Space Stories: Ancient Water, Nearby Black Hole, and a Lunar Time Zone

Image (Credit): Illustration showing gaseous water in the planet-forming disc around the star V883 Orionis. (European Southern Observatory)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

European Southern Observatory: “Astronomers Find Missing Link for Water in the Solar System

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have detected gaseous water in the planet-forming disc around the star V883 Orionis. This water carries a chemical signature that explains the journey of water from star-forming gas clouds to planets, and supports the idea that water on Earth is even older than our Sun.

“We can now trace the origins of water in our Solar System to before the formation of the Sun,” says John J. Tobin, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA and lead author of the study published today in Nature. 

SciTech Daily: “Astronomers Uncover Black Hole Closer to Earth Than Ever Before

Astronomers have discovered the closest black hole to Earth, the first unambiguous detection of a dormant stellar-mass black hole in the Milky Way. Its close proximity to Earth, a mere 1,600 light-years away, offers an intriguing target of study to advance understanding of the evolution of binary systems.

New York Times: “The Moon May Get Its Own Time Zone

What time is it on the moon? Since the dawn of the space age, the answer has been: It depends. For decades, lunar missions have operated on the time of the country that launched them. But with several lunar explorations heading for the launchpad, the European Space Agency has deemed the current system unsustainable. The solution, the agency said last week, is a lunar time zone.

A Day in Astronomy: The Leviathan of Parsonstown

Image (Credit): The Leviathan of Parsonstown, or Rosse six-foot telescope. (Planetary Society)

On this day in 1845, a 72-inch reflecting telescope built by William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, came into use on his estate in Ireland. The telescope remained the largest in the world until 1917, when it was eclipsed by the Hooker reflecting telescope in California.

Known as both the Leviathan of Parsonstown and Rosse six-foot telescope, it was used William Parson to observe star clusters and nebulae. For example, it was used to view a spiral nebula that we know today as the spiral galaxy Messier 51, or The Whirlpool Galaxy, which is about 31 million light years from Earth (see below). You can see The Whirlpool Galaxy today with a pair of binoculars.

Go here for more information on the Earl and his telescope.

Image (Credit): Spiral galaxy Messier 51, also called The Whirlpool Galaxy. (NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

Space Stories: The End of Geotail, a Galactic Map, and Sweden Gets a Spaceport

Image (Credit): An artist’s rendering of the Geotail spacecraft. (NASA)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

NASA: “NASA’s Geotail Mission Operations Come to an End After 30 Years

After 30 years in orbit, mission operations for the joint NASA-JAXA Geotail spacecraft have ended, after the failure of the spacecraft’s remaining data recorder. Since its launch on July 24, 1992, Geotail orbited Earth, gathering an immense dataset on the structure and dynamics of the magnetosphere, Earth’s protective magnetic bubble. Geotail was originally slated for a four-year run, but the mission was extended several times due to its high-quality data return, which contributed to over a thousand scientific publications. While one of Geotail’s two data recorders failed in 2012, the second continued to work until experiencing an anomaly on June 28, 2022. After attempts to remotely repair the recorder failed, the mission operations were ended on November 28, 2022. “Billions of Celestial Objects Revealed in Gargantuan Survey of the Milky Way

Astronomers have released a gargantuan survey of the galactic plane of the Milky Way. The new dataset contains a staggering 3.32 billion celestial objects—arguably the largest such catalog so far. The data for this unprecedented survey were taken with the Dark Energy Camera, built by the US Department of Energy, at the NSF’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, a Program of NOIRLab.

Advanced Television: “Sweden Inaugurates Rocket Launch Site

While much of the world’s press recently focused on Virgin Orbit’s failed ‘horizontal’ aircraft launch of a batch of 9 small satellites from Spaceport Cornwall, other rivals are gearing up to tap into the growing demand for satellite launches. Sweden has claimed the crown as “mainland Europe’s first orbital launch site”. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, helped cut the ribbon at Kiruna, Sweden, saying: “This spaceport offers an independent European gateway to space. It is exactly the infrastructure we need, not only to continue to innovate but also to further explore the final frontier.”

Why Attack a Telescope?

Image (Credit): The ALMA antennas on the Chajnantor Plateau in northern Chile. (ESO)

A recent article, “Chile’s ALMA Observatory Resumes Work After Cyberattack,” discusses a recent hacking incident at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The telescope was offline for about two months after the attack.

The ALMA telescope in northern Chile is a key asset in the search for early galaxies with its 66 antennas spread over 10 miles. Why would someone want to attack it?

In November, a researcher with Global Security Mag stated:

When it comes to a cyber attack in the space industry, this has an added level of danger as future travel missions could be left in danger of being hi-jacked – with hackers having the potential to cause inter-space collisions and destroy communication systems, for example, should they be able to penetrate mission-critical, earth-based systems.

While the articles I read on this attack did not discuss the motive or possible attacker, it’s essential this matter be thoroughly investigated and used as an example to harden other scientific locations. We have made too much progress in astronomy for it to derailed by these outside parties.

Space Stories: Eruptions on Mars, World’s Largest Radio-Astronomy Observatory, and Saudi Space Hotels

Image (Credit): Image of the planet Mars. (NASA)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

University of Arizona: “Giant Mantle Plume Reveals Mars is More Active Than Previously Thought

In a study published in Nature Astronomy, scientists from the University of Arizona challenge current views of Martian geodynamic evolution with a report on the discovery of an active mantle plume pushing the surface upward and causing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The finding suggests that the planet’s deceptively quiet surface may hide a more tumultuous interior than previously thought…Mantle plumes are large blobs of warm and buoyant rock that rise from deep inside a planet and push through its intermediate layer – the mantle – to reach the base of its crust, causing earthquakes, faulting and volcanic eruptions. The island chain of Hawaii, for example, formed as the Pacific plate slowly drifted over a mantle plume. “‘Great Scientific Step Forward’: Construction of World’s Largest Radio Observatory is Finally Under Way

After 30 years of planning and negotiations, construction begins this week on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio-astronomy observatory. The giant instrument — to be built across sprawling sites in Australia and Africa — will collect the radio signals emitted by celestial objects and will hopefully shed light on some of the most enigmatic problems in astronomy, such as the nature of dark matter and how galaxies form.

UAE in Space: “Saudi Arabia in Talks over Plans for Next-Generation Space Stations

Saudi Arabia is in talks with other nations over plans for the next generation of space stations, which could one day serve as floating hotels among the stars. Mohammed bin Saud Al Tamimi, governor of the Communications, Space and Technology Commission, said he sees space commodities as a “huge opportunity”. He was speaking remotely on the first day of the Abu Dhabi Space Debate, a major conference that addressed the new geopolitics of space and emerging trends. Mr Al Tamimi said that the Kingdom would be announcing its national space strategy early next year.