Warp drive is getting closer to reality, NASA says

Editor’s Note: I know that you all have heard about the Super Massive Black Hole image turned out only hours ago. You know the thing is we all knew it was there for a long time. We will do a re-post very soon. Now we get to revisit one of our favorite theories….

Warp Drive!


Ever since the Sci-fi TV series Star Trek telecast, the show has left people baffled with thousands of questions.

The science fiction series has always been intertwined between real-life science since the past decades. It has inspired technologies that people use daily.

Of many remarkable events shown in the series, warp drive was one of the many futuristic ideas that caught the attention of many people across the globe. In fact, it was the very first theory proposed in Star Trek, allowing it to travel faster than light across the galaxy. Thus, opposing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – prevents anything from moving faster than light.


Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Warp drive was the very first theory proposed in Star Trek, allowing it to travel faster than light across the galaxy. (CREDIT: Shutterstock)

Miguel Alcubierre, a theoretical physicist in 1994 developed a theory called the Alcubierre drive. He created a bubble within space-time that would twist distances making it possible for anything to travel long distances within the bubble. Most people thought this made perfect theoretical sense, but practically it wasn’t workable.

However, to prove them wrong, Joseph Agnew, an undergrad from the University of Alabama wanted to test the theory. Joseph says, “Mathematically if you fulfill all the energy requirements, they can’t prove that it doesn’t work.” “Suppose you have a craft that’s in the bubble,” he continues, quoted in a university press release on the talk. “What you would do is, you’d compress space-time ahead of the craft and expand space-time behind it.”

A ring-shaped warp drive device could transport a football-shape starship (center) to effective speeds faster than light. The concept was first proposed by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre. (CREDIT: Harold White)

But don’t you think Einstein’s theory of relativity throws a wrench into the whole thing since there’s nothing that can travel faster than the speed of light. As such, when an object travels faster, they tend to get heavier. And the heavier they get, the harder it is to achieve acceleration. In short, it is not at all possible to get to the speed of light.

But What Is Warp Drive?

Arguably, the warp drive is said to be the holy grail of space exploration. It is said to possess the capability of having a propulsion system that can travel faster than light speed travel. With this, don’t you think it will be possible for humans to reach any corner of the galaxy whenever they want?

Considering Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, it sure does look it will be highly impossible to break the concept. But will it?

Most of the science fiction writers have given us hopes with many images of the interstellar travel, but traveling at the light of speed is absurd.

We all know, nothing could travel faster than light as the theory by Einstein explains. The reason being, because it takes an infinite amount of energy to accelerate any object to mass up to the speed of light. The only reason why light does not get affected by the fact that photons (i.e. the particles of light) do not have any mass. As a result, any spacecraft traveling at the speed of light is highly impossible.

However, there are two loopholes here:

  • If we’re speaking of finding the odds of traveling to the light of speed, it simply means we are speaking about the propulsion of objects.
  • No prohibition mentions traveling as close as it is possible to lightspeed.
The Alcubierre Warp Drive Model. The blue area below the plane represents contracted space while red and raised area represent expanded space. (CREDIT: Harold White)

Is Warp Drive Even Possible?

Perhaps by bending the laws of physics, it might likely be possible to break the universal speed limit. This is where the theory “Alcubierre warp drive” was proposed. Instead of beating the speed of light, it might be possible for the Alcubierre warp drive to go around the speed of light by warping space-time, just like in the series ‘Star Trek.’

Based on the theory, the traveling spaceship sits within the warp bubble surrounded by a ring of negative mass. The ring of negative mass will help shrink space-time before the spaceship and stretch space-time behind the spaceship. Doing so will allow the spaceship to travel ten times the speed of light. Even so, within the bubble, the spacecraft will maintain the universal speed limit while the general relativity remains intact.

Although there might be a small problem here, this would require a large amount of mass-energy to make the warp drive function. To propel the spacecraft at such as level, you would need the mass equivalent to that of Jupiter.

Consider Einstein’s equation here, E=mc2. Don’t you think it is an enormous amount of energy you would need, even more than the universe will ever be able to provide?

What’s The Catch?

Dr. Harold Sonny White, a NASA mechanical engineer, and physicist is still trying to find ways to solve the mass-energy that is required. He believes by bending ways in physics, it is likely possible to bring down the mass-energy requirement mentioned in the Alcubierre theory. He also suggested there might be slight possibilities to change the shape of the ring of the negative mass to enable mass requirement of about 700kg.

White is now leading a team of physicists and engineers in NASA to build the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer. It is a beam splitting interferometer which can easily detect and generate the tiniest warp bubble. Perhaps this might not instantly get you over to Andromeda Galaxy, but eventually, you’ll get there when needed.

Though significant, we’re still a long way before interstellar travel and warp drive becomes a reality. However, with advancements in technology, the answers we’re looking for might be close enough.

Science Without All The Gobbledegook with Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder.


According to Star Trek, warp drive was invented in 2063.

Real Science from a Real Science Fiction Enthusiast

An Image of the Earth taken from Voyager II as it orbited Saturn

Welcome to Science

This is a different Science Probe from a Sci-Fi kind of Guy.



I’ve changed the name and will alter the look of these pages, I have stopped working closely with the fandoms I have been associated with for the last 12 years.

So I’d like to welcome you all once again to the Science Probe Blog. Edited by a person that sees the connection between Science and Sci-Fi. Here I will be re-posting interesting articles from all over the internet that have to do with Science and especially Space Exploration and Off World Missions by probes and Human Occupied Missions.

Please visit us as often as you can I promise to try to post some interesting real science posts here. Then again there may be some fun and interesting diversions every once in a while.


NASA Rocket to Measure Earth’s Life-Supporting Secret | NASA


Why does Earth support life, while Venus and Mars – and for all we know, any other planet in the universe – do not?

“It’s one of the most fundamental questions in all of science: Why are we here? And it’s what Endurance is after,” said Glyn Collinson, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and principal investigator for NASA’s Endurance mission.

The Endurance mission will attempt to measure Earth’s global electric potential, or how much Earth’s electric field “tugs” at electrically charged particles in our air. This electric potential is expected to be very weak, making it difficult to measure – and one reason Earth can support life. Endurance’s launch window from the small town of Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard, Norway, opens on May 9.

Earth is a watery planet, one of the key reasons it can support life. Yet billions of years ago, you might have said something similar about Venus. Scientists believe Venus was once much wetter than it is today, but for reasons we still don’t fully understand, it has since dried out. Figuring out why could pinpoint a key difference from Earth – and reveal a hidden ingredient for a habitable planet.

In 2016, the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission discovered a clue. The spacecraft detected a 10-volt electric potential surrounding the planet, meaning that positively charged particles would be pulled away from its surface. Like a planet-wide vacuum cleaner, this electric potential could siphon away ingredients of water, like the positively charged oxygen that gets split from its hydrogen atoms by intense sunlight. Over time, this electric potential may have played a role in draining Venus’ water away to space.

The space environment around a planet plays a key role in determining what molecules exist in the atmosphere — and whether the planet is habitable for life. New NASA research shows that the electric fields around Venus helped strip its atmosphere of the components needed to make water.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Genna Duberstein

Download this video in HD formats from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio

The Electromagnetic fields of Venus and Earth.

These findings from Venus, however, raised questions about Earth. Venus’ electric potential is created by its ionosphere – the electrically charged outer layer of its atmosphere. But Earth has an ionosphere as well. So does Earth have a similar electric potential, and if so, why is our water still around?

“We think one of the reasons Earth may be habitable is because we have this very weak electrical potential,” Collinson said. The Endurance team estimates a strength of about 0.3 volts, some 25 times weaker than on Venus and so weak it has foiled all previous attempts at measurement. “It’s not even as strong as a watch battery – but it should be there,” Collinson added.

With his team and rocket experiment, Collinson is traveling to the northernmost launch range in the world and located in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. There his team will launch their experiment through Earth’s magnetic north pole.

“We had to invent a brand-new technology to do this on Earth, using the technique we pioneered at Venus,” Collinson said.

Once airborne, the Endurance mission will measure electrons escaping from Earth’s atmosphere – part of a gradual process of atmospheric escape that’s been happening for billions of years. These electrons escape Earth at a specific, predictable speed, but they should be slowed ever so slightly by Earth’s global electric potential. Collinson’s instruments will attempt to measure that subtle slowing effect to find out how strong it is.

Collinson reviews the instrument during rocket reassembly on site in Svalbard.

If all goes as planned, it will be the first measurements of Earth’s global electric potential.

“The reward, if we’re successful, is fantastic,” Collinson said. “Because we’ll measure this fundamental property of the Earth, which is directly related to understanding why we’re here.”

Endurance is a NASA-funded mission. The Svalbard Rocket Range is owned and operated by Andøya Space Center. The European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association (EISCAT) Svalbard radar, located in Longyearbyen, will make ground-based measurements of the ionosphere critical to interpreting the rocket data. The United Kingdom Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Research Council of Norway (RCN) funded the EISCAT radar for the Endurance mission. EISCAT is owned and operated by research institutes and research councils of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Japan, China and the United Kingdom (the EISCAT Associates).
The Aurora Borealis is the EM Field of the Earth, and we can see it in real time. Image: NASA

Where does Earth end and outer space begin? | Live Science


By Joe Phelan May 1, 2022

And where does outer space begin?

An illustration of the layers of Earth’s atmosphere.

When mountaineers climb Mount Everest, they routinely carry oxygen cylinders, devices that allow them to breathe freely at high altitudes. This is necessary because the closer you get to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, the less oxygen there is available compared with the plentiful amounts found at sea level.

This is just one example of how variable Earth’s atmosphere is and showcases the elemental makeup of its layers, from the troposphere, near sea level, to the exosphere, in its outermost regions. Where each layer ends and begins is defined by four key traits, according to the National Weather Service: temperature change, chemical composition, density and the movement of the gases within it.

So, with this in mind, where does Earth’s atmosphere actually end? And where does space begin?

Earth’s atmosphere has layers with distinct traits.

Each of the atmosphere’s layers plays a role in ensuring our planet can host all manner of life, doing everything from blocking cancer-causing cosmic radiation to creating the pressure required to produce water, according to NASA.

“As you get farther from Earth, the atmosphere becomes less dense,” Katrina Bossert, a space physicist at Arizona State University, told Live Science in an email. “The composition also changes, and lighter atoms and molecules begin to dominate, while heavy molecules remain closer to the Earth’s surface.”

As you move up in the atmosphere, the pressure, or the weight of the atmosphere above you, weakens rapidly. Even though commercial planes have pressurized cabins, rapid changes in altitude can affect the slim eustachian tubes connecting the ear with the nose and throat. “This is why your ears may pop during takeoff in an airplane,” said Matthew Igel, an adjunct professor of atmospheric science at the University of California, Davis.

Eventually, the air becomes too thin for conventional aircraft to fly at all, with such craft not able to generate enough lift. This is the area scientists have decreed marks our atmosphere’s end, and space’s beginning.

It’s known as the Kármán line, named after Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian American physicist who, in 1957, became the first person to attempt to define the boundary between Earth and outer space, according to EarthSky.

This line, given it marks the boundary between Earth and space, not only denotes where an aircraft’s limits lie, but is also crucial for scientists and engineers when figuring out how to keep spacecraft and satellites orbiting Earth successfully. “The Kármán line is an approximate region that denotes the altitude above which satellites will be able to orbit the Earth without burning up or falling out of orbit before circling Earth at least once,” Bossert said.

“It is typically defined as 100 kilometers [62 miles] above Earth,” Igel added. “It is possible for something to orbit the Earth at altitudes below the Kármán line, but it would require extremely high orbital velocity, which would be hard to maintain due to friction. But nothing forbids it.

“Therein lies the sense one should have for the Kármán line: It is an imaginary but practical threshold between air travel and space travel,” he said.

