‘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.


NASA and DARPA to Test Nuclear-Powered Rocket for Future Mars Missions

by Rida Fatima

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) have recently announced a groundbreaking collaboration to demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine in space. This technology will enable NASA’s crewed missions to Mars and marks a significant step forward in space exploration.

Figure 1: Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft
(Figure 1: Artist concept of Demonstration for Rocket to Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) spacecraft, which will demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine. Nuclear thermal propulsion technology could be used for future NASA crewed missions to Mars. (Credits: DARPA))

NASA and DARPA Partnership

NASA and DARPA have a long history of collaboration and working together on projects that have enabled their respective missions. Moreover, NASA and DARPA’s partnership has been instrumental in advancing space technologies and achieving key milestones in space exploration. One of the notable previous collaborations between NASA and DARPA was the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the moon for the first time. Another collaboration between the two agencies was the in-space servicing project that focused on refuelling and repairing satellites while they were still in orbit.

Figure 2: Adapted from page 26 of the S-IVB Saturn High Energy Upper Stage and its Development (Douglas Paper No. 4040), located in the Saturn V collection,
(Figure 2: Adapted from page 26 of the S-IVB Saturn High Energy Upper Stage and its Development (Douglas Paper No. 4040), located in the Saturn V collection, Dept. of Archives/Special Collections.)

Now, NASA and DARPA have announced their latest collaboration to demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine in space, which will enable NASA’s crewed missions to Mars. The partnership will be through the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program. This non-reimbursable agreement outlines the roles, responsibilities, and processes for both agencies to speed up development efforts. The collaboration between NASA and DARPA on nuclear propulsion technology will help drive forward NASA’s goal to send humans to Mars.

Under the agreement, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) will lead the technical development of the nuclear thermal engine, which will be integrated with DARPA’s experimental spacecraft. DARPA will act as the contracting authority for the development of the entire stage and the engine, which includes the reactor. DARPA will be leading the overall program, which includes rocket systems integration and procurement, approvals, scheduling, and security. They will also cover safety and liability, ensuring the engine’s overall assembly and integration with the spacecraft. Throughout the development process, NASA and DARPA will collaborate on the assembly of the engine before the in-space demonstration, which is expected to occur as early as 2027.

The partnership between NASA and DARPA is crucial for the advancement of space technology, as the space domain is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery, and national security. With this collaboration, the two agencies will leverage their combined expertise gained from many previous space nuclear power and propulsion projects to efficiently and quickly transport materials to the Moon and, eventually, people to Mars. The DRACO nuclear thermal rocket program will be essential for advancing space technology and enabling future missions to the Red Planet.

Figure 3: Artist’s concept of a Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket in Low Earth Orbit. (Credit: NASA)
(Figure 3: Artist’s concept of a Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket in Low Earth Orbit. (Credit: NASA))

Benefits of Nuclear-Powered Rocket

The use of a nuclear thermal rocket engine offers several benefits over traditional chemical propulsion systems.

  • Firstly, it allows for faster transit times, reducing the risk for astronauts on long space missions. This reduction in transit time is crucial for human missions to Mars as longer trips require more supplies and more robust systems.
  • Secondly, a nuclear thermal rocket engine increases science payload capacity and provides higher power for instrumentation and communication.

In a nuclear thermal rocket engine, a fission reactor is used to generate extremely high temperatures. The engine then transfers the heat produced by the reactor to a liquid propellant, which is expanded and exhausted through a nozzle to propel the spacecraft. Nuclear thermal rockets can be three or more times more efficient than conventional chemical propulsion systems, making them a more attractive option for space missions.

This new technology also supports NASA’s Fission Surface Power project and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) commercial design efforts to develop nuclear power plant concepts that could be used on the surface of the Moon and Mars. NASA and the DOE are also working on another commercial design effort to advance higher-temperature fission fuels and reactor designs as part of the nuclear thermal propulsion engine, with the goal of increased engine performance in the future.

