‘Potentially Hazardous’ Asteroid That Recently Zipped Past Earth Is An Elongated Weirdo With An Odd Rotation

by Rida Fatima

The asteroid 2011 AG5's close approach to Earth on February 3
(Fig 1: The asteroid 2011 AG5’s close approach to Earth on February 3 was captured in a collage of six planetary radar observations (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech).)

A group of astronomers recently had the opportunity to closely examine a potentially dangerous asteroid as it passed by Earth. The asteroid, named 2011 AG5, caught their attention because it is elongated and rotating more slowly than expected. This asteroid was first discovered by the Mount Lemmon Survey in Arizona in 2011, and at the time, it made headlines because it was predicted to be on a dangerous trajectory towards Earth in 2040 due to its orbit around the sun taking about 621 days. However, upon conducting further research back in 2012, astronomers discovered the error in the calculation of its orbit, and that it does not actually threaten Earth. Despite not posing a threat, the anomaly of this asteroid has caught the attention of astronomers, who are interested in studying it further to better understand its unusual shape and rotation (Baker, 2023).

On February 3, 2023, an asteroid passed by Earth at a distance of around 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), which is approximately five times as far as the moon is from Earth. This close proximity to our planet gave astronomers an opportunity to observe and scan it in detail for the first time. Prior to this close flyby, scientists had limited information about the asteroid’s characteristics and properties, but this new observation could provide valuable insights. By closely studying the asteroid’s composition, shape, and rotation, researchers can gain a better understanding of its origins, and potentially learn more about the history and evolution of our solar system. The close encounter also allowed astronomers to confirm that the asteroid is not on a collision course with Earth, giving us a sense of relief that there is no immediate threat from this particular space rock.

Unusual Characteristics of Asteroid 2011 AG5 During Close Flyby of Earth

Asteroid 2011 AG5's orbit and current location as of June 15, 2012
(Fig 2: Asteroid 2011 AG5’s orbit and current location as of June 15, 2012 (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech).)

A study conducted by researchers using NASA’s Deep Space Network facility in California has shed new light on the characteristics of asteroid 2011 AG5. The scientists used a powerful Goldstone Solar System Radar antenna dish to capture images of the asteroid during its close flyby of Earth on February 3, 2023. The images revealed that the asteroid is approximately 500 meters long and 150 meters in width, it can be estimated as big as the Empire State Building in size. What surprised the researchers was the unusual elongated shape of the asteroid, which is unlike most other near-Earth objects that have been observed to date. Lance Benner, a principal scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead the research with his expertise, commented that “this is one of the most elongated near-Earth objects we’ve seen out of the 1,040 near-Earth objects that planetary radar has detected so far”.

Despite the surprising discovery, the scientists are not jumping to any conclusions about why the asteroid has such an unusual and unexpected size and shape until they have more time to dig into the information. The findings from this observation has the complete potential to provide new insights into the formation and evolution of asteroids in our solar system, and perhaps even help us better understand the threat posed by potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

New Radar Scans Reveal Slow Rotation and Surface Features of Asteroid 2011 AG5

One of the radar observations of the asteroid.
(Fig 3: One of the radar observations of the asteroid. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech).)

The recent radar scans of asteroid 2011 AG5 conducted by NASA’s Deep Space Network facility have revealed new insights about its rotation and surface features. According to the scans, the asteroid takes around 9 hours for the completion of its single rotation, it is considered a much longer time as compared to other asteroids. The elongated shape of the asteroid may have an influence on its slow rotation, although the exact reason is not clear. The surface of the asteroid was visible in dark and light patches in the new images, which would point to the presence of numerous small-scale features on the body of the asteroid. However, the researchers are uncertain about what these features are. The scientists hope that the new data collected from the radar scans will enable them to better predict the asteroid’s future trajectory, which could help to explain its unusual characteristics (Shawn, 2023).

The latest ranging calculations obtained by the team working on the planetary radar system will help researchers to better predict the asteroid’s trajectory and track its movements, particularly when it passes closer to Earth in 2040. The director of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) – Paul Chodas at JPL, emphasized that new data will provide more insights into the asteroid’s properties and definitely maximize the opportunities to better understand this peculiar space rock. Moreover, the asteroid is not considered a direct threat to Earth, because of its size and closeness to earth it is taken as a “potentially hazardous asteroid” it will pass within 1.1 million km of Earth during its next flyby in 2040. As such, it is essential for astronomers to continue monitoring the asteroid’s movements and studying its characteristics to better understand the potential risks posed by other near-Earth objects in the future.


Around 10 Million Deep Space Visitors Encircle Our Solar System

by Rida Fatima

How many other ‘Oumuamuas’ could there be in and around the solar system?

Figure 1: Rendering of Oumuamua & An artist’s impression of the interstellar comet Borisov ESO/M. Kormesser
(Figure 1: Rendering of Oumuamua & An artist’s impression of the interstellar comet Borisov ESO/M. Kormesser)

Astronomers found an extraterrestrial intruder between 100 and 1,000 metres long in our Solar System in late 2017. A long, narrow slab of rock was named Oumuamua. It was observed as travelling on a track that suggested it was merely passing through our Solar System on its route into the interstellar space. In October 2019, Comet 2I/Borisov flew through our Solar System on a path that showed it had come from somewhere other than our cosy little stellar neighbourhood. The astronomers who observed this comet from a closer perspective labelled Borisov as a “rogue comet”. The presence of these objects tells us that our Solar System is not isolated from the rest of the galaxy.