Various factors, such as the satellite’s size and shape, play a part in determining how much air resistance it will experience and, consequently, its ability to orbit Earth successfully, according to Bossert. Typically, satellites that are in low Earth orbit — a classification that tends to be given to satellites at an altitude of less than 621 miles (1,000 km) but sometimes as low as 99 miles (160 km) above Earth, according to the European Space Agency — will fall out of orbit after a few years, Bossert said, due to “drag from the Earth’s upper atmosphere gradually slowing down orbital speed.”

However, that doesn’t mean Earth’s atmosphere is undetectable beyond 621 miles.

“The atmosphere doesn’t just disappear once you get into the region where satellites orbit,” Bossert said. “It is thousands and thousands of kilometers away before evidence of Earth’s atmosphere is gone. The very outer atoms from Earth’s atmosphere, the hydrogen atoms that make up its geocorona [the outermost region of the atmosphere], can even extend beyond the moon.”

So, if someone were to reach the Kármán line, would they notice anything? Would they be aware that they were, essentially, straddling the boundary between Earth and space? Not really. “Nothing really changes,” Bossert said.

Igel agreed. “The line is not physical, per se, and so one would not notice crossing it, nor does it have any thickness,” he said.

What about being able to survive, even for a brief period, at the Kármán line? What if you were dropped there without a bespoke spacesuit or a mountaineering style oxygen tank? If you could get to it, would you be able to breathe at such a high altitude? And could birds ever reach such heights?

“In principle, flight is still possible all the way up to the Kármán line,” Igel said. “In practice, however, animals cannot survive at altitudes above the ‘Armstrong limit,’ which is around 20 km [12 miles] above the surface, where pressures are so low that liquid in the lungs boils.”

Basic Layers of Earth’s Atmosphere.

Originally published on Live Science.

Ultraprecise atomic optical clocks may redefine the length of a second | Live Science


The length of a second hasn’t been updated in 70 years. That may change soon.

The definition of a second, the most fundamental unit of time in our current measurement system, hasn’t been updated in more than 70 years (give or take some billionths of a second).

But in the next decade or so, that could change: Ultraprecise atomic optical clocks that rely on visible light are on track to set the new definition of a second.

These newer versions of the atomic clock are, in theory at least, much more precise than the gold-standard cesium clock, which measures a second based on the oscillation of cesium atoms when exposed to microwaves.

Physicists have developed an atomic clock so accurate that it would be off by less than a single second in 14 billion years. That kind of accuracy and precision makes it more than just a timepiece. It’s a powerful scientific instrument that could measure gravitational waves, take the measure of the Earth’s gravitational shape, and maybe even detect dark matter.

You can think of it as equivalent to having a ruler with tick marks every millimeter, as opposed to a stick that measures just 1 meter.

Jeffrey Sherman

“You can think of it as equivalent to having a ruler with tick marks every millimeter, as opposed to a stick that measures just 1 meter,” Jeffrey Sherman, a researcher with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Time and Frequency Division in Boulder, Colorado, told Live Science.

A strontium lattice optical atomic clock. Ultraprecise atomic optical clocks may redefine the most fundamental unit of time in the next decade (Image credit: The Ye group and Brad Baxley, JILA)

In June, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures may release the criteria needed for any future definition of the second, The New York Times reported. So far, no single optical clock is quite ready for prime time.

But a new definition could be formally approved as soon as 2030, Sherman said. The new type of optical clock could help unmask dark matter, the invisible substance that exerts gravitational pull; or find remnants of the Big Bang called gravitational waves, the ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Fundamental unit of measure

The current standard second is based on a 1957 experiment with an isotope, or variant, of cesium. When pulsed with a specific wavelength of microwave energy, the cesium atoms are at their most “excited” and release the largest possible number of photons, or units of light.

That wavelength, dubbed the natural resonance frequency of cesium, causes the cesium atoms to “tick” 9,192,631,770 times every second. That initial definition of a second was tied to the length of a day in 1957 — and that, in turn, was linked to variable things, such as the rotation of Earth and the position of other celestial objects at that time, according to The New York Times.

In contrast, optical atomic clocks measure the oscillation of atoms that “tick” much faster than cesium atoms when pulsed with light in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Because they can tick much faster, they can, in theory, define a second with much finer resolution.

There are multiple contenders to supplant cesium as the reigning timekeeper, including strontium, ytterbium and aluminum. Each has its pluses and minuses, Sherman said.

To achieve such clocks, researchers must suspend and then chill atoms to within a hair’s breadth of absolute zero, then pulse them with the precisely tuned color of visible light needed to maximally excite the atoms. One part of the system shines the light on the atoms, and the other counts up the oscillations.

But some of the biggest challenges come from making sure the laser is emitting the exact right color of light — say, a certain shade of blue or red — needed to kick the atoms into their resonant frequency, Sherman said. The second step — to count the oscillations — requires a so-called femtosecond laser frequency comb, which sends pulses of light spaced at tiny intervals, Sherman said.

Both elements are incredibly complicated feats of engineering and can take up an entire lab room on their own, Sherman said.

Redefining the Second with the Optical Atomic Clock. Photograph by Andrew Brookes/Science Photo Library/Corbis.

Uses of optical clocks

So why do scientists want ever-more-precise atomic clocks to measure the second? It’s not just an academic exercise.

Time does not simply march to its own drum; Einstein’s theory of relativity says it is warped by mass and gravity. As a result, time may tick infinitesimally more slowly at sea level, where Earth’s gravitational field is stronger, than at the top of Mount Everest, where it is ever-so-slightly weaker.

Detecting these minute changes in the flow of time could also reveal evidence of new physics. For instance, dark matter’s influence has so far been detected only in the distant dance of galaxies circling one another, from the bending of light around planets and stars, and from the leftover light from the Big Bang.

The portable atomic clock with a cloud of laser-cooled strontium atoms. (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt)

But if clumps of dark matter lurk closer to home, then ultraprecise clocks that detect the tiny slowing of time could find them.

Similarly, as gravitational waves rock the fabric of space-time, they squish and stretch time. Some of the biggest gravitational waves are detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, a several-thousand-mile relay race for light that measures blips in space-time created by cataclysmic events such as black hole collisions. But a battalion of atomic clocks in space could detect these time dilation effects for much slower gravitational waves, such as those from the cosmic microwave background.

“They’re so-called primordial gravitational waves that might be leftover remnants from the Big Bang,” Sherman said.

Originally published on Live Science.

NASA Artemis | Send Your Name to Space


Add your name here to have it included on a flash drive that will fly aboard Artemis I.

Artemis I will be the first uncrewed flight test of the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. The flight paves the way toward landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon!

And BAM! Just like that you will be issued an Artemis 1 Boarding Pass.

All eyes will be on the historic Launch Complex 39B when Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) lift off for the first time from NASA’s modernized Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission will demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond.

Click the image to be taken to this page on the NASA🚀 website

Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to build a long-term human presence at the Moon for decades to come.

Editor’s Note:

Images 1 through 4

Image 1) Orion is ready for the crew and habitation. Image 2) The SLS is really an *Upgrade to the Saturn V, and it is facing delays. Image 3) For all it’s power, it is still Space Shuttle technology.

Image 4) In my opinion it is the Artemis Mission itself that is of historic interest. Not because of the inclusive nature of the crew, or humanities return to the closet alien world to us. The real excitement is this will help set up some kind of outpost or training compound for further space exploration. This is where we set ourselves up for success on MARS.

One last thing from your humble narrator. NASA has so many wonderful downloads hidden around their site. From posters which I have a selection of large format printed and framed on my stairwell walls.

To digital boarding passes for many of it’s off world probes. I’ve had my name on MARS on three different missions. With Artemis we have a chance to have our names on the Moon as well.

Here are All of Hubble’s Observations in One Picture – Universe Today


Over the past 32 years, Hubble has made about 1.4 million observations of our Universe. Physicist Casey Handmer was curious how much of the sky has been imaged by Hubble, and figured out how to map out all of Hubble’s observations into one big picture of the sky.

It’s a gorgeous, almost poetic look at Hubble’s collective view of the cosmos. So, how much of the sky has Hubble imaged? The answer might surprise you.

Handmer pondered that question, and determined that since Hubble’s field of view is 202 arc seconds, it would take about 3.2 million observations to cover the sky. Since Hubble has made about 1.4 million observations ever since it launched in 1990, would the observatory have imaged about half of the sky? Not quite.

“I ran a basic calculation and I think it’s around 0.8% of the entire sky has been exposed to the Hubble imaging system,” Handmer said via email, adding that the answer is not as simple as counting the dots in the image because the poles are actually quite stretched on this map.

All of the Hubble Space Telescope’s observations from the past 32 years, shown in one graphic. Credit and copyright: Casey Handmer. Used by permission.

But why such a small amount? There are a few reasons, Handmer explained. The spectrometer instruments aren’t necessarily forming an image, for example. Another reason is that Hubble’s field of view is really narrow compared to telescopes that are intended to perform all-sky surveys. But another big reason is that Hubble tends to view certain areas of the sky or certain astronomical objects repeatedly. Why? Because that’s what scientists want to see. Some observations take longer than others, and some parts of the sky are more interesting.

In Handmer’s image, the curved line across the middle represents the ecliptic, so Hubble’s numerous (and repeated) observations of planets, moons and asteroids in our own Solar System show up there.

Cut Away of the Hubble Space Telescope 🔭

The two big lumps near the bottom left are the large and small Magellanic clouds, which are two small galaxies that orbit (and are being gradually eaten by) our own. A lot of the other clumps are other nearby galaxies.The disk of the Milky Way galaxy is also visible as a dark U-shaped curve through the middle.

And so, this graphic depicts what Hubble does best.

“Hubble is best used for deep space observations,” Handmer said. “It wasn’t designed to be an all-sky survey telescope, and so and zooming around would undermine the telescope’s ability to stare at really tiny really dim objects for a long time to gain valuable data.”

By contrast, Handmer noted, the Vera Rubin Observatory (due to begin operations late next year) will image the entire sky every week.

To create this image, Handmer used the astroquery API on the Astropy Library to get data on every observation Hubble has made. The code Handmer used can be found here.

“Each of the observations recovered using the API describes the target, but in the aggregate, we get a picture of what Hubble is looking at,” Handmer said. “Hubble is an amazing instrument but it has been in space for almost 32 years and will not last forever. We are fortunate to finally have JWST launched and operating but imagine what we could see if we launched a new telescope like this every year!”

Lead image caption: All of the Hubble Space Telescope’s observations from the past 32 years, shown in one graphic. Credit and copyright: Casey Handmer.

April 2022 Planetary Conjunctions | Celestron



April 2022 Planetary Conjunctions
March 30, 2022

How to Observe the April 2022 Planetary Conjunctions

Set your alarm clocks and mark your calendars! Two spectacular planetary conjunctions—the first involving Mars and Saturn and the second involving Venus and Jupiter—will grace the early morning skies during April.

Both conjunctions be well worth getting up early to see. These planets will appear very close to one another and look like double planets. You may recall the “Great Conjunction” pairing of gas giants Jupiter and Saturn back on December 21, 2020. This celestial event made headline news because the two largest planets almost appeared to merge when observed with the naked eye. While April’s planetary conjunctions won’t surpass that event, they will be close enough to capture any skygazer’s­­­ attention. Read on if you’re interested in viewing April’s conjunctions and learning more about them.

What are Conjunctions?

Let’s look back to ancient times when early astronomers were trying to understand the universe and its complex set of motions. They noticed some “stars” were distinguishable from fixed stars and they appeared to roam the night sky over time, rather than rotating around the celestial pole. They called anything that moved in this way a planet, derived from the Greek word planetes, for wanderer. Today, we know that these visible planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn orbit the Sun and follow the same plane in the night sky called the ecliptic.

Occasionally, two or more planets appear to meet or pass each other in the sky. These gatherings are called planetary conjunctions. The amount of separation between the planets varies from conjunction to conjunction. Most separations are between 0.5° to 1.3° (approximately 1 to 2.5 times the width of the Full Moon as seen from Earth).

Planetary conjunctions make it seem like the celestial objects are closing in on each other, but this is just an optical illusion. The truth is planets are millions of miles apart. Our vantage point on Earth fools us into believing that the planets involved in conjunctions are much closer to each other than they really are.

