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Massive 'El Gordo' galaxy cluster suggests dark matter smashes into itself

El Gordo is a massive collection of colliding galaxies 7 billion light-years away. Its odd behavior could suggest dark matter interacts with itself.

This Week's Sky at a Glance, June 7 – 16

The waxing Moon reenters the sky as an evening crescent. Pollux and Castor keep it company. The Big Dipper hangs straight down. And can you still catch wintry Capella? The colder your latitude the better your chance.

The post This Week's Sky at a Glance, June 7 – 16 appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

Artificial gravity for Europe in space

Image: ESA and Vast memorandum signature at ILA

Earth from Space: Grand Bahama Island

Image: Ahead of World Ocean Day, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the west of Grand Bahama Island, in the Bahamas.

Astronauts are Practicing Lunar Operations in New Space Suits

Through the Artemis Program, NASA will send astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. While the challenges remain the same, the equipment has evolved, including the rocket, spacecraft, human landing system (HLS), and space suits. In preparation for Artemis III (planned for September 2026), NASA recently conducted a test where astronauts donned the new space suits developed by Axiom Space and practiced interacting with the hardware that will take them to the Moon.

These new suits, the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU), were developed specifically for the Artemis III mission. The day-long test took place on April 30th at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, where astronaut Doug “Wheels” Wheelock and Axiom Space astronaut Peggy Whitson interacted with a full-scale model of the SpaceX Starship Human Landing System (HLS). This was the first time astronauts trained in pressurized spacesuits and conducted mock operations with the HLS hardware.

The Artemis III spacesuit prototype, the AxEMU. Though this prototype uses a dark gray cover material, the final version will likely be all-white when worn by NASA astronauts on the Moon’s surface. Credit: Axiom Space

The test provided valuable feedback on the Starship HLS and the AxEMU spacesuits for NASA and its commercial partners. It also gave astronauts a chance to gauge the suits’ range of motion and to get a feel for the interior of the Starship HLS and its mechanical systems. Said Logan Kennedy, lead for surface activities in NASA’s HLS Program, in a NASA press statement:

“Overall, I was pleased with the astronauts’ operation of the control panel and with their ability to perform the difficult tasks they will have to do before stepping onto the Moon. The test also confirmed that the amount of space available in the airlock, on the deck, and in the elevator, are sufficient for the work our astronauts plan to do.”

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Thruster glitches and helium leaks can't stop Boeing's Starliner astronaut test flight — but why are they happening?

Boeing's Starliner Crew Flight Test faced down thruster glitches and helium leaks to reach the International Space Station on June 6. Why all the glitches and is NASA worried?

The 'hole' on Mars making headlines could be crucial to Red Planet exploration

Similar craters are found on Earth and the Moon, and are the product of volcanic, tectonic or even fluvial activity.

An Earth-sized Exoplanet Found Orbiting a Jupiter-Sized Star

Red dwarf stars, also known as M-dwarfs, dominate the Milky Way’s stellar population. They can last for 100 billion years or longer. Since these long-lived stars make up the bulk of the stars in our galaxy, it stands to reason that they host the most planets.

Astronomers examined one red dwarf star named SPECULOOS-3, a Jupiter-sized star about 55 light-years away, and found an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting it. It’s an excellent candidate for further study with the James Webb Space Telescope.

SPECULOOS stands for the Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars. It’s a European Southern Observatory effort that searches for terrestrial planets orbiting cool stars like red dwarfs. (Its odd name is an homage to a Belgian sweet biscuit.) Its goal is to find planets that are good targets for spectroscopy with the JWST and the ELT.

The new planet is named SPECULOOS-3b, and its discovery was presented in a recent paper in Nature Astronomy. The paper is titled “Detection of an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting the nearby ultracool dwarf star SPECULOOS-3.” The lead author is Michaël Gillon from the Astrobiology Research Unit, Université de Liège, Belgium.

SPECULOOS is an automated search using four telescopes around the world: one at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, one at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, one at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, and one at the Oukaïmden Observatory in Morocco. The project is searching 1,000 ultra-cool stars and brown dwarfs for terrestrial planets.

