First stage of Rocket Lab's Electron rocket recovered from Pacific Ocean
Ground track left behind by a devastating Mississippi tornado seen from space
Friday, March 31, 2023: Teams of the New Zealand-based company Rocket Lab successfully recovered the first stage of the Electron rocket after its splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Electron lofted two Earth-observation satellites into low Earth orbit on Friday (March 24), but the company only shared the images of the recovery operation on Twitter a week later, Friday, March 31.
The stage has since been transported to Rocket Lab's facilities in New Zealand where it's being inspected and refurbished for future reuse.
"Once again the stage took reentry in its stride and the Rutherford engines are in great shape," Rocket Lab said in the tweet. "Next step is to analyze and requalify components to inform our future recovery efforts." – Tereza Pultarova
Thursday, March 30, 2023: NASA's Earth-observing satellite Landsat 9 photographed the track of devastation left behind by one of the tornados that swirled through Mississippi and Alabama last week.
Several tornadoes were reported during a powerful thunderstorm that hit the two U.S. states on March 24 in the evening. The track, visible in this image, runs across a 29-mile (47 kilometers) stretch of land near the town of Winona, Mississippi. The tornado, with peak winds of 150 mph (241 kph) flipped over cars, destroyed mobile homes and ripped through power lines. This tornado was somewhat less powerful than the one that demolished Rolling Fork, a town near Mississippi's border with Louisiana.
Landsat 9 captured the aftermath on March 25, one day after the event. – Tereza Pultarova
New gravitational wave-hunting instrument tests its skill on largest globular cluster
Wednesday, March 29, 2023: A new infrared imager recently installed at the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile has tested its abilities by observing the Omega Centauri globular cluster.
The new instrument, called NEWFIRM, provides high-resolution, wide-field-of-view images of the cosmos in the near-infrared light, the part of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelengths just a little longer than the visible light.
The instrument, which was previously installed at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Arizona, will help astronomers search for near-infrared counterparts of gravitational wave events, NOIRLab, which operates the telescope, said in a statement. Gravitational waves are enormous ripples in spacetime triggered by collisions of supermassive objects such as black holes and neutron stars. These waves spread across vast distances of hundreds of millions of light-years, allowing astronomers to study the most energetic processes in the universe.
During its test run, however, NEWFIRM focused on a much closer object, the Milky Way galaxy's largest globular cluster Omega Centauri. Located in the constellation Centaurus some 17,000 light-years from Earth, the cluster contains approximately 10 million stars. Globular clusters are the oldest groupings of stars in the galaxy that formed some 12 to 13 billion years ago, in some cases only hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang. The clusters provide a window into early epochs of the universe and are a popular target of astronomical observations. – Tereza Pultarova
Broken Soyuz departs from space station
Tuesday, March 28, 2023: A Russian Soyuz crew capsule that suffered a major coolant leak in December departed from the International Space Station on Tuesday (March 28).
The leak rendered the capsule unsafe for humans, stranding its crew of three spacemen on the orbital outpost. The three spacefarers — Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will have to stay on the space station until September, extending the length of their orbital trip to almost a year.
Instead of its crew, Soyuz-M22 brings back to Earth scientific experiments.
Russia blamed the leak on a micrometeoroid strike, although another Russian spacecraft — an uncrewed Progress crew capsule — suffered a similar leak in February. – Tereza Pultarova
Super-bright galaxy shines in new Hubble telescope image
Monday, March 27, 2023: The Hubble Space Telescope took a picture of an extremely bright galaxy some 390 million light-years away from Earth.
The galaxy, called Z 229-15, has a giant supermassive black hole at its center that gorges on dust, gas and debris. As this material spirals into the black hole at super-fast speeds, it heats up and releases light that is brighter than that of all the stars in the galaxy combined.
The galaxy, located in the constellation Lyra, on the northern sky, is sometimes classified as an active galactic nucleus (an official name for those fast-feeding black holes at galactic centers). Unlike most active galactic nuclei, however, the active galactic nucleus of Z 229-15 doesn't outshine the galaxy's stars completely, allowing astronomers to actually observe the wider galaxy as a whole. – Tereza Pultarova
Most powerful solar storm in six years supercharges auroras over the U.S.
Friday, March 24, 2023: A surprise solar storm supercharged auroras across the U.S. tonight with colorful displays visible as far south as New Mexico.
The storm, classified as a severe G4 on the 5-grade scale used by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), even forced the Rocket Lab company to delay a launch of its Electron rocket. Oddly, space weather forecasters didn't see the storm coming as it was caused by a stealthy solar eruption.
This image, showing aurora displays outside of Asheville, North Carolina, was taken by photographer James Reynolds, who posts on Twitter under the handle AshvillePictures.
Geomagnetic storms are caused by interactions of magnetized solar particles with molecules in Earth's atmosphere. Their intensity depends on the force of the streams of solar wind that hit our planet and the direction of the magnetic field they carry.
Space weather forecasters originally predicted a moderate G2 storm to occur on March 23 and 24. Such a storm would have invigorated auroras mostly at rather high latitudes. That prediction was based on flows of fast solar wind that forecasters knew were emanating from an opening in the sun's magnetic field known as a coronal hole. The G4 storm that arrived instead, was the most powerful geomagnetic storm of the current solar cycle, the 11-year ebb and flow in the generation of sunspot's, flares and eruptions. – Tereza Pultarova
3D-printed rocket launches but fails to reach orbit
Thursday, March 23, 2023: The 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket of California-based firm Relativity Space successfully lifted off for its debut flight yesterday, March 22, but failed to reach orbit after its upper stage malfunctioned.
Terran 1 blasted off from Launch Complex 16 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 8:25 p.m. EST (0025 GMT on March 23). At first, the rocket's "Good Luck, Have Fun" test flight proceeded according to plans. The rocket successfully passed Max-Q, the moment during a rocket flight when the structures bear the highest aerodynamic loads. But about three minutes after liftoff, shortly after the separation of the second stage, something went wrong. Relativity Space hasn't yet given any reasons for the upper stage failure, but said it still considered the flight a success.