The benefits of a nuclear thermal rocket engine are numerous and include faster transit times, increased science payload capacity, higher power for instrumentation and communication, and increased efficiency compared to traditional chemical propulsion systems. NASA and DARPA’s collaboration on the DRACO program will help to advance this technology and make crewed missions to Mars a reality.

Previous Nuclear Thermal Rocket Engine Tests

It’s important to note that the last tests of nuclear thermal rocket engines in the United States were conducted over 50 years ago. The tests were carried out under NASA’s Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application and Rover projects. Despite these earlier efforts, the technology has advanced significantly since then and has paved the way for new developments in space nuclear technology.

One notable reference is the Rover program, which was developed during the 1960s and 70s. The program aimed to demonstrate the feasibility of using nuclear reactors to power space missions, and it was responsible for developing and testing nuclear thermal rocket engines. The project was considered a success as it was able to demonstrate the potential of the technology, but it was eventually cancelled due to budget constraints.

Another reference is the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) program. This program was also developed during the 1960s and 70s and aimed to demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear thermal rocket engines for space missions. The program was a joint effort between NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) and resulted in the development of several prototype nuclear thermal rocket engines.

Overall, these previous efforts and the technological advancements over the past 50 years have helped lay the foundation for the current collaboration between NASA and DARPA to test a nuclear-powered rocket engine. The knowledge gained from these earlier projects has played a significant role in shaping the development of new space nuclear technology, and the DRACO program represents a significant step forward in the advancement of nuclear thermal rocket engine technology.

Figure 4: This image of NERVA is from Nuclear Shuttle System Definitions Study
(Figure 4: This image of NERVA is from Nuclear Shuttle System Definitions Study, Phase III – Final Report – Volume II Concept and Feasibility Analysis – Part B Class 3 RNS – BOOK 2 System Definitions (1971))

NASA’s Fission Surface Power project

Moving forward, the NASA Fission Surface Power project is a joint initiative between NASA, the Department of Energy (DOE), and industry aimed at developing advanced space nuclear technologies. The project is aimed at harnessing nuclear power for space exploration and is a key component in NASA’s long-range goal for space transportation capability for the Earth-Moon economy.

As part of the Fission Surface Power project, the DOE awarded three commercial design efforts to develop nuclear power plant concepts that could be used on the surface of the Moon and, later, Mars. Advanced nuclear power plants will provide the necessary energy to support human activities and scientific missions on the lunar surface.

Additionally, NASA and DOE are working on another commercial design effort to advance higher-temperature fission fuels and reactor designs as part of a nuclear thermal propulsion engine. These design efforts are still under development and aim to support a longer-range goal for increased engine performance. The end goal is to use these advancements in fission technology to make space travel faster, more efficient, and more reliable.

The Fission Surface Power project is just one example of NASA’s commitment to developing advanced technologies that will enable humans to explore deep space. NASA’s collaboration with industry and government partners, like the DOE, ensures that new technologies are not only developed but are also tested and validated for practical use.

Overall, the NASA Fission Surface Power project represents an important step forward in the development of reliable and efficient space nuclear technologies. By harnessing nuclear power, NASA aims to enable new opportunities for human exploration and scientific discovery in deep space.

Figure 5: Illustration of a nuclear fission power system on Mars. (Credits: NASA)
(Figure 5: Illustration of a nuclear fission power system on Mars. (Credits: NASA))

In a Nutshell…

Conclusively, the partnership between NASA and DARPA to test a nuclear-powered rocket for future Mars missions marks a significant milestone in space exploration. The use of a nuclear thermal rocket engine offers several benefits including faster transit times, increased science payload capacity, and higher power for instrumentation and communication. These advancements will play a crucial role in helping NASA meet its Moon-to-Mars objectives and establish a space transportation capability for the Earth-Moon economy. Moreover, the successful demonstration of the DRACO program could have far-reaching implications for future space exploration efforts. The nuclear thermal propulsion technology could be used for not just crewed missions to Mars but also for other deep space missions, enabling humans to journey faster than ever before. This collaboration between NASA and DARPA brings together the best of both worlds, and the successful outcome of this project will be a major achievement in advancing space technology. The future looks bright for the space industry, and with more innovations like the DRACO program, we may be able to explore even more of our universe in the years to come.


