Astronomers have captured some of the most detailed images ever seen of galaxies in deep space.
They are in much higher definition than normal and reveal the inner workings of galaxies in unprecedented detail.
Many of the images could yield insights into the role of black holes in star and planet formation.
The researchers say that the pictures will transform our understanding of how galaxies evolve.
The images are of the radio waves emitted by the galaxies. Researchers often study the radio waves from astronomical objects rather than the visible light they give off because it enables them to see things that would otherwise be blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere or dust and gas in faraway galaxies.
Many regions of space that are dark to our eyes, actually burn brightly in the radio waves they give off. This allows astronomers to peer into star-forming regions or into the heart of galaxies.
What is new is that the team has dramatically improved the resolution of radio images by linking together more than 70,000 small antennae spread across nine European counties.
Combining radio signals from so many antennas is not a straight-forward process. The team has spent six years developing a completely new way of collecting the signal from each antenna, digitising it, transporting it to a to central processor, and then combining all the data into images that are not only of enormous scientific interest but also of great beauty.
The accomplishment is a technical tour de force and was led by Dr Leah Morabito from Durham University, UK.
“To work on the data for so long, and then to finally get such images and be able be the first person to see what it looks like is just incredible,” she told BBC News.
“I walked around with a huge smile on my face for the rest of the day, because I felt so proud that I was able to make these images and be able to see something nobody had ever seen before”.
The image at the top of the page was produced by a member of Dr Morabito’s team. It shows a galaxy that is barely visible, sitting in the middle of jets of material in orange, shooting out from either side, each one much larger than the galaxy itself.
The jets are caused by a supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy- an object with such strong gravity not even light can escape. It normally sucks in material – but the inward pull also creates forces around the black hole that result in material being spat out, far into space.
Such jets have been observed before – but astronomers have obtained new scientific information from the dark bands on the jet on the right, which have not been seen before. These, the astronomers believe, represent periods of relative inactivity by the black hole – when it spits out less material. The image therefore gives researchers an insight into the black hole’s “sleep cycle”.
The picture above shows two galaxies colliding. the bright spot on the one on the left is caused by exploding stars – creating what is effectively a galactic wind – blowing dust and gas away from it.
The light from the galaxy shown directly above originated when the Universe was only 2.6 billion years old. Above and below it are jets of material thrown out by the black hole within. Normally such early galaxies can’t be studied in detail. But now, for the first time, the astronomers have seen the structure of one of them at radio frequencies – which provides critical scientific information about how the black hole is interacting with its surroundings.
The images are revealing that galaxies are much more than a collection of stars. They are dynamic sun- and planet-making factories, powered by black holes, according to Dr Neal Jackson, from the University of Manchester.
“Even seasoned astronomers go ‘wow!’ when they see these images,” he told me.
“It’s become very clear that, in order to understand galaxy evolution, we need to understand the black hole right at the very centre, because it appears to have a fairly fundamental influence on how galaxies evolve and that is what these images allow us to do,” says Dr Jackson.
“These high-resolution images allow us to zoom in to see what’s really going on when supermassive black holes launch these jets of material.”
Dr Morabito says that images like these are helping astronomers learn just how these processes, that created stars and planets – including our own Solar System – actually work.
“We are really beginning to understand how galaxies have evolved. And the black holes are a massive part of that because their jets can take away fuel for star formation. And as they push outwards, they can disrupt the galaxies. They can even trigger star formation or quench it and make it happen less,” she said.
The first set of results have led to the publication of nine scientific papers on the dynamics of black holes in galaxies. But this is just the start for the team. They plan to scan millions of galaxies over the next few years.
“And that’s really what we need to be able to understand, the whole complete picture of how black holes impact galaxy evolution,” says Dr Morabito,
“I think we’re definitely in for some surprises. Whenever you start doing something new in astronomy you always find out things that you never expected and that’s what I really look forward to.”
The international network of telescopes is known as the Low Frequency Array known as Lofar for short. Most of the antennas are located in Exloo in the Netherlands.