The “Great Conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn in 2020 was a remarkable sight, as the two giant planets were separated by a mere 0.1° at their closest point. However, even though they appeared “together” in the sky, the illustration below shows just how far apart Jupiter and Saturn were from each other during conjunction.

Conjunctions are not only limited to planets. Sometimes conjunctions include the Moon, bright stars, asteroids, and even the Sun! The Moon is in conjunction with the Sun each month during New Moon when it passes between the Earth and the Sun. When an inner or outer planet moves close and positions itself on the far side of the Sun, as seen from Earth, it is called a superior conjunction. When an inner planet such as Mercury and Venus is positioned between Earth and the Sun, they are at inferior conjunction. When planets come too close to the Sun, they become extremely dangerous to view with your naked eyes, binoculars, or through a telescope. The Sun’s overwhelmingly bright glare can permanently blind you. Never attempt to view these types of conjunctions.

April 4-5, 2022 – Conjunction of Mars & Saturn

The first of two planetary conjunctions occurring this April takes place on the morning of April 4 and 5, 2022, at 12:30 UTC. Observers with a clear view of the east-southeastern sky about an hour before sunrise will be treated to a tight pairing of the red planet, Mars, and the ringed planet, Saturn. On April 4, the pair will appear next to each other—separated by just 0.4°. In fact, the objects may appear as a single point of light to your naked eyes.

Interestingly, reddish Mars and yellow/brownish Saturn will appear to be nearly the same magnitude (Mars +1.0, Saturn +0.9), even though Saturn is millions of miles away from Mars. As a bonus, Venus will be nearby, just 7° away to the east and shining brilliantly at magnitude -4.2 in the constellation Aquarius. By 6:00 am, Jupiter will have crested the horizon and will disappear from view as the sky quickly brightens with the impending sunrise.

On the morning of April 5, Mars and Saturn will still be about 0.4° away from each other, but their positions in the sky will have noticeably changed. You should be able to spot the change while observing the two planets through binoculars or a telescope. Look for Mars slightly below and to the left of Saturn about an hour before sunrise. Mars will begin to distance itself from Saturn during the following consecutive mornings, but this is sure to be a beautiful pairing while it lasts.

April 27-30, 2022 – Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter & the Moon

April’s second big planetary conjunction takes place in the early morning hours of April 27 through April 30, 2022. On April 27 at 12:10 UTC, a very thin, waning crescent Moon, 12% illuminated, will be seen below Venus and Jupiter in the eastern sky, forming a striking, triangular conjunction. The faint planet Neptune, magnitude 7.9, will be less than 1′ from Venus, which you might want to locate as an additional observing challenge. Continue to watch Venus and Jupiter on April 28 and 29 as they move closer and closer together. However, the Moon will quickly descend towards the eastern horizon and no longer be a part of this conjunction.

On April 30, the two brightest planets in the Solar System, Jupiter and Venus, will be in very tight conjunction and appear side by side like a “double planet,” separated by 0.2° and shining brilliantly at magnitudes -2.1 and -4.1, respectively.

Look for the two planets in the constellation Pisces just above the eastern horizon before sunrise. Check your local sources for sunrise times for your location. This impressive conjunction will be close enough to fit both planets in the field of view of binoculars or a telescope. The best view will occur before dawn while the sky is still relatively dark. Use extreme caution if you wish to observe Jupiter and Venus at their closest approach during daylight hours at 18:42 UTC. Only attempt this if you are an experienced amateur astronomer. Take care not to accidentally aim your binoculars or telescope towards the Sun’s direction.

Mid-April 2022 – The Planetary Parade

As a bonus viewing event starting about mid-April, check out the “Planetary Parade” of five planets. Jupiter, Neptune, Venus, Mars, and Saturn will form a line before dawn in the eastern morning sky. Although you won’t be able to see Neptune without a telescope, the other planets will be an incredible sight to see with your naked eyes. The waning Moon will join the parade by April 25.

  • Use an app like SkySafari and Celestron’s SkyPortal (included with every Celestron telescope) to determine what time the planets rise and set in your location.
  • A few days before the conjunction, scout your viewing location to know where the best clear and unobstructed views of the horizon are located.
  • Set up early. If you use a computerized telescope, make sure it’s already aligned and ready to go.
  • Make sure you have various magnifications to choose from. Think about which eyepiece in your collection is ideal for framing both planets in the same field of view or viewing detail at higher powers.
  • If you have access to binoculars or a spotting scope, use it! Any optical aide will enhance the planets for a more memorable viewing experience. Even a small 8×42 or 10×42 binocular will show Jupiter as a disk and reveal its four brightest moons! Unfortunately, the magnification will not be strong enough to reveal Saturn’s rings. Be sure to use a tripod if one is available to help steady the view, or use a table, wall, or automobile hood/trunk to prop up your arms to help minimize any shaking.
  • If no optical aide is available, use your unaided eyes and enjoy the view.
  • Capture this historic moment with your camera! Close planetary conjunctions and the “Planetary Parade” will make great photo opportunities to share with your family and friends.

We are fortunate to witness natural phenomena like planetary conjunctions and planetary parades. These celestial events are beautiful, predictable, always on schedule, and never disappoint. April’s planetary conjunctions are more than just wandering lights meeting up in the early morning sky. They are faraway worlds, millions of miles away from us, but remember, each has already been visited by spacecraft from Earth. Modern-day astronomers know more about them than ever before. So maybe the “stars” of April’s planetary conjunctions are not so distant after all? Ancient astronomers would surely have been amazed. Enjoy the shows and clear skies to you all!

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins celebrates ‘milestone’ for diversity in space industry


April 22, 2022, 2:53 AM PDT
By Char Adams and Donna M. Owens

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins waves Monday as she arrives with Crew-4 astronauts at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins will join a small yet groundbreaking list Saturday when she becomes the fifth Black woman to go to space and the first Black woman to serve aboard the International Space Station.

Watkins’ mission has drawn praise from diversity and inclusion experts, but it shows just how far Black women still have to go in the white, male-dominated profession.

“You know there’s not enough of us. Women are underrepresented in science, although it’s getting better in some ways,” said Mae Jemison, who made her own headlines in 1992 when she became the first Black woman to go to space.

Live on April 26th 4pm EST click the link and set a reminder for prelaunch.

“There is a lot of gatekeeping, both conscious and unconscious, that keeps people out. But once you are there, it’s ‘where do you fit?’ People hold you to a stereotype of what they consider a scientist. There’s this unrelenting requirement that you prove you have the right to be there. Many times I think that we achieve in these fields in spite of, not because of.”Watkins will be the fifth Black woman to have gone to space. The others are Jemison; Stephanie Wilson, who, at more than 42 days, has spent more time in space than any Black other woman; Joan Higginbotham; and Sian Proctor, the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft.

Watkins joined NASA as an intern and held several positions as a researcher and geologist before she was selected as an astronaut candidate in 2017. Watkins earned her bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University and her doctorate in geology at UCLA. Her career with NASA has been long and full of accomplishments: She has held roles at the agency’s Ames Research Center and studied near-Earth asteroids at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and she was was part of the science team for the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity.

She gushed about the coming trip in a previous interview, agreeing that her mission is both a barrier-breaking moment and the natural progression of the field.

“We have reached this milestone, this point in time, and the reason we’re able to arrive at this time is because of the legacy of those who have come before to allow for this moment,” Watkins said. “Also, recognizing this is a step in the direction of a very exciting future. So to be a part of that is certainly an honor.”

The crew will blast off from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, early Saturday for a six-month stint in the ISS laboratory conducting research and doing maintenance on the station, the space agency said. Watkins will work alongside three other crew members — astronauts Robert Hines and Kjell Lindgren of NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency.

On Sept. 12, 1992, Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, launched aboard space shuttle Endeavour. Jemison and Sharon McDougle, then a spacesuit technician, walk away from the orbiter at the end of the crew training.NASA

“You know there’s not enough of us. Women are underrepresented in science, although it’s getting better in some ways,”

Dr. Mae Jemison

While Watkins’ accomplishment is a great step forward for the space industry and evidence of its strides in diversity, there is still work to be done.

A report this year from the Space Frontier Foundation, a space advocacy organization, found that nearly 90 percent of people who have been to space are white men. And the space industry as a whole — from researchers and managers to writers and photographers — is “only marginally better,” the researchers said. The report also found that white people in the space industry are more likely to make six-figure salaries than Black employees.

“The fact that it’s taken this long to get African American folks on the ISS is disappointing. But it’s nice to see this focus is finally happening,” said Kim Macharia, a Black woman who is the chair of the foundation’s board. She highlighted that even though crews began living on the ISS in 2000, it took more than a decade for a Black astronaut, Victor Glover Jr., to serve a long-term mission on the station. Bernard Harris Jr. in 1995 became the first Black person to walk in space. Just nine years earlier, Ronald McNair became the second Black astronaut to go to space; he died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.

“Less than 12 percent of all astronauts have ever been women, specifically. And then when you look at the number of people of color, the number is even lower there,” Macharia said. “But in the actual workforce at large, about 20 percent of the industry’s workforce is women. So, there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to addressing these demographics.”

Watkins, Hines, Lindgren and Cristoforetti

NASA publishes a dramatic poster for every mission to the ISS. Google ISS Mission Posters under Images to see the whole lot.

Most recently, Jemison was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her widely recognized accomplishments in the field. Since leaving NASA, she has prioritized diversity in her own endeavors. She leads 100 Year Starship, a global initiative to support human travel to another star within the next 100 years. “I actively bring in people who embody that word ‘inclusion’ — across ethnicity, gender and geography — as well as across disciplines,” she said.

Jemison isn’t the only former NASA employee to have taken on such a task. John Hines, a former NASA researcher, founded the Hines Family Foundation to provide resources and opportunities for children from disadvantaged communities interested in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

Now, as Watkins continues her career with a growing NASA, Jemison is using her recognition to push the industry forward.

“Very frequently we have a tendency to forget that we have to continue to grow. And we don’t hold ourselves to that. I do,” she said. “I always hold myself to continuing to grow, learning new things and contributing in a different way.”

NASA Beamed a Doctor to The ISS in a World-First ‘Holoportation’ Achievement


NASA flight surgeon Josef Schmid holoported onto the ISS. (ESA/Thomas Pesquet)

19 APRIL 2022

There’s never been a house call quite like this. In a first for telepresence communication, a NASA flight surgeon was ‘holoported’ to the International Space Station (ISS), appearing and conversing as a virtual presence in real time, hundreds of miles above the surface of Earth.

If it sounds like Star Trek, you’re not too far off. (after all, Star Trek: Voyager did feature an artificial physician who was a holographic projection.)

The “Doctor” from Star Trek Voyager Robert Picardo at Yuri’s Night LA in 2018 with the editor and friends.

But this isn’t science fiction. When NASA flight surgeon Josef Schmid was beamed up to the ISS in October of last year, the illusion was made possible thanks to Microsoft’s ‘holoportation’ technology, which lets users interact with 3D representations of remote participants in real time.

“This is [a] completely new manner of human communication across vast distances,” says Schmid. “It is a brand-new way of human exploration, where our human entity is able to travel off the planet.”

While Microsoft’s holoportation technology has existed – in various stages of development – for several years, it’s never been used for something as ambitious as this before: connecting Earth-based medical researchers with astronauts on mission, orbiting the planet hundreds of miles up in the sky.

Schmid and other team members during the holoportation session. (ESA/Thomas Pesquet)

Yet it’s this exact kind of capability – bridging physical gaps to connect people over huge distances in space – that could be important for future space-exploration missions. This way, scientists could virtually interact with real-time 3D representations of remote participants on Earth, space stations, or other spacecraft, enabling collaborations that can be much more involving and immersive than standard 2D video calls.

“Our physical body is not there, but our human entity absolutely is there,” says Schmid.
“Imagine you can bring the best instructor or the actual designer of a particularly complex technology right beside you wherever you might be working on it.”

