News:

 

Introduction:

During the Cosmic Dawn, the first stars emerged, ending the cosmic “dark ages” following the Big Bang. However, understanding the mass distribution of these stars remains a significant enigma in the field of cosmology. we explore the recent study conducted by Prof. Zhao Gang from the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), which sheds light on the existence of pair-instability supernovae (PISNe) resulting from extremely massive first stars in the early universe.

massive first stars
Stellar fossil: imprints of pair instability supernovae from very massive first stars. Credit: NAOC

The Study: 

Prof. Zhao Gang and his team utilized data from the Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST) survey and high-resolution spectra obtained from the Subaru Telescope. Their study focused on a chemically unique star named LAMOST J1010+2358, located in the Galactic halo. The findings provide compelling evidence for the occurrence of pair-instability supernovae during the early universe.

Key Findings: 

To gather more information, the research team conducted follow-up high-resolution spectroscopic observations and derived abundances for over ten elements in the star J1010+2358. The star’s most significant characteristic is its remarkably low sodium and cobalt abundance. The sodium-to-iron ratio is less than 1/100th of the solar value. Additionally, the star exhibits a substantial variance in abundance between odd and even charge number elements, such as sodium/magnesium and cobalt/nickel.

Pair-instability supernovae
Comparison of observed abundances and models. The chemical abundances of J1010+2358 compared with the predictions from three theoretical supernova models. The error bars are 1 sigma uncertainties of the observed abundances. Credit: NAOC

Dr. Xing Qianfan, the study’s first author, states, “The peculiar odd-even variance, along with deficiencies of sodium and α-elements in this star, are consistent with the prediction of primordial PISN from first-generation stars with 260 solar masses.”

Implications: 

The discovery of J1010+2358 provides direct evidence of hydrodynamical instability caused by electron-positron pair production during the evolution of very massive stars. This pair production leads to a reduction in thermal pressure within the star’s core, resulting in partial collapse.

Prof. Zhao Gang, the corresponding author of the study, remarks, “It provides an essential clue to constraining the initial mass function in the early universe. Before this study, no evidence of supernovae from such massive stars has been found in the metal-poor stars.”

Furthermore, the iron abundance of LAMOST J1010+2358 ([Fe/H] = -2.42) surpasses that of most metal-poor stars in the Galactic halo. This suggests that second-generation stars formed in PISN-dominated gas may be more metal-rich than previously anticipated.

Experts’ Opinions: 

Prof. Avi Loeb, former chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard University, calls One of the holy grails of searching for metal-poor stars is to find evidence for these early pair-instability supernovae.

Prof. Timothy Beers, the provost’s chair of astrophysics at Notre Dame University, comments on the significance of the findings, stating, “This paper presents what is, to my knowledge, the first definitive association of a Galactic halo star with an abundance pattern originating from a PISN.”

Conclusion: 

The discovery of the chemically peculiar star LAMOST J1010+2358 provides valuable insights into the nature of first-generation supernovae. By identifying the signature elements associated with pair-instability supernovae, this research offers a better understanding of the early universe and contributes to ongoing efforts to uncover the mysteries of cosmic evolution.

In a groundbreaking revelation, astronomers have utilized NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to unveil the extraordinary phenomenon of “cosmic collisions” within the immense realm of the universe. The observation reveals that NGC 4839, a conglomerate of galaxies, is presently engaged in a collision course with the awe-inspiring Coma galaxy cluster, resulting in the creation of an enormous tail composed of intensely heated plasma.

This momentous discovery provides valuable insights into the growth of galaxy clusters, which are among the largest entities in existence. These new findings, focusing on cosmic collisions, were recently presented at the American Astronomical Society’s 242nd meeting, deepening our understanding of the tremendous width and extent of these cosmic formations. When galaxies come together through the force of gravity, they give rise to smaller gatherings called “galaxy groups” or larger collections called “galaxy clusters.”

Galaxy groups are typically made up of 50 galaxies, whereas clusters might contain hundreds or even thousands of individual galaxies. These cosmic entities are predominantly composed of hot, diffuse gas observed most effectively through X-ray imaging. Despite their thin and sparse nature, these superheated gas reservoirs play a pivotal role in understanding the dynamics of galaxy clusters and groups.