— Having worked in the space station core module Tianhe for three months — the longest-ever human space mission in Chinese history, three astronauts of the Shenzhou-12 crew returned to Earth on Friday, hitting a new milestone in China’s space exploration.
BEIJING, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) — Three Chinese astronauts, the first sent to orbit for China’s space station construction, have completed their three-month mission and returned to Earth safely on Friday.
The return capsule of the Shenzhou-12 manned spaceship, carrying astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, touched down at the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at 1:34 p.m. (Beijing Time).
The first manned flight during the construction of China’s space station was a complete success, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced.
The return capsule of Shenzhou-12 separated from the spaceship’s orbiting capsule at 12:43 p.m. under the command of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. The braking engine of the return capsule then ignited, and the return capsule separated from the propelling capsule.
After the return capsule landed successfully, the ground search team arrived at the landing site. This is the first time that the Dongfeng landing site was used in the search and retrieval of the manned spacecraft. The medical personnel confirmed that the astronauts were in good health, after the hatch of the return capsule was opened.
The trio looked relaxed and waved to the ground crew after they exited the return capsule. Later, they were escorted to a helicopter by the ground crew, according to Xinhua reporters at the scene.
“Welcome back home for the Mid-Autumn Festival,” the people cheered as the country’s space heroes passed by.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional event symbolizing family reunion, falls on Sept. 21 this year.
The three astronauts arrived at Beijing by plane Friday night, but they will not go immediately back home to celebrate the festival with their families. Instead, they will undergo several weeks of quarantine for a comprehensive medical examination and health assessment, according to Xu Wenlong, a research assistant with the China Astronaut Research and Training Center.
The professional medical personnel will help the astronauts re-adapt to the gravity and environment on Earth, restore their body functions as soon as possible and improve their immunity, through multiple methods of exercise, diet, massage, physical therapy, and treatment with traditional Chinese medicine, Xu said.
The success of the Shenzhou-12 manned spaceflight mission laid a solid foundation for the continued construction and operation of the country’s space station, the CMSA said.
On June 17, the Shenzhou-12 spaceship was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China and docked with the space station core module Tianhe. After the docking, the three astronauts entered the core module and began their three-month stay in space.
On June 23, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a video talk from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center with the astronauts, showing his consistent concern and support for the Chinese pursuit of its space dream.
“The construction of the space station is a milestone in China’s space industry, which will make pioneering contributions to the peaceful use of space by humanity,” said Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
The Shenzhou-12 crew carried out a series of space science and technology experiments, and tested key technologies for the construction and operation of the space station, concerning long-term stays by astronauts, the recycling and life-support system, the supply of space materials, extravehicular activities (EVAs) and operations, and in-orbit maintenance.
They performed EVAs twice, on July 4 and Aug. 20, respectively.
The first EVAs, performed by Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, took approximately seven hours. The astronauts accomplished tasks including equipment installation and panoramic camera lifting.
Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming carried out EVAs for the second time, installed extravehicular extended pump sets and lifted a panoramic camera in about six hours of EVAs.
The EVAs tested the performance and function of the new-generation homemade extravehicular mobility units and the coordination between the astronauts and the mechanical arm, as well as the reliability and safety of related EVA supporting equipment.
The mechanical arm installed on the core module played an important role in assisting the astronauts with their EVAs.
It is designed to help the astronauts in the assembly, construction, maintenance and repair of the space station, and to support space applications.
China launched its space station core module Tianhe on April 29 and the cargo craft Tianzhou-2 on May 29. The two completed a computer-orchestrated rendezvous and docking on May 30.
The Shenzhou-12 spaceship then formed a three-module complex with the combination of Tianhe and Tianzhou-2 after it was launched.
The Tianzhou-3 cargo craft and the Shenzhou-13 manned spaceship will also be launched later this year to dock with Tianhe, and another three astronauts will then begin their six-month stay in orbit.
After the five launch missions this year, China plans to have six more missions, including the launch of the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, two cargo spacecraft and two crewed spaceships, in 2022, to complete the construction of the space station.
The quartet of newly minted citizen astronauts comprising the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission were due to splash down in the Atlantic off Florida on Saturday, completing a three-day flight of the first all-civilian crew ever launched into Earth orbit.