The next step in the technology’s evolution is to enable fully two-way holoportation interactions.

During this experiment, Pesquet was the only participant wearing an augmented reality headset that enabled him to perceive the other participants as digital 3D holograms, as Schmid and the other participants did not wear such devices themselves.

Microsoft has bold ambitions to bring Xbox games like Halo, Minecraft, and Flight Sim to the new three-dimensional metaverse.

Once all participants are similarly equipped, however, the possibilities to jump into someone else’s reality could become even more instructive and transformative for off-world astronauts – whether you’re consulting Earth-bound doctors about a medical issue, or exchanging important ideas about mission objectives with NASA researchers.

“What it really plays into is opportunities for more longer duration spaceflight and more deep spaceflight,” Christian Maender, a research director at space infrastructure company Axiom Space, explained to the Verge in 2021.

“Where you are really talking about wanting to create a human connection between your crew – no matter where they’re traveling – and back to someone on the planet.”

Will holograms one day replace LCD screens? If this ISS experiment continues, the technology may be here sooner than you think.

Far side: the moon’s use as a new astronomical site – SpaceNews


Editors Note: I’d like to thank you for being there with us for my intermittent postings. This is our 200th post since we started years ago. Please tell your friends and Enjoy.

The Dark Side Of The Moon is only dark to those viewing from the surface. Yet it is just as full of light as it faces the Solar System. With such a view an observatory there makes plenty of sense. NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has captured a view of the moon that is impossible to see from Earth—the “dark side,” illuminated as it passes between our planet and the Sun. The images were made by DSCOVR’s four megapixel Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC)

Image via: NASA / NOAA

BOULDER, Colorado — Astronomers have always sought out remote and isolated spots from which their precision observations of the surrounding universe can be made. Now, add one more far-flung location – the moon.

But there is growing concern within the international scientific community regarding the need to keep the far side of the moon free from human-made radio-frequency intrusion.

The lunar far side always faces away from Earth. As a result, it is “radio-quiet,” shielded by the moon itself from radio-frequency interference (RFI) crackling through space, pumped out by powerful Earth-based transmitters.

For years, placing a radio telescope on the moon’s far side has been viewed as the location of choice to carry out matchless studies, such as giving an extraordinary ear to listen for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

The moon’s far side, ripe for astronomical development? Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio by Ernie Wright

Shielded zone

A newly established Moon Farside Protection Permanent Committee of the Paris, France-based International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) has started to frame the problem and possible solutions to guard against RFI of the lunar far side, ideal landscape, they say, for a future radio telescope or phased array detector.

Additionally, the International Telecommunication Union, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is engaged in defining and protecting what they label as the Shielded Zone of the moon. However, future moon exploration missions, the ITU warns, could spoil this pristine radio environment through uncontrolled radio emission and even enhance the lunar exosphere, the ultra-wispy layer of gases that acts as an atmosphere.

With the first radio telescope landing on the moon later this year as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, radio astronomy from the Moon begins in earnest, said Jack Burns, a space scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. That radio astronomy instrument is called ROLSES, he said, a Radio Wave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the photoElectron Sheath. It will fly on the privately-provided Intuitive Machines lander.

“This will be followed by a radio telescope on the lunar far side in 2025 and hopefully arrays of radio dipole antennas later in the decade. So now is the time to begin serious international efforts to protect the lunar far side as a unique radio-quiet preserve for exploration of the early universe,” Burns told SpaceNews.

This illustration depicts a conceptual Lunar Crater Radio Telescope on the far side of Earth’s moon. Credit: JPL/Vladimir Vustyansky

Unique real estate

Claudio Maccone of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy is an astronomer, space scientist and mathematician. As chair of the new IAA committee, he is a leading voice to maintain the moon’s far side as unique real estate for scientific activities.

Future space planners, Maccone argues, “need to think ahead and preserve the precious space resources that still remain unpolluted by humankind.” Unfortunately, the undeclared but quite real “current, new race to the moon” complicates matters terribly, he said.

Maccone is pushing to establish a Protected Antipode Circle, or PAC, a large piece of lunar land about 1,130 miles (1,820 kilometers) in diameter that would become the most shielded area of the moon’s moon far side. He said the United Nations should recognize the PAC as an international protected area — a radio-contamination-free zone.

Furthermore, the center of the moon’s far side, specifically Daedalus Crater, is being advanced; its high rim would block Earth-generated “radio smog” from fouling a future radio telescope planted there or other astronomical gear.

Blinder and blinder

Meanwhile, new ideas about taking advantage of the lunar far side’s special qualities have come to the forefront. For example, the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program has awarded study money for a Lunar Crater Radio Telescope. This proposal centers on using crater wall-climbing robots to deploy wire mesh to form a large parabolic reflector.

Another moon-situated NIAC-supported proposal is FarView – a radio observatory fabricated on the moon. This concept would utilize roughly 100,000 networked dipole antennas spread across hundreds of miles of lunar terrain. FarView science would support a detailed investigation of the unexplored “Cosmic Dark Ages,” the conditions and processes under which the first stars, galaxies, and accreting black holes formed.

“The far side of the moon is a unique place for us in the whole universe,” said Maccone. “It is close to the Earth, but protected from the radio emissions that we ourselves are creating in an ever-increasing amount, and that is making our radio telescopes blinder and blinder.”

Credit: JPL/Vladimir Vustyansky

Earth Day 2022 | NASA


An EPIC View of the Moon’s Shadow During the June 10 Solar Eclipse

No, that’s not a smudge on your screen — the blurry dark brown spot over the Arctic is a shadow cast by our Moon during a solar eclipse.
View Image Feature

Earth Right Now

Your Planet Is Changing. We’re On It.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future.

We monitor Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world.

Scientists worldwide use NASA data to tackle some of the biggest questions about how our planet is changing now and how Earth could change in the future. From rising sea levels to the changing availability of freshwater, NASA enables studies that unravel the complexities of our planet from the highest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere to its core.

NASA’s Earth science work also makes a difference in people’s lives around the world every day. From farms to our national parks, from today’s response to natural disasters to tomorrow’s air quality, from the Arctic to the Amazon, NASA is working for you 24/7.

NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration contributes to essential services provided to the American people by other federal agencies, such as weather forecasting and natural resource management.

All of this new knowledge about our home planet enables policy makers, government agencies and other stakeholders to make more informed decisions on critical issues that occur all around the world.

NASA and Earth Science

Of all the planets NASA has explored, none yet have matched the dynamic complexity of our own Earth. Earth teems with life and liquid water; massive storms rage over land and oceans; environments range from deserts to tropical forests to the icy poles. And amid all of that, seven billion people carve out a daily life.

And our planet is changing. Through the gradual build-up of more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Earth is warming. As Earth warms, ocean waters expand and ice melts to make sea levels rise. The cycle of rainfall and evaporation accelerates, leading to more severe droughts and more severe bouts of rainfall. Heat waves become more frequent and more intense.

It is this changing world that NASA continues to explore and strives to understand, so that societies can meet the challenges of the future.

Saturn, Mars, Venus, Jupiter to align together in rare cosmic dance in April – SCIENCE News


In a rare planetary alignment, Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter will align together this month. The Moon will join them for the main event.

A predictade view of the predawn sky on April 19, 2022. (Photo: Stellarium)

While Mars and Venus have been immersed in a cosmic dance in the skies above us, April is set to get celestial as Saturn and Jupiter join the two planets to form a rare quartet. Jupiter is set to join mars and Venus from mid-April forming a planetary trio for stargazers across the world.

But, that’s not all. By the end of April, Saturn will be joining these three planets for a rare alignment in planetary conjunction similar to the one seen in 2020. During the 2020 grand conjunction, Jupiter and Saturn had aligned together and were visible to the naked eye.

According to the Jet propulsion Laboratory, these conjunctions are not quite as close as that, but still really impressive and they’ll make for thrilling sights in the morning sky. An alignment does not mean that these planets will overlap each other or come extremely close to each other, they will still be separated by billions of kilometers in the vastness of space.

The alignment is the result of our orientation with respect to these planets as their views change from month to month as Earth rotates in its orbit around the Sun.


April began with Venus, Saturn, and Mars being separated by a distance of just six degrees, which has been changing as Mars and Saturn have been coming close to each other. During the first week, Saturn and Mars were separated by less than the width of the full moon. Saturn has since then moved on, increasing its separation from Mars each day.

By April 14, Jupiter is to rise in the pre-dawn hour, making for a quartet of planets, strung out in a line across the morning sky. Heading into the last week of April, Jupiter will be high enough above the horizon in the hour before sunrise to make it more easily observed.

According to JPL, the two brightest planets in the sky, Venus and Jupiter, are headed for their own ultra-close conjunction on April 30th, similar to the meetup of Mars and Saturn earlier in the month.


The last week of April will be one of the most awaited for stargazers across the world, as Jupiter and Venus come together with the crescent moon passing below Saturn on April 25, Mars on April 26, and finally Jupiter and Venus on April 27. According to Space.com, a 12% illuminated crescent moon with Jupiter four degrees to its upper left and Venus hovering five degrees directly above the lunar sliver will be visible.

On April 26, 2022, See the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn before sunrise. Credit: Adler Planetarium Skywatch

Venus and Jupiter will stand side-by-side on April 30. Jupiter will appear with three of its four Galilean satellites visible and Venus will look slightly more than half-lit.

Hubble Confirms Largest Comet Nucleus Ever Seen – A Staggering 500 Trillion Tons Headed This Way


This is your real life Warning ⚠️: The “Don’t Look Up” Comet ☄️ is real! And headed this way.


April 12, 2022

This sequence shows how the nucleus of Comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) was isolated from a vast shell of dust and gas surrounding the solid icy nucleus. On the left is a photo of the comet taken by the NASA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 on January 8, 2022. A model of the coma (middle panel) was obtained by means of fitting the surface brightness profile assembled from the observed image on the left. This allowed for the coma to be subtracted, unveiling the point-like glow from the nucleus. Combined with radio telescope data, astronomers arrived at a precise measurement of the nucleus size. That’s no small feat from something about 2 billion miles away. Though the nucleus is estimated to be as large as 85 miles across, it is so far away it cannot be resolved by Hubble. Its size is derived from its reflectivity as measured by Hubble. The nucleus is estimated to be as black as charcoal. The nucleus area is gleaned from radio observations. Credit: NASA, ESA, Man-To Hui (Macau University of Science and Technology), David Jewitt (UCLA); Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

4-Billion-Year-Old Relic From The Early Solar System Is Headed This Way

Denizens of deep space, comets are among the oldest objects in the solar system. These icy “Lego blocks” are leftover from the early days of planet construction. They were unceremoniously tossed out of the solar system in a gravitational pinball game among the massive outer planets. The kicked-out comets took up residence in the Oort Cloud, a vast reservoir of far-flung comets encircling the solar system out to many billions of miles into deep space.

A typical comet’s spectacular multimillion-mile-long tail, which makes it look like a skyrocket, belies the fact that the source at the heart of the fireworks is a solid nucleus of ice mixed with dust — a dirty snowball. Most comet nuclei measure a few miles across and so would fit inside a small town, but Hubble astronomers have uncovered a whopper. Comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) could be as big as 85 miles across, over twice the width of the state of Rhode Island.

Comet C/2014 UN271 was discovered by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein in archival images from the Dark Energy Survey at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. It was first serendipitously observed in 2010. Hubble observations in 2022 were needed to discriminate the solid nucleus from the huge dusty shell enveloping it, with help from radio observations.

The comet is now less than 2 billion miles from the Sun, and in a few million years will loop back to its nesting ground in the Oort Cloud.

Hubble determined the size of the largest icy comet nucleus ever found. And, it’s big! With a diameter of approximately 80 miles across, it’s about 50 times larger than typical comets. Its 500-trillion-ton mass is a hundred thousand times greater than the average comet. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Lead Producer: Paul Morris

Hubble Confirms Largest Comet Nucleus Ever Seen

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has determined the size of the largest icy comet nucleus ever seen by astronomers. The estimated diameter is approximately 80 miles across, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. The nucleus is about 50 times larger than found at the heart of most known comets. Its mass is estimated to be a staggering 500 trillion tons, a hundred thousand times greater than the mass of a typical comet found much closer to the Sun.

