Attention, space geeks: Have you heard about Jupiter getting really close to Earth tonight?
NASA and its partners on the James Webb Space Telescope have shared more spectacular images from the observatory. This time around, they provided a fresh look at the Cartwheel Galaxy, which Hubble and other telescopes previously observed. NASA said JWST has been able to reveal new details about both star formation and the black hole at the center of the galaxy, which is around 500 million light years from Earth.
Using infrared light detection, JWST was able to peer through the dust that obscured the Cartwheel Galaxy from view when other telescopes observed it. The above image is a composite from JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The JWST website has higher-resolution versions.
Data from NIRCam, which is the JWST’s primary imager, is colored in blue, orange, and yellow, while MIRI’s data is in red. NASA says the blue dots that appear in the red swirls of dust are individual stars or pockets of star formation. “NIRCam also reveals the difference between the smooth distribution or shape of the older star populations and dense dust in the core compared to the clumpy shapes associated with the younger star populations outside of it,” the agency noted.
MIRI, meanwhile, was able to unearth more details about the galaxy’s dust. It detected regions that are rich in hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds, along with silicate dust, which is similar to a lot of the dust present on Earth. Those regions form several spiraling spokes that led to the naming of the Cartwheel Galaxy. Hubble was previously able to image the spokes, but they’re much clearer in the JWST observations. NASA also provided a MIRI-only image of the galaxy:
The Cartwheel Galaxy formed following a collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller one. It has two rings, a bright inner ring and a colorful outer one. The outer ring has been expanding from the center of the collision for around 440 million years.
The interior ring contains “a tremendous amount of hot dust,” NASA said. The brightest areas host gigantic young star clusters. The outer ring, meanwhile, features star formation and supernovas. When it expands and hits surrounding gas, star formation occurs.
NASA, the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency and the Space Telescope Science Institute last month revealed the first stunning full-color images from JWST. They included one that showed the “Cosmic Cliffs” of the Carina Nebula and a peek at stars in the early stages of formation. The telescope has also caught sight of Earendel, the most distant star that we know of in the universe. While it’s still very early days for the JWST’s science operations, it’s already helping scientists develop a deeper understanding of the cosmos — as well as providing some incredible images for the rest of us to admire.
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Attention, space geeks: Have you heard about Jupiter getting really close to Earth tonight?
Well, not really close. The giant gas planet, the largest in our solar system, will still be orbiting 590 million kilometres away. But that’s 375 million kilometres closer than when it’s at its apogee, which is the space geek word for when it’s farthest away.
Jupiter is viewable like a distant star for much of the year, but it will be especially bright and detailed in the night sky on Sept. 26-27 because it’s closer than it’s been to Earth since 1963 — yup, in nearly six decades.
We asked Marley Leacock, an astronomer and science educator with Vancouver’s H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, a few questions about how best to watch tonight’s rare space spectacle.
“Jupiter is in the sky pretty much all night,” says Leacock. “It rises in the east at around 7 p.m. and sets at about 7 a.m. tomorrow. The best time to view would be when it is highest in the sky, around 1 a.m. on Sept. 27.”
“Jupiter’s visibility has to do with where Jupiter is, but also where Earth and the Sun are,” explains Leacock.
The first reason is that “Jupiter will be in ‘opposition.’ This means that Jupiter will be directly opposite the Sun from our perspective, putting Earth right in the middle of them. When the sun sets in the west, Jupiter will rise directly opposite in the east. Opposition happens about every 13 months.
“The second factor that makes Jupiter so bright is that it is also approaching perigee. Perigee refers to when Jupiter and Earth are the closest to each other in their orbits. Perigee happens about once every 12 months, and the distance between the planets will change due to them being on two different orbits. This perigee, the two planets happen to be in the perfect place to get the smallest distance.
“The combination of opposition and a close perigee makes the planet appear brighter in our skies.”
“Not at all,” says Leacock. “Jupiter is usually visible 10 months out of the year, switching between early morning and late at night. After the opposition, it will start to be in the sky for shorter amounts of time as the months go on. By the beginning of November, it is already high in the nighttime sky by the time the sun sets, and it sets four hours before sunrise.”
