Astronomy Rewind: September 2019

Black Holes Go Boom, NASA Explores Space Weather, and more!

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

John F. Kennedy

Space is hard, hostile, and unpredictable. Yet isn’t it breathtakingly beautiful?

Only recently did it remind us what a nightmare it could be, with the well-planned Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan-2 mission losing contact just before landing. And weeks after this heartbreak, Elon Musk’s SpaceX released this picture — no, not just a picture — a remarkable vision to explore uncharted waters. What you see is an assembled Starship that would someday take mankind to Mars and beyond. It’s the second time we are featuring it on a Rewind, and yet can’t get enough of it!

The Beauty Of The Beast (Image Credits: SpaceX)

Last month was pretty eventful, to say the least. We had our second interstellar visitor, Borisov, put forth some new theories about the lakes on Titan, built the world’s first AI-powered satellites, understood a bit more about neutron star collisions, but that’s not it. Here are our top picks for this edition of Rewind.

Top Highlights

What Happens When Three Supermassive Black Holes Collide?

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/George Mason Univ./R. Pfeifle et al.; Optical: SDSS & NASA/STScI

There were quite a few astounding discoveries related to black holes in recent times, like the discovery of one supermassive black hole that has ‘3 hot meals’ a day or the observations that further supported Einstein’s theory that predicted that the pitch and decay of gravitational waves must be correlated to the black hole’s mass and spin.

As fascinating as they may sound, they ain’t beat this discovery, a stellar event from about a billion light-years away from home: three black holes on a collision course with each other in a triple galaxy impact. The intriguing part is that this scenario can present a solution to the so-called ‘Final Parsec Problem’.

Contrary to popular belief, when two galaxies collide, it isn’t really like a traditional collision. The black holes at the center of each galaxy by themselves wouldn't even be able to meet head-on, but rather fly past in distorted trajectories, but astronomers do observe supermassive mergers.

Well, the blackholes will fly past, unless and until some third party (our third black hole) is involved to facilitate such a merger, solving the mystery of what happens in the final parsec between these monsters!

Here’s a link to the research paper associated with it, if you are interested to know more:

Hello Stargazer! I’m Not Aurora, I’m Steve!

Image courtesy of Krista Trinder and NASA

Who doesn’t love auroras? well, there’s a tiny catch there, not all of them are what they seem to be. It’s now time that our boy STEVE gets some recognition he deserves. Short for Strong Thermal Emissions Velocity Enhancement, STEVE is an intriguing phenomenon, often confused to be an aurora which scientists are beginning to understand only recently.

The light from auroras comes from excited particles, the atoms and molecules (hence the wavelengths will be specific to what particles are present in the atmosphere). But when STEVE’s spectrum was analyzed, it wasn’t anything like that. The origin of those photons was clearly different and indicated a source that’s pretty hot, maybe even by several thousand degrees. What’s that enticing source is still a mystery waiting to be decoded (at the time of writing this article).

This research was led by DM Gillies, Don Hampton, and their colleagues, and a paper related to the same was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

NASA’s Tryst To Understand Space Weather

Credits: NASA

The outer atmosphere of Earth is always bustling with engrossing phenomena, and understanding space weather is pivotal for the success of future manned missions to the Moon or Mars. NASA is leaving no stone unturned as it selects three mission proposals for this very cause. Looks like the scientists have tried their best to make cool acronyms. Let’s see in short, what their purpose is:

  • Led by Jeng-Hwa Yee from John Hopkins University, the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer’s (EZIE) key focus would be on understanding electrojets: currents that run in loops over the poles. This phenomenon is linked to geomagnetic storms that can affect the functioning of our electronic devices, and hence it is critical to understand how they form and evolve.
  • The Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope (EUVST) Epsilon Mission would hope to crack one of the primary mysteries, how does hot plasma in the Sun and their magnetic fields influence solar activity?
  • The final mission is Aeronomy at Earth: Tools for Heliophysics Exploration and Research (AETHER). Its key focus would be with the ionosphere and thermosphere and how they are affected by geomagnetic storms. This research is expected to help us understand better how spacecrafts and the astronauts traversing in them are affected.

What Were The Galaxies That Existed 13 Billion Years Ago Like?

Left panel (A lyman alpha blob): D.Alexander et al. S.Chapman et al. T.Hayashino et al. J.Geach et al. Right Illustration: M.Weiss

Our universe wasn’t always the way it used to be. Looking farther in space (which also means looking farther in time), at about 13 billion light years away, an astronomy team led by Yuichi Harikane found something exciting, a protocluster, the possible progenitors of galaxy clusters as we know of today. Named z66OD, it consists of12 confirmed galaxies, one of which interestingly turned out to be Himiko. Nope, don’t get deceived by its name. It’s not your average anime character but a lyman alpha blob type object named after a Japanese queen, discovered by Masami Ouchi in 2009.

It is essentially a monstrous 55000-light-years-wide entity filled with hydrogen and helium. Being one of the most massive objects ever discovered as this humongous distance, one would expect it to be at the center of z66OD, but surprisingly it’s at the edge of it!

Still, many questions unanswered, and more to discover someday. To read in detail about this fascinating discovery, you can check out the research paper associated with it here:

Mission Updates

Instruments Set To Visit The Surface Of The Moon!

The SEAL instrument, which stands for Surface and Exosphere Alterations by Landers, was built in 1998 as an engineering model for Japan’s first interplanetary spacecraft, Nozomi. Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

The preparations for the Artemis missions are in full swing as NASA plans to send some scientific instruments to the lunar surface first. SEAL is one of the instruments that’s all set to fly to the moon, which will help scientists understand the aftermath of the gases ejected by the lander’s propulsion system. Another instrument of interest is a magnetometer to better understand Moon’s magnetic properties.

PROSPECT Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) and ROLSES (Radio wave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the photoElectron Sheath), are two other instruments planned to be sent.

Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

JAXA Delivers New Experiments To The ISS

The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) developed an uncrewed cargo transfer craft, called the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. This image shows the HTV-7 resupply ship after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm as the space station orbited above the Pacific Ocean some 311 miles west of Baja California. Credits: NASA

The Japanese HTV brought several new experiments to the ISS: the Hourglass, SOLISS and FLARE.

The Hourglass aims to investigate the relation between gravity and materials like regolith, while SOLISS is a small optical communication system all set to demonstrate broadband data communication in space. FLARE on the other hand is aimed at deeper understanding of the flamability of materials in microgravity. This will help us ensure better fire safety in space.

The First Space Traveler From UAE Boards The ISS

At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori of the United Arab Emirates listens to a reporter’s question during final crew qualification exams Aug. 30. Image: NASA/Beth Weissinger.

Expedition 61 crew successfully docked into the ISS taking the space station’s population to 9, the highest since 2015. One of the new crew members, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori became the first space traveler from the United Arab Emirates. It was UAE’s moment of pride and inspiration as he tweeted a picture of his country from space.

Haven’t had enough? there’s something you would truly want to check out!

A chance to ask the real NASA astronauts and scientists about future space missions and beyond! Fire up your creative juices and post your questions as comments in their latest YouTube video (link below) with the #AskNasa hashtag and your questions will be answered in the next video!

Love reading Rewind? Clap if you liked this one, and yes, don’t forget to follow Nakshatra, NIT Trichy to stay up to date with the cosmos. Until next time!



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