To prepare for atmospheric re-entry and return to Earth, the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle completed two rocket “burns” on Friday to lower its altitude and line up the capsule’s trajectory with the targeted landing site.
The Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, is scheduled to parachute into the sea around 7 p.m. Eastern time, shortly before sunset, according to SpaceX, the private rocketry company founded by Tesla Inc electric automaker CEO Elon Musk.
SpaceX supplied the spacecraft, launched it from Florida and flew it from the company’s suburban Los Angeles headquarters.
The Inspiration4 team blasted off on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral atop one of SpaceX’s two-stage reusable Falcon 9 rockets.
Within three hours the crew capsule had reached a cruising orbital altitude of just over 363 miles (585 km) – higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope, and the farthest any human has flown from Earth since NASA’s Apollo moon program ended in 1972.
It also marked the debut flight of Musk’s new space tourism business and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune to experience the exhilaration of spaceflight and earn amateur astronaut wings.
The Inspiration4 team was led by its wealthy benefactor, Jared Isaacman, chief executive of the e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc, who assumed the role of mission “commander.”
He had paid an undisclosed but reportedly enormous sum – put by Time magazine at roughly $200 million – to fellow billionaire Musk for all four seats aboard the Crew Dragon.
Isaacman was joined by three less affluent crewmates he had selected – geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, 51, physician’s assistant and childhood bone cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and aerospace data engineer and Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski, 42.
Isaacman conceived of the flight primarily to raise awareness and donations for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee, where Arceneaux was a patient and now works.
The Inspiration4 crew had no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which was operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though Isaacman and Proctor are both licensed pilots.
SpaceX already ranked as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the space station for NASA.
Two rival operators, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc and Blue Origin, inaugurated their own astro-tourism services in recent months, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.
Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s three days in orbit. (Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
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A trio of Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Friday after a 90-day stay aboard their nation’s first space station in China’s longest mission yet.
Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo landed in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship just after 1:30 p.m. local time after having undocked from the space station Thursday morning.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of the spacecraft parachuting to land in the Gobi Desert where it was met by helicopters and off-road vehicles. Minutes later, a crew of technicians began opening the hatch of the capsule, which appeared undamaged.
The three astronauts emerged about 30 minutes later and were seated in reclining chairs just outside the capsule to allow them time to readjust to Earth’s gravity after three months of living in a weightless environment. The three were due to fly to Beijing on Friday.
“With China’s growing strength and the rising level of Chinese technology, I firmly believe there will even more astronauts who will set new records,” mission commander Nie told CCTV.
After launching on June 17, the three astronauts went on two spacewalks, deployed a 10-metre mechanical arm and had a video call with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
While few details have been made public by China’s military, which runs the space program, astronaut trios are expected to be brought on 90-day missions to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional.
The government has not announced the names of the next set of astronauts nor the launch date of Shenzhou-13.
Source of national pride
China has sent 14 astronauts into space since 2003, when it became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own.
China’s space program has advanced at a measured pace and has largely avoided many of the problems that marked the U.S. and Russian programs that were locked in intense competition during the heady early days of spaceflight.
That has made it a source of enormous national pride, complementing the country’s rise to economic, technological, military and diplomatic prominence in recent years under the firm rule of the Communist Party and current leader Xi Jinping.
WATCH |Chinese astronauts blast off, dock at space station:
China has successfully launched a 3-person crew to its new space station, marking another milestone in the country’s ambitious space program. 0:48
China embarked on its own space station program in the 1990s after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. objections to the Chinese space program’s secrecy and military backing.
Space probe on Mars
China has simultaneously pushed ahead with uncrewed missions, placing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and, in December, the Chang’e 5 probe returned lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
China this year also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, with its accompanying Zhurong rover venturing out to look for evidence of life.
Another program calls for collecting samples from an asteroid, an area in which Japan’s rival space program has made progress of late.
China also plans to dispatch another mission in 2024 to bring back lunar samples and is pursuing a possible crewed mission to the moon and eventually building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.
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