Howell’s Hits: A star collision, a dark matter discovery, and an astronaut graduation ceremony
As a Canadian science and space journalist, I’m excited to be bringing you a biweekly synopsis of the top astronomy stories in Canada. In the news this past week, there was a big astronomy meeting that generated headlines around the space community, including a star collision and a dark matter discovery. Plus an astronaut graduation ceremony! Read some of the top hits here.
Canadian lunar astronauts?
Canadian astronauts Jenni Sidey-Gibbons and Joshua Kutryk graduated from basic training Jan. 10 with the rest of their NASA class. NASA says this group is part of the “Artemis generation” of astronauts eligible to land on the Moon, should the agency meet their goal of getting there by 2024. Since Canada has promised a “Canadarm3” robotic arm for moon exploration, it’s possible Kutryk and Sidey-Gibbons could be eligible for Moon missions. Publication: Government of Canada
Cosmic CHIME pinpointed
European astronomers found the location of a fast radio burst (FRB) in space first detected by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope. They narrowed down the location to a star-forming region only seven light-years across, which is equivalent in difficulty to a person on Earth being able to see an astronaut on the moon. Little is known about what FRBs are, but CHIME continues its search. Publication: Nature via McGill University
When stars collide
Two extremely dense stars called neutron stars collided in space and set off what appear to be gravitational “ripples” from the crash. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) picked up these ripples with a single telescope, which is the first time the telescope collaboration was able to do so. The 2019 observation confirms a similar discovery in 2017, but with one big difference: no one saw any light coming from the 2019 event, unlike the one two years before. Publication: 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society via LIGO
Dancing in the dark
The Hubble Space Telescope discovered dark matter — an invisible form of matter making up most of the universe’s mass – forming in smaller clumps than thought. Astronomers found the clumps by looking at distortions in light around large objects, caused by the dark matter’s gravity. This discovery could help astronomers learn more about dark matter’s structure. Publication: 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society via HubbleSite
Teenager planet discovery
Wolf Cukier, a senior year student at Scarsdale High School in New York, found a planet orbiting two stars. He discovered planet TOI 1338 b on the third day of his internship at NASA, using data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. It was a lucky find, as the planet was only visible while passing across the face of one of the two stars. Publication: 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society via NASA
Gassy galaxy cluster
Galactic collisions may be causing hot gas to flow around a galaxy cluster, according to new observations from the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory. It’s the first time “splashing and sloshing” hot gas, in the words of a press release, was detected in one of these objects. This motion could reverberate for millions of years after a collision. Publication: Astronomy & Astrophysics, ESA
Elizabeth Howell (Ph.D.) is a Canadian space journalist who has been obsessed with the topic ever since she, as a young teenager, saw the movie Apollo 13 in 1996. She grew up wanting to be an astronaut. While that hasn’t happened (yet), Elizabeth has seen five human spaceflight launches — including two from Kazakhstan — and she participated in a simulated Red Planet mission at the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.