Updates on Artemis I. NASA predicted an asteroid striking Canada. James Webb’s view of Titan. New adaptive optics for the Very Large Telescope.
Artemis I Updates
NASA’s Artemis I mission continues. On Nov. 21st, the Orion Capsule made its first close flyby of the Moon, coming within 130 km of the lunar surface. The capsule fired its thrusters for several minutes, putting it into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. This orbit will eventually bring it 64,000 km past the Moon and then bring it back for another orbit before it returns to Earth on Dec. 11th. So far, the mission has gone surprisingly well, with the only problem being a brief drop in communications with the capsule, which was restored quickly.
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What Happened to Cubesats Aboard SLS
In addition to the Orion Capsule, Artemis I carried ten Cubesat missions on its journey to the Moon. Shortly after launch, NASA confirmed that all ten cubesats were released successfully. Unfortunately, only four of them are currently operational. Some high-profile missions that haven’t called home include NASA’s NEA Scout, which would send a solar sail to explore an asteroid, and Japan’s OMOTENASHI, the smallest lunar lander ever built.
Asteroid Hits Canada. NASA Predicted It
This week an asteroid exploded over Canada. But don’t worry, it was a really small one and it didn’t do any damage. The cool thing about this event was that NASA was able to predict it despite a pretty late detection. The automated system triggered all the alerts and was able to pinpoint the location of the strike. So, it’s a good demonstration of automated detection. If it works for small asteroids, it will work for bigger ones even better and give us time to react. So, one existential threat less, I guess.
James Webb Sees Titan
I thought we wouldn’t see Titan again until NASA’s Dragonfly mission arrives in 2034. Thanks to JWST, we get another view of Saturn’s largest moon. JWST initially captured this image using its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on Nov. 4-5; Ph.D. student Michael Radke processed it at Johns Hopkins University. He mapped three wavelengths of infrared light to red, green, and blue giving us this excellent final image. We’re not exactly sure what it’s showing us, but the different colors probably map to different gases in Titan’s atmosphere.
More details about WASP-39b
In July, we saw the first JWST exoplanet data, revealing the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-39b. This week we learned that many more gases were detected in the clouds of the hot Jupiter. JWST also measured water vapor, carbon monoxide, sodium, and potassium signals. One of the most exciting discoveries was the presence of sulfur dioxide, formed through a chemical process that depends on ultraviolet light from the star. It’s mindblowing to think that we’ve gone from discovering the first exoplanet around a sunlike star in 1995 to being able to analyze an exoplanet atmosphere with this level of detail.
Big Update for The Very Large Telescope
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope is one of the world’s most powerful ground-based observatories. And a new instrument installed on the telescope has made it even better. The new instrument is the Enhanced Resolution Imager and Spectrograph (ERIS), and the first observations were made earlier this year. How good is it? I’ll just let the side-by-side comparison images of galaxy NGC 1097 show how much better it is.
Interactive Map of the Universe
Finally, there’s a cool interactive map of the Universe. It shows which galaxies are visible in the sky and how far away in time they appear. It gives a good perspective of galaxy distribution and how we can see different objects in different slices of time.
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