A Harvard study indicated that there could be around 4 quintillion interstellar objects roaming within our solar system. Almost all of them are visitors from another star present in the Milky Way, and each one was possibly manufactured artificially. The distance between our solar system and its nearest cousin, Proxima Centauri, is significantly greater than the size of our entire solar system. Finding any of the 4 quintillion probable mysterious things for closer examination could be quite difficult.

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb and his colleagues began with all of the interstellar objects observed by astronomers in the solar system. In other words, these are artefacts that could have originated by an extraterrestrial civilisation just beyond the range of our space probes and telescopes. Apart from Oumuamua, there are few highly potential interstellar visitors that might have arrived from some other star system, the interstellar meteors CNEOS 2014-01-08 and CNEOS 2017-03-09, as well as the interstellar comet Borisov. New telescopes, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, allow us to peer deeper into the darkness of the deep space and also the outer solar system. It enables the recognition of ever-smaller objects, and to distinguish between local and possible interstellar visitors.

Loeb also mentioned the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, which is now under development in Chile, which is scheduled to open in 2023. This observatory will be capable of observing the entire southern sky every 4 days through its 3.2-billion-pixel camera. “A high-resolution scan may reveal bolts and screws on the surface of a manufactured object and differentiate it from a nitrogen glacier, a hydrogen iceberg, or a dust bunny,” added Loeb.

Figure 2: Twilight photo of Rubin Observatory taken in April 2021. Credit: Rubin Obs./NSF/AURA
(Figure 2: Twilight photo of Rubin Observatory taken in April 2021. Credit: Rubin Obs./NSF/AURA)

Interstellar Objects Should get Pulled Into our Sun’s Gravity

“If you can observe a sizable population of trapped objects, we’ll have a significant amount of data about how many there are in the Milky Way floating around. It will help us to find the composition of the different solar systems from where they are coming from,” says astronomer and statistician Jorge Pearrubia of the University of Edinburg. “And if that’s the case, it’ll be fascinating to learn about the features of those solar systems in the past, as well as their age distribution.” Pearrubia used a horrifying amount of algebra to predict how the gravity of our Sun and Milky Way’s gravity effect interstellar objects that approach our Solar System.

As Oumuamua the interstellar rock approaches the centre of our galaxy, it comes close to a star system with 8 planets and a cluster of smaller debris orbiting a yellowish star, the sun. The Milky Way’s gravity tends to slow the rogue asteroid. The speed of Oumuamua will be reduced enough for the Sun’s gravity to grasp and tug it in for a brief circular dance. Our newly acquired interstellar visitor, however, has not fallen into a stable orbit. Instead, it will only last a few rounds, if that, before the Sun slings it back out into intergalactic space with more energy than before the meeting. In other words, it will wind up in a higher, speedier orbit around the core of the Milky Way.

Detection of Interstellar Visitors

Perhaps the NASA’s JWST cannot reveal the majority of the Oort Cloud because even James Webb’s strong instruments cannot detect the small, frigid things out there in space. However this telescope isn’t our exclusive chance to discover and follow the relatively tiny objects that live on the outskirts of our Solar System. In surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Catalina Sky Survey, astronomers frequently discover previously unrecognized comets. The ESA’s Gaia Observatory and the Vera Rubin Observatory will also aid in the discovery of new comets, perhaps expanding our present list by several orders of magnitude.

Is this Mini Asteroid our First Interstellar Visitor?

The 3-foot-wide mini-asteroid reached Earth’s atmosphere on January 8, 2014, at a rate of 134,200 mph (216,000 km/h). Furthermore it took an unusual path, implying that it came from beyond the solar system. The authors of the new research concluded the tiny asteroid was, indeed, a newbie into the sun’s part of the Milky Way galaxy by simulating the rock’s route into the past and examining its gravitational impacts with 8 planets in the solar system.

Figure 3: An artist’s conception of a meteor/Image Credit: Shutterstock
(Figure 3: An artist’s conception of a meteor/Image Credit: Shutterstock)

The confirmation makes the rock, dubbed CNEOS 2014-01-08, the first confirmed visitor from interstellar space, hence predating the famed ‘Oumuamua, which flew by Earth in 2017. The second cosmic object comet Borisov, was detected only one year later. Because of the short time span between those findings, astronomers believe that smaller interstellar rocks, only a few feet or tens of feet across, must be far more prevalent in the solar system. They believe even often they cross paths with Earth.


The researchers also speculate that the occurrence of interstellar space rocks throughout Earth’s history may indicate that the origins of life that emerged on our planet in the last 3.5 billion years came from another star system. Astronomers hope to discover that the composition of interstellar objects differs from that of the Solar System. If that is the case, it will open some astonishing doors in unravelling the secrets of the vast and dark universe. It will, for example, assist us in studying the composition and potential indicators of life outside our solar system.


Enceladus Is Blanketed In A Thick Layer Of Snow

by Rida Fatima

This chain of craters on Enceladus looks like a Saturnian snowman
(Fig 1: This chain of craters on Enceladus looks like a Saturnian snowman, but it’s actually made from snow draining into fissures underneath. Picture Credits: JPL-Caltech/NASA, Space Science Institute)

Enceladus, the moon of Saturn, is completely covered in snow. According to recent studies, the downy substance can reach depths of 700 metres in some locations. Few planets in our solar system are more captivating than Saturn’s icy ocean moon Enceladus. Only a few worlds are known to have liquid water seas beneath their icy shells, however Enceladus discharges its ocean into space, where a spacecraft like Cassini can sample it.

According to planetary scientist Emily Martin, who is referencing to the infamously snowy city in New York, “it’s like Buffalo, but worse.” According to a research by Martin and colleagues in the Icarus on March 1, the snow depth raises the possibility that Enceladus’ dramatic plume was more active in the past.