The behemoth comet, C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) is barreling this way at 22,000 miles per hour from the edge of the solar system. But not to worry. It will never get closer than 1 billion miles away from the Sun, which is slightly farther than the distance of the planet Saturn. And that won’t be until the year 2031.

The previous record holder is comet C/2002 VQ94, with a nucleus estimated to be 60 miles across. It was discovered in 2002 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project.

“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for many thousands of comets that are too faint to see in the more distant parts of the solar system.”

David Jewitt
This diagram compares the size of the icy, solid nucleus of comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) to several other comets. The majority of comet nuclei observed are smaller than Halley’s comet. They are typically a mile across or less. Comet C/2014 UN271 is currently the record-holder for big comets. And, it may be just the tip of the iceberg. There could be many more monsters out there for astronomers to identify as sky surveys improve in sensitivity. Though astronomers know this comet must be big to be detected so far out to a distance of over 2 billion miles from Earth, only the Hubble Space Telescope has the sharpness and sensitivity to make a definitive estimate of nucleus size. Credit: Illustration: NASA, ESA, Zena Levy (STScI)

“This comet is literally the tip of the iceberg for many thousands of comets that are too faint to see in the more distant parts of the solar system,” said David Jewitt, a professor of planetary science and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and co-author of the new study in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “We’ve always suspected this comet had to be big because it is so bright at such a large distance. Now we confirm it is.”

Comet C/2014 UN271 was discovered by astronomers Pedro Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein in archival images from the Dark Energy Survey at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. It was first serendipitously observed in November 2010, when it was a whopping 3 billion miles from the Sun, which is nearly the average distance to Neptune. Since then, it has been intensively studied by ground- and space-based telescopes.

“This is an amazing object, given how active it is when it’s still so far from the Sun,” said the paper’s lead author Man-To Hui of the Macau University of Science and Technology, Taipa, Macau. “We guessed the comet might be pretty big, but we needed the best data to confirm this.” So, his team used Hubble to take five photos of the comet on January 8, 2022.

The challenge in measuring this comet was how to discriminate the solid nucleus from the huge dusty coma enveloping it. The comet is currently too far away for its nucleus to be visually resolved by Hubble. Instead, the Hubble data show a bright spike of light at the nucleus’ location. Hui and his team next made a computer model of the surrounding coma and adjusted it to fit the Hubble images. Then, the glow of the coma was subtracted to leave behind the starlike nucleus.

Hui and his team compared the brightness of the nucleus to earlier radio observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. This combined data constrains the diameter and the reflectivity of the nucleus. The new Hubble measurements are close to the earlier size estimates from ALMA, but convincingly suggest a darker nucleus surface than previously thought. “It’s big and it’s blacker than coal,” said Jewitt.

The comet has been falling toward the Sun for well over 1 million years. It is coming from the hypothesized nesting ground of trillions of comets, called the Oort Cloud. The diffuse cloud is thought to have an inner edge at 2,000 to 5,000 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth. Its outer edge might extend at least a quarter of the way out to the distance of the nearest stars to our Sun, the Alpha Centauri system.

The Oort Cloud’s comets didn’t actually form so far from the Sun; instead, they were tossed out of the solar system billions of years ago by a gravitational “pinball game” among the massive outer planets, when the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn were still evolving. The far-flung comets only travel back toward the Sun and planets if their distant orbits are disturbed by the gravitational tug of a passing star — like shaking apples out of a tree.

Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein follows a 3-million-year-long elliptical orbit, taking it as far from the Sun as roughly half a light-year. The comet is now less than 2 billion miles from the Sun, falling nearly perpendicular to the plane of our solar system. At that distance temperatures are only about minus 348 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet that’s warm enough for carbon monoxide to sublimate off the surface to produce the dusty coma.

Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein provides an invaluable clue to the size distribution of comets in the Oort Cloud and hence its total mass. Estimates for the Oort Cloud’s mass vary widely, reaching as high as 20 times Earth’s mass.

First hypothesized in 1950 by Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, the Oort Cloud still remains a theory because the innumerable comets that make it up are too faint and distant to be directly observed. Ironically, this means the solar system’s largest structure is all but invisible. It’s estimated that NASA’s pair of Voyager spacecraft won’t reach the inner realm of the Oort Cloud for another 300 years and could take as long as 30,000 years to pass through it.

Circumstantial evidence come from infalling comets that can be traced back to this nesting ground. They approach the Sun from all different directions meaning the cloud must be spherical in shape. These comets are deep-freeze samples of the composition of the early solar system, preserved for billions of years. The reality of the Oort Cloud is bolstered by theoretical modeling of the formation and evolution of the solar system. The more observational evidence that can be gathered through deep sky surveys coupled with multiwavelength observations, the better astronomers will understand the Oort Cloud’s role in the solar system’s evolution.

Reference: “Hubble Space Telescope Detection of the Nucleus of Comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli–Bernstein)” by Man-To Hui, David Jewitt, Liang-Liang Yu and Max J. Mutchler, 12 April 2022, The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac626a
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington, D.C.

Here’s what the first 5000 exoplanets have taught us – Big Think.com

Travel the Universe with astrophysicist Ethan Siegel.


EDITOR’s NOTE: For me this is a Super Earth sized deal. When I was getting underway with my Star Trek fandom about 12 years ago I was asked to write an article for the chapters newsletter as their new science officer. The subject was pretty new and I wrote about the new discoveries of Exoplanets. At the time they had found just under 500. Now as of March 2022 we have discovered more that 5000! We have also found moons orbiting a few of these worlds as well.

In 1990, we only knew of the planets in our own Solar System. Today, the exoplanet count is more than 5000. Here’s what we’ve learned.


The exoplanetary system TOI-178 has multiple known planets orbiting a central star. The star and all of the planets should be in hydrostatic equilibrium, with their round shape determined by gravity and rotation. This should be true of all planets, and this system is just one of thousands known to possess exoplanets.


  • The very first planets beyond our own Solar System were only discovered in the early 1990s: just 30 years ago.
  • Today, we know of more than 5000 confirmed exoplanets, or extra-solar planets, discovered via four different, independent methods.
  • Extrapolating over the entire galaxy, that likely translates into trillions of planets at minimum. Here’s what else we’ve learned, plus what remains to be discovered.

Mark it down: as of March, 2022, we’ve passed a remarkable milestone in discovering the Universe. For innumerable millennia, humans and our ancestors looked up at the sky, wondering at the seemingly limitless points of light glittering in the heavens. While many intuited that they might be similar to our Sun, except located a tremendous distance away, nobody knew whether our Solar System was something special. Did the other stars in the Universe have planets orbiting them? If so, what percent of them had planets? How many did they have? And were the planets like ours, or were they vastly different?

Just thirty years ago, humanity was beginning to uncover the answers, as we started to discover planets in orbit around stars other than our own. At last, through a combination of multiple different methods ⁠— the radial velocity method, timing measurements, the transit method, and gravitational microlensing ⁠— we’ve surpassed 5000 known exoplanets: planets located beyond our own Solar System. As is often the case, these discoveries have been tremendous and have answered some of our deepest questions about the cosmos. Nevertheless, even deeper ones now remain. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

What do planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, look like? A variety of possibilities are shown in this illustration. Scientists discovered the first exoplanets in the 1990s. As of 2022, the tally stands at just over 5,000 confirmed exoplanets.

What is an exoplanet?

In the early 1990s, two different methods, at almost the same time, started to reveal planets that were located beyond our own Solar System. Through measuring the periodic pulses coming from a neutron star, we could see that the pulses would regularly speed up, then return to normal speed, then slow down, and then return to normal speed again, over and over. The fact that these pulses changed with the same period and amplitude told us that there were massive companions in these pulsar systems, and by measuring the pulse timing, we could infer the masses of these companions: they were definitively planets.

Similarly, we could observe the periodic redshifting and blueshifting of the light from individual stars, which also revealed the presence of massive planets, which “tugged” on their parent stars and caused them to appear as though they were wobbling in space. Although both of these methods were indirect ⁠— meaning they revealed the presence of the planet, but weren’t capable of measuring the planet itself directly ⁠— they were robust. After referring to them as extra-solar planets for perhaps ~15 years, hundreds of discoveries later, the term “exoplanet” caught on. Today, we know of more than 5000 exoplanets, and the rest is history.

The discovery of the first 5000 exoplanets, as recorded by year and by method. For the first ~15 years or so, the radial velocity method was the dominant method of discovery, later superseded by the transit method beginning with NASA’s now-defunct Kepler mission. In the future, microlensing may surpass them all.

What are the known methods of exoplanet discovery?

All told, we have five methods that have successfully revealed the presence of exoplanets, as well as various properties that they possess.

  • Transit timing: this only works for stars that emit regular, periodic signals ⁠— like pulsars ⁠— but the more regular these signals are, the more easily we can detect variations in the arrival time of those pulses. If these pulsars, stellar corpses themselves, have planetary companions orbiting them with a smaller period than the amount of time we observe them for, transit timing can reveal them.
  • Radial velocity: also known as the stellar wobble method, is what occurs when an unseen planet and its parent star orbit their mutual center of mass. The planet doesn’t just make an elliptical orbit, the star also makes one, albeit one much smaller and much slower on account of the difference in masses between the two. Only when the planet is massive enough and close enough to the parent star can the exoplanet be detected.
  • Direct imaging: although this is arguably the most exciting one, since it’s the only one where you can directly collect photons from the exoplanet itself, it’s an incredibly difficult measurement to make. Only the exoplanets that are large and bright enough, intrinsically far away enough from their parent star to not get lost in the glare, and close enough to Earth to be seen with our telescope, can be seen.
When planets pass in front of their parent star, they block a portion of the star’s light: a transit event. By measuring the magnitude and periodicity of transits, we can infer the orbital parameters and physical sizes of exoplanets. When transit timing varies and is followed (or preceded) by a smaller-magnitude transit, it may indicate an exomoon as well, such as in the system Kepler-1625.
  • Transit method: this is the most successful exoplanet discovery method of all, and yet, the very first transiting exoplanet wasn’t found until 2004. The idea is that we can measure the light coming from a stellar system over time, and if we get lucky enough that one of the planets in the stellar system passes in front of the star relative to our line-of-sight, we’ll observe a slight “dip” in the apparent brightness of the star. If the dip recurs with the same magnitude repeatedly, with the same time interval between repeat dips, we can reveal the presence of a planet. This only works, with present technology, for large enough planets that orbit quickly enough to observe multiple transits, and only when the alignment between the star, planet, and our line-of-sight is practically perfect.
  • Microlensing: this occurs when you look at a distant star, but a massive object passes between the star and you, the observer. Unlike the transit method, which only works when the exoplanet is very close to the parent star, microlensing is based on the fact that the presence of a mass curves space itself, which impacts the light from all background objects. Instead of blocking a portion of the light, the mass acts like a lens, and briefly amplifies and distorts the background light, causing a brightening that reveals the mass and (angular) motion of the object. This can find not only exoplanets that orbit stars, but free-floating, rogue, or orphaned planets.

Each of these methods has their own biases, but all of them have revealed planets, and have the potential to reveal many more.

The more than 5,000 exoplanets confirmed in our galaxy so far include a variety of types – some that are similar to planets in our solar system, others vastly different. Among these are a variety we lack in our Solar System that are largely mis-named “â super-Earthsâ” because they are larger than our world. However, all but the hottest planets that are more than about ~130% of Earth’s radius will likely be mini-Neptunes, not super-Earths.

What types of planets are out there?

This is where things get very interesting! We once thought that our Solar System was typical, and that planets would come in either two or three categories. We knew there would be rocky, terrestrial planets, similar to the four inner planets in our Solar System. We also knew that there would be gas giant planets, like the four outer planets, with some dividing them into the sub-categories of true giants, like Jupiter, and ice giants, like Uranus, Neptune, and (according to some classifications) Saturn.

