It’s been a Red-Letter week in our Universe with news ranging from everything you’ll need to know about the upcoming launch of James Webb Space Telescope and a new era in human history to the black hole that defies description to new solutions to the Drake Equation and the search for extraterrestrial life.
NASA’s new space telescope and its search for extraterrestrial life –On 22 December, if all goes to plan, the £7.5bn James Webb space telescope (JWST) will be blasted into space on top of a giant European Ariane 5 rocket. As it travels to its final destination – a point about a million miles away – it will begin to unfold its gold, honeycombed mirror; a vast light-catching bucket that could give us a view of the universe deeper and more sensitive than we’ve ever had before. JWST could also reveal clues about possible life-supporting planets inside our galaxy. One astronomer who will be eagerly deciphering those clues is Prof Beth Biller, who joined Guardian science editor Ian Sample this week.
Why Is NASA Sending Its New Telescope a Million Miles Away? –The view is worth it, even if astronauts can’t reach the spacecraft for repairs, reports Marina Koren for The Atlantic.
The Biggest ‘Oh No’ Moment in the Solar System –Everything has to go right for the James Webb Space Telescope, reports Marina Koren for The Atlantic.
Astronomers may have found first known planet in another galaxy –The exoplanet appears to orbit a massive star and a dead star in the Whirlpool galaxy, reports Science News.
Touching the sun –“A spacecraft launched by NASA has done what was once thought impossible. On April 28, the Parker Solar Probe successfully entered the corona of the sun — an extreme environment that’s roughly 2 million degrees Fahrenheit.The historic moment was achieved thanks to a large collaboration of scientists and engineers, including members of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) who built and monitor a key instrument onboard the probe: the Solar Probe Cup.
Why the World’s Astronomers Are Very, Very Anxious Right Now –The James Webb Space Telescope is endowed with the hopes and trepidations of a generation of astronomers, reports Dennis Overbye for The New York Times. “What do astronomers eat for breakfast on the day that their $10 billion telescope launches into space? Their fingernails. “You work for years and it all goes up in a puff of smoke,” said Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona.
All black holes are mysterious, but this one defies explanation. At the center of Leo I, a dwarf galaxy about 100,000 times less massive than our own, astronomers have discovered a black hole nearly as big as the behemoth at the core of the Milky Way. No one knows where it came from or how it got there. Like finding the wreck of the Titanic at the bottom of a pond, the scales simply don’t match up,” reports Sky & Telescope. “My first reaction was total disbelief,” recalls Maria José Bustamante-Rosell (now at University of California, Santa Cruz), who led the study published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Humans Are Doomed to Go Extinct –Habitat degradation, low genetic variation and declining fertility are setting Homo sapiens up for collapse, reports Henry Gee for Scientific American.
Mysterious Object That Survived a Close Encounter With a Black Hole Is Unmasked –-According to a new study of the object, called G2, it’s actually three baby stars, shrouded in a thick cloud of the gas and dust from which they were born. This interpretation offers a very tidy solution to the questions that remained unanswered after G2 skimmed past Sgr A* – the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way – back in 2014, reports SciAlert.
New theory on the origins of life is a gas, reports Cosmos. “Researchers at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU), Germany, say they’ve found the smoking gun. The secret ingredient that fueled the origins of life is the modern era’s cleanest, greenest energy carrier: hydrogen gas (H2).”
Are We Alone in the Universe? NASA Calls for New Framework –How do we understand the significance of new scientific results related to the search for life? When would we be able to say, “yes, extraterrestrial life has been found?”
Quantum entanglement of two macroscopic objects is the Physics World 2021 Breakthrough of the Year, reports Physics World .
Why alien hunters have spent 60 years finding new solutions for the Drake Equation –Astronomer Frank Drake came up with the famous formula as he prepared for a last-minute meeting in 1961. It still guides the search for intelligent life beyond Earth, reports National Geographic.
NASA Launches IXPE, a New X-ray Space Telescope –-The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer will probe the physics behind black holes, neutron stars and other dynamic cosmic objects, reports Scientific American.
Baffling ‘space cow’ explosion was probably a failed supernova –“Observations of X-rays from the blast have revealed that it was probably a massive star that only partially blew up, leaving behind either a dense neutron star or a small black hole – something we have long suspected happens, but never seen until now.”
The Webb Space Telescope Will Rewrite Cosmic History. If It Works. “To look back in time at the cosmos’s infancy and witness the first stars flicker on, you must first grind a mirror as big as a house. Its surface must be so smooth that, if the mirror were the scale of a continent, it would feature no hill or valley greater than ankle height,” writes Natalie Wolchover for Quanta.” But to learn the nature of those first, probably gargantuan stars, to learn about the invisible matter whose gravity coaxed them into being, and about the roles of magnetism and turbulence, and how enormous black holes grew and worked their way into galaxies’ centers — an exceptional mirror is not nearly enough.”
New Clues about the Origins of Biological Intelligence –A common solution is emerging in two different fields: developmental biology and neuroscience, reports Scientific American.
5 critical moments will determine the success or failure of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope –After decades of development, whether NASA’s Webb succeeds or fails all comes down to five critical milestones that are only days away, reports Big Think.
“Human Hope on a Rocket” –-“The new James Webb Space Telescope is much larger than Hubble, with a primary mirror so big engineers had to figure out how to fold it to fit onto a rocket. Such a large mirror, placed so far away, will — scientists fervently hope — allow the telescope to examine the formation of early galaxies and greatly accelerate the search for Earthlike planets, reports David Von Drehle for The Washington Post. Webb’s scheduled launch from French Guiana on Dec. 22 atop a European Space Agency rocket will begin one of the most harrowing and potentially stunning moments in the history of human engineering.”
Cosmology Survives Attacks on the Vaunted Cosmological Principle –A central pillar of cosmology — the universe is the same everywhere and in all directions — is surviving a storm of possible evidence against it, reports Quanta. “The arc of distant galaxies, the smile-shaped structure, which Alexia Lopez presented at the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in June, spans an estimated 3.3 billion light-years of space. “It’s so big that it’s hard to explain with our current beliefs,” says Lopez, one of the astrophysicists who identified the galaxy chain, reports Charlie Wood for Quanta.
An Ancient Greek Calculation Machine Reveals New Secrets –Scientists have a new understanding of the mysterious Antikythera mechanism that challenges assumptions about ancient technology, reports Scientific American.