In just over a month, the world’s largest, most advanced telescope will be launched into orbit from a spaceport in South America, and among those eagerly watching will be Montreal physics professor Rene Doyon.
The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to blast off Dec. 18 aboard the Ariane 5 rocket from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. The orbiting infrared observatory, a collaboration between NASA and the European and Canadian space agencies, will be 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope launched in 1990.
It will feature two Canadian components: a fine guidance sensor that will help it stay locked on target, and an instrument called a Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph, or NIRISS, that will help study astronomical objects, from exoplanets to distant galaxies.
Doyon, a physics professor at Universite de Montreal, is the principal investigator of the Canadian-built tools and has been working toward this for 20 years. He said it’s both an exhilarating and a fretful time.
Before the massive telescope starts to work, there will be plenty of tense moments. The two weeks immediately after launch will be critical as the telescope unfurls in an elaborate sequence described by NASA engineers during a recent briefing as an origami exercise.
“It’s what we call the 14 days of terror — the time it takes to deploy the telescope — but I’m very confident,” Doyon said in a recent interview. “We’ve tested this and retested, so there’s good reason to believe everything is going to be fine.”
The telescope, named after the former NASA administrator who led the Apollo lunar exploration program, has been folded compactly for launch, and thousands of parts must work to allow it to unfold properly. It will be operated at a distance of 1.5 million kilometres from Earth, too far to be serviced as was possible with Hubble, which was just 500 kilometres away.
The instruments on the Webb telescope can only function properly at a very low temperature — minus 233 degrees C — so one of its components is a sunscreen the size of a tennis court that will shield it from the heat of the sun and the light of the Earth and moon.
Canada’s contribution means that when the telescope is ready to operate — expected around the middle of next year — the country is guaranteed at least five per cent of the telescope’s available observation time. Of 286 proposals accepted worldwide for the first year of use, 10 will have Canadians as the principal investigators.
Many have been waiting eagerly for Webb’s launch, which has been delayed several times. Doyon said Webb’s infrared wavelength viewing capabilities mean scientists will be able to see some things for the first time, like the first stars and galaxies from the early universe after the Big Bang. It will also represent a huge leap for the study of exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — to probe their atmospheres for clues of early life.
Sarah Gallagher, science adviser at the Canadian Space Agency, said it’s an exciting time.
“It’s the culmination of decades of work by really talented people, and I’m so proud of our Canadian contribution, the scientific one and the industrial one. I think it really showcases the strength of our community,” she said in an interview.
“We have people who want to study bodies in our solar system, planets around other stars, galaxies in the very early universe and all sorts of different topics.”
Among them will be Loic Albert, who will be able to continue his work on brown dwarfs — essentially failed stars. The project involves looking for companions for about 20 of them, and he will use Webb’s sensitivity to his advantage.
“In my case, James Webb opens the possibility of studying some specific types of brown dwarfs, the coldest and the least massive brown dwarfs. They are so faint that you can’t observe them from the ground,” said Albert, a researcher at Universite de Montreal and a scientific instrument expert for Webb.
Albert says scientists who’ve been studying exoplanets using Hubble’s limited capability should reap the rewards of Webb. “For the exoplanet community, it’s going to be a game changer,” he said in an interview. “It’s going to allow measuring exoplanet atmospheres for a large number of planets and at exquisite detail.”
Doyon, who is planning to travel to French Guiana for the launch next month, said the prospect of unintended discoveries is the most exciting part ahead of Webb’s launch.
“Every time a new telescope is started, history shows that after five or 10 years, you ask the question, what was the biggest discovery the telescope did. It’s something that was not planned,” he said. “I’m sure Webb will be the same.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2021.
'Mystery hut' on the moon just the latest weird lunar find by China's Yutu 2 rover – Space.com
China’s Yutu 2 rover is the first spacecraft to explore the surface of the moon’s far side, and the wheeled robot has made some interesting discoveries during its historic journey.
Yutu 2 landed in Von Kármán crater atop the Chang’e 4 lander in January 2019 and has been working its way northwest during each 14.5-Earth-day-long lunar day ever since, using its four science payloads to image and analyze its surroundings as it goes.
The solar-powered rover recently spotted a weirdly cube-shaped ‘mystery hut’ on its horizon that has generated quite a bit of media buzz, despite most likely being just a rock. But other findings have also drawn attention over the past couple of years.
‘Gel-like’ moon discovery and rocks
Yutu 2 discovered an object in the middle of a small crater that was initially described by Our Space — a Chinese-language science outreach channel affiliated with the China National Space Administration — by the term “胶状物” (“jiao zhuang wu”), which can be translated as “gel-like.” There was no accompanying image.
Outside scientists suspected the substance was glassy material created by an impact, and that turned out to be correct. A recent paper in the journal Nature authored by Chinese scientists reported that the material was likely from a meteorite strike on the moon less than one million years ago.
Yutu 2 rover and the ‘milestone’ rock
Another discovery was a number of shards of rock sticking out of the surface, referred to by Our Space as a “milestone.” Once again, a meteor impact is the likely culprit.
While seemingly mundane, such rocks stand out on a surface that has been pulverized over billions of years by both micrometeorites and harsh solar radiation. When Yutu 2 discovers sizable rocks, they’re generally indicators of impact activity. Such rocks provide clues about the history of the moon and the composition of material excavated or ejected by impactors, as was the case with a set of relatively young rocks discovered in early 2020.
Yutu 2 has also been peeking beneath the lunar surface, using its ground-penetrating radar to build an image of layers beneath the rover by collecting reflected electromagnetic waves. Yutu 2 detected three distinct layers in the near subsurface, suggesting that separate, large impact events had delivered ejecta into the region.