Since the Cassini probe discovered Enceladus’ water- and other-vapor-fueled geysers in 2005, planetary scientists have been fascinated by these discoveries. The salty ocean beneath the frozen shell is most likely where the spray comes from (Grossman, 2023). One of Saturn’s rings is formed by some of that water. The majority of it, according to Martin, returns to the lunar surface as snow. Understanding the features of that snow, such as its thickness and density and compactness, may serve to enlighten Enceladus’ past and pave the path for future missions to this moon.

“If you’re going to drop a robot there,” says Martin of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., “you need to realize what it’s going to crash into.” Martin and colleagues compared Earth’s snow cover to that of Iceland to establish the thickness of Enceladus’ snow. Furthermore, pit chains, which are lines of pockmarks in the earth caused by loose debris such as rocks, ice, or snow flowing into a crack beneath, are a geological phenomenon visible throughout the island nation (Grossman, 2023).

Measuring The Depth Of The Snow

All around the solar system, including Enceladus, similar features can be observed. Previous research provided a method for measuring the depth of the pits using geometry and the angle at which sunlight strikes the surface. The depth of the substance the pits are buried in can then be determined by that measurement. Martin and her coworkers were sure that the same method would be effective on Enceladus after a few weeks of fieldwork in Iceland in 2017 and 2018. Martin and other researchers discovered that the snow’s thickness varies across Enceladus’ surface using pictures from Cassini. Most of the time, it is hundreds of meters deep, and at its thickest, it is 700 meters deep (Grossman, 2023).

Enceladus Sprays Dramatic Plumes Of Water Vapor

Rows of plumes rise from ice fractures on the surface of Enceladus.
(Fig 2: Rows of plumes rise from ice fractures on the surface of Enceladus. Picture Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, via Space Science Institute)

Martin, on the other hand, says it’s impossible to understand how all that snow got there. If the plume’s spray was constant, it would take 4.5 billion years, or the entire history of the solar system, to collect that much snow on the surface. Even so, the snow would have to be extraordinarily fluffy. Martin believes it is unlikely that the plume triggered and remained consistent at the same time as the moon developed. Even if it did, further snowfall would have compressed the previous layers, resulting in a much thinner stratum than it is now. (Chang, 2017).

Martin stated in a research discussion, “It makes me think we don’t have 4.5 billion years to do this.” The plume may have been considerably more active in the past. “We must do it in a lot less time. The plume has to be turned up loud and clear. Shannon MacKenzie is a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel in Maryland, according to Shannon, the idea is amazing. Without rovers or astronauts on the ground, it is difficult to sweep away snow and measure its depth. Instead, the writers are expertly leveraging geology as their rovers and shovels.

MacKenzie oversaw a mission concept study for an orbiter and lander that might someday travel to Enceladus, but she was not involved in the new work (Grossman, 2023). The study’s main concern was where a lander could land without risk. What do we anticipate the surface to be, she says, was crucial to those conversations? “Identify the places that are too fluffy to land in,” according to the new paper.


Researchers Find the Farthest Black Hole Consuming a Star

by Rida Fatima

The final breath of a dying star before it was engulfed by a black hole was the light that traversed over 8.5 billion years before reaching the Earth.

An example of a black hole damaging a star due to tides.
(Figure 1: An example of a black hole damaging a star due to tides. (Carl Knox, OzGrav, Swinburne University of Technology’s ARC Center of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery))

Two different groups of researchers came to the conclusion that AT2022cmc, a mystery glint in the darkness of space in February 2022, was the cosmological stream that blasted from the huge black hole as the shattered star fled outside its event horizon.

Since AT2022cmc is currently the farthest object we have observed, it is quite unusual that we witness one of such events in progress. The two publications were released in Nature and Nature Astronomy, respectively. Michael Coughlin, an astronomer at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in the United States, said:

“The last time scientists discovered one of these jets was well over a decade ago. From the data we have, we can estimate that relativistic jets are launched in only 1 percent of these destructive events, making AT2022cmc an extremely rare occurrence. In fact, the luminous flash from the event is among the brightest ever observed.”

In our chaotic cosmos, there is a great deal of phenomena happening. Many of these occurrences and happenings, such as supernova explosions, rapid radio wave bursts, stars colliding, interplay between compact binaries, and black hole feeding frenzy, are unreliable, spewing out transient flashes of light that blaze across the the depths of space before dissipating.

We can only observe vast areas of the cosmos carefully in order to see the illumination from such enormous but fleeting astronomical phenomena.

This graphic depicts how a star's components descended into a faraway galaxy's black hole
(Figure 2: This graphic depicts how a star’s components descended into a faraway galaxy’s black hole, creating streams of debris and energy in the process. The incident, known as AT2022cmc, might be observed for the first time from Earth using an optical telescope since the jets are virtually aimed at us. Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO)

In the previous year, a surveying telescope noticed an unexpected concentration of light waves and contacted the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT). The VLT as well as additional telescopes were quickly oriented towards to the origin, which was a supermassive black hole in a far-off galaxy that had sucked up a star and ejected the remains in a jet. The VLT found that it was the farthest instance of a similar occurrence that had ever been seen. This additionally marks the first time the jet has been observed using visible light, opening up a new method of seeing these extreme events because the jet is virtually pointed directly at us.

A tidal disruption event (TDE) takes place when stars approach a black hole too closely and are shattered by the black hole’s powerful tidal forces. About 1% of such events result in the revolving black hole’s polarities ejecting plasma and energy in the form of jets. John Wheeler, a pioneer of black holes, presented the principle of jetted-TDEs as:

“A tube of toothpaste gripped tight about its middle, causing the system to squirt matter out of both ends.”

