A number of sectors of Astronomy and spaceflight are affected by corona pandemic. Universities and space agencies have to push the pause button on the ongoing projects to adapt with the new reality as people worldwide locked themselves in to prevent the spread of the contagious disease COVID-19. Zoom and meet hijacked Classrooms , astronomical conferences learned to change format and higher-learning institutions braced for financial troubles caused by the bat virus’ effect on the global economy.
Precautions for being safe made it harder as social distancing measures affected the space agencies like NASA to order their employees to work from home. Cancellation of projects like the Event Horizon Telescope
‘s(which captured the first-ever photo of a black hole) observations in 2020 took place. But Satellites continued their observations, picturing empty streets and the happiness of nature and animals as the humans rest at home.
Due to the limitations caused by virus the spacecraft like NASA’s asteroid sample-collecting OSIRUS-REx
mission had to wait it’s most important maneuver, the material retrieval from asteroid Bennu
The virus’ got his hands on the space agencies too. As on May 6, the head of Russia’s human spaceflight
program passed away just weeks after testing positive for coronavirus.
Then in late April 2020, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California choose to give their part to world one way or another as they developed a new ventilator called VITAL
as they see the lacking in the no. of ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
1. Phosphine on Venus!
In 1967 the great astronomer Carl Sagan
had proposed the idea of the existence of life could in the atmosphere of the earth’s twin and our planetary neighbour Venus
in, they never found much evidence of it and in 1978 when they found methane on the planet, Carl himself was dubious the discovery straight pointed to the existence of life. But, a team of researchers led by Jane Greaves
(an astrobiologist at Cardiff University
) this past September, published a study reporting that they had detected the chemical phosphine
in the atmosphere of Venus. But the problem is that as far as scientists know to produce any significant amount of phosphine you need something living on the planet, making the detection of phosphine a binding argument for the probability of life in Venus’ atmosphere. The levels of phosphine they detected made researchers can’t sleep because Venus, like Earth, has several molecules with oxygen in them, which should destroy phosphine quickly. The researchers also considered the possibility that phosphine could be produced some other way that hasn’t been discovered yet.
But some other scientists are doubtful. To give this discovery Greaves’ team used data from two different radio telescopes— the JCMT
(James Clerk Maxwell Telescope) in Hawaii and the ALMA
(Atacama Large Millimeter Array) in Chile
. The telescopes work and collect data on how microwaves
bounce off different chemicals in patterns called spectra
, which scientists use to identify chemicals like the one in Venus’ atmosphere. Now another team of scientists came up and analyzed the same spectra that Greaves’ team looked at and found no evidence of phosphine. Then Greaves’ team too re-analyzed their data and found an error in calculating the ALMA data, after which they conclude that while there still seems to be phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere, but it exists at much lower levels than they had first thought. Sceptics are wary of making the signs-of-life connection. But at end of the day discovery nevertheless just fascinated people around the world. Ultimately, Greaves’ team concluded that the detection was “tentative.” So while the idea of our twin planet having a life isn’t dead, but now it’s a little less alive and less fascinating than it was in September.
2. Finally caught an intermediate-mass black holes
May be small objects like asteroids was in the spotlight last year, but that doesn’t let astronomers forget about all extremely massive objects
. Take extremely massive black holes
, which are millions or even billions of times the mass of our sun. Scientists think that supermassive black holes exist in the centre of nearly all galaxies. But despite how they seem so common, no one’s quite sure of how they even form. We know that most black holes, called stellar black holes
, forms when particularly large stars collapse in on themselves to explode a glorious light in the space, but then when we examine the largest stars, we found that even they couldn’t come close to forming something this huge.
Another possibility came into consideration that these colossal black holes could form by several mid-sized category black holes — intermediate-mass black hole
, merging in the centre of a galaxy. Up until now, we had found only indirect evidence that intermediate-mass black holes exist. But this past September, collaborators from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory
(LIGO) and the Virgo interferometer observatory
(VIO) published a paper explaining an unusual detection
of gravitational waves, which they think came from the meeting of two stellar black holes. Now once merged, these two stellar black holes would be large enough to make an intermediate-mass black hole, the first-ever caught to observe directly. The waves were extremely strong and lasted only a tenth of a second, came from a source 7 billion light-years away. LIGO and Virgo both use a system of lasers to detect Einstein’s gravitational waves, which are ripples in the “fabric
” of the universe, the space-time.
3. Gel on the moon’s far side?
Back in July 2019 the Yutu 2 rover
from China’s Change 4
mission found the gel-like substance on the far side of the moon, Chinese scientists published an analysis of a strange substance they detected in 2019 and then this year they described the material in a new paper.
