AC2C. Stay Current—Astronomer’s Tools

A Changing Cosmos Cover

Staying current for Chapter 2

{ A Changing Cosmos Contents }

Articles from 2009–present

2022-08-24. All-seeing telescope will snap exploding stars, may spy a hidden world. [https://www.science.org/content/article/all-seeing-telescope-will-snap-exploding-stars-may-spy-hidden-world] By Daniel Clery, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Array of 900 instruments will make movies of heavens, revealing short-lived and fast-changing events. …Argus aims to achieve its unique vision with hundreds of off-the-shelf telescopes, each just 20 centimeters across and watching a different patch of sky. The final array will match the light-gathering power of a telescope with a single 5-meter mirror, which typically costs hundreds of millions of dollars, but cheap components should keep Argus’s cost below $20 million, Law says. The challenge will come in stitching together the array’s 900 images into a single, seamless movie of the night sky.…

2022-08-15. Stowaways on NASA’s massive Moon rocket promise big science in small packages. [https://www.science.org/content/article/stowaways-nasa-s-massive-moon-rocket-promise-big-science-small-packages] By Erik Hand, Science Magazine. Excerpt: CubeSats packed on Artemis 1 will target lunar ice—if their batteries don’t fail them. When NASA’s most powerful rocket ever attempts its first flight this month, its highest profile payload will be three instrumented mannequins, setting off on a 42-day journey beyond the Moon and back. They are stand-ins for the astronauts that the 98-meter-tall rocket, known as the Space Launch System (SLS), is supposed to carry to the Moon as soon as 2025, as part of NASA’s Artemis program. But there will be other voyagers along for the ride when the SLS lifts off on 29 August: 10 CubeSats, satellites no bigger than a small briefcase, to probe the Moon, asteroids, and the radiation environment of deep space. …Several SLS CubeSats will focus on lunar ice, which has intrigued researchers ever since NASA’s Lunar Prospector discovered a signal suggestive of water in the late 1990s. …Researchers assume much of the hydrogen represents water ice delivered by ancient impacts of comets or asteroids and trapped in the coldest, darkest lunar recesses. But the hydrogen could also be implanted by the solar wind. When hydrogen ions in the wind strike oxygen-bearing minerals in lunar soil, it creates hydroxyl, which can be transformed into water through subsequent reactions.…

2022-08-02. Webb Captures Stellar Gymnastics in The Cartwheel Galaxy. [https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2022/webb-captures-stellar-gymnastics-in-the-cartwheel-galaxy] By NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI. Excerpt: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has peered into the chaos of the Cartwheel Galaxy, revealing new details about star formation and the galaxy’s central black hole. Webb’s powerful infrared gaze produced this detailed image of the Cartwheel and two smaller companion galaxies against a backdrop of many other galaxies. …The Cartwheel Galaxy, located about 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, is a rare sight. Its appearance, much like that of the wheel of a wagon, is the result of an intense event – a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy not visible in this image. …The collision most notably affected the galaxy’s shape and structure. The Cartwheel Galaxy sports two rings — a bright inner ring and a surrounding, colorful ring. These two rings expand outwards from the center of the collision, like ripples in a pond after a stone is tossed into it. Because of these distinctive features, astronomers call this a “ring galaxy,” a structure less common than spiral galaxies like our Milky Way.…

2022-07-12. NASA Reveals Webb Telescope’s First Images of Unseen Universe. [https://webbtelescope.org/news/news-releases] By NASA. Excerpt: The first images and spectroscopic data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have revealed unprecedented and detailed views of the universe. Webb’s first images and spectra, including downloadable files, can be found at https://webbtelescope.org/news/first-images.… See zoomable image of Webb’s First Deep Field (very early galaxies); Deepest Image of Universe; Spectrum of an exoplanet; Southern Ring Nebula (dying star); Stephan’s Quintet (merging galaxies); star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula; and Science Magazine article Webb telescope wows with first images.