"No one's ever attempted to launch a 3D-printed rocket into orbit, and, while we didn't make it all the way today, we gathered enough data to show that flying 3D-printed rockets is viable," Relativity Space's Arwa Tizani Kelly said during the company's launch webcast on Wednesday night. – Tereza Pultarova
3D-printed rocket ready for another launch attempt
Wednesday, March 22, 2023: The 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket made by California-based company Relativity Space is waiting on a launchpad in Cape Canaveral ahead of its next debut launch attempt.
The launch attempt, the rocket's third, is planned to take place on Wednesday (March 22) during a three-hour window that opens at 10 p.m. EDT (0200 GMT on March 23). Relativity Space has previously scrubbed two launch attempts, one because of fuel-temperature issues, the second because of bad weather. – Tereza Pultarova
NASA rocket that will send humans to the moon next year is coming together
Tuesday, March 21, 2023: The 212-foot-tall (65 meters) core stage of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will send the first human crew since the Apollo era to the moon next year has been put together at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
Over the past few weeks, NASA and Boeing engineers joined together the rocket's five main structures. On Friday, March 17, the team completed the work by attaching the engine section and is now preparing to integrate the stage's four RS-25 engines, NASA said in a statement.
The rocket will launch the Artemis II mission with four astronauts for a lunar roundtrip in 2024. The mission paves the way for NASA's ambitious plans to establish permanent human presence on the moon and in the moon's orbit. – Tereza Pultarova
Earth on equinox
Monday, March 20, 2023: Spring has officially begun in the Northern Hemisphere today with Earth reaching the equinox. And the European weather forecasting satellite Meteosat-10 captured the moment from space.
Equinox happens twice a year, in September and March, and marks the moment when the Earth's tilted axis is perfectly perpendicular to the imaginary line between our planet and the sun. On equinoxes, both Earth's hemispheres receive the same amount of light during the day, which lasts all over the world about 12 hours.
The Meteosat image shows the so-called terminator line, the line separating day and night, which on the equinox leads directly from north to south. Meteosat took this image at 2:00 a.m. ET (0600 GMT), just as day was breaking over Europe.
The exact moment of the equinox, however, will take place at 5:24 p.m. ET (2124 GMT) today. From that moment on, the Earth's axis will start tilting again. The Northern Hemisphere will be receiving more daylight than the Southern Hemisphere. The length of the day in the north will continue increasing until the summer solstice in June when the Northern Hemisphere will experience its longest day and shortest night of the year. – Tereza Pultarova
Hubble sees newborn stars in tiny galaxy
Friday, March 17, 2023: A tiny diffuse galaxy known as UGCA 307 can be seen on the right hand side of this Hubble Space Telescope image as a hazy red-speckled cloud of stars.
The Hubble Space Telescope took this image as part of a survey studying the galactic neighborhood of our galaxy, the Milky Way. UGCA 307 is a dwarf galaxy located 26 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Corvus in the southern sky.
The galaxy has no defined structure and consists only of a diffuse band of stars with red bubbles of gas contained within, revealing areas of recent star formation.
Hubble took this image using its Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), which was installed on the telescope during a 2002 servicing mission. The European Space Agency, which co-funds the Hubble Space Telescope's operations, released the image on Friday, March 17. – Tereza Pultarova
New map reveals distribution of water on the moon
Thursday, March 16, 2023: A new map reveals water distribution on the moon's surface in best-ever detail.
The new map is the first to capture a wide area around the moon's south pole, which is an important target of future exploration, in such detail.
The map covers about one quarter of the Earth-facing side of the lunar surface below 60 degrees latitude and extends all the way to the south pole, NASA said in the statement.
This wide coverage enables scientists to see how individual geological features influence water distribution on the surface. – Tereza Pultarova
Falcon 9 shoots off toward the space station
Wednesday, March 15, 2023: SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blasting off from Florida with a Cargo Dragon capsule atop, heading to the International Space Station.
The rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 8:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, March 14, (0030 GMT on March 15) sending SpaceX's 27th contracted cargo mission to the orbital outpost. The capsule, carrying supplies and scientific experiments, is scheduled to reach the space station on Thursday (March 16) at 7:52 a.m. EDT (1152 GMT). – Tereza Pultarova
Great Lakes winter ice cover at record low, satellites reveal
Tuesday, March 14, 2023: The Great Lakes between the U.S. and Canada appear nearly ice-free in this image captured by the European Earth-observing satellite Sentinel-3 on March 8 after an unusually warm winter that led to a record-low ice-cover.
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), only 7% of the Great Lakes' surface was covered with ice in the winter of 2022 and 2023. This value is considerably lower than the average 35 to 40% ice cover extent recorded in the years since 1973.
In a statement issued on February 17, NOAA said that data collected over the past 44 years shows a clear declining trend in the Great Lakes' winter ice cover. This year's February scored a record low, owing mostly to warmer than usual temperatures, NOAA said. – Tereza Pultarova
An orbital sunset above the Atlantic Ocean
Monday, March 13, 2023: This image shows the moment of sunset above the Atlantic Ocean captured from aboard the International Space Station.
The station orbits at the altitude of 264 miles (425 kilometers) and circles Earth every 90 minutes. Astronauts on board the space lab therefore get views of 16 sunsets and 16 sunrises every day. This time, the space station crossed the so-called terminator line, the line separating day from night as experienced on Earth off the coast of southwestern Africa. – Tereza Pultarova
Friday, March 10, 2023: A Japanese weather satellite took this stunning image of the moon emerging above Canada on Wednesday, March. 9.
The image was taken by the Himawari-9 weather forecasting satellite that observes Earth from geostationary orbit, the sweet spot at the altitude of about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers), where satellites appear suspended above a fixed spot on the planet's equator.