NGC 4839 and the Coma Cluster:

NGC 4839, located on the periphery of the massive Coma galaxy cluster, lies approximately 340 million light-years away. As NGC 4839 advances towards the core of the Coma cluster, its hot gas interacts with the surrounding gas, giving rise to the formation of a prominent tail. This tail, stretching behind NGC 4839, serves as a visible manifestation of the intricate processes occurring within this cosmic collision.

Cosmic Collisions
Image credit: X-ray: Chandra: NASA/SAO/Univ. of Alabama/M. S. Mirakhor et al.; XMM: ESA/XMM-Newton; Optical: SDSS; Image processing: N. Wolk

Astronomers skillfully obtained a remarkable X-ray perspective of the Coma galaxy cluster by utilizing ESA’s XMM-Newton satellite, along with optical information sourced from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Within this composite image, NGC 4839 can be seen in the lower right corner. A closer examination using the Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed the brightest galaxy in the group and the densest gas concentrated near the head of NGC 4839’s tail, which extends towards the right. This tail, measuring a staggering 1.5 million light-years in length, represents the broadest ever recorded behind a group of galaxies.

Significance of the Tail:

The brightness of the tail provides astronomers with a unique opportunity to investigate the properties of the gas before it merges with the vast reservoir of hot gas in the Coma Cluster, eventually becoming too faint to observe. By studying the gas within NGC 4839’s tail, scientists can gain valuable insights into the physical processes and dynamics at play within these cosmic collisions.

NGC 4839 and Coma cluster
Image credit: X-ray: Chandra: NASA/SAO/Univ. of Alabama/M. S. Mirakhor et al.; XMM: ESA/XMM-Newton; Optical: SDSS; Image processing: N. Wolk

Shock Wave and Turbulence:

Through Chandra data analysis, researchers identified a shock wave, akin to the sonic boom of a supersonic jet, indicating that NGC 4839 is hurtling through the Coma cluster at a staggering speed of approximately 3 million miles per hour. Additionally, scientists investigated the turbulence within the tail’s gas and found it to be relatively minor, suggesting modest heat conduction within NGC 4839.

Kelvin-Helmholtz Instabilities:

Researchers also detected the presence of Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities on one side of the tail. These unusual structures, commonly observed in various celestial and terrestrial phenomena, arise from differences in the speed of flowing layers of gas or fluid. The occurrence of Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities in NGC 4839 suggests either a weak magnetic field or a viscous nature of the gas within the tail.

Implications of the Discovery:

Previous observations estimated the length of NGC 4839’s tail to be at least one million light-years. However, the latest Chandra data has revealed an astonishing new record-breaking length of 1.5 million light-years. This significant increase in the estimated size of the tail highlights the dynamic nature of galactic interactions and the need for continuous exploration and observation to deepen our understanding of these cosmic phenomena.

Conclusion:

The collision between NGC 4839 and the Coma galaxy cluster has unveiled a truly awe-inspiring spectacle in the vastness of space. The discovery of the massive tail extending over 1.5 million light-years behind NGC 4839 has provided astronomers with a unique opportunity to study the gas dynamics and physical processes associated with galactic collisions. The extensive research conducted by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has yielded invaluable understanding regarding the formation and evolution of galaxy clusters, shining a beacon of illumination on the fundamental forces that sculpt the colossal structures within our vast universe. The scientific community eagerly awaits future insights that will enhance our understanding of the cosmos we inhabit as we continue to unravel the secrets of these cosmic encounters.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is on a mission to uncover the mysteries surrounding the birth of the first stars and galaxies. Through its Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES), the JWST aims to shed light on fundamental questions about how the early galaxies formed and the fascinating process of star birth. Already, JADES has made remarkable discoveries, revealing hundreds of galaxies that existed when the universe was just 600 million years old. These findings provide crucial insights into the early universe and the captivating phenomenon of star formation.

 Star Formation and the Early Galaxies
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, Brant Robertson (UC Santa Cruz), Ben Johnson (CfA), Sandro Tacchella (Cambridge), Marcia Rieke (University of Arizona), Daniel Eisenstein (CfA). Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

The Epoch of Reionization and the Role of Galaxies

Around 500 to 850 million years after the Big Bang, the universe was shrouded in a dense fog that prevented intense light from passing through. This fog dissipated through a process called reionization, which made the cosmos transparent about one billion years after the Big Bang. Scientists have long debated the role of galaxies in this reionization process and the mechanisms behind star formation.