NASA’s Research on How Bacteria Could Help Form Building Materials on Mars

by Rida Fatima

Illustration of a photobioreactor that could grow food and building materials on Mars
(Fig 1: Illustration of a photobioreactor that could grow food and building materials on Mars. Credit: Joris Wegner/ZARM/Universität Bremen.)

Bacteria can contribute to the formation of materials on Mars by a process known as biomineralization. Biomineralization is the process by which microorganisms produce and incorporate minerals into their structures and the surrounding environment. This process can create a variety of different materials, such as calcium carbonate, silica, and iron oxides, which can eventually become fossils that can be analyzed for evidence of past life. In the case of Mars, it is possible that microorganisms could have biomineralized in the past, forming structures such as stromatolites or other fossil-like structures that could serve as evidence of past life. Additionally, bacteria could be used to support human exploration of Mars by producing resources such as oxygen, food, and building materials. For example, certain species of bacteria could be used to extract minerals from Martian soil and process them into usable building materials, such as bricks or concrete (Gohd, 2023).

However, it is important to note that biomineralization on Mars would be a complex process that would require careful consideration of the harsh Martian environment, including factors such as low atmospheric pressure, intense radiation, and the lack of water. In addition, any bacterial populations that are established on Mars would need to be carefully managed to ensure that they do not contaminate the Martian environment and interfere with future scientific studies of the planet.

Biomineralization on Mars

Biomineralization refers to the process by which living organisms produce minerals and incorporate them into their bodies or external structures. On Mars, biomineralization could have taken place in the past if the planet once had conditions suitable for life. Evidence of biomineralization on Mars could help scientists to understand the nature and extent of past life on the planet, as well as the geochemical processes that took place on its surface. The presence of biomineralization on Mars could be indicated by the detection of minerals such as carbonates, silicates, and sulfates, which are commonly associated with biotic processes. Scientists are also searching for evidence of fossilized microorganisms, such as stromatolites, that could provide insight into the history of life on Mars. To search for biomineralization on Mars, scientists are using a variety of techniques, including X-ray diffraction, spectroscopy, and imaging (Tomaswick, 2023). The Mars rovers, Curiosity and Perseverance, are equipped with instruments that can analyze Martian rocks and soils to determine their mineral content and search for evidence of past life.

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) for Phase I development

Jin — an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, recently spoke with Universe Today via Zoom and described the path that led to her NIAC proposal,

“I have been working on self-healing concrete for the past few years. Therefore, we use bacteria or fungi to stimulate the biominerals to mend cracks when concrete develops them. Next, we consider alternative options like self-growing materials. So one would have aggregates or soil particles. To create a coherent body, we wish to use fungi or bacteria. We can just ship some bacteria or fungal spores to Mars in order to collect samples of the soil, atmosphere, and water, and they will construct the bricks for us”

(Gohd, 2023).

The process of “biomineralization,” in which bacteria and spores can put together minerals like calcium carbonate (CaCO3), or limestone, is the key to this. Since the Pheonix Mars Lander discovered evidence of CaCO3 at its landing location in 2008, scientists have known that Mars contains limestone and other carbonates. Later sample analysis by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and mineral mapping by missions like NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter supported this (MRO). If there is no human labour, especially on Mars, this will be highly crucial. They can carry it out automatically. We suggest using materials already present on Mars rather than transporting them there.

Future missions might be provided with “synthetic biological toolkits,” in Jin’s idea, to produce synthetic lichen systems (diazotrophic cyanobacteria and filamentous fungi). When coupled with Martian regolith, they will transform CaO3 into a plentiful source of biopolymers that can be used to “create” building materials. According to Jin, “They will act as a catalyst to encourage the development of calcium carbonate, and those calcium carbonate crystals will act as a glue to bond those soil particles together.” The sand particles must be placed into the desired mould for the bacteria and fungi to develop and take on the shape of the mould.

The filamentous fungus and cyanobacteria each have a unique role to play in this envisioned autonomous system. The cyanobacteria, according to the NIAC concept, are in charge of the following:

1) absorbing carbon dioxide and converting it to carbonate ions and
2) supplying oxygen and organic chemicals to support the filamentous fungi.