The image was processed and shared on Twitter by Earth-observation scientists Simon Proud of the U.K.'s National Centre for Earth Observation. – Tereza Pultarova
Near-record snowfall promises to alleviate California's drought
Thursday, March 9, 2023: The amount of water in California's largest reservoir, Lake Shasta, has doubled since last October, thanks to abundant rain and snowfall that promise to alleviate the state's severe drought problem.
This GIF consists of two images capturing the area around Lake Shasta, which were taken by Earth-observing satellites of the U.S. company Planet in October, 2022, and in March this year.
In October, the lake held 61.6 billion cubic feet (1.7 billion cubic meters) of water. Thanks to a series of powerful storms that have drenched California in the past months, the amount of water in the lake has risen to 120 billion cubic feet (3,4 billion cubic meters) by early March.
The image also shows the surrounding landscape covered in snow, the amount of which has been described as near record level. Once the snow melt season starts this spring, the amount of water in the lake will rise even further.
Water from melting snow is also more likely to increase soil moisture as it's released gradually and has a better chance of soaking into the ground compared to fast-moving rain water, Planet said in a statement. – Tereza Pultarova
Cyclone Freddy ravages Madagascar
Wednesday, March 8, 2023: European Earth-observing satellite Sentinel-3 captured this image of tropical cyclone Freddy that is currently ravaging Madagascar, having killed over 21 residents so far and forcing thousands to leave their homes.
The cyclone formed over a month ago above the Indian Ocean and is now set to become the longest lasting cyclone in history, according to CNN.
The World Meteorological Organization described Freddy as a "very rare" and "incredibly dangerous" storm. The area of low air pressure, which gave rise to Freddy, emerged on Feb. 6 off the coast of Australia. The storm then tracked thousands of miles westwards and hit the tropical island of Madagascar for the first time on Feb. 21. The storm then continued to the coast of east Africa, where it made landfall in Mozambique, causing widespread destruction. The cyclone then bounced back to Madagascar and is now expected to loop once again to Mozambique, intensifying as it moves above the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
The current record holder for the longest-lasting cyclone is Typhoon John, which kept stirring the Pacific waters for 31 days in 1994. Unlike Freddy, Typhoon John, didn't make landfall and only skirted Hawaii, where it caused minor damage. – Tereza Pultarova
3D-printed rocket awaits debut flight
Tuesday, March 7, 2023: The 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket made by California-based Relativity Space is sitting on its launchpad ahead of its debut launch attempt that is scheduled for Wednesday, March 8.
If all goes to plan, the 110-foot-tall (33.5 meters), 7.5-foot-wide (2.9 m) rocket will lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Florida's space coast shortly after 1 p.m ET (1800 GMT) on Wednesday. The launch will be the first not only for Terran 1 but for Relativity Space as a company and will carry no customer payload.
The company says that Terran 1 will be the largest 3D-printed object ever to attempt orbital flight. The rocket's nine 3D-printed engines use liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas, which the company says is "best for reusability." – Tereza Pultarova
Curiosity captures twilight sun rays on Mars
Monday, March 6, 2023: NASA's veteran Mars explorer Curiosity captured this image of twilight sun rays penetrating through a veil of clouds shrouding the Red Planet last month.
The image, taken by Curiosity's Mast Camera, or Mastcam, shows the sun descending below the horizon on Feb. 2, while its rays scatter off a bank of clouds.
According to a NASA statement, this photo captures the first occasion when the "sun rays have been so clearly viewed on Mars."
Curiosity captured the scene as it embarked on the latest round of its cloud survey, which builds on its 2021 observations of noctilucent, or night-shining, clouds. While most Martian clouds hover no more than 37 miles (60 kilometers) above the ground and are composed of water ice, the clouds in the latest images appear to be at a higher altitude, where it’s especially cold. That suggests these clouds are made of carbon dioxide ice, or dry ice, NASA said in the statement. – Tereza Pultarova
Full house on International Space Station
Friday, March 2, 2023: The number of International Space Station occupants has risen to 11 after the arrival of Crew-6 aboard SpaceX's Dragon Endeavour capsule on Friday (March, 3).
The four new crew members (in their blue overalls) pose in the middle of this image with the current seven members of Expedition 68, which includes four space travelers from SpaceX's previous Crew-5 mission and three spacefarers who arrived on Russia's Soyuz M-22 (the one that experienced a fatal coolant leak in December last year).
The new arrivals are, left to right, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, NASA's Steven Bowen, Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and NASA's Woody Hoburg.
Crew-6 will replace Crew-5 astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassade of NASA, Japan's Koichi Wakata and Russia's Anna Kikina, who are expected to depart for Earth in the middle of next week. – Tereza Pultarova
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with crewed Dragon capsule atop heads to space station
Thursday, March 2, 2023: SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket can be seen in this image shortly after its liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, March 2. Atop the rocket is a crewed Dragon capsule with four spacefarers of the Crew 6 mission heading to the International Space Station.
The mission, SpaceX's seventh taking astronauts to the orbital outpost (including the demonstration flight in May 2020), launched at 12:34 a.m. ET (1234 GMT) today and is scheduled to dock with the station's Harmony module on Friday, March 3, at about 1:17 a.m. ET (617 GMT).
Aboard the capsule, called Endeavour after the namesake space shuttle mission, are NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and United Arab Emirates' (UAE) space traveler Sultan Al Neyadi, who will be the first UAE national to carry out a six-month mission on the International Space Station. – Tereza Pultarova
Auroral glow surprises astrophotographer in California's Death Valley
Wednesday, March 1, 2023: An American stargazer has caught an unexpected glimpse of aurora during an astrophotography trip to California's Death Valley.
The sighting, documented in this beautiful image that shows the arch of the Milky Way above a purple glowing horizon, may be the southernmost of the aurora spree delivered by a strong solar storm in the last two days of February.
"I was indeed shocked to see this," Shari Hunt, the author of the image, who is a medical researcher and part-time astrophotography tutor, told Space.com in an email. "I was there in Death Valley for night photography and with the storm in California, we had clouds almost every morning blocking the galactic core. This was our last morning to shoot."