Ryan Endsley from the University of Texas at Austin and his team examined galaxies from this intriguing period using the JADES program. By studying the light emitted by these galaxies with Webb’s NIRSpec instrument, they made a fascinating discovery. These galaxies exhibited strong indications of recent and vigorous star formation, indicating their proficiency in producing new stars. The energetic ultraviolet light emitted by these stars played a pivotal role in ionizing atoms and clearing the surrounding fog, contributing to the reionization of the universe.

Star Formation Dynamics in Early Galaxies

Endsley and his colleagues also found evidence of cyclic patterns of rapid star formation followed by quieter periods with fewer stars being born. These cycles may have been influenced by the availability of raw materials needed for star formation. Alternatively, the explosive deaths of massive stars may have injected energy into their surroundings, temporarily hindering the formation of new stars.

Revealing the Early Galaxies

Another objective of the JADES program is to identify the earliest galaxies in the universe, which emerged around 400 million years after the Big Bang. By studying these galaxies, astronomers can gain insights into the unique processes involved in the formation of stars during the universe’s infancy. The expansion of the universe causes light from distant galaxies to stretch, resulting in longer wavelengths and redder hues, known as redshift. Measuring the redshift of a galaxy provides astronomers with an estimate of its distance and its age during the early cosmos.

Kevin Hainline from the University of Arizona and his team played a crucial role in this endeavor. Using Webb’s NIRCam instrument, they obtained measurements known as photometric redshifts, which helped identify over 700 candidate galaxies that existed between 370 and 650 million years after the Big Bang. These findings surpassed previous expectations, as earlier measurements had only detected a few hundred galaxies at redshifts above 8, indicating a younger universe. The exceptional resolution and sensitivity of the JWST have provided astronomers with an unprecedented view of these ancient galaxies, revealing their structures and even capturing the formation of star clusters just a few hundred million years after the universe’s birth.

Conclusion

The James Webb Space Telescope’s JADES program is revolutionizing our understanding of early galaxies and the captivating process of star formation. By uncovering hundreds of galaxies from the universe’s infancy and studying their intense star-forming activities, JADES offers valuable insights into the processes that shaped our cosmos. The discoveries made so far suggest that star formation in the early universe was a complex phenomenon influenced by various factors. Through the remarkable capabilities of the JWST, we are gaining a deeper understanding of the origin and evolution of stars.

News:

Introduction:

The James Webb Space Telescope has unveiled a breathtaking image showcasing the delicate interplay between dust, star clusters, and luminous tendrils of gas. This composite image, captured using two of Webb’s instruments, reveals the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, with its prominent central bar visible in the upper left corner. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson presented this captivating image during a special event with students at the Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw, Poland.

NGC 5068: A Galaxy in Focus:

Situated approximately 20 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo, NGC 5068 takes center stage in this image. Its central regions, teeming with vibrant star formation, have been selected as part of an ambitious campaign to amass a wealth of observations on nearby galaxies and their stellar birth processes. Notable examples from this celestial collection include IC 5332 and M74, both of which have provided astronomers with valuable insights into the profound implications of star formation within NGC 5068.

Astronomy’s Crucial Insights:

Observations of star formation are highly significant in numerous branches of astronomy, ranging from understanding the physics of interstellar plasmas to comprehending the evolution of entire galaxies. By closely examining the birth of stars within NGC 5068 and other neighboring galaxies, astronomers hope to catalyze major scientific breakthroughs using the initial data furnished by Webb.

Building on Previous Discoveries:

Webb’s observations complement and enhance previous studies conducted using various telescopes, including the iconic Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories. The telescope has amassed a collection of images featuring 19 nearby star-forming galaxies, with NGC 5068 as a prominent inclusion. These images have been combined with Hubble’s records of 10,000-star clusters, the Very Large Telescope’s spectroscopic mapping of 20,000 star-forming emission nebulae, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array’s observations of 12,000 dense molecular clouds within NGC 5068. This comprehensive approach, spanning the electromagnetic spectrum, provides astronomers with an unprecedented opportunity to assemble intricate details about the fascinating process of star formation within NGC 5068 and gain deeper insights into its composition.