But now that we have 5000+ confirmed planets, with more than another 5000 candidate planets awaiting confirmation, we can categorize these planets and see what’s out there. We’ve learned that the majority of discovered planets — which, yes, are still biased towards higher masses, smaller orbital periods, and serendipitous orientations relative to our line-of-sight — fall into an in-between state: more massive than Earth but less massive than Neptune or Uranus, with radii that fall in between those two categories. Most of these worlds are likely mini-Neptunes rather than super-Earths, but more research is needed before we can firmly categorize these.

This diagram shows the discovery of the first 5000+ exoplanets we know of, and where they’re located on the sky. Circles show location and size of orbit, while their color indicates the detection method. Note that the clustering features are dependent on where we’ve been looking, not necessarily on where planets are preferentially found.

Where are the exoplanets found?

If you look at the above visual, which shows where the known exoplanets are located, you can see three odd features. For the most part, the planets look scattered across the sky, but there’s a large cluster of planets in what appears to be a very heavily bolded “+” sign. That’s due to the original Kepler mission, which focused on one patch of sky that looks down a spiral arm of our galaxy. It imaged around 150,000 stars at once, continuously, for a period of three years; about half of the known exoplanets fall in this region.

There are also smaller “clusters” of exoplanets that transit, and those were discovered by the much shorter-period searches performed by the K2 and TESS missions, the latter of which is still ongoing.

Finally, there are a significant number of planets located towards the galactic center; these are relatively recent and were discovered via microlensing. In reality, exoplanets should be everywhere, but we’re biased towards the locations where we’ve taken the best, most long-duration observations. The map of the known exoplanets should not be representative of where planets actually exist; when we take those biases into account, we think that practically every stellar system should possess exoplanets of their own, with a “lower limit” of about 80% of systems requiring one.

The mass, period, and discovery/measurement method used to determine the properties of the first 5000+ (technically, 5005) exoplanets ever discovered. Although there are planets of all sizes and periods, we are presently biased towards larger, heavier planets that orbit smaller stars at shorter orbital distances. The outer planets in most stellar systems remain largely undiscovered.

How many planets do we think are out there?

This, believe it or not, is actually one of the more challenging questions out there. It’s not because there’s a tremendous uncertainty in the number of stars with planets or even how many planets are found in each stellar system, on average. Yes, there are uncertainties in both of those, as our ignorance about the outer parts of planetary systems is tremendous; we’d need to either improve direct imaging technology tremendously or make much longer-duration, more sensitive observations of larger numbers of systems to take an effective census of planets using the radial velocity or transit methods. In reality, it’s safe to say that the average stellar system has between 4 and 20 exoplanets: a relatively small uncertainty.

But what about the planets that aren’t located in stellar systems? While most systems, like our own, are anticipated to have ejected a small number of planets or proto-planets since their formation, we have very little information with respect to how many “failed” stellar systems there are for each one that successfully formed. How many:

  • brown dwarfs,giant planets
  • ice giants
  • terrestrial-like planets
  • or ice-rich
  • spheroidal bodies

are out there? Estimates range from “about as many stars” to “a few tens of thousands of times the number of stars,” and only advanced microlensing studies will be able to reveal them.

When a gravitational microlensing event occurs, the background light from a star gets distorted and magnified as an intervening mass travels across or near the line-of-sight to the star. The effect of the intervening gravity bends the space between the light and our eyes, creating a specific signal that reveals the mass and speed of the planet in question.

Is our Solar System “typical” in some fashion?

Yes and no. (What a cop-out of an answer, I know.) Our Solar System is typical, likely, in terms of the number of planets we have. But the low-mass end of the exoplanetary spectrum is very poorly probed, as are the population statistics of the outer planets in most planetary systems. However, we’re likely not typical in that we have a series of rocky, terrestrial planets in the inner Solar System, accompanied by more massive, gas-rich planets in the outer Solar System.

The other systems we’ve measured have shown us that giant planets in the inner parts of a planetary system aren’t rare, but exist in substantial abundances. We’ve also seen that these mini-Neptune planets — which represents the overwhelming majority of the exoplanets we’ve (mistakenly) named “super-Earths” — are extraordinarily common, and yet aren’t represented at all in our Solar System. Finally, there are two more truly remarkable ways that we’re not typical: our Sun is brighter and more massive than 95% of stars in the galaxy, and about half of all stars out there are members of multi-star systems.

If we want to know just how typical we are, it’s vital that we understand what’s out there around the more common types of stars, so we can see just how we stack up.

The TRAPPIST-1 system contains the most terrestrial-like planets of any stellar system presently known, and is shown scales to temperature equivalents to our own Solar System. As you can see, Mercury and Venus differ not only in positions relative to the so-called Habitable Zone, but also in size and other intrinsic properties.

Are any of the 5000 we’ve discovered so far actually inhabited?

Here comes another cop-out answer: we don’t know. Some of them, we believe, are rocky and are likely to possess thin atmospheres, just like Earth. Some of those, we believe, are likely to be at the proper distance from their parent star so that if they’re rich in water, they’re likely to have liquid oceans on their surfaces. And some of those, we believe, may either have possessed or even currently possess similar conditions to those found on early Earth: where life arose more than 4 billion years ago.

But most of the planets we’ve found aren’t rocky, but rather are likely to have thick, volatile gas envelopes. And many of the ones that don’t are likely to be Mercury-like, with no atmosphere at all.

And most of the planets that are rocky have been found around M-class stars: the reddest, coolest stars. Because of the short orbital periods of these planets, they’re sure to be tidally locked to their parent stars, and may have had their atmospheres stripped away entirely by these stars, which flare actively.

Moreover, none of these small planets have had their atmospheres measured, either by direct imaging or via transit spectroscopy. To determine whether there are bio-signatures (or at least bio-hints) on these worlds, we’ll need to overcome those limitations.

When starlight passes through a transiting exoplanet’s atmosphere, signatures are imprinted. Depending on the wavelength and intensity of both emission and absorption features, the presence or absence of various atomic and molecular species within an exoplanet’s atmosphere can be revealed through the technique of transit spectroscopy.

What unanswered questions can we expect to answer in the near future?

Remarkably, the answer is “pretty much every question we’ve already raised.” As telescopes like James Webb, EUCLID, PLATO, the Giant Magellan Telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, and the Nancy Roman Space Telescope come online, our capabilities will improve across the board. We’ll be able to measure:

  • the atmospheres around smaller planets
  • direct images of planets closer to their parent stars
  • microlensing signals from smaller planets and with smaller magnitudes
  • larger numbers of statistics
  • and smaller radial velocity signals

than ever before. We’ll also be able to learn how low in heavy elements a stellar system can be and still have rocky planets, as well as which planets are “super-Earths” versus “mini-Neptunes.”

Best of all, from the combination of atmospheric signals that are revealed via transit spectroscopy and direct imaging, we’ll be sensitive to learning what’s in the atmospheres of our first Earth-sized planets around other stars. Do they have atmospheres? Do any of those atmospheres have molecules like oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and/or methane? Are there chemical signatures we associate with intelligent creatures, such as chlorofluorocarbons or industrial pollutants?

We have no right to expect that the signatures we’re hoping to find will be abundant in the Universe, but we owe it to ourselves to look to the full extent of our capabilities. After all, the moment we decide that we’ve looked hard enough and that it isn’t worth looking further, that’s the instant we’ve given up on the scientific endeavor of searching beyond the known frontiers.

Have a listen to prior Starts With A Bang podcasts with microlensing expert Savannah Jacklin,

and an additional podcast with exoplanet scientist extraordinare Jessie Christiansen.

Cosmic Milestone: NASA Confirms 5,000 Exoplanets

Written by Pat Brennan


EDITOR’s NOTE: For me this is a Super Earth sized deal. When I was getting underway with my Star Trek fandom about 12 years ago I was asked to write an article for the chapters newsletter as their new science officer. The subject was pretty new and I wrote about the new discoveries of Exoplanets. At the time they had found just under 500. Now as of March 2022 we have discovered more that 5000! We have also found moons orbiting a few of these worlds as well.

What do planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, look like? A variety of possibilities are shown in this illustration. Scientists discovered the first exoplanets in the 1990s. As of 2022, the tally stands at just over 5,000 confirmed exoplanets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The count of confirmed exoplanets just ticked past the 5,000 mark, representing a 30-year journey of discovery led by NASA space telescopes.

Not so long ago, we lived in a universe with only a small number of known planets, all of them orbiting our Sun. But a new raft of discoveries marks a scientific high point: More than 5,000 planets are now confirmed to exist beyond our solar system.

The planetary odometer turned on March 21, with the latest batch of 65 exoplanets – planets outside our immediate solar family – added to the NASA Exoplanet Archive. The archive records exoplanet discoveries that appear in peer-reviewed, scientific papers, and that have been confirmed using multiple detection methods or by analytical techniques.

The 5,000-plus planets found so far include small, rocky worlds like Earth, gas giants many times larger than Jupiter, and “hot Jupiters” in scorchingly close orbits around their stars. There are “super-Earths,” which are possible rocky worlds bigger than our own, and “mini-Neptunes,” smaller versions of our system’s Neptune. Add to the mix planets orbiting two stars at once and planets stubbornly orbiting the collapsed remnants of dead stars.

Astronomers have now confirmed more than 5,000 exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system. That’s just a fraction of the likely hundreds of billions in our galaxy. The cones of exoplanet discovery radiate out from planet Earth, like spokes on a wheel. Many more discoveries await. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“It’s not just a number,” said Jessie Christiansen, science lead for the archive and a research scientist with the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech in Pasadena. “Each one of them is a new world, a brand-new planet. I get excited about every one because we don’t know anything about them.”

We do know this: Our galaxy likely holds hundreds of billions of such planets. The steady drumbeat of discovery began in 1992 with strange new worlds orbiting an even stranger star. It was a type of neutron star known as a pulsar, a rapidly spinning stellar corpse that pulses with millisecond bursts of searing radiation. Measuring slight changes in the timing of the pulses allowed scientists to reveal planets in orbit around the pulsar.

This diagram shows the discovery of the first 5000+ exoplanets we know of, and where they’re located on the sky. Circles show location and size of orbit, while their color indicates the detection method. Note that the clustering features are dependent on where we’ve been looking, not necessarily on where planets are preferentially found.

Finding just three planets around this spinning star essentially opened the floodgates, said Alexander Wolszczan, the lead author on the paper that, 30 years ago, unveiled the first planets to be confirmed outside our solar system.

“If you can find planets around a neutron star, planets have to be basically everywhere,” Wolszczan said. “The planet production process has to be very robust.”

Wolszczan, who still searches for exoplanets as a professor at Penn State, says we’re opening an era of discovery that will go beyond simply adding new planets to the list. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in 2018, continues to make new exoplanet discoveries. But soon powerful next-generation telescopes and their highly sensitive instruments, starting with the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope, will capture light from the atmospheres of exoplanets, reading which gases are present to potentially identify tell-tale signs of habitable conditions.

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, expected to launch in 2027, will make new exoplanet discoveries using a variety of methods. The ESA (European Space Agency) mission ARIEL, launching in 2029, will observe exoplanet atmospheres; a piece of NASA technology aboard, called CASE, will help zero in on exoplanet clouds and hazes.

“To my thinking, it is inevitable that we’ll find some kind of life somewhere – most likely of some primitive kind,” Wolszczan said. The close connection between the chemistry of life on Earth and chemistry found throughout the universe, as well as the detection of widespread organic molecules, suggests detection of life itself is only a matter of time, he added.

In this animation, exoplanets are represented by musical notes played across decades of discovery. Circles show location and size of orbit, while their color indicates the detection method. Lower notes mean longer orbits, higher notes shorter orbits. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SYSTEM Sounds (M. Russo and A. Santaguida)

How to Find Other Worlds

The picture didn’t always look so bright. The first planet detected around a Sun-like star, in 1995, turned out to be a hot Jupiter: a gas giant about half the mass of our own Jupiter in an extremely close, four-day orbit around its star. A year on this planet, in other words, lasts only four days.