2022-03-07. Making a Camera That Works a Million Miles Away. By Mark A. Stein, The New York Times interview. Excerpt: When the James Webb Space Telescope sent its first images to Earth, no one was more excited than Marcia J. Rieke, who oversaw the design and construction of its camera. …We’ve gotten the first images and we’re super happy. The entire Webb team is ecstatic at how well the first steps of taking images and aligning the telescope are proceeding. …When did the astronomy bug bite you? As a kid, I read astronomy and science fiction books from the public library and became enchanted with the idea of visiting other planets. When I was in junior high, I worked as a babysitter and saved money to buy myself a telescope. …This was in the late 1960s. How was it to be a woman in your field back then? My entering class was one of the first ones where M.I.T. made a big push to get more women accepted. In my class, there were something like 73 women out of 1,000 incoming students. That isn’t a big number, but it was a lot bigger number than had been coming in before. …What advice was most helpful in your career? People need to do something they love doing. Find your passion and go for that.… [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/science/space/marcia-rieke-james-webb-telescope.html]

2022-03-04. Abandoned rocket ‘hits the Moon’ . By Georgina Rannard, BBC News. Excerpt: A discarded part of a rocket should have crashed into the Moon’s far side by now, say scientists who were expecting the impact at 12:25 GMT. The three-tonne rocket part had been tracked for a number of years, but its origin was contested. At first, astronomers thought it might have belonged to Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm, and then said it was Chinese – something China denies. The effects of the impact on the Moon should have been minor. The rocket stage would have dug out a small crater and created a plume of dust. …The European Space Agency estimates there are now 36,500 pieces of space junk larger than 10cm. No space programme or university formally tracks deep space junk. Monitoring space is expensive and the risks to humans from high-orbit debris are low.… [https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-60596449] See also NASA web page, Space Debris and Human Spacecraft.

2022-01-25. Berkeley astronomers to put new space telescope through its paces. By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News. Excerpt: …Following the six-month-long commissioning phase, 13 teams chosen by NASA will take the new [James Webb Space] telescope [JWST] for a spin, putting its instruments through their paces by targeting astronomical objects that will be the major focus of scientists during the telescope’s planned 10 years of operation, and probably much longer. “To have two of the 13 led by people at Berkeley was pretty exceptional,” said [Imke] de Pater, a Distinguished Professor of the Graduate School and Distinguished Professor Emerita of astronomy and earth and planetary science who wrote her proposal in 2017 before her retirement from teaching last year. Given the JWST’s primary mission to study dim, distant galaxies and faint exoplanets, the observations planned by de Pater and her team of about 50 astronomers may seem out of character: They will turn the telescope on one of the brightest objects in the sky, Jupiter.… [https://news.berkeley.edu/2022/01/25/berkeley-astronomers-to-put-new-space-telescope-through-its-paces/]

2022-01-24. Webb telescope arrives at outpost 1 million miles from Earth to begin study of distant galaxies. By Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post. Excerpt: NASA’s long-delayed, $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble, has been cruising for a month, deploying a vast sun shield and 18 gold-plated mirrors while overcoming a long list of potential snags. It will study the evolution of galaxies and provide new looks at worlds in our own solar system. …The final course correction, the third engine burn since launch, placed the Webb in a gravitationally stable position known as L2, where it will always be roughly 1 million miles from Earth on the opposite side of our planet from the sun. …the launch itself and two subsequent engine burns were so efficient that the Webb did not expend very much fuel to get where it is going. The extra fuel will prolong the lifetime of the telescope by years, well beyond its official 10-year target. “We doubled the mission life. The budget was for 10 years. With this new estimate, we’re about 20-plus years.… [https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2022/01/24/webb-space-telescope-final-destination/] See also Science Magazine article, After reaching deep space haven, Webb telescope begins 5 months of fine-tuning and UC Berkeley News article, Berkeley astronomers to put new space telescope through its paces.

2022-01-08. Deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope is Complete. By David Dickenson, Sky & Telescope Magazine. Excerpt: The James Webb Space Telescope has unfolded its primary mirror, marking the end of the deployment phase for the observatory.… [https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/deployment-james-webb-space-telescope-complete] See also NASA Press Release 22-004 and ESA animations of deployment.