This creator's rendering shows what it would appear like when a star comes too close to a black hole
(Figure 3: This creator’s rendering shows what it would appear like when a star comes too close to a black hole and is crushed by its powerful gravitational attraction. The ring that is visible in this picture is formed when a portion of the star’s debris is drawn in and begins to spiral all around black hole. Streams of material and energy can occasionally be seen shooting out from the black hole’s edges, as in this instance. Several telescopes, including the VLT, observed signs of the streams in the instance of the AT2022cmc occurrence, and this was found to be the farthest instance of a similar incident. Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO)

Nial Tanvir, who headed the investigations to gauge the entity’s proximity using the VLT, from the University of Leicester in the UK, elaborated:

“We have only seen a handful of these jetted-TDEs and they remain very exotic and poorly understood events”

To learn how the jets are truly formed and why only a limited percentage of TDEs generate them, researchers are therefore continually searching for such intense occurrences.

In order to fulfill this mission, numerous telescopes, like the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in the US, frequently scan the cosmos for indications of brief, frequently severe occurrences that might later be examined in considerable depth by other telescopes, like the ESO’s VLT in Chile. Igor Andreoni, an astronomer at the University of Maryland in the US, and Michael Coughlin, an astronomer at the University of Minnesota, co-led the research that was released recently in Nature. The researchers stated:

“We developed an open-source data pipeline to store and mine important information from the ZTF survey and alert us about atypical events in real time”

An unexpected origin of visible light was discovered by the ZTF in February last year. The incident, designated AT2022cmc, resembled a gamma-ray burst, the known universe’s most intense source of radiation. Researchers activated numerous telescopes from all over the world to look closer at the enigmatic object in anticipation of seeing this unusual occurrence. Within this was ESO’s VLT that swiftly used the X-shooter equipment to investigate this novel occurrence. The light emitted by AT2022cmc started its voyage when the universe was roughly one-third of its present age, according to the VLT measurements, which put the origin at an unheard-of distance for such occurrences.

The scientists analyzed this information with various known events, such as kilonovae and collapsing supernovae. However, the information merely supported the possibility of an unusual jetted-TDE heading in our direction. Co-author of this work and astronomer Giorgos Leloudas from DTU Space in Denmark says:

“Because the relativistic jet is pointing at us, it makes the event much brighter than it would otherwise appear, and visible over a broader span of the electromagnetic spectrum.”

AT2022cmc was revealed as the most remote TDE currently identified by the Wohl distance measurement, yet this is not the sole record-breaking feature of this entity. Co-author of the paper and astronomer at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, Daniel Perley, states:

“Until now, the small number of jetted-TDEs that are known were initially detected using high energy gamma-ray and X-ray telescopes, but this was the first discovery of one during an optical survey”

This shows a novel method for identifying jetted-TDEs, enabling future research into such unusual occurrences and exploration of the harsh conditions near black holes.


  1. Andreoni, I., Coughlin, M.W., Perley, D.A. et al. A very luminous jet from the disruption of a star by a massive black hole. Nature 612, 430–434 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05465-8
  2. Rees, M. J. Tidal disruption of stars by black holes of 106–108 solar masses in nearby galaxies. Nature 333, 523–528 (1988).

Ancient Asteroid Grains Provide Insight into the Evolution of Our Solar System

by Rida Fatima

Asteroid moonlet Dimorphos as seen by the DART spacecraft
(Figure 1: Asteroid moonlet Dimorphos as seen by the DART spacecraft 11 seconds before impact. DART’s DRACO imager captured this image from a distance of 42 miles (68 kilometers). This image was the last to contain all of Dimorphos in the field of view. Dimorphos)

Since asteroids preserve a history of our solar system’s past 4.6 billion years, many international researchers have dedicated their efforts to investigating them. Researchers can get knowledge about how our solar system developed into the Sun and planets we see today by studying asteroids, as well as how asteroid strikes can influence us in the long term.

A rock which descends to Earth from outer space is the fundamental definition of an asteroid. Although asteroids are rocks, they differ from rocks on Earth. The majority of these asteroids are far more ancient, and thus offer some of the sole specimens scientists possess of distant solar system bodies, including asteroids, meteors, as well as other planets. Even minuscule fragments that developed around different stars that originated before our Sun are found in certain asteroids.

Stardust, which is found in certain asteroids, was created by stars that existed before our own Solar System came into being. Research into such pre-solar particles can help us better grasp how stars begin and evolve. The earliest solidified substance to develop within our solar system can be found in some so-called “primitive” asteroids. The age of this substance, 4.568 billion years, has been used to calculate the age of our very own planetary system. Several ancient asteroids haven’t altered much at all since they were created, providing us with a glimpse into the ancient solar system’s environment.

Because organic substances like carbonyl compounds, complex amino acids, aliphatic amines, acetic acid, and formate could travel considerable distances within space debris, it is possible that asteroids carried the building blocks for life to Earth. Huge asteroids can cause massive extinction events and alter the trajectory of our existence on Earth. One such asteroid hit 65 million years ago and infamously wiped out the dinosaurs.

In a new research, a big, multinational team employed the UK’s national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source, to analyze particles retrieved from a near-Earth asteroid to increase our knowledge of the history of our planetary system.