However, the fungi are in charge of two important functions:

1) binding calcium ions to the cell walls of the fungi and acting as nucleation sites for calcium carbonate deposition.
2) promoting the survival and expansion of cyanobacteria by increasing their carbon dioxide levels and lowering their oxidative stress.

Additionally, the cyanobacteria and fungi release “Extracellular Polymeric Compounds” that improve the cohesiveness of precipitated particles as well as the adhesion of regolith particles to biopolymers. In order to ensure that these artificial bacteria and fungi function symbiotically rather than competitively, Dr. Jin also described the procedure for manufacturing them:

“We must identify the strains that get along well with one another. Mutualistic co-culturing is the name for it. In essence, some of them can improve the partner’s quality of life. Because of their filamentous structure, we require filamentous fungus. They can encourage more calcium carbonate crystals to form. However, we also require cyanobacteria, which can perform photosynthesis and produce organic carbon for fungus in the process of absorbing CO2.”

Bioreactors Produce Self-Healing Bricks

The proposal envisions bioreactors producing bricks that are removed to build surface structures. These building materials will also be self-healing, Jin says. “They have a lot of features that we don’t have with materials on Earth,” she said about Martian materials. Despite the fact that biomineralization is a topic that has been studied for years, this idea is unique for two reasons. It is the first effort, for one thing, to explore filamentous fungi as a source of biominerals rather than bacteria. Jin has studied biomineralization extensively recently, and her findings have shown that filamentous fungi have different benefits over bacteria. The most notable of these is their amazing ability to create a lot of minerals quickly (Tomaswick, 2023).

Second, by developing a synthetic lichen system and utilising symbiotic interactions between photoautotrophic cyanobacteria and heterotrophic filamentous fungi, this study is the first to use self-growing technology. It is well known that photoautotrophs use sunshine to convert inorganic carbon into organic molecules (in this case, organic carbon). Since they were typically limited to a particular species or strain of heterotrophs reliant on an ongoing external supply of organic carbon, none of the self-growing techniques examined thus far have been totally autonomous.


The technology has the potential to transform construction here on Earth in addition to creating habitats on Mars and other planets beyond Earth. This autonomous, self-growing technology has the ability to “repair” damaged structures and create new infrastructure while leaving a small carbon imprint in areas that have been impacted by conflict, natural catastrophes, and climate change. This technology is another illustration of how biological systems and species from the Earth inspire resilient and sustainable space systems. The same technologies that might make it possible for humans to live sustainably in space might also assist us in halting and reversing climate change on Earth. The interaction is symbiotic, much like the process that drives this suggested bioreactor technology (Tomaswick, 2023).


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).

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Discovers Opal-Gemstone On Mars

by Rida Fatima

Discovery of Opal on Mars
(Figure 1: Discovery of Opal on Mars is significant evidence of Water in the past over the Martian surface)

A type of opal found in a Martian meteorite that can trap bacteria on Earth has been identified as a new target in the quest for indications of life on Mars.

A team of Arizona State University and NASA-affiliated researchers released a study last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. According to the study, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has recently discovered a water-rich mineral, Opal. It was revealed in the fractured halos of the gale crater located on the red planet. Curiosity completed its ten-year Mars exploration mission in August 2022. The core objective was to search for evidence of primitive life on this planet. As the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars, curiosity is NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. NASA’s spacecraft has previously detected Martian opals from afar, and they have been found in Martian meteorites that were once fallen on Earth. Recently, a team led by Travis Gabriel, a research scientist at the US Geological Survey, has discovered light-coloured opal deposits on the Martian surface (Rayne, 2023).

