Historic image of exoplanets around a Sun-like star
For the first time, a telescope has imaged several planets orbiting a star like our Sun. The European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s Very Large Telescope imaged a planetary system 300 light-years away from us that has two massive gas giant planets. Images like this could show us more about how solar systems form. That’s because the star, known as TYC 8998-760-1, is only 17 million years old compared to our own Sun’s middle-age 4.5 billion years. Future observatories, such as the European Extremely Large Telescope expected to see “first light” in 2025, will give us an even closer look at these distant worlds.
Volcanoes on Venus are dormant, not dead
A new study of Venusian volcanoes suggests that they still have some life in them. Numerical models of activity beneath the surface of the hot planet show mantle plumes, called coronae, that show the coronae are still changing and therefore are likely active. Scientists hope to follow this up with studies closer to the planet surface, such as the proposed European EnVision spacecraft that could launch as early as 2032. If the mission is approved, EnVision would orbit the planet and perform high-resolution radar mapping to get more details about the volcanoes’ activity.
‘Campfires’ found on the sun
A new solar observation mission by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) found miniature solar flares near the surface of the Sun. Dubbed “campfires,” the Solar Orbiter observations of these features show us relatives of the solar flares we can see from Earth; the difference is the campfires are much smaller. The Solar Orbiter is meant to help scientists better understand the Sun’s activity and the heating of the Sun’s outer atmopshere (or corona), as well as to make predictions about solar activity.
Summertime haze found on Saturn
New observations from the Hubble Space Telescope show a ruddy haze over Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Scientists think that this is an indication of summertime activity on Saturn that happens when more sunlight changes the atmospheric circulation, or removes ices in the atmosphere. Alternatively, the amount of haze in the atmosphere may change when the haze receives the summertime sunlight. The famed telescope also spotted several atmospheric storms that are expected to dissipate in the coming months; Saturn’s storms change in between each yearly observation due to conditions in the atmosphere.
Venusian asteroid gives clue to planet formation
Scientists have discovered the first asteroid within the orbit of Venus. The newly found world, part of an informally named group called Vatiras, has a surface that is pummelled by strong solar wind and high temperatures from the Sun — not to mention micrometeorite impacts. What’s more, the asteroid contains a mineral called olivine, which is a large component of rocks far underneath the Earth’s surface. This asteroid could therefore be a remnant of the asteroids that were formed early in the Solar System and that were absorbed into the cores of the planets we see today.
Elizabeth Howell (Ph.D.) is a Canadian space journalist who has been obsessed with the topic ever since she, as a young teenager, saw the movie Apollo 13 in 1996. She grew up wanting to be an astronaut. While that hasn’t happened (yet), Elizabeth has seen five human spaceflight launches — including two from Kazakhstan — and she participated in a simulated Red Planet mission at the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.