The paper said that the seen glassy substance is a dark green coloured broken fragments of many minerals that were cemented together to form a breccia
. Information about the material was collected, combined and processed from Yutu 2’s panoramic and hazard avoidance cameras
and the rover’s Visible and Near-Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS)
instrument. In the end, researchers concluded that the material may have formed in an impact or a volcanic eruption.
4. Radio repeater got Caught red-handed
This year, new clues to their identity of one of the most fascinating cosmic mysteries in decades, Fast radio bursts
(FRBs) came to light.
When scientists considered that most of these signals are one-timer events lasting mere milliseconds, but a few of them have been noticed to repeat at random intervals. Or at least, until it’s pattern didn’t get recognized. In the start of 2020 astronomers noticed one FRB that repeats on a 16-day cycle, firing radio bursts for around four days then getting rest for 12 days.
A few months later, another pattern was discovered in a famous burster that’s been watched intently since 2012. Previously seem to be random, it takes eight years of observations to reveal that this FRB was firing on a 157-day cycle, active for 90 days then quit for 67 days. The team predicted its next cycle’s active phase for August – and by the precise punctuality of the burster, it flared back up again on schedule.
But then the end of the big decade’s question came to an end that from where these FRB’s being coming from? when the first-ever detection of one of these signals from our very own galaxy came to consideration.
On April 28, astronomers caught up activity from an extremely dense neutron star
with a powerful magnetic field, a magnetar
. Ahead with its usual X-rays, this one emitted a bright burst of radio waves that looked suspiciously almost like an FRB. Magnetars were already on the top of the list of suspects, and this new data strengthens the case of the magnetars.
Whether now we almost know the parent of the FRBs, but to know more about them astronomers will need more observations, but it’s a fascinating lead.
was one of the first-ever exoplanets
to be discovered and this year it was just undiscovered.
To recognize the Hubble telescope
‘s worth over in decade, they found that the bright spot of light(Fomalhaut B) was just gone by 2014 and it was just as terrifying as if the empire state building would vanish overnight.
Then with the help of computer simulations scientists came up with a neat explanation quoting that the planet never existed it was more like a dense cloud made by the collisions of comet and asteroids which drifted around for a decade.
At the end of the day, the dense cloud drifting around impressed scientists much more than that exoplanet could ever do.
But wait planets aren’t the only thing seen disappearing – a gigantic, bright star also recently fled quietly into the night without a trace.
The bright star formerly known as a luminous blue variable
was tracked down in the Kinman dwarf galaxy
about 75 million light-years away. At that quiet distance, the star marked its existence with an incredible light signature about 2.5 million times brighter than the Sun. Until it didn’t.
The star was last observed in 2011, but when astronomers decided to study it again less than a decade later, it had simply vanished. Normally a star like this is expected to go out with an amazing bang and a very evident supernova, but this one seems to be in the mood of not showing itself anymore it’s just ghosted us in a way that’s left astronomers puzzled.
6. The bizarre fate of a star decided by a black hole
But the most strange fate of all is set to crack on a star in the galaxy GSN 069
. In around a past trillion years, this star may have been transformed into a Jupiter-like planet, the credits of this phenomenon goes to an endless close encounter with a black hole.
The remarkable story was disclosed when astronomers noted bright X-ray bursts blasting every nine hours like clockwork. On closer examination, they discovered it was a star being shot in an outstanding spirograph orbit
around a black hole – the X-ray bursts were from the material being slurped off the star’s surface every time it flew past its hungry host.
Over untold millions of years, this slow but steady feast had already transformed the star from a red giant
to a white dwarf
, and the scientists denoted that given another trillion years, it might cool down enough to serve as a planet. Presuming the universe even lasts until then.
1. The collapse of the Arecibo radio telescope
The second-largest radio telescope in the world, the Arecibo Telescope
in Puerto Rico that has long been a crucial instrument in astronomy exploration. It was used to observe near-Earth subjects, containing the asteroid Bennu
in advance of the OSIRIS-REx
mission, to select landing sites for the Apollo missions and the Viking Mars landers
, and by numerous researchers.
The telescope comprised of a sole inverted dome with instruments suspended by cable above it. And then it’s collapse started when two of its cables cracked this year, one of which slipped out its socket in August and a second, main cable crashing in November. After the lockdown, the National Science Foundation
(NSF) had announced that the telescope couldn’t be fixed up safely and have to be detonated. Then before even that could happen, the telescope’s left main cables furthermore broke, resulting in the hanging instruments to appear slamming down onto the telescope’s dome.