This figure from the study shows the transit of SPECULOOS-3b around its dim, cool star. Image Credit: Gillon et al. 2024.
This figure from the research compares SPECULOOS-3b to other transiting terrestrial exoplanets with less than 1.6 Earth radii. All of these planets are also cool enough to have rocky daysides rather than molten daysides. The shaded green area highlights planetary radii most similar to Earth's (0.9–1.1R). Image Credit: Gillon et al. 2024.
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A Mission to Uranus Could Also be a Gravitational Wave Detector

Despite being extraordinarily difficult to detect for the first time, gravitational waves can be found using plenty of different techniques. The now-famous first detection at LIGO in 2015 was just one of the various ways scientists had been looking. A new paper from researchers from Europe and the US proposes how scientists might be able to detect some more by tracking the exact position of the upcoming Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP).

Initially suggested by NASA’s Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey, UOP will be the first mission to Uranus since Voyager visited the system in 1986. When it finally arrives in 2044, after a 2031 launch date, it will be almost 60 years since humanity last had an up-close look at the Uranian system.

But 13 years in transit sure is a long time. Part of that time will be spent getting a gravitational boost from Jupiter, but most will be spent coasting between planetary bodies. And that much time spent in between planets is what the paper’s authors want to utilize to do non-Uranian science.

Fraser has long been a proponent of returning to Uranus, as he explains here.

Gravitational waves can disrupt the fabric of space-time, causing discernible distortions, especially over long distances. If the instruments in question are sensitive enough, the massive distance between UOP and the Earth would be a viable way to detect them.

This isn’t the first time using the distance between a spacecraft and Earth has been considered for detecting gravitational waves. Pioneer 11, Cassini, and a triangulation of Galileo, Ulysses, and Mars Orbiter all had entertained suggestions of being utilized for gravitational wave detection while on their journey to their final destinations. However, the equipment they were designed with was not sensitive enough to pick up the minute fluctuations required for an actual detection.

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'Most unique tree here:' Artemis Moon Tree planted at US Capitol

Reid Wiseman felt a little jealous about the tree that he and his crewmates helped dedicate on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. The NASA astronaut was, in a way, beaten to the moon by the sapling.

Rocky, carbon-rich exoplanets more likely around tiny stars, James Webb Space Telescope reveals

Astronomers using the JWST have discovered tiny stars may be better suited at birthing small, rocky planets with atmospheres dominated by carbon.

SpaceX Starship 4th flight test looks epic in these stunning photos

SpaceX conducted the fourth flight test of its Starship megarocket on June 6, putting on quite the show for photographers gathered near its Starbase facility in Texas.

Why We Look Up: Anticipation

Anticipation makes observing celestial delights all the sweeter.

The post Why We Look Up: Anticipation appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

Boeing's 1st Starliner to carry astronauts docks at ISS despite thruster malfunction

Boeing's Starliner capsule arrived at the ISS on its second try today (June 6), overcoming a problem with several of its reaction-control system thrusters.

Success! SpaceX’s Starship Makes a Splash in Fourth Flight Test

SpaceX’s Starship earned high marks today in its fourth uncrewed flight test, making significant progress in the development of a launch system that’s tasked with putting NASA astronauts on the moon by as early as 2026.

The Super Heavy booster blasted off from SpaceX’s Starbase complex in South Texas at 7:50 a.m. CT (12:50 p.m. UTC), rising into the sky with 32 of its 33 methane-fueled Raptor engines blazing. Super Heavy is considered the world’s most powerful launch vehicle, with 16.7 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

Minutes after launch, the rocket’s upper stage — known as the Ship — separated from the first stage, firing up its own set of six Raptor engines. Meanwhile, Super Heavy flew itself to a controlled splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.

The soft splashdown marked a new achievement for Starship. During the third flight test, which took place in March, only a few of Super Heavy’s engines were able to light up again for a crucial landing burn. As a result, the booster hit the water with an uncontrolled splat.

Eventually, SpaceX plans to have the Super Heavy booster fly itself back to its base after doing its job.

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New moon of June 2024 tonight lets Saturn, Mars and Jupiter shine

The dark skies of the new moon of June 2024 will allow some of the naked eye planets to stand out late in the night after midnight.

Everything we know about 'Destiny 2: The Final Shape'

The Light and Darkness saga of Destiny 2, which contains the first ten years of Destiny, is ending with The Final Shape. This is everything we know about it.

Webb Telescope Finds Strangely Bright Galaxies at Cosmic Dawn

Another record-breaker: Two galaxies date to only 300 million years after the Big Bang. How did they grow so big and bright so quickly?

The post Webb Telescope Finds Strangely Bright Galaxies at Cosmic Dawn appeared first on Sky & Telescope.