This week in space: we can still have nice things


Good morning, kind reader, and welcome to your Friday roundup of the best stories and images from This Week in Space. This week, it’s all the good news. The James Webb Space Telescope is fully aligned and sailing through its commissioning phase. And the JWST is not the only thing that is aligned in the most auspicious way. Read on for details on how to watch a full moon total lunar eclipse on Sunday night, during a rare and beautiful alignment of four planets.

The James Webb Space Telescope lifts off from the training wheels

Since its launch in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has surpassed every goal NASA set for it. It is fully deployed, fully lined up and patrolling the Sun-Earth L2 point at its mandated mission temperature of 6K. Now, NASA has released the Superb, sharp first images of Webb. They compare what Webb and other space telescopes each see when looking at the same point in the sky. And the difference is amazing. Webb’s clarity of vision makes Spitzer look decidedly 8-bit. Here is an example of the difference between what Spitzer saw and what Webb sees now:

This close-up of the Large Magellanic Cloud is one of Webb's earliest images.

Here we see a close-up of the Large Magellanic Cloud, our next door neighbor. The image blooms into brilliant clarity as it transforms from what Spitzer saw to what Webb sees. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech (Spitzer), NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI (Webb).

At a press conference on Monday, JWST project scientists briefed the public on the milestones of the telescope’s mission so far. The shiny new telescope is in its final “start-up” phase, calibrating and testing its instruments as if it were spreading its wings for the first time. And the metaphor works; Last week, Webb rolled out her delicate five-layer sunscreen for a in the place stress test. In a careful series of twisting maneuvers, mission engineers slid the telescope into place, exposing the shield’s surfaces to the sun at extreme temperatures. Now is the time to collectively harmonize the telescope’s four scientific instruments. Once Webb’s team passes the elaborate 17-mode testing phase, the James Webb Space Telescope will be ready for its science debut.

First Direct Images of Sagittarius A*

Speaking of scientific debuts, Thursday was a red letter day. Scientists at the Event Horizon Telescope revealed the first direct evidence of Sagittarius A* (abbreviated Sgr A*, pronounced “sadge-ay-star”), the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Headlining the show was this image of Sgr A*, cloaked in the glowing remains of two roaming stars that it is in the process of devouring:

The rate of accumulation of the black hole is uneven. The incandescent rays of stellar matter falling on Sgr A* move at almost the speed of light, in an orbit that takes only a few minutes to complete. This, combined with the long exposure times required by the EHT, may account for the fact that we see blurred light rays, rather than a smooth, symmetrical halo.

The EHT triangulates between multiple radio arrays around the globe to create a giant, Earth-sized radio telescope. Eight observatories participated in this groundbreaking research, including ALMA and APEX, longwave radio telescope arrays located at the European Southern Observatory, in the arid and silent heights of the Atacama Desert. In this impressive flight video, the ESO starts at ALMA and zooms to Sgr A*. Caveat: They do a bit of a barrel roll.

When the EHT Collaboration announced their capture of the first images of Sagittarius A*, they opened all their data on the spot. That’s right: The earth-shattering thud you heard around 9:15 EDT was that the EHT Collaboration dropped petabytes of priceless data. Michael Janssen of the EHT Collaboration explained that the data the team used to build these images is “fully public, on multiple levels.” Janssen added that the EHT Collaboration published its raw data, along with its clean dataset and algorithms, “so that anyone can reproduce what we did, from scratch.”

Yet they persevered

NASA perseverance The rover has been exploring Mars for a year and has been a resounding success in almost every way. This rockstar rover is packed with advanced instruments that could teach us about the geology of other planets and even help reveal evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet. Still, Ingenuity has stolen the spotlight. The Martian smol-icopter began as a mere technology demonstration, practically a stowaway during the journey. But since it arrived, Ingenuity has absolutely crushed all expectations.

NASA extended Ingenuity’s mission due to its excellent performance. But space helicopter faces some problems. After a recent power problem, NASA called off the rover’s mission in hopes of saving the helicopter. Her Hail Mary worked, but winter is coming. Let’s hope this isn’t the end for the historic helicopter.

In this image of Jezero Crater, we see the surface of Mars as Perseverance sees it. These images are color corrected using a calibration palette on the Perseverance chassis. The orange thread in the center left is the lander’s parachute. In the background, the Three Forks River delta rises. Three Forks is Perseverance’s ultimate science target. Image: NASA/JPL

Perseverance is built on the Curiosity chassis, which we know from experience can survive years of harsh Martian winters. But the Ingenuity is made up of out-of-the-box hardware, like a Snapdragon 801 smartphone processor and conventional lithium-ion batteries. We don’t know how well he’ll do this winter, but we’re about to learn as we go. Mission engineers shut down Ingenuity during the winter months. The helicopter will wake up in the Martian spring, once temperatures reach -40°C (also -40°F).

Skywatchers Corner

Last week, we made fun of a full moon total eclipse on the evening of May 15, it will be visible from most of North America. Now it’s time to get the lawn chairs, blankets, and hood out of the car. This eclipse will be long: the total phase will last almost an hour and a half.

The show will begin at approximately 10:30 p.m. The total eclipse begins at 11:30 p.m. EDT. Viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones should be able to see the eclipse from start to finish. Sky watchers on the West Coast should still be able to capture the full phase, which will begin around 8:30 pm ET. Watch NASA’s live stream here:

This eclipse is a continuation of the partial solar eclipse of April 30. Due to the orbital dynamics between the Earth, Moon, and Sun, Chicago’s Adler Planetarium ,, “Eclipses don’t happen often. When they do, they come in pairs two weeks apart.”

If you’re still awake after the eclipse ends in the early hours of May 16, look east before sunrise to observe Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn lined up roughly along the ecliptic. Mars and Jupiter will be separated by a few degrees, reaching conjunction at the end of the month. #search for

That’s all for this week. Tune in next Friday for our space news roundup, same bat hour, same bat channel.

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