The asteroid Ryugu, as seen by Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft
(Figure 2: The asteroid Ryugu, as seen by Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft on June 26, 2018. (Image credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST))

A specimen of fragments collected from the Ryugu asteroid was brought to Diamond’s Nanoprobe beamline I14 by scientists from the University of Leicester. There, a specialized method known as X-ray Absorption Near Edge Spectroscopy (XANES) was employed to plot the chemical states of the elements present inside the asteroid contents and investigate its constituents in considerable depth. The research group also analyzed the asteroid’s contents with the help of an electron microscope at Diamond’s electron Physical Science Imaging Centre (ePSIC).

Julia Parker is the Principal Beamline Scientist for I14 at Diamond. She said:

“The X-ray Nanoprobe allows scientists to examine the chemical structure of their samples at micron to nano length scales, which is complemented by the nano to atomic resolution of the imaging at ePSIC. It’s very exciting to be able to contribute to the understanding of these unique samples, and to work with the team at Leicester to demonstrate how the techniques at the beamline, and correlatively at ePSIC, can benefit future sample return missions.”

The information gathered at Diamond helped researchers better understand the asteroid’s signs of space weathering. The researchers were able to investigate how cosmic aging could change the morphological and molecular content of the surfaces of carbon containing asteroids like Ryugu thanks to the pure asteroid specimens.

The dehydration of Ryugu’s crust was observed by the researchers, and they concluded that space weathering is almost certainly to blame. According to the report’s results, which were just released in Nature Astronomy, asteroids that seem barren on the exterior might actually be water-rich, which could force us to revise current theories about the relative abundances of different sorts of asteroids and the origin of the asteroid belt.

Ryugu, a near-Earth asteroid with a diameter of about 900 meters, was found for the first time in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in 1999. It is called after the Japanese mythological underwater temple of the Dragon God. In order to interact with the Ryugu asteroid and gather mineral specimens from its exterior and interior, the Japanese state space agency JAXA deployed Hayabusa2 in 2014. In 2020, the spaceship made its way back to Earth and released a container carrying valuable asteroid pieces. These tiny specimens were dispersed to different laboratories worldwide for analytical investigation, such as the School of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Leicester and Space Park, where John Bridges, one of the paper’s writers and a professor of planetary science, works.

John stated:

“This unique mission to gather samples from the most primitive, carbonaceous, building blocks of the Solar System needs the world’s most detailed microscopy, and thats why JAXA and the Fine Grained Mineralogy team wanted us to analyse samples at Diamond’s X-ray nanoprobe beamline. We helped reveal the nature of space weathering on this asteroid with micrometeorite impacts and the solar wind creating dehydrated serpentine minerals, and an associated reduction from oxidised Fe3+ to more reduced Fe2+.

It’s important to build up experience in studying samples returned from asteroids, as in the Hayabusa2 mission, because soon there will be new samples from other asteroid types, the Moon and within the next 10 years Mars, returned to Earth. The UK community will be able to perform some of the critical analyses due to our facilities at Diamond and the electron microscopes at ePSIC.”

In the ancient Solar System, before Earth formed, water, rocks, and organic material interacted to generate the basic components of Ryugu. The formation of the initial solar system and the later formation of the Earth could both be better understood by comprehending the makeup of asteroids. Given that asteroids are thought to have brought most of the planet’s water as well as biochemical compounds like amino acids that serve as the basic components from which all human life is built, they also might aid in understanding how life on this planet first originated. We would be able to properly comprehend the history of life itself as a consequence of the data being gathered from such small asteroid fragments. A device that is 10,000 times stronger than a conventional microscope can be used by researchers at the synchrotron to examine their specimens, whether they are bits of asteroids or unidentified viral complexes.


1. Noguchi, T., Matsumoto, T., Miyake, A. A dehydrated space-weathered skin cloaking the hydrated interior of Ryugu. Nat Astron, 2022 DOI: 10.1038/s41550-022-01841-6
2. Diamond Light Source. “Ancient asteroid grains provide insight into the evolution of our solar system.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 December 2022. .
3. https://en.prothomalo.com/science-technology/science/tryxskiue0

4. Arizona State University meteorites.asu.edu. Retrieved on 20 June 2018.
5. American Museum of Natural History amnh.org. Retrieved on 20 June 2018.
6. https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/meteorites/meteorites/what-is-a-meteorite


by Rida Fatima

The adjacent dwarf galaxy Leo I contains the second nearest SMBH
(Figure 1: The adjacent dwarf galaxy Leo I contains the second nearest SMBH. Credit: Scott Anttila Anttler.)

The nearest supermassive black hole (SMBH) to us is in the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The adjacent dwarf galaxy Leo I contains the second nearest SMBH. Roughly 820,000 light years, or about 30 times farther than the centre of the galaxy, separate Leo I from Earth. SMBHs are enormous objects, between 100,000 and ten billion times the mass of the Sun, but they are difficult to see. This year was the first that the one at the galactic core was imaged. In 2019, when Messier 87* was photographed, the first picture of an SMBH was captured. In 2021, the existence of the “Leo I*” supermassive black hole in the heart of Leo I was first hypothesized. Independent astronomers noted that as stars got closer to the dwarf galaxy’s centre, their orbits accelerated, which is a clear indication of a strong gravitational attraction. A SMBH is most likely to be the cause. (Pacucci et al., 2022).

The scientists calculated the acceleration of the stars as they are drawn into the SMBH’s gravitational field and estimated the black hole’s mass to be about three million times that of the Sun. Compared to the Sagittarius A* SMBH, which is four million times more massive than our Sun, this object is just somewhat smaller. It is now impossible to observe the black hole, which is a completely different thing than simply observing its gravitational effects.


The ultra-faint Milky Way companion galaxy Leo I appears as a faint patch to the right of the bright star, Regulus
(Fig 2: The ultra-faint Milky Way companion galaxy Leo I appears as a faint patch to the right of the bright star, Regulus. Credit: Scott Anttila Anttler.

