spiral galaxy dubbed IC 342 (below), or the “Hidden Galaxy,” nicknamed as such because it lies behind our own and is normally hard to see clearly.

Euclid spacecraft's view of the spiral galaxy IC 342

Euclid is able to observe huge portions of the sky, and it's the only telescope in operation able to image certain objects like globular clusters in their entirety in just one shot, according to ESA. Globular clusters like NGC 6397, pictured below, contain hundreds of thousands of gravity-bound stars. Euclid's observation of the cluster is unmatched in its level of detail, ESA says.

The spacecraft is able to see objects that have been too faint for others to observe. Its detailed observation of the well-known Horsehead Nebula, a stellar nursery in the Orion constellation, for example, could reveal young stars and planets that have previously gone undetected.

Euclid spacecraft's view of the Globular cluster NGC 6397
Euclid spacecraft's view of the irregular galaxy NGC 6822

Euclid also observed the dwarf galaxy, NGC 6822 (pictured above), which sits just 1.6 million light years away. This small, ancient galaxy could hold clues on how galaxies like our own came to be. It's only the beginning for Euclid, but it's already helping to unlock more information on the objects in our surrounding universe, both near and far. 

“We have never seen astronomical images like this before, containing so much detail,” said René Laureijs, ESA’s Euclid Project Scientist, of the first batch of images. “They are even more beautiful and sharp than we could have hoped for, showing us many previously unseen features in well-known areas of the nearby universe.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/esa-releases-stunning-first-images-from-euclid-its-dark-universe-detective-203948971.html?src=rss

NASA discovered that an asteroid named Dinky actually has its own moon

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, first launched in 2021 to explore the Trojan asteroids trapped near Jupiter, has made an interesting discovery. The spacecraft found an asteroid, nicknamed Dinky, that actually has a smaller asteroid orbiting it, as originally reported by Scientific American. That’s right. It’s basically a moon with its own moon. It’s an ouroboros of cosmic curiosity.

The technical term here is a binary asteroid pair and Dinky, whose real name is Dinkinesh, was spotted by Lucy during a quick fly by. That’s when the spacecraft spotted the smaller “moon” orbiting it.

“A binary was certainly a possibility,” Jessica Sunshine, a planetary scientist at the University of Maryland, told Scientific American. “But it was not expected, and it’s really cool.”

As a matter of fact, the fly by itself wasn’t supposed to find anything of note. It was simply a trial run for the team to hone its skills before investigating the aforementioned Trojan asteroids orbiting the sun ahead of and behind Jupiter. The team wanted to make sure Lucy’s probe would successfully latch onto a space rock, even when both objects were moving extremely fast. Guess what? It worked. Hal Levinson, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute and principal investigator of the Lucy mission, said that the test was “amazingly successful.”

As for Dinky and its, uh, even dinkier satellite, NASA scientists still have a long way to go with its investigation, as only about one third of the relevant data has been beamed down to Earth. NASA has released a series of images showing Dinky and its pseudo-moon, but not any actual data as of yet.

Even just from these images, however, you can tell a lot about these two celestial bodies. There’s a visible equatorial ridge on the main body of Dinky aka Dinkinesh and a secondary ridge-line branching off from it. The parent asteroid is covered in craters, likely the result of numerous hits by other asteroids. Levinson says that there are more images to come of the secondary satellite and that these pictures suggest that the junior asteroid has some “interesting” stuff going on. He goes on to say that the shape is “really bizarre.”

Binary asteroid pairs are not rare, as researchers have found that around 15 percent of near-Earth asteroids boast a cute lil orbital companion. NASA and affiliated researchers are still waiting for more data on the pair, including color images and spectroscopy that should shed some more light on the two asteroids. Levinson says “there’s a lot of cool stuff to come.”

In the meantime, Lucy will continue on its original mission, to investigate those mysterious Trojan asteroids near Jupiter. It’ll make contact with one in 2025.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/nasa-discovered-that-an-asteroid-named-dinky-actually-has-its-own-moon-173028204.html?src=rss

A commercial spaceplane capable of orbital flight is ready for NASA testing

NASA will soon start testing what is dubbed as the world’s first commercial spaceplane capable of orbital flight, which will eventually be used to resupply the International Space Station. The agency is set to take delivery of Sierra Space’s first Dream Chaser, which should provide an alternative to SpaceX spacecraft for trips to the ISS.

In the coming weeks, the spaceplane (which is currently at Sierra Space’s facility in Colorado) will make its way to a NASA test site in Ohio. The agency will put the vehicle, which has been named Tenacity, through its paces for between one and three months. According to Ars Technica, NASA will conduct vibration, acoustic and temperature tests to ensure Tenacity can survive the rigors of a rocket launch. NASA engineers, along with government and contractor teams, are running tests to make sure it's safe for Tenacity to approach the ISS.

All going well, Tenacity is scheduled to make its first trip to space in April on the second flight of United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket. The rocket has yet to make its own first test flight, which is currently expected to happen in December. However, given how things tend to go with spaceflight, delays are always a possibility on both fronts.