At 36 degrees northern latitude, Death Valley is too far south for most aurora displays. Polar lights usually remain contained around polar circles and occasionally spread to higher parts of mid-latitudes. But despite the intense space weather conditions forecasted for Feb. 28, the spectacle wasn't expected to reach all the way to California.
Hunt first noticed the strange glow when she directed her camera to the north after setting up her gear at the popular Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. In fact, the glow was so unexpected that she first thought she must have made a mistake.
"I thought I left my camera on auto white balance or something went wrong," Hunt recalled. "I had never seen an airglow like that! So, I took another shot and told my friend who was also there to check with her camera."
The two took repeated shots, all of which revealed the eerie glow that was gradually giving way to light pollution above Las Vegas on the right hand side of the image. The single sharp spot of light in the image is a car that accidentally appeared on a local road, Hunt said.
"After looking in post and seeing the changing or dancing, I knew we had captured the aurora," said Hunt. "We checked the aurora forecast as well, which also helped confirm it!"
Hunt shot the image with a Sony A7R III camera using a f/2.8 lens, 25 second-exposure and ISO 6400 sensitivity.
For more of Hunt's astrophotography, visit her Instagram account @shari_hunt_photography or her website ShariHuntPhotography.com. – Tereza Pultarova
Weather satellite spots auroras dancing above the pole
Tuesday, February 28, 2023: Auroras that set the sky ablaze across northern and central Europe and North America in the last two days were so intense that they could be seen from space by weather-forecasting satellites.
In this image, taken by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) namesake satellite NOAA-20, the recent aurora borealis displays can be seen as a band of orange-tinted glow that crosses the Atlantic Ocean above the British Isles and spills over into Scandinavia.
NOAA-20, which orbits 512 miles (824 kilometers) above Earth's surface, took the image on Sunday (Feb. 26) at 11:01 p.m. ET (0401 GMT on Monday, Feb. 27). The image was processed by scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) in Colorado and was shared on Twitter by a user called @ar_etsch.
Simon Proud, an Earth-observation scientist at the National Centre for Earth Observation in the U.K. explained in a comment that NOAA-20 was able to detect the aurora as it "has a special low light band, which picks up anthropogenic lights and also things like aurora." – Tereza Pultarova
Auroras set sky ablaze all over the British Isles
Monday, February 27, 2023: Powerful solar wind is blowing from the sun these days, setting the sky ablaze with auroras all over the British Isles. This particular picture was taken by an astrophotographer in Northern Ireland.
Stunning aurora borealis displays have been reported on the night from Sunday, Feb. 26, to Monday, Feb. 27, from all over the U.K., even from as far south as the iconic Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire
Stunned skywatchers took to Twitter in droves to share their catches, with reports of aurora sightings pouring in from Scotland, northern Wales, Ireland and southern England.
Northern Irish photographer Evan Boyce experienced a memorable night of aurora chasing, which, despite being his first polar lights adventure, produced some stunning results.
"I first picked up a camera during the COVID lockdown and have wanted to capture the aurora ever since," Boyce told Space.com in an email. "It's quite difficult living in Northern Ireland, given how far south we are in comparison to where the aurora can normally be viewed."
He added that all his earlier attempts at aurora chasing were ruined by cloudy weather. On Sunday night, Boyce drove to a beach between the towns of Bangor and Donaghadee, a short drive from Northern Ireland's capital Belfast. There he captured an eerie green and red glow above a historical building with a backdrop of a star-studded sky.
"I can't believe how lucky I've been," Boyce said. "Judging by the reaction from other local photographers, the strength & colors last night were a rare event."
According to the U.K. space weather forecaster Met Office, the spectacle was a result of two solar physics phenomena occurring at the same time. There is currently a so-called coronal hole opened in the sun's magnetic field, from which streams of solar wind emanate at higher than usual speeds. In addition to that, a coronal mass ejection (CME), a powerful burst of solar wind from an active region, or sunspot, erupted from the sun on Friday, Feb. 24, and arrived last night. – Tereza Pultarova
Artemis 2 moon rocket coming together
Friday, February 24, 2023: NASA is assembling the Space Launch System rocket that will launch the Artemis 2 mission to the moon as early as next year, taking the first humans since the final Apollo flight in the 1970s to the moon's orbit.
"Engine section, meet the rest of the core stage," NASA said in a Tweet shared via the Marshall Space Flight Center account on Friday (Feb. 24). "Teams at #NASAMichoud have lined up the engine section with the rest of the @NASA_SLS core stage for Artemis II. Next up, joining the two sections."
NASA completed the Space Launch System's debut launch with the uncrewed Artemis 1 test-flight in November last year with flying colors. The stakes are, however, getting higher with Artemis 2, which will pave the way for NASA's ambitious plans to establish permanent human presence on the moon and in its orbit. – Tereza Pultarova
Crescent moon meets Jupiter and Venus in the sky above New Jersey
Thursday, February 23, 2023: The crescent moon rises in the early evening sky accompanied by Jupiter and Venus in this image taken by an astrophotographer in New Jersey.
The celestial encounter is a so-called conjunction, a situation when celestial bodies temporarily meet in the same area of the sky. The conjunction between the two-day-old waxing crescent moon and the two other brightest objects in the sky, planets Venus and Jupiter, took place on Wednesday (Feb. 22).
Audrey Geddes of New Jersey took this image of the celestial encounter over a remote region of the Pine Barrens during the evening twilight.
"To get to this remote area, you have to drive down sand roads through a pitch pine forest," Geddes told Space.com. "Excellent location for astrophotography and observing the stars. The only thing that made it challenging to photograph were the clouds."
Geddes took the picture on a NIKON D7500 camera with a 3.8 aperture lens using an 8-second exposure and ISO 400 sensitivity. – Tereza Pultarova
James Webb Space Telescope peers inside Milky Way's oldest star cluster
Wednesday, February 22, 2023: The James Webb Space Telescope has looked inside one of the oldest components of our Milky Way galaxy, the Messier 92 globular cluster located some 27,000 light-years away from Earth.