Webb’s Unique Perspective:

With its exceptional capability to penetrate the obscuring veils of gas and dust enveloping nascent stars within NGC 5068, the James Webb Space Telescope is ideally suited to investigate the intricate mechanisms governing star formation. Unlike visible-light observatories such as Hubble or the VLT, Webb’s infrared vision, facilitated by its MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) and NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), enables astronomers to peer through colossal dust clouds within NGC 5068 and capture the unfolding processes of star birth. This captivating image merges the capabilities of these two instruments, providing an unparalleled glimpse into the composition and dynamics of star formation within NGC 5068.

spiral galaxy NGC 5068
In this image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, from the James Webb Space Telescope’s MIRI instrument, the dusty structure of the spiral galaxy and glowing bubbles of gas containing newly-formed star clusters are particularly prominent. Three asteroid trails intrude into this image, represented as tiny blue-green-red dots. Asteroids appear in astronomical images such as these because they are much closer to the telescope than the distant target. As Webb captures several images of the astronomical object, the asteroid moves, so it shows up in a slightly different place in each frame. They are a little more noticeable in images such as this one from MIRI because many stars are not as bright in mid-infrared wavelengths as they are in near-infrared or visible light, so asteroids are easier to see next to the stars. One trail lies just below the galaxy’s bar, and two more in the bottom-left corner.
Credits: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team

 

Webb Space Telescope Unveils Secrets from the Cosmos
This view of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 5068, from the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument, is studded by the galaxy’s massive population of stars, most dense along its bright central bar, along with burning red clouds of gas illuminated by young stars within. This near-infrared image of the galaxy is filled by the enormous gathering of older stars that make up the core of NGC 5068. The keen vision of NIRCam allows astronomers to peer through the galaxy’s gas and dust to closely examine its stars. Dense and bright clouds of dust lie along the path of the spiral arms: These are H II regions, collections of hydrogen gas where new stars are forming. The young, energetic stars ionize the hydrogen around them, creating this glow represented in red.
Credits: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team

Astounding revelations have emerged as researchers, harnessing the remarkable capabilities of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, uncovered a captivating phenomenon: a captivating water vapor plume emanating from Saturn’s enchanting moon, Enceladus. This remarkable plume stretches a staggering distance of over 6,000 miles, equivalent to the approximate span between the vibrant cities of Los Angeles, California, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Webb is providing scientists with a first-ever direct view of how this water emission feeds the water supply for the entire Saturnian system and its rings. In a monumental stride for scientific discovery, never before have we witnessed such a captivating spectacle—a water emission of this magnitude stretching across an expansive distance.

Enceladus, a captivating oceanic world measuring a mere 313 miles in diameter and roughly 4% of Earth’s size, stands as an exceptionally alluring scientific pursuit within our solar system when it comes to the quest for alien life.

A vast pool of salty water sits between the moon’s rocky core and frozen outer surface. Informally known as “tiger stripes,” geyser-like volcanoes spray jets of ice particles, water vapor, and organic compounds out of the moon’s surface.

Observatories had previously measured moon jets hundreds of kilometers away, but Webb’s extraordinary sensitivity exposes a new story.

Saturn’s moon Enceladus
In this image, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows a water vapor plume jetting from the southern pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, extending out 20 times the size of the moon itself. The inset, an image from the Cassini orbiter, emphasizes how small Enceladus appears in the Webb image compared to the water plume.
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and G. Villanueva (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center). Image Processing: A. Pagan (STScI).

“When I was looking at the data, at first, I was thinking I had to be wrong. It was just so shocking to detect a water plume more than 20 times the size of the moon,” said lead author Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The water plume extends far beyond its release region at the southern pole.”

The researchers were interested in more than just the plume’s length. It is also very astonishing how quickly the water vapor is erupting—about 79 gallons per second. At this pace, we’d have an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled in no time. On our beloved Earth, achieving the same feat with a garden hose would take over two weeks.

Throughout its decade-long exploration of the Saturnian system, the Cassini orbiter captured the first images of Enceladus’s plumes and even flew through them to collect samples of their constituent materials. While Cassini’s position within the Saturnian system gave it invaluable insights into this far-off moon, Webb’s singular view from the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 and the astounding sensitivity of its Integral Field Unit aboard the NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) Instrument is providing new context.

“The orbit of Enceladus around Saturn is relatively quick, just 33 hours. As it whips around Saturn, the moon and its jets are basically spitting off water, leaving a halo, almost like a donut, in its wake,” said Villanueva. “In the Webb observations, not only was the plume huge, but there was just water absolutely everywhere.”