Mars is a dry and desolate land that is constantly blasted with harmful solar radiation which is why the planet’s surface is inhospitable to life as we know it. Although, the darker environment inside the subsurface is adequately sheltered from the deadly radiation bombarding Gale Carter on Mars. Hence, the presence of water-rich opals within these fractures adds to the excitement of their discovery. (Bresson, 2023)

Curiosity Data From Mars

Water ice on Mars is prevalent at the poles and yet scarce at the equator, more specifically at the site of the Gale crater. Curiosity rover previously transmitted data from its DAN (Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons) spectrometer. It was then analyzed by a team of researchers who recognized cracked or fractured halos, rings of light-coloured sediment that appeared out because of their colour in both older and more recent Curiosity images. Further tests demonstrated that the light-coloured rock on the Martian surface was undoubtedly opal. Opals, which are considered gemstones, have sparkling colors that resemble rainbows. When silicon oxides dissolve in a damp atmosphere, they solidify in the gaps between rocks, forming these gems. This method converts opals into a small oasis that can hold up to 20% water.

Figure 2: Gale Crater on Mars Credits: NASA/JPL
(Figure 2: Gale Crater on Mars Credits: NASA/JPL)

Source Of Water On Mars

Scientists are hoping these Martian rocks comprising opal might be the source of water on Mars. As the composition of opal is mostly water and silica, the existence of this mineral could indicate that water once was present in these cracks to make them habitable. Moreover, opal on the Martian surface may one day be obtained for the water stored within, providing a source of water for future manned space missions on Mars. On Earth, opal can be found at the bottom of oceans, in geysers and hot springs or other water bodies. When silica particles settle to the bottom, they begin to form opal. Water can be extracted from opals because, even though they sparkle, they are still not minerals.

“Given the vast fracture networks identified in Gale Crater, it’s fair to predict that these potentially habitable subsurface conditions extended to many other portions of Gale Crater, and maybe to other regions of Mars,” Travis Gabriel said. He added “These ecosystems would have arisen long after Gale Crater’s old lakes dried up.”

The minerals constitute a firmly bound crystalline structure, whereas opals have a more loosely organized structure, that allows water to be removed. In case additional opal is located, astronauts exploring Mars in the future may have a large water source to extract water from. According to the statement, the fracture halos 1 metre in diameter “might store around one to 1.5 litres of water in the topmost foot of the surface.


The discovery of opal in the Gale Crater of Mars has given the Perseverance rover a new direction. If opal fracture halos exist on this crater, then they may also occur at Jezero Crater, where NASA’s Perseverance rover is looking for clues of past life. As Jezero Cater was originally a lake, there is a high probability that there could be more Martian opal waiting to be discovered. The existence of opal minerals in Martian Gale Crater shows that the planet may also have suffered short-term floods in the ancient past. Although it seems doubtful that life today exists on the arid surface of the red planet, these transient floods may have helped the microorganisms (bacteria or viruses) survive deeper down, or preserved microbial traces in opals. Gabriel is excited to investigate silica-rich structures at a new region on Mars to better comprehend the dynamics of water-rich environments on the red planet.


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.

The NASA InSight Lander’s Historic Journey across Mars comes to an End

by Rida Fatima

After gathering unprecedented scientific data on Mars for over 4 years, NASA’s InSight project has officially come to a conclusion.

InSight Lander’s Historic Journey
(Figure 1: An Image of The NASA InSight Lander (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWNS))

Recently, the “InSight” Mars lander from NASA posted its formal farewell statement on Twitter, tearing at people’s heartstrings all across the world. The InSight lander from NASA, famed for taking the very first “selfie” on Mars, is about to shut down and lose touch with Home. It is unable to recharge since the solar panels on its roof are covered in a heavy layer of Martian dirt.

The Inner Workings of the InSight Lander

“InSight” stands for “Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport”. Over time, Mars’ seismic activity and meteorological fluctuations were observed by the many probes and measurement tools. Researchers can better grasp Mars’ interior, particularly the mantle and crust, thanks to details relating seismic quakes on Mars.

In November 2018, the robotic geologist initially landed on the desolate stretch of Elysium Planitia, carrying a hammer and a seismic meter. Jim Green, the lead researcher at NASA, stated before its 2018 flight that the operation’s basic significance to is comprehend the origins of our planetary system and how it evolved into what it is presently. Since then, it has conducted geological digs and used a cutting-edge seismograph that was set up right on planet mars’ surface to take the initial readings of seismic activities.