Even though the fall may not have changed Arecibo’s destiny, it stood however heartbreaking. Built-in 1963, it was once the hugest single-dish radio telescope in the planet. Arecibo as well as the two telescopes used to observe phosphine in Venus’ environment, ALMA and JCMT, are all radio telescopes: They observe microwaves and radio waves that are exceedingly low-energy.
Radio telescopes like Arecibo can inspect a big species of weak signals, from closer objects like asteroids to extremely distant signals, like the microwave background of the cosmos from the very start of the universe. The telescope had undergone from reduced funding and stood damaged in recent years by hurricanes like Hurricane Maria
in 2017 and an earthquake in 2014. It existed also as a cultural icon in Puerto Rico; some have described its loss to New York City sacrificing the Empire State Building. Arecibo’s loss is devastating for both research and culture and will be felt for years to come.
2. NASA and SpaceX launch first commercial spacecraft
The purpose was the test of a new spacecraft which was the first-ever commercial spacecraft to take humans to space, and it’s too the first time since 2011 when any astronauts were launched into space from the United States after the NASA’s space shuttle program
ended. The first functional, non-test flight of a new Crew Dragon spacecraft also happened this past November, in which the spacecraft took four astronauts, three American and one Japanese, to the ISS.
While the May flight was mainly a test, November’s flight enabled the four astronauts it took to join another NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts in Expedition 64
, an ISS mission performing scientific research associated to future human spaceflight. Between the end of the space shuttle program in 2011 and now, NASA astronauts had to depend on Russian Soyuz rockets
to reach to the ISS. NASA is furthermore operating with Boeing
to develop another commercial spacecraft.
3. 2020 for Mars
Perhaps the Mars 2020 Mission was the most high-profile NASA mission this year, which contains the Perseverance rover
and the Ingenuity helicopter drone
and is the basis of NASA’s bigger Mars Exploration Program. But there stood two other Mars missions this year: the Hope Mars Mission
from the UAE and the Tianwen-1
of Chinese National Space Administrations.
The Hope Mars mission comprises just an orbiter, while China’s Tianwen-1 comprises both an orbiter and a big rover the size of a little golf cart. All three missions launched in July and are predicted to arrive in Mars in this February.
The missions should uncover an entire mass of new information about Mars. NASA’s Perseverance rover, with aid from Ingenuity, will analyze Jezero Crater
(an ancient lakebed belief to be an important location for past Martian life) and obtain samples for future missions to return to Earth. It will too record the first sounds from Mars, which researchers predict to be relatively Earth-like.
The Hope orbiter, meanwhile, will gather information about Mars’ atmosphere, enabling researchers better understand how an earlier warm, the wet planet became cold and harsh. The goals of Tianwen-1, on the other hand, are unclear — Chinese officials haven’t said on much about the goals of their mission, but their rover includes a range of complex instruments that will enable them to get a precise look at the Martian environment, involving its magnetic field, its rocks compositions, and any underground water. Between these three missions, we quickly may know far more about our red planetary neighbour.
4. Supernova survivor
On the question of stars with incredible fates, first in 2020, a white dwarf was found to have reached supernova – and survived, against everything we believed we knew.
The evidence paints an odd picture. The star has an odd composition, without the normal hydrogen or helium but packing sodium, carbon and aluminium, which commonly aren’t present in white dwarfs. It’s small, only roughly 40 per cent of the mass of our Sun. And it’s hooning all through the galaxy at an extraordinary 900,000 km/h (560,000 mph).
The only justification the team could appear with was that it had somehow gone through a partial supernova and lived. The event would have burned off the missing elements instead created the unexpected ones, shrunk its mass, and sent the star hurtling off at its terrific speed.
5. Hello, Comet NEOWISE
was found out in March 2020 by NASA’s NEOWISE mission and fascinated observers on Earth in the weeks that pursued.
The icy comet made its nearest approach to the sun on July 3 and overcame the encounter, enabling skywatchers to admire at its stunning tail as it headed back toward the outer solar system. Comet NEOWISE won’t be seen in our solar system for another 6,800 years.
In addition to bringing it more beautifully, the comet’s glow let astronomers receive high-quality data on the subject. NASA officials announced that the last comet to act such a remarkable show was Hale-Bopp
6. Saturn and Jupiter’s reunion
The ultimate show-stopping cosmic event of 2020 was the “great conjunction” of Saturn and Jupiter on Dec. 21, which was moreover the date of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice
Jupiter and Saturn could be observed next to each other low in the evening sky soon after sunset. They were divided by just one-tenth of a degree. Their nearness to one another in the sky has not appeared in more than 400 years.
Meetings between these two planets occur about once every two decades when Earth, Jupiter and Saturn shape a line through space. Watchers fortunate enough to have bright skies when observing the junction could also see the glow of Jupiter’s Galilean moons
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