The Arecibo radio telescope, the largest instrument of its type for decades, is now damaged beyond repair and set for demolition. Here’s what made it so great.

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The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico was the largest telescope in the world for decades. Several discoveries were made using this historic eye on the sky, and now, this remarkable instrument, damaged beyond repair, has fallen silent forever. Image credit: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz

In Carl Sagan’s Contact, a dramatic scene shows Dr. Ellie Arroway, played by Jodie Foster, looking out over the magnificent Arecibo Telescope. And it was from this location that the human race sent our only significant radio message to alien astronomers on worlds orbiting distant stars.

Now, the Arecibo Observatory, wracked by a series of unfortunate events, is due to be demolished, ending its 57-year lifespan discovering the Universe.

Look Around You, All You See are… Well, Quite a Lot, Actually.


The Blue Ring Nebula holds answers to mysteries of binaries — as well as posing a few questions of its own.

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The Blue Ring Nebula seen in a NASA image. An expanding cloud of hydrogen gas is shown in blue, and shock waves from the merger event can be seen in red. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Seibert (Carnegie Institution for Science)/K. Hoadley (Caltech)/GALEX Team

In 2004, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, an orbiting space telescope scanning distant groups of galaxies, found a bizarre object. Among other oddities, this body appeared to be blue, despite giving off no visible light. Careful observations showed the presence of a pair of rings within the body, earning it the moniker of the Blue Ring Nebula.

Sixteen years of studying this rare object found it to be a ring of hydrogen gas, surrounding a what looks like an ordinary star. However, the properties of this object suggest the star at the center of this object is, itself, the product of the merger of a pair of stars. …


The Universe is getting hotter over time, and the collapse of the largest structures in the Universe is behind it.

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The Planck satellite, seen in this artist’s concept, provided data showing the mean temperature of the Universe is rising over time. Image credit: European Space Agency

The cosmic web — ribbons of gas and dust tying galaxies together — are the largest structures in the Universe, and a new study shows they are growing hotter over time.

Utilizing a phenomenon known as the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect, astronomers find these ribbons are three times hotter than they were eight billion years ago.

“Combining the latest data with a state-of-the-art theoretical model, we were able to reveal how the temperature of the Universe evolved, and how it was linked to formation of the large-scale structure of the Universe,” Ryu Makiya, a research fellow at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU), explains. …


Water on the Moon has been seen before in the shadows of craters. Now, water has been detected on the sunlit face of the Moon as well.

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This illustration highlights the Moon’s Clavius Crater with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there, along with an image of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) that found sunlit lunar water. Image credit: NASA

Water is essential to the exploration of the Solar System, and this presents one of the greatest challenges to the colonization of space. The discovery of water ice hidden in the dark recesses of deep craters opens new resources for astronauts as they reach out beyond the Earth. However, accessing that water, deep in treacherous craters, would be challenging.

Water was just found in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters in the Moon’s southern hemisphere, which is visible from Earth. This suggests water deposits may be found throughout the lunar surface. …


A strange glittering is spotted around the supermassive black hole in M 87 — We talk to Dr. Maciek Weilgus of Harvard University who made the discovery.

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Maciek Wielgus of Harvard University vistis The Cosmic Companion to talk about his work finding an unexpected glittering around the supermassive black hole in the M 87 galaxy. Video credit: The Cosmic Companion

This week, we are joined by Dr. Maciek Wielgus, astronomer at Harvard University, speaking to us from Gdansk, Poland. We will discuss his work revealing glittering around the supermassive black hole at the center of the M 87 galaxy.

But first, we look at a new study identifying 24 exoplanets that appear to be even friendlier to life than Earth. We also see how superflares — powerful eruptions from stars — behave, and learn how they might affect life on other worlds. …


There was an era when Mars was like Iceland — exploring the craters of the Red Planet

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An artist’s concept of Gale Crater filled with water in the distant past. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

More than three billion years ago, Mars was home to vast oceans, and a new study shows this world may have once looked familiar — especially to the residents of Iceland.