The Astrophysical Journal Letters describes a novel approach developed by researchers at the Center for Astrophysics at the Harvard Smithsonian that tries to solve this issue. Lead researcher Dr. Fabio Pacucci claims that black holes are notoriously elusive objects and occasionally love playing hide-and-seek with us. The world surrounding them can be quite brilliant if enough material falls into their gravitational well, but light cannot escape from their event horizons. However, if a black hole is not accreting mass, it stops emitting light and is no longer visible to our telescopes (Pacucci et al., 2022).

Leo I* is difficult to see because of this. There is hardly any gas or other matter in its host dwarf galaxy, thus the black hole has nothing to accrete. It is said that the galaxy is a “fossil.” But according to the astronomers, there is still a chance of detecting the SMBH. According to Pacucci, “in our analysis, we proposed that a modest amount of mass lost from stars circling the black hole could give the accretion rate required to witness it.” “Old stars grow extremely large and crimson; we refer to them as red giant stars. Strong winds are generally present in red giants, which disperse a portion of their mass into the surrounding space. (Yazgin, 2022).

According to co-author Professor Avi Loeb, “observing Leo I* could be revolutionary.” With a very similar mass to the one at the heart of our galaxy, but being hosted by a galaxy that is a thousand times smaller than the Milky Way, it would be the second-closest supermassive black hole after that one. This discovery calls into question everything we’ve learned about how galaxies and the supermassive black holes at their centres co-evolve. How did a parent who was so thin wind up having a baby who was so big? The existence of a supermassive black hole at the heart of the majority of big galaxies has been thoroughly established in recent decades. However, the mass of the black hole is typically 0.1% of the combined mass of the stars that surround it. (Yazgin, 2022).

Loeb adds, “We would predict a significantly smaller black hole in the case of Leo I. Instead, Leo I seems to house a black hole similar to the Milky Way’s, with a mass a few million times that of the Sun. This is thrilling since unexpected events frequently result in the greatest achievements in science. We aren’t yet ready, according to the experts, to obtain a photograph of Leo I*. New data from the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico and the Chandra X-ray Observatory space observatory are now being examined by the team.

Leo I* is probably playing hide and seek, but it produces too much radiation to go unnoticed for very long, according to Pacucci.


  • Fabio Pacucci, Abraham Loeb. Accretion from Winds of Red Giant Branch Stars May Reveal the Supermassive Black Hole in Leo I. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 2022; 940 (2): L33 DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac9b21
  • Yazgin, Evrim. “Hunt for Second Closest Supermassive Black Hole Begins.” Cosmos, Dec. 2022, cosmosmagazine.com/space/leo-supermassive-black-hole.

Peekaboo Galaxy Emerges From Hiding, Offering A Direct Window Into The Past

by Rida Fatima

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope managed to capture a comprehensive picture of the tiny galaxy HIPASS J1131-31
(Figure 1: Despite its proximity to a bright foreground star, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope managed to capture a comprehensive picture of the tiny galaxy HIPASS J1131-31, also termed the “Peekaboo Galaxy.” Aside from Hubble images, astronomers used the South African Large Telescope to collect detailed spectroscopic data on the galaxy’s stars. Through this approach, it was revealed that Peekaboo is one of the tiniest chemically enriched galaxies ever noticed in the local universe. Credits: NASA, ESA, and Igor Karachentsev (SAO RAS); Image Processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI))

A Peek Into The Past

A galaxy named HIPASS J1131-31, or Peekaboo has now come into view through an incredible picture captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Peekaboo galaxy is only 22 million light-years away from the Milky way galaxy. More than 20 years ago, Astronomers first detected the presence of this galaxy with the help of Australian Parkes radio telescope Murriyang, since then it was not quite visible for observation as its view was hidden by a bright star (TYC 7215-199-1) in the Milky Way. According to research, the HIPASS J1131-31 galaxy is the nearest example of the galaxy formation and development processes that occurred shortly after the big bang, which was around 13.8 billion years ago.

“Uncovering the Peekaboo Galaxy is like discovering a direct window into the past, allowing us to study its extreme environment and stars at a level of detail that is inaccessible in the distant, early Universe,” – Astronomer Gangadeep Anand

Peekaboo galaxy is described as “extremely metal-poor” by astronomers (XMP). In the beginning, the universe was constituted primarily of primitive hydrogen and helium, these were the elements created during the big bang. Throughout cosmic history, these elements formed stars that begin producing much heavier elements, eventually leading to the metal-rich universe of today. Carbon, oxygen, iron, and calcium are heavier elements “basic building blocks” that make up life as we know it. These elements were distributed throughout the universe after the supernova of metal-poor stars. Low metallicity in a galaxy is of particular interest to astronomers. It may provide critical insights not only into the chemical evolution of stars but also highlights the astrophysical events occurring in the expanding universe.

What Makes ‘Peekaboo Galaxy’ Different From Others?

Metal-poor galaxies are not very rare in the universe as they have already been discovered in our local galaxy by astronomers. However, Peekaboo is distinctive in two major ways. Firstly, it is much closer consisting of at least half the distance between it and formally known related galaxies. Moreover, it’s a metal-poor galaxy with no older stars nearby. Professor Bärbel Koribalski is an astronomer and a research scientist at Australia’s national science agency CSIRO. She is also the co-author of the latest research study on Peekaboo’s metallicity.

