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Neutron Stars Could be Heating Up From Dark Matter Annihilation

One of the big mysteries about dark matter particles is whether they interact with each other. We still don’t know the exact nature of what dark matter is. Some models argue that dark matter only interacts gravitationally, but many more posit that dark matter particles can collide with each other, clump together, and even decay into particles we can see. If that’s the case, then objects with particularly strong gravitational fields such as black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs might capture and concentrate dark matter. This could in turn affect how these objects appear. As a case in point, a recent study looks at the interplay between dark matter and neutron stars.

Neutron stars are made of the most dense matter in the cosmos. Their powerful gravitational fields could trap dark matter and unlike black holes, any radiation from dark matter won’t be trapped behind an event horizon. So neutron stars are a perfect candidate for studying dark matter models. For this study, the team looked at how much dark matter a neutron star could capture, and how the decay of interacting dark matter particles would affect its temperature.

The details depend on which specific dark matter model you use. Rather than addressing variant models, the team looked at broad properties. Specifically, they focused on how dark matter and baryons (protons and neutrons) might interact, and whether that would cause dark matter to be trapped. Sure enough, for the range of possible baryon-dark matter interactions, neutron stars can capture dark matter.

The team then went on to look at how dark matter thermalization could occur. In other words, as dark matter is captured it should release heat energy into the neutron star through collisions and dark matter annihilation. Over time the dark matter and neutron star should reach a thermal equilibrium. The rate at which this occurs depends on how strongly particles interact, the so-called scattering cross-section. The team found that thermal equilibrium is reached fairly quickly. For simple scalar models of dark matter, equilibrium can be reached within 10,000 years. For vector models of dark matter, equilibrium can happen in just a year. Regardless of the model, neutron stars can reach thermal equilibrium in a cosmic blink of an eye.

If this model is correct, then dark matter could play a measurable role in the evolution of neutron stars. We could, for example, identify the presence of dark matter by observing neutron stars that are warmer than expected. Or perhaps even distinguish different dark matter models by the overall spectrum of neutron stars.

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This Week In Space podcast: Episode 106 — Space Potpourri!

On Episode 106 of This Week In Space, Rod and Tariq take you on a tour of the coolest space places on Earth.

Tiny black holes left over from the Big Bang may be prime dark matter suspects

Don't rule out primordial black holes as dark matter suspects just yet! Particle-sized black holes may resist evaporation, surviving long enough to account for the universe's most mysterious stuff.

'You could feel the energy and wonder': Despite clouds, totality wows crowds during solar eclipse in Syracuse

The total solar eclipse on April 8 plunged Syracuse, New York's Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology into darkness for 90 seconds, creating a wondrous and memorable totality.

Artemis 2 Orion spacecraft starts testing ahead of moon mission with astronauts in 2025 (video)

The Artemis 2 Orion spacecraft began testing on April 10 in an altitude chamber at NASA. The spacecraft will bring four astronauts around the moon no earlier than 2025.

In a virtual reality universe, upcoming 'JUICE' mission flies by Jupiter's moon Callisto

To test its autonomous software, the JUICE mission team pretended to fly the spacecraft past Jupiter's fourth moon, and passed the exam with flying colors.

SpaceX Starship will be 500 feet tall to prepare for Mars missions, Elon Musk says (video)

Just weeks after Starship first reached orbital speed during a spaceflight in March, SpaceX founder Elon Musk outlined what the company wants to do with future spacecraft for Mars missions.

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 booster on record-breaking 20th flight

SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster, B1062, lifts off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on the Starlink 6-49 mission. This marked the first time a booster launch and landed for a 20th time. Image: Adam Bernstein

Update 10:13 p.m. EDT: SpaceX successfully launched and landed its booster, B1062, for a 20th time.

SpaceX shattered multiple records Friday night as it launched 23 satellites for the company’s Starlink internet service from Cape Canaveral. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted offf from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 9:40 p.m. EDT (0140 UTC).

It was the first time a Falcon 9 first-stage booster flew for a 20th time and it came just two days, 20 hours since another Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral’s pad 40. That smashes the previous record for the shortest time between launches by 21 hours 24 minutes.

Meteorologists with the 45th Weather Squadron predicted near-prefect conditions for launch. They forecast a less than five-percent chance of a weather rule violation during the four-hour launch window, with liftoff winds being the only concern.

Let’s go!!! And a new pad 40 launch to launch record of 48 hours!

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The Brightest Gamma Ray Burst Ever Seen Came from a Collapsing Star

After a journey lasting about two billion years, photons from an extremely energetic gamma-ray burst (GRB) struck the sensors on the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope on October 9th, 2022. The GRB lasted seven minutes but was visible for much longer. Even amateur astronomers spotted the powerful burst in visible frequencies.

It was so powerful that it affected Earth’s atmosphere, a remarkable feat for something more than two billion light-years away. It’s the brightest GRB ever observed, and since then, astrophysicists have searched for its source.

NASA says GRBs are the most powerful explosions in the Universe. They were first detected in the late 1960s by American satellites launched to keep an eye on the USSR. The Americans were concerned that the Russians might keep testing atomic weapons despite signing 1963’s Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Now, we detect about one GRB daily, and they’re always in distant galaxies. Astrophysicists struggled to explain them, coming up with different hypotheses. There was so much research into them that by the year 2,000, an average of 1.5 articles on GRBs were published in scientific journals daily.

There were many different proposed causes. Some thought that GRBs could be released when comets collided with neutron stars. Others thought they could come from massive stars collapsing to become black holes. In fact, scientists wondered if quasars, supernovae, pulsars, and even globular clusters could be the cause of GRBs or associated with them somehow.