The Curiosity rover has been exploring Gale Crater on Mars since 2012. That region may have resembled modern Iceland, careful examination of the geology of Gale Crater reveals.

Curiosity has been examining mudstones for more than eight years. …


The super-puff planet WASP-107b has a density so low, it was thought impossible. Evidentially not.

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A look at how the cotton candy planet WASP-107b might look. Image credit: The Cosmic Companion / Created in Universe Sandbox

The exoplanet WASP-107b may be as large as Jupiter, but this super-puff planet only contains one-tenth as much mass as the king of our Solar System. The density of this world is lower than what astronomers thought possible.

The discovery of this bizarre exoplanet — sometimes called a cotton candy planet — provides astronomers with a unique target for further study.

“With a mass in the Neptune regime and a radius of Jupiter, WASP-107b presents a challenge to planet formation theories. Meanwhile, the planet’s low surface gravity and the star’s brightness also make it one of the most favorable targets for atmospheric characterization,” researchers explain in The Astronomical Journal. …


Astronomers discover the TOI-561 planetary system, including an extreme exoplanet with scorching temperatures, racing around its sun twice a day.

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An artist’s concept of what the extreme exoplanet TOI-561 b might look like. Image credit: The Cosmic Companion / Created in NASA’s Eyes.

About 280 light years from Earth, a world of molten magma orbits one of the oldest stars in the galaxy. This exoplanet, 50 percent larger than the Earth, whips around its star at a breathtaking clip.

Racing in a tight circles 100 times closer to its star than the Earth maintains from the Sun, TOI-561 b burns with scorching surface temperatures over 2,000 Celsius (3,630 F). …


Astronomers view 1E 0102.2–7219 — the remains of a supernova seen on Earth 1700 years ago — using the Hubble Space Telescope. Here’s what they found.

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The Hubble Space Telescope produced images of a supernova remnant which could teach us about an explosion in the sky seventeen centuries ago, now lost to history. Image credit: NASA (top) / ESA and HSST (bottom row) / Collage by The Cosmic Companion

The opening years of the Fourth Century saw work begin on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the astronomer Pappus of Alexandria wrote details of his observation of an eclipse of the Sun. In the southern hemisphere, a star was seen erupting within a small, fuzzy patch of the night sky.

Unfortunately, no records survived telling of this celestial event south of the equator. However, astronomers have now turned the mighty gaze of the Hubble Space Telescope to examine the remnants of this titanic explosion, called 1E 0102.2–729. By studying the cloud of gas and dust left behind, astronomers hope to piece together the story of the eruption that created this magnificent nebula. …


Astronomers find J0313–1806 — the most distant, ancient quasar ever seen. What’s strange is that it shouldn’t exist.

J0313–1806 shows a disk of gas and dust feeding a quasar, forming jets of energy.
J0313–1806 shows a disk of gas and dust feeding a quasar, forming jets of energy.
An artist’s concept of J0313–1806 — the oldest quasar ever seen by astronomers. Image credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva.

More than 13 billion light years from Earth, the quasar J0313–1806 radiates vast quantities of electromagnetic radiation. This body, formed just 670 million years after the Big Bang, is seen shining with 1000 times the total light produced by the Milky Way Galaxy. The supermassive black hole at its center is more than 1.6 billion times more massive than the Sun.

At a distance of more than 13.03 billion light years from Earth, J0313–1806 is the most distant— and thus the most ancient — quasar yet seen by astronomers. This supermassive black hole is seen radiating vast quantities of radiation when the Universe was just five percent of the current age of the Cosmos. This body is 20 million light years more distant than the previous record-holder for the most distant quasar known, discovered just three years ago. …

About

James Maynard

Writing about space since I was 10, still not Carl Sagan. Weekly video show, podcast, comics, more: www.thecosmiccompanion.net

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