The spaceplane has foldable wings, which allow it to fit inside the payload of the rocket. On its first mission, Tenacity is scheduled to stay at the ISS for 45 days. Afterward, it will return to Earth at the former space shuttle landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida rather than dropping into the ocean as many spacecraft tend to do. Sierra says the spacecraft is capable of landing at any compatible commercial runway.

“Plunging into the ocean is awful," Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice told Ars Technica. "Landing on a runway is really nice." The company claims Dream Chaser can bring cargo back to Earth at fewer than 1.5 Gs, which is important to help protect sensitive payloads. The spaceplane will be capable of taking up to 12,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS and bringing up to around 4,000 pounds of cargo back to terra firma. Sierra plans for its Dream Chaser fleet to eventually be capable of taking humans to low-Earth orbit too.

As things stand, SpaceX is the only company that operates fully certified spacecraft for NASA missions. Boeing also won a contract to develop a capsule for NASA back in 2014, but Starliner has yet to transport any astronauts.to the ISS. Sierra Nevada (from which Sierra Space was spun out in 2021) previously competed with those businesses for NASA commercial crew program contracts, but it lost out. However, after the company retooled Dream Chaser to focus on cargo operations for the time being, NASA chose Sierra to join its stable of cargo transportation providers in 2016.

Dream Chaser's first trip to the ISS has been a long time coming. It was originally planned for 2019 but the project was beset by delays. COVID-19 compounded those, as it constricted supply chains for key parts that Sierra Space needed before the company brought more of its construction work in house. The company is now aiming to have a second, human-rated version of Dream Chaser ready for the 2026 timeframe.

NASA has long been interested in using spaceplanes, dating back to the agency's early days, and it seems closer than ever to being able to use such vehicles. Virgin Galactic (which just carried out its fifth commercial flight on Thursday) uses spaceplanes for tourist and research flights, its vehicle is only capable of suborbital operations. With Dream Chaser, Sierra has loftier goals.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/a-commercial-spaceplane-capable-of-orbital-flight-is-ready-for-nasa-testing-185542776.html?src=rss

NASA is launching a rocket on Sunday to study a 20,000-year-old supernova

A sounding rocket toting a special imaging and spectroscopy instrument will take a brief trip to space Sunday night to try and capture as much data as it can on a long-admired supernova remnant in the Cygnus constellation. Its target, a massive cloud of dust and gas known as the Cygnus Loop or the Veil Nebula, was created after the explosive death of a star an estimated 20,000 years ago — and it’s still expanding.

NASA plans to launch the mission at 11:35 PM ET on Sunday October 29 from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Integral Field Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Experiment, or INFUSE, will observe the Cygnus Loop for only a few minutes, capturing light in the far-ultraviolet wavelengths to illuminate gasses as hot as 90,000-540,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s expected to fly to an altitude of about 150 miles before parachuting back to Earth.

The Cygnus Loop sits about 2,600 light-years away, and was formed by the collapse of a star thought to be 20 times the size of our sun. Since the aftermath of the event is still playing out, with the cloud currently expanding at a rate of 930,000 miles per hour, it’s a good candidate for studying how supernovae affect the formation of new star systems. “Supernovae like the one that created the Cygnus Loop have a huge impact on how galaxies form,” said Brian Fleming, principal investigator for the INFUSE mission.

“INFUSE will observe how the supernova dumps energy into the Milky Way by catching light given off just as the blast wave crashes into pockets of cold gas floating around the galaxy,” Fleming said. Once INFUSE is back on the ground and its data has been collected, the team plans to fix it up and eventually launch it again.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/nasa-is-launching-a-rocket-on-sunday-to-study-a-20000-year-old-supernova-193009477.html?src=rss

Lunar rock samples suggest moon is older than previously thought

The moon has been a focal point for space research and exploration for years, yet we’re still far from fully understanding its origins. Take its age, for example – researchers have just discovered that the moon is about 40 million years older than previously thought.

In a study published by the European Association of Geochemistry, scientists looked at the age of crystal formations found in rock samples from the moon’s surface to determine its age. The prevalence of crystals called zircon in the samples, collected years ago from NASA’s Apollo program, suggests that the surface of the moon was created around 110 million years after the formation of the solar system. The scientists used analytical techniques including mass spectrometry to measure the presence of particular molecules in the rock. Another method of analysis, atom-probe tomography, was used to detect the amount of radioactive decay in the samples — which in turn was used to determine the age of the crystals in the rock. 

NASA holds a theory that a Mars-sized object collided with Earth several billion years ago to form the moon. This new understanding of the age of the moon actually gives scientists a rough idea of when that collision might have occurred. This finding highlights the importance of exploratory missions like the Apollo 17 mission at the heart of this discovery. The 1972 manned mission to geologically survey the surface of the moon resulted in 243 pounds of lunar material being brought back to Earth — only for it to be examined by researchers 51 years later.

To date, NASA says that more than 105 robotic spacecraft have been launched to explore the moon, so the opportunities for more findings are boundless. Although the next NASA-led manned mission to the moon won't happen until 2025 at the earliest, we can expect more rover programs to shed more light on the makings of the surface of the moon.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/lunar-rock-samples-suggest-moon-is-older-than-previously-thought-193036846.html?src=rss