This periodic table from the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio shows where the elements come from, though scientists still have some uncertainty. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
This artist's illustration shows two neutron stars colliding. Known as a "kilonova" event, they're the only confirmed location of the r-process that forges heavy elements. Credits: Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI)
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Formation-Flying Spacecraft Could Probe the Solar System for New Physics

It’s an exciting time for the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. Thanks to cutting-edge observatories, instruments, and new techniques, scientists are getting closer to experimentally verifying theories that remain largely untested. These theories address some of the most pressing questions scientists have about the Universe and the physical laws governing it – like the nature of gravity, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy. For decades, scientists have postulated that either there is additional physics at work or that our predominant cosmological model needs to be revised.

While the investigation into the existence and nature of Dark Matter and Dark Energy is ongoing, there are also attempts to resolve these mysteries with the possible existence of new physics. In a recent paper, a team of NASA researchers proposed how spacecraft could search for evidence of additional physical within our Solar Systems. This search, they argue, would be assisted by the spacecraft flying in a tetrahedral formation and using interferometers. Such a mission could help resolve a cosmological mystery that has eluded scientists for over half a century.

The proposal is the work of Slava G. Turyshev, an adjunct professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and research scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was joined by Sheng-wey Chiow, an experimental physicist at NASA JPL, and Nan Yu, an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina and a senior research scientist at NASA JPL. Their research paper recently appeared online and has been accepted for publication in Physical Review D.

A new study shows how measuring the Sun’s gravitational field could search for additional physics. Credit: NASA/ESA

Turyshev’s experience includes being a Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission science team member. In previous work, Turyshev and his colleagues have investigated how a mission to the Sun’s solar gravitational lens (SGL) could revolutionize astronomy. The concept paper was awarded a Phase III grant in 2020 by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. In a previous study, he and SETI astronomer Claudio Maccone also considered how advanced civilizations could use SGLs to transmit power from one solar system to the next.

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ULA chronicles the rise of Vulcan rocket in new employee-drawn comic book

Vulcan, United Launch Alliance's new heavy-lift rocket, was not the result of being exposed to gamma rays or the bite of a radioactive spider, but it does have an origin story worthy of a comic book.

Watch an exclusive clip from the CNN' 'Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight' finale (video)

CNN's space documentary, "Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight" reaches its finale on April 14. You can watch an exclusive clip now.

'Fly Me to the Moon' trailer mixes real-life Apollo history with moon landing hoax

Watching the new trailer for the upcoming movie "Fly Me to the Moon" might leave you thinking that it is an entire work of fiction. And for the most part, you would be correct.

HALO Space unveils capsule design for stratospheric space 'glamping'

Spanish start-up HALO Space has unveiled its capsule design for stratospheric space tourism.

Watch a Satellite Reaction Wheel Melt in a Simulated Orbital Re-Entry

Most satellites share the same fate at the end of their lives. Their orbits decay, and eventually, they plunge through the atmosphere toward Earth. Most satellites are destroyed during their rapid descent, but not always

Heavy pieces of the satellite, like reaction wheels, can survive and strike the Earth. Engineers are trying to change that.

Satellite debris can strike Earth and is a potential hazard, though the chances of debris striking anything other than ocean or barren land are low. Expired satellites usually just re-enter the atmosphere and burn up. But there are a lot of satellites, and their number keeps growing.

In February 2024, the ESA’s European Remote Sensing 2 (ERS2) satellite fell to Earth. The ESA tracked the satellite and concluded that it posed no problem. “The odds of a piece of satellite falling on someone’s head is estimated at one in a billion,” ESA space debris system engineer Benjamin Bastida Virgili said.

That would be fine if ERS 2 was an isolated incident. But, according to the ESA, an object about as massive as ERS 2 reenters Earth’s atmosphere every one to two weeks. The statistics may show there’s no threat to people, but statistics are great until you’re one of them.

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News from the Press Site: Delta 4 Heavy finale, Starliner preparations and ExoMars gets new contract

As the Delta family of rockets closes out a more than 60 year legacy, a new spacecraft from another legacy space company is preparing to make its debut with astronauts on board. Meanwhile, millions are still basking in the coronal glow of Monday’s total solar eclipse while a new military weather satellite is preparing to enter service.

These are just some of the topics on deck for this week’s edition of News from the Press Site. The hour-long, live show begins at 4 p.m. EDT (2000 UTC) on the Spaceflight Now YouTube channel.

This week, we’re joined by Elizabeth Howell, staff writer for, and Bill Harwood, space consultant for CBS News. Join the conversation by using the Superchat feature while the video is live.

Elizabeth Howell,

Trains, planes and a total solar eclipse! Watching the moon block the sun was a transportation adventure (exclusive) views of solar eclipse 2024: See the moon’s shadow race across North America (video, photos)

Bill Harwood, CBS News:

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One of the universe's most 'extreme' dead stars just sprang back to life unexpectedly

The closest extreme magnetic dead star or magnetar to Earth suddenly burst back to life to give astronomers a sight of unexpected and unexplained phenomena that are unlike anything seen before.

'Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight' documentary set to conclude on CNN

CNN is set to conclude airing a four-part series on space shuttle Columbia's ill-fated last return to Earth. "Space Shuttle Columbia: The Final Flight" airs on Sunday (April 14).

SpaceX to launch a Falcon 9 rocket first stage for a record 20th time tonight

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stage is set to lift off for a record-setting 20th time on Friday (April 12), sending 23 Starlink internet satellites to orbit.

No, you didn't see a solar flare during the total eclipse — but you may have seen something just as special

Several media outlets have incorrectly claimed that explosive solar flares were spotted during the April 8 total solar eclipse. But there were no flares during totality, so what did people see?