More such planets appeared in the data from ground-based telescopes once astronomers learned to recognize them – first dozens, then hundreds. They were found using the “wobble” method: tracking slight back-and-forth motions of a star, caused by gravitational tugs from orbiting planets. But still, nothing looked likely to be habitable.

Finding small, rocky worlds more like our own required the next big leap in exoplanet-hunting technology: the “transit” method. Astronomer William Borucki came up with the idea of attaching extremely sensitive light detectors to a telescope, then launching it into space. The telescope would stare for years at a field of more than 170,000 stars, searching for tiny dips in starlight when a planet crossed a star’s face.

That idea was realized in the Kepler Space Telescope.

Borucki, principal investigator of the now-retired Kepler mission, says its launch in 2009 opened a new window on the universe.

“I get a real feeling of satisfaction, and really of awe at what’s out there,” he said. “None of us expected this enormous variety of planetary systems and stars. It’s just amazing.”

The more than 5,000 exoplanets confirmed in our galaxy so far include a variety of types – some that are similar to planets in our solar system, others vastly different. Among these are a mysterious variety known as “super-Earths” because they are larger than our world and possibly rocky. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

News Media Contact
Calla Cofield

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.



Russian cosmonauts wear Ukrainian colours while boarding International Space Station | Science & Tech News | Sky News


The crew said that their spacesuits were made in the colours of the Ukrainian flag because they had to use up spare yellow material.

NASA says there are ‘no tensions’ among the ISS team.

The three men, Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveyev, are the first to be welcomed aboard the ISS since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

A video of one of the men as their space capsule docked with the station showed him in a traditional light blue suit, but this was changed for another matching the colours of the Ukrainian flag before he and his colleagues actually entered.

Was it really a gesture of defiance?

Asked about the significance of the spacesuit, Mr Artemyev explained that each crew gets to choose its own flight suit to differentiate itself from others.

“It became our turn to pick a colour. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material, so we needed to use it. So that’s why we have had to wear yellow,” he said.

Russian cosmonauts have boarded the International Space Station (ISS) wearing unusual yellow spacesuits, prompting speculation that the move is a quiet gesture of defiance in support of Ukraine. 🇺🇦

But some have speculated that deniability may be an important quality for such a protest, given the crackdown on dissent inside of Russia.

Roscosmos’ press service said on its Telegram channel: “Sometimes yellow is just yellow.

“The flight suits of the new crew are made in the colours of the emblem of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, which all three cosmonauts graduated from… To see the Ukrainian flag everywhere and in everything is crazy.”

The men arrived at the ISS to join two fellow Russians, four Americans, and a German – but there are concerns that diplomatic fallout over the war in Ukraine could undermine the international cooperation necessary to keep it in orbit and astronauts safe.

The future of the project is likely limited. NASA has published plans which could see the 444,615kg structure taken out of orbit in January 2031 and crashed into a “spacecraft cemetery” in the remotest spot on Earth.

But following US sanctions against Russia, the country’s space chief warned that Russia could completely withdraw from the project much earlier than that, although NASA scientists have not seemed overly concerned.

NASA claims ‘no tensions’ in space station

The space agency has told Sky News that despite heated exchanges and deteriorating relations back on Earth, cooperation between Russia and the US on the ISS will continue.

“There really are no tensions in the team,” Joel Montalbano, programme manager for the ISS, told Sky News.

Last week, a tongue-in-cheek video was posted on social media by Russian government-controlled RIA Novosti, showing NASA astronaut Mark T Vande Hei being left behind on the space station by cosmonauts.

Concerns grew when the video was retweeted by the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin.

It was just one of several barbed tweets sent by the Russian space chief aimed at US and European colleagues since sanctions were imposed on Russia.

“I can tell you for sure Mark is coming home on that Soyuz,” Mr Montalbano told a press conference. “There’s been some discussions about that, but I can tell you that all of them are coming.”

Speaking to Sky News, Juliana Suess, a research analyst at RUSI, said: “The ISS continues to operate normally for the moment.

“As such, astronauts in training in the US have not been recalled and cooperation between engineers in the respective mission control centres continues.

“A statement made by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, on 2 March, warned about a discontinuation of cooperation but only beyond 2024.

“A complete and sudden halt of cooperation on the ISS would be difficult to say the least, as the crew’s health and operations are dependent on technologies in both segments.

“Crucially, the Russian segment holds the station’s reboost capability, while the Russian segment in turn is dependent on the American segment for its electrical power supply.

“Taking a slightly longer-term view, the space station could be run without the Russian side, if Russia decides to discontinue their work on the ISS after 2024 – which is when the multinational agreement formally ends.

“In the first instance, this would require the replacement of the propulsion systems and their launchers,” she added.

Yuri’s Night celebrates the first human to orbit the Earth. It really has nothing to do with politics, its like science something for all humanity not for just one country or ideology.

EDITOR’s NOTE: For the last several years I have assisted with this awesome space party. We call it Yuri’s Night and we celebrate the first human to orbit the Earth. Here in Los Angeles we have a big space party at our California Science Center where the Space Shuttle Endeavor lives. As you can imagine we dress up, mingle with Astronauts and celebrities and just have a good old time.

Unfortunately this year is mared by a war in Ukraine. Your editor has real friends who are suffering in that sovereign country. Again there are real people being oppressed by the ruler of A government. The bad things occuring there are because of one man who claims ultimate political power in his country. IT IS NOT the view of many many people who live in that country, and not it seems of the people who are away from our planet at war who represent that place of autocracy.

So why don’t you join us on April 12th the day in 1961 when a human from an old union of countries launched on a huge can of fuel and became the first person to see our world without boarders or walls. Log on to http://www.yurisnight.net and find the World Space Party near you, or get together with your friends and create your own party. If you are in California or Texas you can join us in person.

Los Angeles April 9th at the California Science Center under the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

In Florida on April 16th Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Under Space Shuttle Atlantis

Visit us at http://www.yurisnight.net

“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship,
I marveled at the beauty of our planet.

People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty —
not destroy it!”

— Yuri Gagarin,
1st human in space.

Countries that have participated aboard the ISS.

First Rollout of NASA’s Massive Artemis I Moon Rocket


EDITOR’s NOTE: I know that we haven’t posted in some time, I e been waiting for something that caught my eye. This is it Artemis 1 is being moved into it’s launching zone. Click the tag or category to see our other posts on the Artemis Program. Getting closer to the Moon everyday.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the Orion capsule atop, slowly rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 17, 2022, on its journey to Launch Complex 39B. Carried atop the crawler-transporter 2, NASA’s Moon rocket is venturing out to the launch pad for a wet dress rehearsal ahead of the uncrewed Artemis I launch. The first in an increasingly complex set of missions, Artemis I will test SLS and Orion as an integrated system prior to crewed flights to the Moon. Through Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a stepping stone on the way to Mars.

On March 17, 2022, the Artemis I Moon rocket rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and made its way to launch pad 39B in preparation for the wet dress rehearsal – one of the final tests needed before the Artemis I launch. Credit: NASA/Chris Chamberland

NASA’s Mega Moon Rocket Begins Rolling to Launch Pad

The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission are rolling to Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the very first time. At about 5:45 p.m. ET, with the integrated SLS and Orion system atop it, the crawler-transporter began the approximately 4-mile, journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch pad. Once outside the VAB high-bay doors, the Moon rocket will make a planned pause allowing the team to reposition the Crew Access Arm before continuing to the launch pad. The crawler-transporter will move slowly during the trek to the pad with a top cruising speed of .82 mph. The journey is expected to take between six and 12 hours.

After they arrive at the pad, engineers will prepare the integrated rocket and Orion spacecraft for a critical wet dress rehearsal test that includes loading all the propellants.

NASA’s Moon rocket is on the move at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for a 4.2-mile journey to Launch Complex 39B on March 17, 2022. Carried atop the crawler-transporter 2, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft are venturing to the pad for a wet dress rehearsal ahead of the uncrewed Artemis I launch. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Moon Rocket Revealed Outside Vehicle Assembly Building

The rocket and spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis I mission has fully left Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for the first time on the way to Launch Complex 39B for a wet dress rehearsal test.

The team is in a planned pause outside the building to retract the Crew Access Arm (CAA). The arm interfaces with the Orion spacecraft stacked atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to provide access to the Orion crew module during operations in the VAB and at the launch pad. On crewed Artemis missions beginning with Artemis II, the access arm also will provide entry and exit for astronauts and payloads that will fly aboard. Several days before the rollout began, the arm was moved closer to the rocket to fit through the VAB door. Engineers are extending it to lock it in its travel position.

Once the CAA retraction is complete, the team will continue the four-mile trek to Launch Complex 39B.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the Orion capsule atop, slowly rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 17, 2022, on its journey to Launch Complex 39B. Carried atop the crawler-transporter 2, NASA’s Moon rocket is venturing out to the launch pad for a wet dress rehearsal ahead of the uncrewed Artemis I launch. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Moon Rocket Keeps on Rolling to Launch Complex 39B

NASA’s mega-Moon rocket continues its four-mile journey to the launch pad after leaving the Vehicle Assembly Building after a planned stop to adjust the Crew Access Arm. Traveling at a top speed of .82 mph, the crawler-transporter with the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft atop the mobile launcher is on its way to Launch Complex 39B.

Once at the launch pad, the team will begin final preparations ahead of the wet dress rehearsal test.

And now for a special treat. Ladies and Gentlemen – Eddie Vedder – Invincible

Grammy-award winning artist Eddie Vedder’s “Invincible” video collaboration with NASA is inspired by our Artemis I Moon mission.

The Fastest Trains in the World


The Briefing

  • Japan’s L0 Series Maglev is the fastest train in the world, with a speed record of 374 mph or 602 km/h. It could go the distance from New York City to Montreal in less than an hour.
  • China has half of the eight fastest trains, and the world’s largest high-speed railway network.

Visualizing the Fastest Trains in the World

Ever since the invention of the steam locomotive in 1802, trains have been a driving societal force.

Invented in Britain at the height of the Industrial Revolution, steam trains gave the empire an unparalleled advantage in transporting goods and people. Soon it spread around the world as other nations scrambled to build their own railway networks to facilitate growth and commerce.

But just as nations rushed to build more railways, they also tried to build faster trains. Japan’s Tōkaidō Shinkansen or “bullet train” in 1964 was the first high-speed rail system, achieving a speed above 124 mph or 200 km/h.

How do other countries and trains compare?

Let’s dive into the fastest trains in the world using data from Travel and Leisure magazine.

Who Has The Fastest Trains in the World?

Japan started the high-speed train revolution in earnest, and it’s still at the top of the charts.

Though it’s fastest regular operating bullet trains (the N700A Shinkansen) can reach a top speed of 186 mph or 300 km/h, the country’s new development in magnetic levitation (maglev) is breaking speed records.

In fact, the top two fastest trains in the world are maglev, using two sets of magnets to elevate the train and propel it forward without friction to slow it down.

Japan’s L0 Series Maglev is still in production, but with a land speed record of 374 mph or 602 km/h it is the fastest train in the world.

China’s Fastest Trains Look to Pass Japan

Japan is facing stiff competition from China, which already has the world’s longest high speed railway network and is investing heavily in infrastructure.

China already has a maglev train in operation, the Shanghai Maglev, which connects the city center with the international airport. The country’s latest unveiled train in July 2021 achieved a land speed of 373 mph or 600 km/h.

When it was unveiled, the new maglev train was announced as the fastest operating train in the world as it enters full production. But until full operation actually begins, its test speed record is still under that of the L0 Series.

In fact, China has half of the eight fastest trains in the world. Including Japan and South Korea, Asia accounts for the bulk of high-speed rail networks and record speeds.

Though it’s not all maglevs and Asia dominance. Conventional electric trains in Europe also made the list, with France’s TGV POS and Italy’s Frecciarossa 1000 reaching speeds of 357 mph (575 km/h) and 245 mph (394 km/h) respectively.

