A Christmas Eve launch set for the James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope, the premier space science observatory of the next decade, is targeted for launch Dec. 24 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America. Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn

NASA will provide coverage of prelaunch, launch, and postlaunch activities for the James Webb Space Telescope, the world’s largest and most powerful space science telescope.

Webb is targeted to launch at 7:20 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 24, on an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America.

Live launch coverage in English will begin at 6 a.m. on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. The public can also watch live on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, and Daily Motion. NASA also will offer a launch broadcast in Spanish beginning at 6:30 a.m. on the agency’s website and Spanish-language social media accounts.

The Webb mission, an international partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency, will explore every phase of cosmic history – from within the solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, and everything in between. Webb will reveal new and unexpected discoveries and help humanity understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.

ESO telescopes reveal closest pair of supermassive black holes yet seen

Close-up view of the two bright galactic nuclei, each housing a supermassive black hole, in NGC 7727, a galaxy located 89 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Aquarius. Each nucleus consists of a dense group of stars with a supermassive black hole at its center. The image was taken with the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Credit: ESO/Voggel et al.

Located in the galaxy NGC 7727 in the constellation Aquarius, the supermassive black hole pair is about 89 million light-years away from Earth. Although this may seem distant, it beats the previous record of 470 million light-years by quite some margin, making the newfound supermassive black hole pair the nearest us yet.  

Supermassive black holes lurk at the center of massive galaxies and when two such galaxies merge, the black holes end up on a collision course. The pair in NGC 7727 beat the record for the smallest separation between two supermassive black holes, as they are observed to be just 1,600 light-years apart. “It is the first time we find two supermassive black holes that are this close to each other, less than half the separation of the previous record holder,” said Karina Voggel, an astronomer at the Strasbourg Observatory in France and lead author of the study published online in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“The small separation and velocity of the two black holes indicate that they will merge into one monster black hole, probably within the next 250 million years,” added co-author Holger Baumgardt, a professor at the University of Queensland, Australia. The merging of black holes like these could explain how the most massive black holes in the Universe come to be.

Voggel and her team were able to determine the masses of the two objects by looking at how the gravitational pull of the black holes influences the motion of the stars around them. The bigger black hole, located right at the core of NGC 7727, was found to have a mass almost 154 million times that of our Sun, while its companion is 6.3 million solar masses.

It is the first time the masses have been measured in this way for a supermassive black hole pair. This feat was made possible thanks to the close proximity of the system to Earth and the detailed observations the team obtained at the Paranal Observatory in Chile using the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, an instrument Voggel learnt to work with during her time as a student at ESO. Measuring the masses with MUSE, and using additional data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, allowed the team to confirm that the objects in NGC 7727 were indeed supermassive black holes.

Astronomers suspected that the galaxy hosted the two black holes, but they had not been able to confirm their presence until now since we do not see large amounts of high-energy radiation coming from their immediate surroundings, which would otherwise give them away. Our finding implies that there might be many more of these relics of galaxy mergers out there and they may contain many hidden massive black holes that still wait to be found,” said Voggel. “It could increase the total number of supermassive black holes known in the local Universe by 30 percent.”

The NGC 7727 galaxy, shown in this image from ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) in Chile. Located 89 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Aquarius, NGC 7727 is believed to be the result of a clash between two galaxies that occurred about one billion years ago. The consequences of this tremendous cosmic bump are still evident in the peculiar, irregular shape of NGC 7727 and the streams of stars in its outer regions.  Credit: ESO/VST ATLAS team. Acknowledgement: Durham University/CASU/WFAU

November 19th “near-total” lunar eclipse

2007 Total Lunar Eclipse. Photo by James Guilford.
2007 Total Lunar Eclipse. The November 19, 2021 eclipse will look much like this at its maximum. Photo by James Guilford

Taking place in the early hours of Friday, November 19 is what we will call a near-total lunar eclipse. When the eclipse reaches its maximum extent, about 97 percent of Moon will be within Earth’s deep umbra shadow. Much of the lunar disk would appear darkly colored but coloration would lighten across Moon’s face until, along one edge,

We say “would appear” because in Hiram, at least, skies are expected to be cloudy and delivering snow rather than views of our Moon’s show! Still, there’s a chance there will be a break in the weather and it’s good to know about these things.

A total lunar eclipse takes place when Moon completely enters the deep umbra of Earth’s cone-shaped shadow in space. The lunar surface is lit only by light that has passed through Earth’s atmosphere, coloring it shades of copper and red. Illustration Credit: NASA / James Guilford

A total lunar eclipse takes place when Earth’s Moon entirely enters the umbra portion of the planet’s shadow. There, lit only by light scattered through Earth’s atmosphere, Moon glows in beautiful colors ranging from deep red to bright copper. Naturally, to ancient peoples, the sight of the Full Moon changing from bright white to blood red caused fear and panic. Today, lunar eclipses are favorite targets for photography, and observations by astronomers. The November 19 event won’t technically be a total lunar eclipse but still well worth seeing!

This image illustrates the passage of Moon through Earth’s shadow the morning of November 19, 2021. When Moon is outside of the shadow, it will be in its Full phase. Entering the thin outer shadow or penumbra, the lunar disk will begin dimming. As it reaches the umbra, pronounced darkening begins and Moon will no longer appear as full. Strongest coloration appears as Moon, or portions of it, move close to the center of the umbra. Image via Fred Espenak.

Timing of the the November 19 eclipse is shown below and is accurate for areas surrounding Akron, Ohio. Those reading this article can get a localized timing table by visiting TimeAndDate.com

Timing of the the November 19 eclipse is shown below and is accurate for areas surrounding Akron, Ohio. Credit: TimeAndDate.com

We began this piece mentioning the unfortunate weather. It appears conditions will be worse to the northeast of Hiram and potentially better to the west and we can thank Lake Effect precipitation for that. So get up and check the skies around 4:00 a.m., if you want to take a chance, or just stay snug in bed. Either way know that a beautiful natural phenomenon is underway high above, happening just as it should, just when it should.

Our next opportunity to see a lunar eclipse? May 15 – 16, 2022, and it will be a total lunar eclipse. Totality will occur around midnight. Let’s hope for better weather chances then!

It moves!

After thorough tests, visual examinations, and programming updates, Perseverance made its first tentative moves on the surface of Mars. Tracks seen here were formed by one set of three wheels crossing the dusty surface, rolling over some stones, and cutting through drifted sands. NASA’s latest Mars rover acquired this image using its onboard Right Navigation Camera (Navcam). The camera is located high on the rover’s mast and aids in driving. This image was acquired on Mar. 6, 2021 (Sol 15) at the local mean solar time of 16:49:29. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Safe landing on Mars

This high-resolution still image is part of a video taken by several cameras as NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. A camera aboard the descent stage captured this shot. A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (the European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis. The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rover Perseverance to land on Mars February 18

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This illustration shows the events that occur in the final minutes of the nearly seven-month journey that NASA’s Perseverance rover takes to Mars. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land on Mars safely on Feb. 18, 2021.

Entry, Descent, and Landing, or “EDL,” begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere, traveling nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph). It ends about seven minutes later, with Perseverance stationary on the Martian surface. Perseverance handles everything on its own during this process. It takes more than 11 minutes to get a radio signal back from Mars, so by the time the mission team hears that the spacecraft has entered the atmosphere, in reality, the rover is already on the ground.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California built and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover for NASA.

For more information about the mission, go to: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020.