The Hubble telescope was able to study the composition of approximately 60 stars in the Peekaboo galaxy. Almost all of these stars appeared to be a few billion years old or younger. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) measurements of Peekaboo’s metallicity managed to complete the snapshot. The significant difference between HIPASS J1131-31 and other galaxies in the known universe was highlighted by these findings. Other galaxies typically have stars that seem to be billions of years old. As determined by the stars in Peekaboo, it is the youngest and slightly chemically-enriched galaxy ever revealed in the local universe. This is exceedingly rare, given that the local universe has had roughly 13 billion years to build the cosmic historical background.

Koribalski said while talking about the Peekaboo, “In the start, we were unaware of how special this little galaxy was, but now we know that the Peekaboo Galaxy is one of the most metal-poor galaxies ever detected, all credits go to data collected from the Hubble Space Telescope, (SALT) the Southern African Large Telescope, and others.”

“Because Peekaboo is so close to us, we can conduct detailed observations, allowing us to see an atmosphere like the early universe in extraordinary detail,” the astronomer Gangadeep Anand concluded.


Professor Bärbel discovered HIPASS J1131–31 or the Peekaboo galaxy as a region of cold hydrogen, as mentioned above. The discovery took place 20 years ago. Later on, NASA’s space-based Galaxy Evolution Explorer mission identified Peekaboo to be a compact blue dwarf galaxy using far-ultraviolet observational data. Now, Astronomers will be using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) alongside the Hubble Space Telescope to keep improving the snapshot of HIPASS J1131-31 obtained by Hubble findings as part of Every Known Nearby Galaxy Survey.



by Rida Fatima

The Abell S1063 cluster contains a vast number of galaxies
(Fig 1: The Abell S1063 cluster contains a vast number of galaxies, and Hubble’s exceptional sensitivity and resolution have been able to catch an intracluster light, a gentle blue haze. The stars that are responsible for this glow have been expelled from their galaxy. These stars are no longer members of a galaxy and now lead solitary lives, aligning themselves with the gravitational pull of the larger cluster. Intracluster light has been discovered to be a good predictor of the distribution of dark matter in the cluster because of its association with a map of mass distribution in the cluster’s general gravitational field. Credits: NASA and M. Montes.)

The dark matter has enigmatic nature, the unobservable substance which forms most of the cosmos, may be revealed by a fresh study of Hubble photographs of galaxies. It is proved by the astronomers that the diffuse glow that exists between the galaxies in a cluster, also known as intracluster light, can help to trace the path of dark matter, and also help to illuminate the distribution pattern more precisely as compared to the current methods which observe and understand the study through X-ray light. Using Hubble’s earlier images of six giant galaxy clusters from the Frontier Fields mission, they were able to accomplish this. Intergalactic interactions that upend their structures result in intracluster light, which is produced as individual stars are liberated from the gravitational grip of their parent galaxy and realigned with the gravity map of the entire cluster. Additionally, the great majority of dark matter is found here. Where galaxies are colliding is visible in X-ray light, but the cluster’s underlying structure is not revealed. As a result, it is not very authentic and precise to trace the paths of dark matter.

“As the intracluster light is relatively free-floating on the gravity of the cluster itself, which leads it to follow the same gravity, this particular reason makes intracluster light the best way to trace the dark matter in the solar system,” says co-author Mireia Montes. Additionally, we have discovered this precise method to predict the location of the dark matter because we have found a new method to determine the placement of the dark matter as you are monitoring the identical gravitational potential. Our ability to locate dark matter is made possible by a very faint light. (NASA, 2018).

Intracluster Light In The Detection Of Dark Matter

Montes also emphasises that the technique is not only more accurate but also more effective because it just uses deep imaging as opposed to the more involved, time-consuming spectroscopy techniques. As a result, more clusters and objects in space may be researched in less time, providing more possible information about the composition and behaviour of dark matter. The final nature of dark matter may now be statistically characterised thanks to this technology, Montes stated.

The Canary Islands Institute of Astronomy’s Ignacio Trujillo, who co-authored the report and has worked with Montes on intracluster light studies for many years, stated, “The concept for the research was prompted by examining the pristine Hubble Frontier Field photos. Intracluster light was displayed with unparalleled clarity in the Hubble Frontier Fields.” The pictures were motivating, according to Trujillo. “However, I did not anticipate the results to be so accurate. Exciting possibilities exist for the research opportunities in future for space related projects.

A shape matching metric called Modified Hausdorff Distance is used by the astronomer, which helps with the comparison of the contours of the intracluster light. It also compares the different mass maps of the clusters, which are used as a significant part of the data from the Hubble Frontier Fields project, and is placed in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). The MHD is a metric for the distance between two groups. The two-point sets become more equivalent when MHD’s value decreases. Based on archived observations from the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the analysis’s findings showed that the intracluster light distribution visible in the Hubble Frontier Fields images more closely matched the mass distribution of the six galaxy clusters than did X-ray emission. (NASA, 2018).

: The galaxy cluster MACS J0416.1-2403 also produces a gentle glow of intracluster light
(Fig 2: The galaxy cluster MACS J0416.1-2403 also produces a gentle glow of intracluster light, formed by stars that are not a part of any particular galaxy, amidst the intense light of its component galaxies. Long ago, when the gravitational pull of the cluster tore apart their home galaxies, these stars were dispersed throughout the cluster. Eventually, the wandering stars aligned with the cluster’s general gravitational pull. The feeble light is captured by Hubble’s superior sensitivity and resolution, which is then used to pinpoint the location of unseen dark matter, which dominates the cluster’s gravitational field. Credits: NASA and M. Montes.)