The James Webb Space Telescope, or Webb, observed the globular cluster, also known under the shortcut M92, early after coming online. It took only one hour to capture the sparkling image above, according to a statement by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the observatory.
Primarily built to study the most distant objects in the far-away reaches of the universe, Webb easily detected the multitude of stars inhabiting the cluster, including the dim and cool ones that were invisible to its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. Some of the stars in this image are tiny, only 0.1 the mass of our sun, Roger Cohen, an astronomer at Rutgers University and one of the scientists behind the observations, said in the statement.
"This is very close to the boundary where stars stop being stars," Cohen said. "Below this boundary are brown dwarfs, which are so low-mass that they're not able to ignite hydrogen in their cores."
The image, captured by Webb's Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), reveals only a small portion of the M92 cluster. The whole cluster, about 100 light-years wide, has 300,000 stars squeezed inside of it. If an inhabited planet like Earth were to orbit one of those stars, the creatures on its surface would have a magnificent view of the night sky, which would shine with thousands of stars that would be thousands of times brighter than those humans can see from Earth.
M92 is one of the oldest globular clusters in the Milky Way, consisting of stars that formed 12 to 13 billion years ago, when the universe was only a few hundreds of thousands of years old. – Tereza Pultarova
Cubesat that launched to the moon on Artemis 1 sees green comet
Tuesday, February 21, 2023: Japan's cubesat EQUULEUS, which hitched a ride to the moon aboard NASA's Artemis 1 mission in November last year, took a video of Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) earlier this month, about two weeks after the ice ball's closest approach to Earth.
The comet — also called the green comet for its hue or the Neanderthal comet, as it hasn't visited Earth since the era of the Neanderthals — can be seen in the video sequence shared on Twitter as a fuzzy white dot traversing a star-studded black-and-white background.
"EQUULEUS successfully photographed Comet ZTF (Comet C/2022 E3) from space!" the EQUULEUS team said in a tweet accompanying the image sequence shared on Tuesday (Feb. 21).
The 6U cubesat , built by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo, imaged the comet for six hours on Feb. 12. At that time, the cubesat was about 43 million miles (69.5 million kilometers) from the comet and 211,000 miles (340,000 km) from Earth. – Tereza Pultarova
Satellites reveal devastation in Turkey's city of Antakya
Monday, February 20, 2023: The destruction of the Turkish city of Antakya caused by the devastating earthquake on Feb. 6 is revealed in a series of images taken by the European Earth-observing satellite Sentinel-2.
The first image in this sequence shows Antakya on Jan. 25, nearly two weeks before the disaster, which has killed at least 46,000 people. The second image captures the situation on Feb. 14 with thousands of buildings destroyed. – Tereza Pultarova
Rare red auroras explode over northern Europe and Canada
Friday, February 17, 2023: A stream of solar plasma arrived at Earth last night, supercharging the atmosphere with particles from the solar wind that triggered rare red aurora displays across vast portions of Canada, northern U.S. and Europe. And space weather forecasters promise that more is on its way.
Twitter has been virtually awash over the past days with skywatchers' images and accounts of spectacular aurora sightings. The latest wave of dancing polar lights has been especially striking, as it arrived in rare shades of red that require higher concentrations of solar wind particles to penetrate deeper into Earth's atmosphere.
Quebec, Canada-based aurora hunter Mike MacLellan shared with Space.com his catches: out of this world photographs of the horizon ablaze with bright neon-like green that turns into orange, red and purple higher up in the sky. Similar red aurora sightings have been reported by photographers in Scotland and Norway.
The aurora overload is expected to continue and possibly get even more impressive as a coronal mass ejection (CME), a burst of plasma from the sun's upper atmosphere that erupted from the sun Feb. 15 is arriving at Earth today.
Aurora sightings as far south as the north of England and the U.S. can be expected. The geomagnetic storming is expected to carry on until at least Feb. 19, so if you have an opportunity, head north for the weekend to make the most of it. – Tereza Pultarova
Rose-like nebula shines bright on star-studded sky in an astrophotographer's image
Thursday, February 16, 2023: The Rosette Nebula in the constellation Unicorn shines bright in the star-studded sky in a photo captured ahead of this year's Valentine's Day by an Arizona-based astrophotographer.
Hot young stars in the nebula produce energetic atoms in their cores, which then feed the cloud of hydrogen gas that forms the nebula.
Astrophotographer and NASA astronomy ambassador Mark Johnston took the image from Rio Verde in Arizona on Feb. 11 using a Celestron C9.25 SCT telescope and a ZWO2600 astrophotography camera. He created the image by stacking 256 60-second exposures. For more of Johnston's astrophotography, visit his website at www.azastroguy.com. – Tereza Pultarova
Valentine's Day auroras shine bright over Alaska
Wednesday, February 15, 2023: The spectacular aurora display over Alaska delivered on Valentine's Day by a well-timed solar eruption got one experienced aurora hunter extremely excited.
Vincent Ledvina is no stranger to the sight of glimmering polar lights. Based in Fairbanks, Alaska, the space physics PhD student, took his first aurora picture aged 16. Since then, he says on his website, he's been hooked on the thrill of aurora chasing. This passion eventually led to him relocating from North Dakota to Alaska, the northernmost U.S. state that straddles the northern polar circle and offers the best conditions for aurora watching.
Vincent's Twitter account and his website's photo gallery are overflowing with stunning aurora pictures. Yet, in a series of excited tweets shared on Feb. 14, he admitted that this year's Valentine's Day auroras were out of the ordinary.
"Everything about tonight was insane," Ledvina said in a Tweet shared in real time as his aurora party drew to a close. "One of the best nights of aurora of my life, maybe the best. We had substorm after substorm, it never let up."
In another tweet, he called the experience "straight up magic." In yet another, accompanied by an image of a shimmering ribbon of green and purplish glow suspended above the wintery landscape, he confessed that he had never seen such intense shades of red in an aurora.
Just head to Ledvina's Twitter page to get the feel of that night.