The Findings of the InSight Lander

It’s extremely precise seismometer, along with continuous surveillance by the French space program Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the Mars-quake Service run by ETH Zurich, picked up 1,319 mars-quakes, notably seismic events brought on by meteorite strikes, the greatest among which the year before exposed boulder-size ice fragments. These hits aid in establishing the planetary surface’s age.

Based on released campaign statistics, Insight has monitored over 1,300 quakes ever since it was deployed, and over 50 of them produced signatures that were sufficiently distinct for researchers to determine their position on the Martian surface.

The lander’s findings have also revealed information concerning the strata of Mars’ subsurface, its liquid core, the remarkably changeable remains of its largely defunct magnetosphere underneath the surface, weather, and earthquake activities.

The Challenges Faced by InSight during its Mission

InSight had a lot of difficulties while on its journey. The Self-hammering spike on the lander, dubbed “the mole,” was designed to burrow 16 feet (5 meters) deep while tethering sensors to monitor heat on the planet, allowing researchers to determine how much energy was left over from Mars’ birth.

The mole struggled to get footing in the unusually crumbly soil surrounding InSight because it was made for the open, granular soil encountered on prior expeditions. The device, which was made possible by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), ultimately sank its 16-inch (40-centimeter) probe close to the surface while gathering important information about the thermal and physical characteristics of the Martian surface. This will be helpful for upcoming human and robotic expeditions which aim to probe Martian soil.

Owing to JPL and DLR engineers’ creative use of the lander’s mechanical arm, the operation effectively buried the mole. The arm and its scoop were originally designed to place scientific equipment on the Surface of the planet, but as energy started to run low, they eventually assisted in cleaning debris from InSight’s solar panels.

The Final Moments of InSight’s Mission

“We’ve thought of InSight as our friend and colleague on Mars for the past four years, so it’s hard to say goodbye,” said Bruce Banerdt of JPL, the mission’s principal investigator. “But it has earned its richly deserved retirement.”

The solar-powered lander issued an update last month, reminiscing on its time in space:

“I’ve been lucky enough to live on two planets. Four years ago, I arrived safely at the second one, to the delight of my family back on the first. Thanks to my team for sending me on this journey of discovery. Hope I’ve done you proud.”

NASA made the decision to wait till InSight failed 2 check-ins with the satellite circling Mars which transmits its data to Earth before calling the operation complete.

The solar-powered lander’s surroundings were clouded by a strong dust storm that obscured the sunlight and left a shadowed picture with white specks from camera noise. Prior to the entire image being relayed, the communication was interrupted.

After making a couple of efforts to communicate with the lander, project commanders at the company’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California came to the conclusion that the rover’s solar-powered battery had run out of energy, a condition known to engineers as “dead bus.”

The space program issued a warning in November that the rover’s lifespan could be running out as debris proceeded to gather and suffocate the InSight’s energy.

The lander’s ability to generate electricity continuously decreased as the layer of wind-blown dirt on its solar panels increased, according to a 2 November statement from NASA. The conclusion of the expedition, according to NASA, was anticipated to occur within the coming weeks.

The InSight lander's dome-covered seismometer
(Figure 2: The InSight lander’s dome-covered seismometer seen on the surface of Mars as the spacecraft loses power. (Source: NASA InSight Twitter account))

On Monday, NASA’s official InSight twitter account released the following statement:

“My power’s really low, so this may be the last image I can send. Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I’ll be signing off here soon. Thanks for staying with me.”

NASA had originally determined to end the project if the rover didn’t respond to 2 attempts at contact. Although it is thought to be improbable at this stage, the organization will continue its attempts to search for a message from the rover. Dec. 15 marked the final moment InSight spoke with Earth.

“InSight has more than lived up to its name. As a scientist who’s spent a career studying Mars, it’s been a thrill to see what the lander has achieved, thanks to an entire team of people across the globe that helped make this mission a success,” said Laurie Leshin, director of JPL, who was in charge of managing the expedition “Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye, but InSight’s legacy will live on, informing and inspiring.”