Elephant seals helped a NASA scientist learn about Earth's oceans, a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule launched towards the International Space Station and scientists get their best look yet at a comet outburst. These are just some of the top stories this week from Space.com.
First-known case of a white dwarf orbited by a planet.
Astronomers found the first-known case of an exoplanet orbiting a white dwarf, which is described in new research published Wednesday (Dec. 4). A white dwarf is a superdense stellar corpse; it's the type of celestial body that the sun and many other stars will end up turning into when they reach the end of their nuclear-fusion lives. The white dwarf and Neptune-sized exoplanet from the new study are located a little over 2,000 light-years from Earth.
Astronauts perform the third spacewalk to repair Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.
Astronaut Andrew Morgan of NASA and astronaut Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency completed the third of a series of four challenging spacewalks to fix a cosmic ray detector. Together, these space-station crewmembers successfully transplanted a new coolant pump system for the $2 billion experiment, which was installed eight years ago to search for enigmatic "dark matter" and "dark energy."
Black hole has an unexpectedly huge mass for its neighborhood.
A newly-spotted black hole in our galaxy is too large for modern theories to handle, according to researchers in a paper published Nov. 27. According to black hole models, the largest black hole in the Milky Way should not be more than 25 times the mass of the sun. Located 13,800 light-years from Earth, this newfound black hole appears to be 68 solar masses.
SpaceX Dragon launches on cargo mission to space station.
On Thursday (Dec. 5), a SpaceX Dragon cargo spaceship launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This marked the third mission for this particular Dragon capsule, which made its first trip to the International Space Station in 2014, and its second delivery in 2017. The Falcon 9 descended back to Earth after the launch, and landed on a drone ship off the Florida coast.
Parker Solar Probe offers illuminating insight about the sun.
In four new papers, researchers discuss what they've learned thanks to the instruments of NASA's sun-kissing Parker Solar Probe. The studies, which were published on Wednesday (Dec. 4), feature the data collected during the probe's first two close approaches of the sun, on November 2018 and April 2019. As the mission's path around the sun shrinks, these close encounters will become more frequent.
Rare minimoon flew over Australia.
A group of researchers think a fireball that cascaded over the Australian desert may have been a minimoon. These ultra-rare bodies orbit Earth for a short period of time before hurling back out into space or, like what may have happened in this case, are pulled into the planet's atmosphere and break apart. This is only the second observation of a minimoon fireball.
Best look at a comet outburst yet.
Occasionally a comet will blast off material that causes the icy body to appear brighter. Recently, scientists caught their best-ever look at a comet outburst. The observations came from NASA's alien planet-hunting TESS mission, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). In a paper published Nov. 22, scientists estimate that the comet spewed out about 2.2 million lbs (1 million kilograms) of material.
ESA makes plans for the next decade.
On Nov. 27 and 28, the European Space Agency's (ESA) 22 member states gathered in Seville, Spain to approve programs for the upcoming decade. The agency currently has their largest budget ever at just under $16 billion. Some of the programs for the 2020s include a space-based gravitational-wave detector, a new reusable spaceship and a continued commitment to the International Space Station.
Hats on elephant seals are helping us predict climate change.
A paper published Monday (Dec. 2) describes how a NASA scientist gathered data from headpieces placed on elephant seals, all in an effort to better understand how oceans and their currents store energy on a warming planet. These bodies of water are buffering the impact of human carbon emissions on climate, so scientists need to pay special attention to how heat moves through the ocean to make accurate predictions.
Puzzling craters on Ryugu.
The team from the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission to asteroid Ryugu identified 77 craters scattered across the space rock's surface, and their uneven distribution was a surprise to researchers. The scientists hope that when they analyze the samples from Ryugu, which are now on their way back to Earth and slated to arrive at the end of 2020, they can develop a deeper understanding about the asteroid's evolution and why it looks the way it does.