"That was freaking incredible. INSANE substorm. The whole sky is glowing, so cool, no other words. Wow!!!!," Ledvina said in yet another post. – Tereza Pultarova
Turkey earthquake destruction laid bare in new satellite images
Tuesday, February 14, 2023: New images from the U.S. Earth observation company Maxar reveal the scope of destruction in cities and towns across Turkey in the wake of two devastating earthquakes that struck the region last week.
This image, taken on Monday (Feb. 13), shows collapsed buildings in the city of Kahramanmaras, about 100 miles northeast of the Mediterranean coast. Kahramanmaras is one of the hardest hit areas as it lies closest to the epicenter of the deadly 7.8 Richter scale magnitude temblor that shook the region last Monday (Feb. 6) in the early morning hours.
"Extensive building damage with debris removal operations in process can be seen, along with temporary shelters in the area," Maxar Technologies said in a tweet accompanying the image.
More than 36,000 victims have been pulled out from rubble in the region around the Turkish-Syrian border. In Kahramanmaras alone, 600 people perished in the ruins. On the Syrian territory, rescue operations are proceeding especially slowly as the country has been mostly isolated for years due to a years-long civil war. – Tereza Pultarova
Astronomer discovers tiny asteroid shortly before it hits Earth
Monday, February 13, 2023: This is the first photo of a 3-foot-wide (1 meter) asteroid that burned up in Earth's atmosphere only a few hours after it was discovered.
The space rock was discovered by Hungarian astronomer Krisztián Sárneczky during a routine "near-Earth asteroid hunt" on Sunday (Feb. 12). Sárneczky, who is one of the world's most prolific asteroid hunters, first spotted the rock at about 10 pm local time and at first had no clue he was looking at an Earth-bound rock.
"At that time, the calculations did not show that it was an imminent impactor," Sárneczky told Space.com in an email. "It wasn't going fast across the sky at all, as it was heading right towards us, and it was faint. It was only when I observed it again half an hour later and measured its coordinates that the calculations showed that it was coming towards Earth."
A measurement made by astronomers in Croatia confirmed that the previously unknown asteroid was on a collision course with Earth. The rock, named Sar 2667 in Sárneczky's honor, indeed, dove into Earth's atmosphere about four hours after its discovery and burned up above the English Channel between France and the U.K., producing a spectacular fireball that was captured by many meteor and web cameras.
Sar 2667 is only the 7th space rock on record discovered before hitting our planet. The asteroid was already the ninth found in February by Sárneczky and his colleagues from the Piszkéstető observatory, which is located some 60 miles (100 km) northeast of Budapest in the Mátra Mountains. The asteroid arrived two days short of the tenth anniversary of the Chelyabinsk meteorite impact, which in 2013 caused a shockwave that shattered windows on thousands of buildings in the city of Chelyabinsk in southern Russia. – Tereza Pultarova
Earthquake creates giant cracks in Earth's crust
Friday, February 10, 2023: The devastating Kahramanmaras earthquake that hit a region on the borders between Turkey and Syria on Monday (Feb. 6) has produced two more than 120-mile-long (200 kilometers) ruptures in Earth's crust that can be seen from space.
The earthquake, which came in two waves, the first peaking at 7.8 Richter scale magnitude, the second nine hours later slightly milder at 7.5, has killed over 20,000 people in the impoverished region heavily affected by the Syrian war.
This image, captured by the European Earth-observing satellite Sentinel-1 and released by the U.K. Centre for the Observation & Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes & Tectonics (COMET) on Friday, Feb. 10, reveals two long ruptures created by the quakes spanning a distance of more than 120 miles (200 km) each. – Tereza Pultarova
Europe's Jupiter explorer Juice heads to spaceport ahead of launch
Thursday, February 9, 2023: Europe's Jupiter exploring spacecraft Juice has left Airbus' factory in Toulouse, France, today, and is heading to French Guiana ahead of its launch in April.
Juice (for JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) was packed into a safety container and loaded onto an Antonov aircraft, which transported it across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe's spaceport in Kourou.
Juice, which will explore the potentially life-bearing moons of Jupiter, is scheduled for launch in mid-April aboard Europe's heavy-lifter Ariane 5. – Tereza Pultarova
Astrophotographer captures stunning February full moon aligned with ancient monument
Wednesday, February 8, 2023: Astrophotographer Josh Dury captured this spectacular image of the February full moon rising behind the Glastonbury Tor, one of the U.K.'s best known spiritual sites.
Glastonbury Tor is a hill in Somerset, southwestern England near the town of Glastonbury, which is the site of the popular music festival. The enigmatic building, behind which the giant lunar disk appears in Dury's image, is the 15th century St, Michael's Tower, the only surviving element of a medieval church.
Glastonbury Tor is frequently featured in the tales of King Arthur, and it has even been suggested that the mythical warrior, who may have lived in the 6th century A.D., could be buried there.
The February full moon, also known as the Snow Moon, was at its fullest on the night of Feb. 5.-6. – Tereza Pultarova
Astrophotographer catches an enormous plasma loop erupting from sun's surface
Tuesday, February 7, 2023: A U.S. astrophotographer captured this awe-inspiring image of a giant loop of plasma arching above the sun's surface.
The loop, or prominence, as solar experts call it, is enormous. At 53,000 miles (86,000 kilometers) high and with a span of 162,000 miles (160,000 km), the mesmerizing feature is more than 20 times wider and more than four times higher than Earth. It appeared on the sun's surface on Saturday, Feb. 4, when it attracted the attention of Arizona-based astrophotographer and NASA astronomy ambassador Mark Johnston when he was scrolling through the feeds from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.
"Prominences are very dynamic and can last from an hour to a week or more, depending upon their nature," Johnston told Space.com in an email. "Prominences occur where strong magnetic field lines erupt out of the sun and then arc back to the surface. The plasma (ionized hydrogen) you see moving from left to right is following the magnetic field lines. Typically you'll find a sunspot at the points where the magnetic field lines erupt and return."
