Astronomy Rewind: June 2019

Bumble Bees In Space, Dark Monopoles, Falcon Heavy Launch, And More!

Vaishnavi Murali
Jul 2 · 7 min read

“I Would Like to Die on Mars, Just Not on Impact."

— Elon Musk

We are already halfway into 2019, and our yearning to explore the universe isn’t stopping anytime soon. From exploding asteroids to breathtaking SpaceX launches, and ISS astronauts homecoming, June was quite an action-packed month, not to mention all the baffling discoveries from various space missions.

Here’s your monthly dose of our top picks from the cosmos to get yourself up to date, all in 7 minutes!

Top Highlights

  • Dark Monopoles, A New Candidate For Dark Matter?
A simulation of the large-scale structure of the universe with filaments of dark matter in blue and places of galaxy formation in yellow. Dark matter cannot yet be detected directly. UC Davis physicists have proposed a new model to explain it. (Image: Zarija Lukic/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

For something that makes up over 25% of our universe, dark matter has always been elusive to us.

A new theory has been proposed to unveil this mysterious form of matter. Scientists, John Terning and Christopher B. Verhaaren suggest, “a dark magnetic “monopole” that would interact with the dark photon.

The idea may appear far fetched, but here is a simple gist of it. Quantum theory predicts monopoles and the Aharonov-Bohm effect implies that an electron can be influenced by a magnetic field even if it just passes around it and not through the field itself! A dark monopole must have a similar effect and by observing it, we can possibly detect dark matter, if the theory holds.

With the search for another prime dark matter candidate, Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), being unsuccessful so far, this appears to be an alternative idea that can be explored further.

Visit the below link to read the full paper.

  • Ever Heard Of Electric Soccer Balls? Hubble Found Them In Space!
This is an artist’s concept depicting the presence of buckyballs in space. Buckyballs, which consist of 60 carbon atoms arranged like soccer balls, have been detected in space before by scientists using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In a first of its kind discovery, scientists have observed the presence of molecules which look like the ionized versions of Buckyballs in the interstellar medium (ISM). These resemble C-60 molecules, also known as Buckminsterfullerene. In the words of the lead author, Martin Cordiner, “So fully identifying its contents provides information on the ingredients available to create stars and planets.”

Positive charges on the molecule are developed after ultraviolet rays from nearby stars remove an electron from a carbon atom. Carbon, the most basic unit of organic matter can hence exist even in the harshest of conditions.

  • NASA’s “Bumble Bee” Boards The ISS. Nope, It’s Not The One From The Transformers!
A close-up of the Astrobee, Bumble named after a fleet of bumble bees. Image courtesy popsci.com

June 14 is a historic day for robots involved in astronomy. NASA’s ‘Bumble’, an Astrobee robot, used its own power to fly in space. The robot can help research about zero gravity technologies, and work alongside the scientists in the International Space Station. It can also act as a caretaker for NASA’s lunar gateway, and help in future missions to the Moon and Mars.

To read more about NASA’s flying robots, visit the following link.

  • Existence Of Polarised Radio Waves From GBRs Confirmed. Thanks To A Distant Cosmic Explosion!
The first detection of polarized radio waves from gamma-ray burst sheds light on collapsing stars (Image credit: Dr Kitty Yeung)

When a massive star collapses into a black hole, you get something spectacular, the brightest and one of the most energetic explosions in the universe, the gamma-ray bursts. Interestingly, these bursts seemed to produce jets traveling almost at the speed of light, something scientists didn’t have a proper explanation for.

Following a flash of gamma rays due to a burst on January 14, 2019, an international team of astrophysicists with Tanmoy Laskar as the lead author, published a paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters of their observations on the detection of the very first polarised radio-waves from this faraway cosmic burst. This will help the scientists understand the origin of the anomalous jets better.

For more details, you can check out this video released-

  • Scientists Have Built A Bot To Help Us Find Extraterrestrial Life
An image of Jupiter and Saturn, courtesy explorecuriocity.org

The vastness of the cosmos gives astronomers no option but to use any means they can to explore it, and when it comes to finding exoplanets, automation appears to be quite handy.