2021-12-25. NASA’s Webb telescope takes flight—a Christmas gift to astronomers everywhere. Daniel Clery, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Infrared scope will target alien worlds and the universe’s first galaxies—if it survives a month of nerve-racking maneuvers …The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, an instrument expected to revolutionize astronomy by gathering light from the atmospheres of alien worlds and the universe’s first galaxies, launched at 7:20 a.m. EST on a sultry Christmas morning from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. Some 30 minutes after launch, the telescope detached from the top of its Ariane 5 rocket and deployed its solar array, which is needed to charge its batteries and support communication with Earth. Webb is now en route to its observing station, a gravitational balance point known as L2 at 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Before it gets there, mission controllers will have a tense month, as they unfurl parts of the telescope too large to fit inside the rocket fairing, including its tennis court–size sunshield and 6.5-meter-wide mirror. Until those are successfully deployed and Webb’s four instruments are chilled and tested, astronomers will not rest easy. …Webb’s ambitious science goals required numerous technological firsts in its design, such as a folding mirror made of 18 hexagonal gold-plated segments, and instruments chilled to just 7° above absolute zero (–266°C). That complexity led to schedule slips totaling 10 years and a cost that ballooned from $2 billion to about five times as much.… [https://www.science.org/content/article/nasa-s-webb-telescope-takes-flight-christmas-gift-astronomers-everywhere] See also WHERE IS WEBB?
https://webb.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/whereIsWebb.html
and ESA deployment animation
https://www.esa.int/esatv/Videos/2021/09/James_Webb_Space_Telescope/Webb_telescope_deployment_animation_A

2021-07-16. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/07/hubble-back-famed-space-telescope-has-new-lease-life-after-computer-swap-appears-fix] – ‘Hubble is back!’ Famed space telescope has new lease on life after computer swap appears to fix glitch. Source: By Daniel Clery. Excerpt: The iconic but elderly Hubble Space Telescope appears to have been resurrected again after a shutdown of more than a month following a computer glitch. Science has learned that following a switch from the operating payload control computer to a backup device over the past 24 hours, Hubble’s operators have re-established communications with all the telescope’s instruments and plan to return them to normal operations today…. 

2020-06-19. This is what our universe looks like to x-ray eyes. By Daniel Clery, Science Magazine. Excerpt: A telescope designed to study the universe’s mysterious dark energy released its first all-sky image today (pictured), showing what we would see if we had x-ray eyes. After half a year of observing, the scope—known as eROSITA (extended Roentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array)—has already logged more than 1 million objects that shine in the x-ray spectrum, including black holes gobbling matter, compact burned-out stars like white dwarfs and neutron stars, and gas between stars so hot that it gives off an x-ray glow. The eROSITA team says this first image identifies twice as many x-ray sources as have previously been detected in 60 years of x-ray astronomy, and stretches four times farther out than the previous x-ray survey 3 decades ago. Most of the dots in the image—and eROSITA’s primary targets—are supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies gorging on gas that, in the process, gets so hot that its glow can be seen across the universe…. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/what-our-universe-looks-x-ray-eyes

2020-04-24. Hubble Marks 30 Years of Seeing a Universe Being Born and Dying. By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times. Excerpt: As shown in a new picture of stormy star birth in a nearby galaxy, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, the cosmos is keeping up the tradition of both birth and death. Stars are being born out of the ashes of old ones, forever refreshing the universe. The picture was released Friday by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, keepers of the Hubble, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the launch of that telescope on April 24, 1990…. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/24/science/hubble-telescope-30th-birthday.html]  

2020-03-06. No Cell Signal, No Wi-Fi, No Problem. Growing Up Inside America’s ‘Quiet Zone’. By Dan Levin, The New York Times; Photographs by Annie Flanagan. Excerpt: GREEN BANK, W.Va. …when a Facebook fad had people all over the globe dumping ice water on their heads a few summers ago, Charity Warder, now a senior at Pocahontas County High School, was late to the game. Sure, Charity has an iPhone, but she uses it mostly as a clock and a calculator. She makes phone calls from a landline, and she rarely texts her friends. Texting and driving? “It’s not a thing here,” she said. When Charity wants to get online at home, she sits at her family’s desktop computer, which has a broadband connection that is so sluggish, it takes minutes to load a YouTube video. 