Johnston captured the sequence from his home in Scottsdale using his hydrogen alpha telescope, a type of solar telescope that enables astronomers to view light emissions from a type of energetic hydrogen ions, which appear in deep hues of red.
"I attach my telescope to a solar video camera, which captures 85 frames per second," Johnston said. "It's important when imaging the sun to keep your exposures at 10 milliseconds or less to ensure there is no movement within each frame."
Weather satellite sees a heart form in the clouds above the Atlantic Ocean
Monday, February 6, 2023: The GOES East weather forecasting satellite of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spotted this unusual heart-shaped cloud form above the southern Atlantic Ocean.
The giant heart in the clouds appeared off the coast of Uruguay and Brazil this morning, Monday, Feb. 6. GOES East took the video sequence from an altitude of 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth's surface. – Tereza Pultarova
Rare green comet shines above Stonehenge during close Earth approach
Friday, February 3, 2023: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) glows above Stonehenge in southern England during its closest approach to Earth in 50,000 years.
The comet, last seen from Earth long before the iconic 5,000-year-old stone circle was erected, has thrilled astrophotographers all over the world. This particular image was taken by Josh Dury, an astrophotographer from Bath, southwest England. Dury, who's been taking images of the night sky since the age of seven, told Space.com that taking the stunning portrait of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was "one of the most challenging" astrophotography projects he had ever undertaken.
"With thick freezing fog rolling in over Salisbury plain [where the stone circle is located], my camera equipment was freezing up and there were only short interludes of clear skies," Dury wrote in an email to Space.com. "Luckily the comet was visible for a period of time where I was able to capture this image, really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
The comet will now start slowly retreating in the direction of Mars and dim gradually. It will remain visible to amateur astronomers with backyard telescopes throughout the first half of February. It will then head deeper into the outer solar system and toward the Oort Cloud, where it came from. Astronomers are not certain whether C/2022 E3 (ZTF) ever visits Earth again. But even if it does, we won't be around to see it. – Tereza Pultarova
First-ever microgravity experiment using a drone
Thursday, February 2, 2023: British start-up Gravitilab has performed a first microgravity experiment with its customized quadcopter and specially designed microgravity capsule.
The remotely controlled drone carried the capsule into an altitude of 2,000 feet (600 meters). After its release, the capsule hurtled toward Earth in a freefall, creating a few seconds of simulated weightlessness inside.
The company says its drone system, called LOUIS, can provide up to 20-second-long microgravity flights, up to ten times longer than what drop towers can offer. Companies from many industries including pharmaceuticals, materials and aerospace are interested in conducting research and experiments in microgravity conditions. However, access to the International Space Station is expensive and limited, and so are Earth-based opportunities such as parabolic flights.
Gravitilab's system is the first microgravity research facility using unmanned aerial technology. – Tereza Pultarova
Elon Musk shares photo of Starship engine bay ahead of major test
Wednesday, February 1, 2023: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared a photo of the Starship engine bay at the company's test site in southern Texas taken ahead of a planned static firing test of the engine's first stage.
"Just leaving the engine bay of Starship," Musk said in a Tweet.
The tech mogul previously hinted that Starship may attempt its debut orbital flight later this month. Prior to that, SpaceX has to complete a static firing test involving all 33 Raptor engines of the rocket's Booster 7 first stage.
Once operational, the 395-foot-tall (120 meters) Starship will be the largest rocket in the world, taller than even NASA's Space Launch System moon rocket, which sent the Artemis 1 mission around the moon last year. – Tereza Pultarova
Trio of spacecraft observes giant collision in distant universe
Tuesday, January 31, 2023: Three enormous galaxy clusters are caught in the middle of a collision in this image consisting of observations made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton.
A new galaxy cluster is emerging from this collision some 780 million light-years from Earth, known as Abell 2256. In addition to X-ray observations from Chandra and XMM-Newton, the image also contains data from three Earth-based radio telescopes and one optical telescope.
Each of the telescopes provides a unique view into the processes that are underway in this giant structure that contains hundreds or thousands of individual galaxies. The X-ray component measured by Chandra and XMM reveals the location of the superhot gas filling this cluster. In this image, the gas, with temperatures of several million degrees Fahrenheit, is shown as the central bright bluish cloud.
The three radio telescopes involved, the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India, the Low Frequency Array in the Netherlands, and the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico, spot material emitted from supermassive black holes at the centers of individual galaxies. In this image, these radio emissions are shown as bright blots of light coming from the red-colored regions. The radio telescopes also see a vast mass of cosmic filaments depicted as the large red cloud.
Infrared and optical observations by the Pan-STARRs telescope in Hawaii are shown as dots of white and pale yellow. – Tereza Pultarova
Scary shark nebula floats above an Egyption observatory
Monday, January 30, 2023: An Egyptian astrophotographer captured this awe inspiring image of the scary Shark nebula in the constellation of Cephus lurking above Egypt's Kottamia Observatory.
"This has been the hardest object I've ever captured," Weal Omar, the author of the image and keen astrophotographer, told Space.com in an email. "It's a real challenge for anyone who loves astrophotography."
The Shark nebula is a giant cloud of thin interstellar dust and gas some 650 light-years away from Earth. Although the monstrous nebula has 15 light-years across and appears in the sky as large as 10 moons stuck next to each other, the Shark is notoriously difficult to photograph due to the wispy nature of the cloud.
This image is a composition of several shots taken on three separate nights in a remote area near the Kottamia Astronomical Observatory, the largest telescope in the Arab world, which is located some 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Egypt's capital Cairo.
"It was such scary night," Omar wrote in the email. "I heard different night animal sounds during the session, I was so scared that I even thought it was alien sounds." – Tereza Pultarova
A close-up image of the iceberg that broke off an Antarctic ice shelf this week
Friday, January 27, 2023: This detailed image shows the gap opening between the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica and the iceberg that split from it on Saturday (Jan. 21).