The fuzzy image of the “mystery hut” left some people wondering about the quality of Yutu 2’s photographic gear. However, the rover’s pair of panoramic cameras have returned a huge batch of impressive images from the lunar far side.
The lunar far side never faces Earth; it was not seen until the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 spacecraft traveled around the moon in 1959. Chang’e 4 and Yutu 2 therefore cannot beam data directly to Earth and are supported by a relay satellite beyond the moon, which facilitates communications between the spacecraft and its handlers. The relay satellite, known as Queqiao, also collects some data of its own, using a pioneering low-frequency astronomy instrument.
So far, Yutu 2 and its Chang’e 4 lander have been active for over 1,000 (Earth) days on the far side of the moon. Yutu 2 has set a new longevity record for a rover working on the lunar surface, surpassing the previous record of 321 days set by the Soviet Union’s robotic Lunokhod 1 rover.
Yutu 2 and Chang’e 4 are currently in their 37th lunar day (each of which is around 29.5 Earth days). The two solar-powered spacecraft hibernate during the two-week-long lunar nights, when the temperature plummets as low as minus 310 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 190 degrees Celsius).
The image of the “mystery hut” was taken during lunar day 36, in November 2021. It’s possible that the China Lunar Exploration Program will release new images in the weeks following the end of lunar day 37, which will come on the evening of Dec. 10. Yutu 2 travels an average of roughly 66 feet to 98 feet (20 to 30 meters) per lunar day, meaning the rover is expected to cover the approximately 260 feet (80 m) to the object by lunar day 38 or 39.
Hubble telescope clicks photo of colliding gases in `running man` nebula – WION
Hubble space telescope has been humankind’s eye in the sky for decades and though the space telescope has developed glitches, hit snags and has required frequent repairs, it has clicked wonders lying in unimaginably distant corners of the universe and enhanced our knowledge.
It has now clicked an image of colliding gases in ‘Running Man’ Nebula.
Nebulas are where stars form. When this image was clicked, Hubble was trying to observe effect young stars have on their surroundings.
The image it clicked was of Herbig-Haro object (HH 45). Herbig Haro nebula is a type of nebula that forms when gas from a young star collides with surrounding dust and produces shockwaves.
Herbig Haro objects are a rare sight in the universe. This Herbig Haro object has been spotted by Hubble in nebula named NGC 1977. This nebula is also called ‘Running Man Nebula’. This is a complex structure of three nebulae. The Running Man Nebula is about 5000 light-years away from Earth. The Running Man Nebula is a reflection nebula. This means that it does not emit light of its own but reflects light emitted by other nebulae.
NASA is soon launching a ‘successor’ to Hubble Space Telescope. In December, it is going to launch James Webb Space Telescope. This space telescope is more powerful than Hubble telescope and will be equipped with latest technology.
Alien ‘super-Jupiter’ breaks the mold on where planets can exist
One of the largest planets ever detected orbits at an enormous distance around two stars with a combined mass up to 10 times greater than our sun, an extreme celestial family that shatters assumptions about the type of places where planets can exist.
The planet, located about 325 light years from Earth, is a gas giant apparently similar in composition to Jupiter but about 11 times more massive, researchers said on Wednesday. It belongs to a planetary class called “super-Jupiters” exceeding the mass of our solar system’s largest planet.
It orbits a pair of stars gravitationally bound to one another, called a binary system. It has what might be the widest orbit of any known planet – about 100 times wider than Jupiter’s orbit around our sun and about 560 times wider than Earth’s.
Until now, no planet had been found orbiting a star more than three times the sun’s mass. Stars larger than that emit so much radiation that they were thought to torch the planetary formation process. This discovery dashes that view.
“Planet formation appears to be an incredibly diverse process. It has surpassed our imagination many times in the past, and will probably keep doing so in the future,” said astronomer Markus Janson of Stockholm University in Sweden, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.
Since the discovery in the 1990s of the first planets beyond our solar system – so-called exoplanets – scientists have sought to learn whether or not our solar system represents standard “architecture.”
“From the trend seen so far, our solar system is not the most common type of planetary system architecture that exists,” said study co-author Gayathri Viswanath, a Stockholm University astronomy doctoral student.
“For instance, there are planetary systems with so-called ‘hot Jupiters’ where massive Jupiter-size planets orbit their host stars at a very close distance. A vast majority of the discovered planets also seem to have a size between that of Earth and Neptune, a size range in which our solar system has no planets,” Viswanath said.
The larger of the tandem stars in the b Centauri system in which the newly discovered planet resides has a mass around five to six times that of the sun and is more than three times hotter, unleashing large amounts of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.
It is a so-called B-type star, a category of extremely luminous blue stars. It is quite young in cosmic terms, at around 15 million years old. In comparison, the sun is roughly 4.5 billion years old.
Less is known about the smaller of the tandem. It is estimated at anywhere from one-tenth to four times the sun’s mass. The two stars orbit relatively close to one another, within about the distance of the Earth from the sun. They can be seen with the naked eye from Earth in the constellation Centaurus.
The European Southern Observatory‘s Chile-based Very Large Telescope captured an image of the planet, named b Centauri (AB)b. Like Jupiter, it is believed to be comprised mostly of hydrogen and helium.
Scientists had doubted that stars larger than three times the sun’s mass could host planets because they would present an unfriendly environment for planetary formation.
Planets form from material coming together inside huge disks of swirling gas and dust surrounding newborn stars. Big stars, it was thought, give off so much high-energy radiation that this material might be evaporated. The newly identified planet coalesced so far from its stars that it may have avoided this cauldron.
“The distance from the stars probably matters a lot, at least it did when the planet formed,” Janson said.
(Reporting by Will Dunham, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
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