…Welcome to Green Bank, population 143, where Wi-Fi is both unavailable and banned and where cellphone signals are nonexistent. The near radio silence is a requirement for those living close to the town’s most prominent and demanding resident, the Green Bank Observatory, home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. To protect the sensitive equipment from interference, the federal government in 1958 established the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area near the state’s border with Virginia.

…The observatory’s telescope “could detect your phone on Saturn in airplane mode,” states a sign outside its science center building, but is rendered much weaker if anyone uses electronics that emit radio waves. For those who live within 10 miles of the observatory, the limitations also include a ban on Bluetooth devices and microwaves, unless they are contained in a metal box, known as a Faraday cage, which blocks electromagnetic fields…. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/06/us/green-bank-west-virginia-quiet-zone.html

2018-08-23. Tiny spacecraft are breaking out of Earth’s orbit. By Eric Hand, Science Magazine.  [http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/08/tiny-spacecraft-are-breaking-out-earth-s-orbit] Excerpt: Cheap, small satellites have swarmed into Earth orbit over the past decade, cutting the cost of studying our home planet from space. Now, these spacecraft, some no bigger than a briefcase, are becoming capable enough to venture into deep space—or at least the inner solar system. Two are halfway to Mars, more than a dozen planetary probes are in development, and scientists are coming up with ever more daring ideas for doing cheap, high-risk interplanetary science. …Small satellites can be assembled from low-cost components and released by the dozen from a single rocket. But systems key to interplanetary flight, including propulsion, communication, and navigation, have traditionally been too bulky to fit into a small package. …A mission called Mars Cube One (MarCO), …showcases a miniature guidance, navigation, and control system developed by Blue Canyon Technologies in Boulder, Colorado. …The company shrank reaction wheels, gyroscopes, and star trackers into a system that sells for less than $150,000 and fits in half a cube. …CubeSats in Earth orbit have tested solar sails, thin mirrored foils that deliver a gentle push from the pressure of sunlight….

2017-09-22. Oldest Lunar Calendars. By NASA Solar System Exploration Research. Excerpt: The Oldest Lunar Calendars and Earliest Constellations have been identified in cave art found in France and Germany. The astronomer-priests of these late Upper Paleolithic Cultures understood mathematical sets, and the interplay between the moon annual cycle, ecliptic, solstice and seasonal changes on earth. The First (Lunar) Calendar …The archaeological record’s earliest data that speaks to human awareness of the stars and ‘heavens’ dates to the Aurignacian Culture of Europe, c.32,000 B.C. Between 1964 and the early 1990s, Alexander Marshack published breakthrough research that documented the mathematical and astronomical knowledge in the Late Upper Paleolithic Cultures of Europe. Marshack deciphered sets of marks carved into animal bones, and occasionally on the walls of caves, as records of the lunar cycle. These marks are sets of crescents or lines. Artisans carefully controlled line thickness so that a correlation with lunar phases would be as easy as possible to perceive…. https://sservi.nasa.gov/articles/oldest-lunar-calendars/

2009 October 28. Gallery: Images of space transformed by chips. NewScientist. Excerpt: This year’s Nobel prize for physics was partly awarded to Willard Boyle and George Smith for inventing the charge-coupled device (CCD), the sensor that acts as the retina of digital cameras. But long before it reached consumers, the technology was used in astronomy. Explore these images to see how CCDs showed us space as never before….

2009 October 7. NASA Telescope Discovers Giant Ring Around Saturn. NY Times. Excerpt: PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered the biggest but never-before-seen ring around the planet Saturn, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced late Tuesday.
The thin array of ice and dust particles lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system and its orbit is tilted 27 degrees from the planet’s main ring plane, the laboratory said.
JPL spokeswoman Whitney Clavin said the ring is very diffuse and doesn’t reflect much visible light but the infrared Spitzer telescope was able to detect it.
Although the ring dust is very cold — minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit — it shines with thermal radiation.
No one had looked at its location with an infrared instrument until now, Clavin said….