Researchers have built a new bot to search for stars whose systems have planets like Jupiter and Saturn, which might have protected extra-terrestrial life in their systems just like in our solar system. It comprises of an algorithm which used the star’s chemical composition to determine if it has exoplanets. It was designed by Natalie Hinkel, who worked alongside Stephen Kane, UCR associate professor of planetary astrophysics in this research. The team published a paper on June 25 in the Astrophysical Journal, and they found the algorithm to be effective in eliminating unlikely stars and picking suitable ones, which have a huge probability of hosting Jupiter-like planets.

This could help us fast track the search for systems like our own where there is a higher chance for life to exist.

To read the associated research paper, visit the link below.


Mission Updates

There have been several significant launches and mission updates in June, the most important ones summarized here!

  • NASA’s Technology Missions On Board SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Launched Successfully
SpaceX Falcon Heavy gets launched into the sky on June 25, 2019. Image courtesy of qz.com

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket was launched by NASA at 2:30 am EDT on June 25, 2019, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket deployed 24 satellites as a part of the Department of Defense’s STP-2 (Space Test Program- 2). The launch also had a Deep Space Atomic Clock onboard which will help the spacecraft to navigate in deep space.

This is an important step to future missions. Wondering why we even need the deep space atomic clock? Check out this quick 2-minute video by NASA to understand its significance!

  • China Launches Long March 11 at Sea, Puts 7 Satellites in Orbit
China’s Long March 11 launch on June 5, 2019. Image courtesy of CASC

Following the USA and Russia, China becomes the third nation to launch a rocket on a floating sea pad. Long March 11 soared over the Yellow Sea at 12:06 EDT on June 5, 2019. It contains two large technology-experiment satellites, Bufeng- 1A and Bufeng- 1B to monitor ocean winds and forecast weather, and 5 smaller commercial satellites. It contains an Earth- imaging cubesat, the first two Ka-band communication satellites, Tianqi-3, an experimental communications satellite and a new addition to the Jilin-1 remote sensing satellite constellation.

  • NASA’ s 2020 Mars Rover Gets Its First Detachable Wheels And Mast
NASA’s 2020 Mars rover gets its wheels attached. Image courtesy mars.nasa.gov

Scientists in the Jet Propulsion Lab, Pasadena, California posted pictures on June 5 after attaching a remote sensing mast to NASA’s 2020 Mars rover. The robot also now has a suspension system with wheels, which were added on June 13.

Want to see the rover being built in a live stream? You actually can, not to mention, their social media teams also stream webchats twice a day, 2 PM and 7 PM EDT, from Monday to Thursday. Head over to this youtube stream below to interact with the team!

  • Rocket Ariane 5 Launches 2 Communication Satellites Into Orbit
Ariane 5 gets launched on June 20. Image courtesy europeanaviationnetwork.com

On June 20, 2019, an Ariane 5 rocket launched DirecTV 16 and Eutelsat 7C, two communication satellites into orbit against a beautiful sunset sky. Both of these are high power broadcast satellites that will provide services to various parts across the world.

This marks the fifth launch for Arianespace, the European commercial launch service provider.

Here are some bonus updates for you to explore:


Image Of The Month

This multi-panel image shows how different wavelengths of light can reveal different features of a cosmic object. On the left is a visible light image of the Whirlpool galaxy. The next image combines visible and infrared light, while the two on the right show different wavelengths of infrared light. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech . Visit the link for more details- https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA23128

Bonus (Cuz, It’s Breathtaking!)

The Atlas Of Space. This map of the solar system shows the precise orbital patterns of 18,000 celestial objects! Map created by Eleanor Lutz.

Pop Corner

Mr Musk turned 48 on 28th June 2019. Here’s a minimalistic tribute to his legacy. Poster designed by Karthikeyan.

Editorial Note

This article was co-authored by XQ of Nakshatra NITT.

Clap and share if you liked this one, and do follow Nakshatra for more intriguing content in astronomy and space sciences!

Nakshatra, NIT Trichy

A student-run university-wide organisation for sparking awareness and fascination in astronomy. Interested contributors can contact us by email.

Vaishnavi Murali

Written by

I write about this and that.

Nakshatra, NIT Trichy

A student-run university-wide organisation for sparking awareness and fascination in astronomy. Interested contributors can contact us by email.