X-59 QueSST: The Faster-Than-Sound Aircraft Without A Sonic Boom – BBC Science Focus Magazine


Could NASA bring back faster-than-sound travel?

Written By Dr Andrew May

Aircraft that break the sound barrier are banned over many countries – but could quiet supersonic technology bring them back?

A few months ago we did a few pieces on Super Sonic flight 🛫 Here is a follow up on those posts. Planes that go at hyper speeds that won’t go BOOM!

NASA, though best known for its spacecraft, also has a pretty sizeable fleet of aircraft under its belt. It has a venerable tradition of X-planes, where ‘X’ stands for experimental. It started back in 1946 with the X-1, which became the first aircraft to travel faster than sound. Three-quarters of a century on, its new plane, the X-59, also aims to break the sound barrier – but this time it’s going to do it quietly.

The speed of sound has always caused headaches for aircraft designers. The reason lies in the nature of sound itself. When anything from a handclap to a rocket disturbs the air, it causes pressure changes that spread out like a wave. The speed of this wave depends on the properties of the air, but under normal conditions it’s around 1,200km/h (750mph).

“All aircraft change the pressure in the air around them as they fly,” explains Peter Coen of NASA’s Langley Research Center. The consequences depend on whether the aircraft is flying slower or faster than the sound it produces.

Illustration of how the completed X-59 might look © Lockheed Martin

In a typical subsonic aircraft, the pressure changes are gradual, [so] air molecules ahead of the aircraft sense the pressure change before the aircraft reaches them,” Coen continues. “But if an airplane flies faster than sound, the molecules upstream don’t know that it is coming.”

From the point of view of those molecules, all the sound waves the aircraft has been pushing ahead of it arrive at once. “The pressure changes happen instantaneously in what is called a shock wave,” Coen says. “A shock wave, from the nose of the aircraft for example, travels outward in all directions and merges with other shocks, from the wings or cockpit window… The result of this is two large, distinct shock waves that we hear on the ground as the two booms of a sonic boom.”

While we may only hear the sonic boom briefly, it’s actually produced continuously for as long as the aircraft is supersonic. People at different points under the flight path will hear it at different times – and when they do, they’ll all jump out of their skin in surprise. That’s why, back in the 1970s, the United States and many other countries imposed an almost complete ban on supersonic flight over their territories.

In pictures: X-59 QueSST, the supersonic aircraft that doesn’t go boom

This situation is unlikely to change unless the sonic boom is reduced to an acceptable level. This is where Coen and his team come in. He’s the mission integration manager for NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstration project. Their aim is to produce a viable supersonic design that’s no more disruptive to people on the ground than an ordinary aircraft. That would’ve been unthinkable 50 years ago, but advances in computer-aided design mean it’s within our grasp today. The result, a collaborative effort with Lockheed Martin, is the X-59 – a proposed test vehicle dubbed QueSST (for Quiet Supersonic Technology).

“The X-59 aircraft is equipped with unique shaping and supersonic technologies,” Coen explains. “A long slender nose, engine placement on the top of the aircraft and its External Vision System are all designed to control the strength and position of the shock waves to produce a softer sound to those on the ground.”

The aim isn’t to eliminate shock waves altogether – which is impossible – but to design the aircraft in such a way that the shock waves are spaced roughly equally along its length. “Because of this, the shock waves do not merge into the double shock boom but are individually weakened and softened,” says Coen.

Although it was designed with aerodynamic considerations first and foremost, the X-59 is a striking-looking aircraft by any standards. Almost a third of its 30-metre length is taken up by the sharply pointed nose, behind which the single-seat cockpit is so carefully moulded into the streamlined fuselage that it’s barely discernible. In fact, the pilot doesn’t even have a forward-facing windscreen – just an HD video display showing the view ahead (that’s the External Vision System that Coen referred to earlier).

All this careful shaping should, according to the simulations, reduce the dreaded sonic boom to a more acceptable ‘sonic thump’. To quantify sudden, sharp sounds, NASA uses a measure called ‘perceived level decibels’, or PLdB. A conventional sonic boom is around 105PLdB, while a car door slamming six metres away is just 75PLdB. That’s the level the X-59 is aiming at. When it’s flying at 1,400km/h (925mph) – around 1.4 times the speed of sound – at a typical cruising altitude, all you should hear is a mild thump no worse than your neighbour slamming a car door.

So far, however, it’s all theory. Only when NASA takes delivery of the X-59 from Lockheed Martin early in 2023 will they be able to see how reality measures up. The test schedule will fall into two phases – careful scientific measurements over NASA’s California test ranges to start with, followed by a community response study over a few selected US cities.

Read more about the future of aircraft:

The latter phase is crucial, because there are subtleties in the way people react to sounds that go beyond measurable quantities like PLdB. Coen and his team hope the X-59’s sonic thump will be acceptable to the public, but they can’t be sure. “Once we get into the community overflight test phase of the mission, we will collect this input from people who are actually on the ground and hear the sound the X-59 makes when it flies overhead,” Coen explains.

Gauging public reaction is critical, because ultimately only this – as opposed to any number of scientific measurements and calculations – will carry weight with aviation regulators. The aim is to persuade them to modify the blanket ban on supersonic overflights, granting an exemption for any future aircraft that might pick up on the X-59’s low-boom design features.

If everything goes the way NASA is hoping, the final years of this decade could see the start of a second great era of supersonic air travel, following the abortive first era that began and ended with Concorde.

The Concorde was operated between 1976 and 2003 by just two airlines, British Airways and Air France. The stringent flight restrictions meant the iconic aircraft was only ever used on transatlantic routes. Concorde was notoriously expensive, of course, but that was largely because it was the first of its kind.

And with such a limited range of available routes, aerospace companies simply didn’t have sufficient incentive to carry out the research that might have made it more economical in terms of fuel consumption and passenger capacity.

In an alternative timeline in which the sonic boom problem never arose, the situation today might have been very different, with supersonic air travel being the norm on all the world’s long-haul routes. Now there’s a real possibility that this could happen in our world, if the X-59 lives up to expectations.

Andrew May is a science, history and sci-fi writer. He studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and obtained a PhD in Theoretical Astrophysics from Manchester University. He worked in the scientific civil service, including three years in the Ministry of Defence.

NASA’s Low-Noise Supersonic Plane Has No Front Window. Here’s How They See Through

To be as quiet as it is, the X-59 had to give up forward windows, so NASA developed a vision system instead.

By Loukia Papadopoulos
Oct 09, 2021 (Updated: Oct 10, 2021 05:04 EDT)

Supersonic planes might be speedy but they have one distinct problem: They generate an unbearably loud sound. When an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound, shockwaves form and travel away from the aircraft, merging and generating sonic booms heard on the ground for miles.

NASA is now working with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works to transform aviation through its faster-than-sound X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft that reduces sonic booms to a barely-audible sonic thump. 

The new single-seat plane X-59 will be 99.7 feet long, 29.5 feet wide (30 m by 9 m), and will cruise at an altitude of 55,000 feet (16.7 km) while moving at a speed of Mach 1.4, or 925 mph (1,488 km/h). What it won’t have, however, is a forward-facing window.

Instead, it will rely on a NASA-developed eXternal Vision System (XVS)

According to Forbes, NASA’s XVS subsystem lead, Randy Bailey, calls the artificial vision system “the last line of defense” in the domain where the pilot can use the system to see an oncoming air vehicle. “Way before we get to that point we have ATC [air traffic control] and ADS-B information assuming the other [air traffic] is on it,” he explained.

The X-59 does not include a forward canopy in order to maintain its long needle-nosed shape, Bailey also added. Instead, it uses what Bailey refers to as an “electronic window.”

NASA’s electronic window XVS system includes a pair of high-resolution cameras, and a 4K monitor. The first 4K camera is located atop and slightly ahead of the cockpit and is augmented with synthetic vision capability, allowing the pilot to artificially see through fog and clouds.

A second camera underneath the nose can extend during takeoffs and landings. In this sense, the aircraft is fully covered and does not require a window. NASA’s XVS system provides all the visual information required for a pilot to fly safely.

Part of the Universe’s Missing Matter Found Thanks to Very Large Telescope


  • Galaxies exchange matter with their external environment thanks to galactic winds.
  • The MUSE instrument from the Very Large Telescope has, for the very first time, mapped the galactic wind that drive these exchanges between galaxies and nebulae.
  • This observation led to the detection of some of the Universe’s missing matter.

Galaxies can receive and exchange matter with their external environment thanks to the galactic winds created by stellar explosions. Thanks to the MUSE instrument[1] from the Very Large Telescope at the ESO, an international research team, led on the French side by the CNRS and l’Université Claude Bernard Lyon,[1,2] has mapped a galactic wind for the first time. This unique observation, which is detailed in a study published in MNRAS on September 16, 2021, helped to reveal where some of the Universe’s missing matter is located and to observe the formation of a nebula around a galaxy.

Galaxies are like islands of stars in the Universe, and possess ordinary or baryonic matter, which consists of elements from the periodic table, as well as dark matter, whose composition remains unknown. One of the major problems in understanding the formation of galaxies is that approximately 80% of the baryons[3] that make up the normal matter of galaxies is missing. According to models, they were expelled from galaxies into intergalactic space by the galactic winds created by stellar explosions.  

Observation of a part of the Universe thanks to MUSE
Left: Demarcation of the quasar and the galaxy studied here, Gal1.

Center: Nebula consisting of magnesium represented with a size scale

Right: superimposition of the nebula and the Gal1 galaxy.

Credit: © Johannes Zabl

An international team,[4] led on the French side by researchers from the CNRS and l’Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, successfully used the MUSE instrument to generate a detailed map of the galactic wind driving exchanges between a young galaxy in formation and a nebula (a cloud of gas and interstellar dust).

The team chose to observe galaxy Gal1 due to the proximity of a quasar, which served as a “lighthouse” for the scientists by guiding them toward the area of study. They also planned to observe a nebula around this galaxy, although the success of this observation was initially uncertain, as the nebula’s luminosity was unknown.

The perfect positioning of the galaxy and the quasar, as well as the discovery of gas exchange due to galactic winds, made it possible to draw up a unique map. This enabled the first observation of a nebula in formation that is simultaneously emitting and absorbing magnesium—some of the Universe’s missing baryons—with the Gal1 galaxy.

This type of normal matter nebula is known in the near Universe, but their existence for young galaxies in formation had only been supposed.

Scientists thus discovered some of the Universe’s missing baryons, thereby confirming that 80–90% of normal matter is located outside of g


  • 1) MUSE, which stands for Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer, is a 3D spectrograph designed to explore the distant Universe. The Centre de recherché astrophysique de Lyon (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard-Lyon 1/ENS de Lyon) led its construction.
  • 2) Researchers from the Centre de recherché astrophysique de Lyon (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/ENS de Lyon), the Galaxies, étoiles, physique, instrumentation laboratory (CNRS/Observatoire de Paris – PSL), and the Institut de recherché en astrophysique et planétologie (CNRS/Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier/CNES) participated in the project.
  • 3) Baryons are particles consisting of three quarks, such as protons and neutrons. They make up atoms and molecules as well as all visible structures in the observable Universe (stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters, etc.). The “missing” baryons, which had never before been observed, must be distinguished from dark matter, which consists of non-baryonic matter of an unknown nature.
  • 4) Including scientists from Saint Mary’s University in Canada, the Institute for Astrophysics at the University of Potsdam in Germany, Leiden University in the Netherlands, the University of Geneva and the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich, the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in India, and the University of Porto in Portugal.

Reference: “MusE GAs FLOw and Wind (MEGAFLOW) VIII. Discovery of a Mgii emission halo probed by a quasar sightline” by Johannes Zabl, Nicolas F Bouché, Lutz Wisotzki, Joop Schaye, Floriane Leclercq, Thibault Garel, Martin Wendt, Ilane Schroetter, Sowgat Muzahid, Sebastiano Cantalupo, Thierry Contini, Roland Bacon, Jarle Brinchmann and Johan Richard, 28 July 2021, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.