By the end of March, it won’t be visible at all. But it will reappear by about the end of May 2023. The next opposition is in early November of next year.
“Luckily, Jupiter is very bright and easy to spot even in a light-polluted city (like Vancouver),” explains Leacock. “It appears as a very bright star in the sky. I always say to try to get somewhere dark anyways, just to see the stars that appear. An ideal location would be somewhere with high elevation with a clear view of the horizon, especially if you want to see the rise and set.”
Leacock says typical binoculars will help magnify the planet, but it will still appear star-like. Those with higher magnification might allow you to see it in more detail and possibly even spot its Galilean moons.
True space geeks will want a telescope, though, as “most telescopes with a 60-90 mm aperture will give you a view of the cloud belts and the Galilean moons,” says Leacock.
More good news about tonight’s sky-watching event: The forecast is for perfectly clear skies above Vancouver overnight. Happy viewing.
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Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press
Published Monday, September 26, 2022 5:58PM EDT
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Hurricane Ian is prompting NASA to move its moon rocket off the launch pad and into shelter, adding weeks of delay to the lunar-orbiting test flight.
Mission managers decided Monday to return the rocket to its Kennedy Space Center hangar. The four-mile trip will begin late Monday night and could take as long as 12 hours.
The space center remained on the fringes of the hurricane’s cone of uncertainty. With the latest forecast showing no improvement, managers decided to play it safe. NASA already had delayed this week’s planned launch attempt because of the approaching storm.
NASA isn’t speculating when the next launch attempt might be, but it could be off until November. Managers will assess their options once the 322-foot (98-meter) Space Launch System rocket is safely back in the hangar.
A pair of launch attempts were thwarted by hydrogen fuel leaks and other technical trouble.
The $4.1 billion test flight will kick off NASA’s return to the moon since the Apollo moonshots of the 1960s and 1970s. No one will be inside the crew capsule for the debut launch. Astronauts will strap in for the second mission in 2024, leading to a two-person moon landing in 2025.
Meanwhile, NASA and SpaceX are still targeting an Oct. 3 launch of a crew from the U.S., Russia and Japan to the International Space Station. But managers acknowledged that the flight could be delayed as Kennedy braces for the hurricane and its aftermath.
You may have noticed a bright “star” in the eastern sky after sunset, but that’s no star: it’s the mighty planet Jupiter, and it’s almost at its peak brightness.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is reaching opposition, an event that occurs when a celestial object rises in the east as the sun sets in the west, putting both the sun and the object on opposite sides of Earth.
But what also makes this special is that the planet will be the closest it has been to Earth in 59 years, meaning it will also be brighter than usual.
The reason planets vary in their distance from Earth is because their orbits aren’t perfectly circular, but rather slightly elliptical.
While Jupiter’s opposition happens roughly every 13 months, it’s not common for it to coincide with its closest approach, making this a particularly special treat.
At its farthest, Jupiter can be as far as 966 million kilometres away, but on Monday, it will be about 591 million kilometres from Earth. The last time it was this close was in October 1963. And it won’t be this close again until 2129.
You can find the planet in the east after sunset. It’s hard to miss, even from a light-polluted city, as it is the brightest object in the sky.
As the night progresses, it rises higher into the sky, eventually appearing in the southeast around 11 p.m. ET. on Monday.
You don’t need a telescope or binoculars to see it, but if you do have a pair of binoculars or a telescope, you can have some fun over the coming days.
One of the special things about Jupiter is its four brightest moons: Callisto, Io, Ganymede and Europa. They orbit Jupiter in a timescale visible from Earth night after night, and even hour after hour — if you’re patient.
If you do have a telescope, you can view the moons — and the amazing cloud bands of the gaseous planet, which make for a stunning sight. Also, according to Sky & Telescope magazine, the Great Red Spot will begin its transit — or its crossing — at 8:44 p.m. ET Monday. You can find local times using the publication’s online app or find its app and others like it for your cellphone or tablet.
Saturn will also be visible in the sky. It currently lies in the south around 10 p.m. ET, but it’s more difficult to spot as it’s not as bright as Jupiter.
You can find several free apps available for download on Android phones and iPhones — such as Stellarium, Star Walk and Sky View — that will help you identify what you see in the night sky, including planets and where to find them.
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