Montes and Trujillo see numerous potentials to broaden their research beyond this initial investigation. They first want to see how well the tracing accuracy holds true before expanding the observing area in the initial six clusters. To expand the data set and validate their results, more research teams’ observation and analysis of galaxy clusters will be a crucial test of their methodology. The WFIRST and the James Webb Space Telescope, which will include far more sensitive instruments for detecting weak intracluster light in the farthest regions of the galaxy, are two strong future space-based telescopes that the astronomers anticipate utilizing the same techniques with.


Trujillo wants to test reducing the method’s scalability from enormous galaxy clusters to solitary galaxies. Exploring the star corona, for example, at galactic sizes would be great. The same concept should, in theory, be true; the celestial bodies that have surrounded the star system as consequences of its blending activity should likewise be tracking its gravity and revealing its dark matter distribution (Kimdeyir, 2018). In order to see the incredibly far-off galaxies beyond them and to understand more about how galaxies have evolved since the early (remote) universe, the Hubble Frontier Fields programme was developed. It was a deep imaging project. In that research, the diffuse intracluster light was a problem since it partially hid the far-off galaxies beyond (Kimdeyir, 2018).


A Never-Seen-Before Exoplanet WASP-39b Atmosphere is Revealed by NASA’s Webb Space Telescope

by Rida Fatima

exoplanet WASP-39 b
(Figure 1: Based on what is known about the planet right now, this graphic depicts what the exoplanet WASP-39 b would look like. WASP-39 b is very hot, puffy full of gas that circulates just 0.0486 au (4,500,000 miles) from its star. It has a diameter that is 1.3 times larger than Jupiter and a mass that is 0.28 times Jupiter (or 0.94 times Saturn). WASP-39 is a star that is somewhat less massive and smaller than the Sun. WASP-39 b is extremely hot due to its near proximity to its star and is most likely tidally locked, with one side constantly facing the side of the star. Credits: www.nasa.gov)

A behemoth the size of Saturn that revolves around its star more closely than Mercury does the Sun, a planet known as WASP-39 b is unmatched by any other planets that exist in our solar system. This exoplanet was one of the first to be studied when NASA started the official science operations on a regular basis by using James Webb Space Telescope. The findings have the exoplanet scientific community in a frenzy. Moreover, potassium, carbon monoxide, Water, sodium, and sulphur dioxide have all been discovered in the profile of WASP-39 b’s atmospheric ingredients created by Webb’s highly sensitive detectors. The results are encouraging for Webb’s sensors’ capacity to carry out a wide range of studies of exoplanets of various types, including rocky, tiny planets that are considered in the TRAPPIST-1 system (Scitechdaily, 2022).

Signatures of molecule with active Chemistry and Clouds

The latest James Webb telescope mission by NASA was to discover the chemical and molecular profile of the skies of a distant world, marking another first. The latest results from Webb show a very comprehensive variety of molecules, atoms, and also some evidence of active chemistry and clouds, in contrast to earlier findings from space observatories, such as Spitzer and NASA’s Hubble. The most recent information also gives a suggestion as to how these clouds would seem up close, suggesting that they are likely split up rather than covering the globe uniformly. The array of the telescope’s highly delicate apparatus was focused right on the environment of WASP-39 b, circulating a star around 700 light-years distant. The results are promising for the ability of Webb’s apparatus to do the extensive range of analyses of all types of exoplanets, or worlds around other stars, that the scientific groups had hoped for. As part of this, it is possible to explore the atmospheres of smaller, stonier planets like those in the TRAPPIST-1 system. It has been noted that the telescope has a variety of equipment that, when combined, offer a wide range of infrared detection and a variety of chemical fingerprints that were previously out of reach. Data like these change the game of understanding these other planets (NASA, 2022).

Five new scientific publications, three of which are in under review and one of which is in press, cover the discoveries in depth. One of the ground-breaking discoveries is that of sulphur dioxide (SO2) for the first time in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. This molecule is the result of chemical processes started by high-energy light from the planet’s parent star. Similar processes are used on Earth to produce the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

Concrete evidence of photochemistry

The formation of Sulphur dioxide in WASP-39 b’s atmosphere was described in the paper by Shang-Min Tsai, a researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Tsai asserted that this was the first time actual proof of photochemistry—chemical processes initiated by energetic stellar light on exoplanets had been seen. I believe this effort has a highly promising future for enhancing our understanding of the atmospheres of exoplanets. Another first as a result of this was the use of photochemistry computer models on the data that assists with the full explanation of such physics. The ensuing advancements in modelling will contribute to the development of the technological know-how necessary to decipher future indications of habitability (NASA, 2022).

“We had anticipated what the telescope would reveal, but it was more accurate, more varied, and more stunning than I had truly anticipated” – Hanna Wakeford.

Planets circling within the host star’s radiation bath are molded and changed. These changes on Earth enable life to flourish. Eight times closer to its home star than Mercury is to our Sun, the planet serves as a testing ground for the effects of radiation from host stars on exoplanets. Improved comprehension of the star-planet relationship should lead to a greater comprehension of how these factors impact the variety of planets seen in the solar system. Webb followed WASP-39 b when it crossed in front of its star, allowing part of the star’s light to get through the planet’s atmosphere and allowing for the detection of light from the object. Astronomers can identify the molecules by looking at the colors that aren’t present because different kinds of particles in the atmosphere absorb different colors of the starlight range. Webb can identify chemical fingerprints in the universe that are invisible to the human eye by observing it in infrared light.

The Webb telescope also picked up measurements of sodium (Na), potassium (K), and water vapor (H2O), which confirmed earlier observations made by ground- and space-based telescopes and discovered new fingerprints of water at these longer wavelengths (NASA, 2022).