The dense “E-ring,” Saturn’s outermost and broadest ring, is present with the fuzzy torus of water that was observed to be “everywhere.”

The Webb observations clearly show how the torus is fueled by the moon’s water vapor plumes. According to an analysis of the Webb data, only around 30% of the water in this torus escapes, supplying the remaining 70% of the water in the Saturnian system.

Webb will be the main observatory for the ocean moon Enceladus in the coming years, and findings from Webb will help guide future solar system satellite missions that will try to investigate the depth of the underlying ocean, the thickness of the ice crust, and other things.

Water Vapor Plume
In this image, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s instruments are revealing details into how one of Saturn’s moon’s feeds a water supply to the entire system of the ringed planet. New images from Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) have revealed a water vapor plume jetting from the southern pole of Enceladus, extending out more than 20 times the size of the moon itself. The Integral Field Unit (IFU) aboard NIRSpec also provided insights into how the water from Enceladus feeds the rest of its surrounding environment.
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Leah Hustak (STScI)

“Right now, Webb provides a unique way to directly measure how water evolves and changes over time across Enceladus’ immense plume, and as we see here, we will even make new discoveries and learn more about the composition of the underlying ocean,” added co-author Stefanie Milam at NASA Goddard. “Because of Webb’s wavelength coverage and sensitivity, and what we’ve learned from previous missions, we have an entire new window of opportunity in front of us.”

Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) program 1250 was used to conclude Webb’s observations of Enceladus. This program’s first objective is to showcase Webb’s expertise in a certain scientific field and lay the groundwork for further research.

“This program was essentially a proof of concept after many years of developing the observatory, and it’s just thrilling that all this science has already come out of quite a short amount of observation time,” said Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Webb interdisciplinary scientist and leader of the GTO program.

As astronomers ventured into the depths of a hungry black hole, their gaze unveiled a remarkable sight—a fierce surge of X-rays erupting from it, boasting a temperature a staggering 60,000 times hotter than the surface of our very own sun.

Quasars are black holes that emit dazzling, energetic electromagnetic radiation jets from both sides when they consume the gases at the center of galaxies. The team’s X-ray photograph of a quasar known as SMSS J114447.77-430859.3 (J1144), is the most brilliant such object to have been spotted in the last 9 billion years of cosmic history. This amazing quasar radiates with intensity beyond our wildest dreams, outshining the sun’s brightness by an astounding factor of 100,000 billion. If you gaze upon the night sky amidst the celestial dance of Centaurus and Hydra, you may catch a glimpse of this celestial wonder, although it resides a mind-boggling distance of 9.6 billion light-years away.

The combined light from all the stars of the galaxies they are located in is frequently eclipsed by quasars like J1144 because they are so bright. They serve as instances of so-called active galactic nuclei (AGN), which are only discovered in the early cosmos and at great distances from Earth. Astronomers may gain a thorough understanding of these potent cosmic occurrences and the impact they have on their galaxy surroundings by studying the quasar.

Quasars are thought to be present in the early cosmos because galaxies at that time were richer in gas and dust, according to scientific theory. They had enough fuel to support dazzling emissions across nearly the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including low-energy radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, and high-energy X-ray wavelengths, thanks to their center black holes, which could be seen as a source of light.

SkyMapper Southern Survey (SMSS) first observed J1144 in the visible spectrum in 2022. The team, which was also directed by Ph.D. candidate Zsofi Igo from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), combined observations from various space-based observatories to further investigate this finding. These included the eROSITA instrument of the NASA Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), the ESA XMM-Newton observatory, and the NASA Neil Gehrels Swift observatory.

By utilizing the amalgamation of data at our disposal, we were able to discern an astounding estimation regarding the temperature of the X-rays emanating from the quasars, indicating an astonishing value of approximately 630 million degrees Fahrenheit (350 million degrees Celsius). This is surprisingly startling 60,000 times hotter than the surface temperature of the sun.

Additionally, the diligent researchers conducted estimations to unveil the mass of the black hole, ultimately revealing a remarkable finding—a colossal magnitude weighing in at around 10 billion times the mass of our beloved sun. In addition, given how swiftly it devours stuff, J1144’s supermassive black hole is growing at a pace of 100 suns every year. The gas that surrounds this black hole is not all going into it, though.

The researchers found that a little amount of gas is being blasted from the quasar in the form of incredibly strong winds that are supplying a significant amount of energy to the galaxy it is located in.