The high-resolution image was taken by satellites of the U.S. Earth-observation company Planet on Tuesday (Jan. 24). The calving of the iceberg has nothing to do with climate change, according to experts, and was a result of natural processes that had been underway for over a decade. The iceberg split along a crack known as Chasm-1 that scientists had monitored since 2012. The new fragment, which is now slowly being carried away by the Antarctic Coastal Current, is about 600 square miles (1,550 square kilometers) in size, about as big as the London metropolitan area or little larger than Houston.
The Brunt Ice Shelf hosts the British Halley VI Research Station, which had to be moved in 2016 away from the crumbling ice block. – Tereza Pultarova
SpaceX destacks Starship ahead of booster fire test
Thursday, January 25, 2023: SpaceX has destacked its Starship megarocket after an important pre-launch test in order to perform further separate testing on the vehicle's two stages at its Starbase facility in South Texas.
"Launch and catch tower destacked Ship 24 from Booster 7 on the orbital pad today ahead of the Booster’s static fire test," SpaceX said in a Tweet.
Ship 24 is the name of this particular Starship upper stage, while Booster 7 is the first stage of the 395-foot-tall (120 meters) vehicle. The company will now perform a static fire test on Booster 7, which will involve firing all the stage's 33 Raptor engines for the first time.
To date, Booster 7 has static-fired a maximum of 14 of its 33 Raptors simultaneously. Ship 24 lit up all six of its Raptors last September. SpaceX's CEO Elon Musk previously said the giant rocket, which dwarfs even NASA's Space Launch System moon rocket, may perform its debut orbital flight as early as next month. – Tereza Pultarova
Newly discovered asteroid seen approaching Earth
The space rock, called 2023 BU, is only about 13 to 30 feet (4 to 9 meters) wide, and was discovered last Saturday (Jan. 21) by prolific Crimea-based astronomer and telescope builder Gennadiy Borisov (the same man who discovered the first interstellar comet, which now bears his name, Borisov, in 2018)
The asteroid will pass only 2,240 miles (3,600 kilometers) from Earth's surface on Friday (Jan. 27), becoming the 4th closest asteroid ever observed apart from those that actually struck the planet, according to the Virtual Telescope website. For comparison, satellites of the global navigation system GPS orbit 12,500 miles (20,200 km) above Earth, about four times farther away.
This image, however, was taken when the asteroid was still quite far, about 360,000 miles (580,000 km) away from us, which is 124,000 miles (200,000 km) farther away than the orbit of the moon.
Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi took the image on Tuesday (Jan. 24) using his robotic Elena telescope located just outside of Rome. – Tereza Pultarova
SpaceX's Starship on launchpad during major test
Tuesday, January 24, 2023: SpaceX's Starship megarocket is sitting on a launchpad at the company's Starbase facility in South Texas during a major test ahead of its debut flight.
During the test, the 395-foot-tall (120 meters) Starship, which is taller than NASA's Space Launch System moon rocket, has gone through most of the procedures it will perform on launch day including loading liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellant into the vehicle's Super Heavy first stage and Starship upper stage.
SpaceX said on Twitter it will now "destack" the rocket's stages in order to perform a static fire test with the Super Heavy's 33 Raptor engines. – Tereza Pultarova
Watch the Gulf Stream whirl across the Atlantic Ocean
Monday, January 20, 2023: The Gulf Stream whirls through the Atlantic Ocean in this image sequence based on data from European Earth-observation satellites as it transports warm water from the Caribbean toward western Europe.
The animation shows the evolution of the Gulf Stream in December 2022 and January 2023. The Gulf Stream plays an important role in European climate, warming it up considerably compared to what it would be like without it.
Scientists worry that climate change could disrupt the Gulf Stream in the future, plunging northwestern Europe into a mini ice age. Existing data already suggest that the warming steam is slowing down and potentially nearing the point of collapse. – Tereza Pultarova
Catastrophic flooding in California seen from space
Friday, January 20, 2023: Satellites of U.S. Earth observation company Planet have documented the extent of the catastrophic floods and landslides that hit California following a series of devastating storms earlier this month.
In this image, taken on Jan. 1, fields around the city of Elk Grove, near Sacramento, are seen submerged in dirty brown water in the aftermath of record-breaking downpours. Similar images have come from other parts of the sunny state, which usually struggles with drought. The storms and ensuing floods and landslides have killed at least 22 people across California. – Tereza Pultarova
Austrian astrophotographer captures Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) losing its tail
Thursday, January 19, 2023: An image taken by an Austrian comet hunter reveals a disconnection in Comet's C/2022 E3 (ZTF) tail that may have been caused by turbulent space weather.
Seasoned astrophotographer Michael Jäger took this image on Tuesday (Jan. 17) after driving 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Austria to Bavaria in Germany to get a clear view of the sky.
"The journey was not in vain," Jäger told Space.com in an email. He added that when it comes to comets, an astrophotographer can waste no time as these icy balls change rapidly when they reach the warmer regions in the inner solar system.
This particular image reveals what astronomers call a disconnection event, essentially a weakening in the comet's trademark tail, which makes it look as if the tail was breaking off.
According to SpaceWeather.com, this disruption in the tail is likely caused by turbulent space weather, namely the stronger than usual solar wind that has been released during a recent coronal mass ejection (CME). CMEs are bursts of highly energetic particles emitted from the sun's upper atmosphere, the corona, that travel across the solar system, interfering with the atmospheres of planets and other bodies.
C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which was discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at the Palomar Observatory in California in March 2022, is making its first close approach to Earth in about 50,000 years. The comet will soon become visible to the naked eye, experts say, and will reach its closest distance to Earth on Feb.1, zooming past our planet at about one quarter the sun-Earth distance.
Jäger, who has photographed more than 1,100 comets since he took up astrophotography four decades ago, is certain to take more awe-inspiring images, which you can find on his Twitter account. – Tereza Pultarova
Earth-sized sunspot photographed in strange hydrogen light
Wednesday, January 18, 2023: A British astrophotographer has taken this image of a larger than Earth sunspot that has been battering our planet with solar flares in the past few days.