The scientists also found that J1144 has a characteristic that sets it apart from other quasars: Its X-ray emission changes over just a few Earth days. The fluctuation of its X-rays would typically be on a timeframe of months or even years for a quasar with a black hole this big.

“We were very surprised that no prior X-ray observatory has ever observed this source despite its extreme power,” Kammoun added. “A new monitoring campaign of this source will start in June this year, which may reveal more surprises from this unique source.”

To investigate the south polar region of the Moon during Artemis missions, NASA is looking for industry proposals for a next-generation LTV (Lunar Terrain Vehicle). This LTV will enable humans to travel further and carry out more science than ever before.

The Artemis crew will use the LTV to explore and sample more of the lunar surface than they could do on foot. Instead of owning the rover, NASA will hire LTV as a service from the private sector. NASA can take advantage of private innovation and offer the best value to American taxpayers while meeting its goals for human spaceflight science and exploration by contracting services from business partners.

Lara Kearney, manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said, “We want to leverage industry’s knowledge and innovation, combined with NASA’s history of successfully operating rovers, to make the best possible surface rover for our astronaut crews and scientific researchers.”

The Lunar Terrain Vehicle will operate similarly to a hybrid of an unmanned Mars rover and an Apollo-style lunar rover. Similar to NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers, it will support both phases driven by astronauts and phases as an unmanned mobile science exploration platform. This will make it possible to conduct scientific even when there aren’t any crews on the lunar surface. The LTV will be used by the Artemis astronauts to travel around the lunar surface and transport research gear, increasing the lengths they can travel on each moonwalk.

NASA has specified requirements for businesses interested in creating and demonstrating the LTV under the Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services Request for Proposals, including a strategy that encourages businesses to create an innovative rover for use by NASA and other commercial customers for several years.

In order to move supplies and scientific payloads between crewed landing sites and enable more science returns, resource exploration, and lunar exploration, engineers will be able to control the LTV remotely. This will increase the amount of scientific study that can be conducted on the Moon during uncrewed operations, allow researchers to look into potential surface mission landing sites, and help them determine their aims and objectives for each location.

The Lunar Terrain Vehicle will need to have several systems to support both crewed and uncrewed operations to manage the peculiar environment near the lunar South Pole, which includes permanently darkened regions and prolonged periods without sunlight. Modern communication and navigation systems, semi-autonomous driving, enhanced power management, and environmental protection are some of the more crucial systems.

Companies are needed to offer end-to-end services as part of the bids, from development and delivery to the lunar surface to execution of operations. Each rover must be capable of accommodating two astronauts in spacesuits, a robotic arm, or other devices to aid in science exploration and the harsh conditions at the lunar South Pole. Before employing the LTV with humans, the corporation will be required to successfully test it in a lunar environment.  

As of Artemis V in 2029, NASA plans to employ the LTV for crewed activities. The rover will be utilized for uncrewed and commercial tasks before the crew arrives once it landed on the lunar surface.

The deadline for proposals for the Lunar Terrain Vehicle services contract is July 10, 2023, and the contract will be awarded in November of that same year. Through a draft call for proposals and an earlier request for information, this request for proposals has considered industry feedback.

Through Artemis, NASA will send astronauts to the Moon for scientific research, and commercial gain, and to lay the groundwork for crewed missions to Mars, including the first woman and person of color. 

The basis for NASA’s deep space exploration comprises its Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway lunar orbiting base, cutting-edge spacesuits and rovers, and human landing devices.

Space Telescope Science Institute’s Telescope Allocation Committee outlines the target selection procedure for the next cycle of Webb observations, sparking celebration among astronomers worldwide.

What is the purpose of the peer-review process?

“On May 10, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s science operations center, announced the scientific program for Cycle 2, the second year of regular operations.” This statement marked the end of a peer-review process to pick the most scientifically compelling programs, which began on January 27 with the submission of observation and archival proposals.

What is the purpose of Archival projects?

“For each year of regular operations, STScI intends to issue a Call for General Observer and Archival Proposals from the international astronomical community in order to solicit ideas for new observations and archival studies to be carried out in the following year.” Archival projects seek funding to study previously collected data, establish theoretical models to understand data, and/or provide scientific tools to aid in data analysis. More than 5,450 scientists from 52 nations, including the United States, ESA (European Space Agency) member states, and Canada, submitted a record-breaking 1,600 ideas for Cycle 2. The proposals ranged from solar system bodies, exoplanets, supernova remnants, and merging neutron stars to neighboring and distant galaxies, supermassive black holes at galaxies’ centers, and the large-scale structure of the cosmos. The submitted applications requested more than 35,000 hours of telescope time, greatly exceeding the 5,000 hours available for allocation.

How does the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) select the programs to be carried out by the Telescope Allocation Committee (TAC)?

“STScI recruits hundreds of members of the international astronomical community to serve on the Telescope Allocation Committee (TAC) to select the programs that will be carried out.” Each reviewer is assigned to a relevant panel that corresponds to their scientific knowledge. Dual-Anonymous Peer Review (DAPR) is a peer-review procedure in which the proposers do not know who is assessing the proposals and the reviewers do not know who prepared the proposals. STScI implemented DAPR in 2016 to support the Hubble Space Telescope Cycle 26 TAC and discovered that it reduced a previously observed discrepancy in the proposal selection rate for male and female investigators and encouraged many more students to submit for telescope time.

How does the STScI JWST Science Policies Group handle the sorting of proposals?

“After proposals are submitted, the STScI JWST Science Policies Group sorts them by type and/or size, as well as a scientific category.” External panelists judge very small proposals asynchronously, whereas larger programs are reviewed by discussion panels. Each panel is allotted telescope time to which it can recommend observation programs.

What criteria are used by reviewers to grade each proposal?

“Reviewers are asked to grade each proposal using three criteria:

  1.  Impact within the subfield,
  2. Impact outside the subfield
  3. Suitability for the observatory

” Proposals for external panels are ranked based on provided grades. Because there is not enough time to discuss all of the submitted proposals on discussion panels, proposals are first triaged using submitted grades. The discussion panelists analyze the strengths and shortcomings of all proposals that pass triage and regrade and re-rank the proposals at the TAC conference. The ideas with the highest rankings are suggested for the allocation of telescope time and/or money. The panel chairs also receive and incorporate expert opinions from the community and their discussion panels for the Large, Treasury, and Legacy Archive proposals. Furthermore, reviewers provide input to proposers outlining perceived strengths and weaknesses.

What is the significance of the observations becoming publicly available in the archive?

“The STScI director is the allocating official for this mission.” As a result, the TAC’s recommendations are all advisory to the director. STScI notifies proposers of the outcome of their applications and begins implementation of the awarded observations after the director authorizes the programs. The newly announced Cycle 2 program comprises a lot of fascinating and ground-breaking science. By reading the abstracts of the selected projects, you can learn more about the breadth of research fields and issues to be answered with Webb’s observations. Eventually, all of the observations in the approved programs will be publicly available in the archive, allowing for additional fresh discoveries that the original proposers may not have anticipated.”

Dr. Alice Agogino was working on spherical robots that could one day be dropped onto Mars or the Moon to collect data and conduct the study when she discovered her NASA-funded technology could also be used on Earth.

What kind of data can the robots collect on Mars or the Moon?

Squishy Robotics
A drone transports one of Squishy Robotics’ tensegrity robots as part of an exercise with Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue in Florida.
Credits: Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue

After reading a study on the dangers and death tolls of disaster response, Agogino envisioned her robots, outfitted with the appropriate sensors, gathering data at the scenes of fires, wrecks, and other disasters to assist first responders in assessing dangers such as hazardous gas leaks and planning their approach. 

Dr. Alice Agogino:

“We thought, wow, if we can do this on the Moon, we can do it on Earth and save some lives,” said Agogino, who was then the director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Berkeley Emergent Space Tensegrities Lab.

She went on to cofound Squishy Robotics Inc. in Berkeley, California. The business designs and manufactures impact-resistant, customizable robots for public safety, military, and industrial applications.

What is the concept behind the construction of Squishy Robotics Inc.’s robots?

Agogino’s robots have the appearance of ball-shaped skeletons made of rods and elastic cables. She refers to the construction as “a tension network” because when a robot is dropped, the impact is dispersed over the network, dissipating the force, according to the tensegrity principle. Tensegrity, short for tensile integrity, was coined by architect R. Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s, who popularized geodesic domes, which are also tensegrity constructions.  

The ability of these structures to resist the impact of a lengthy drop is very intriguing to NASA, as is their ability to collapse into a small package during transit.  

How much Agogino and her UC Berkeley group was awarded and why?

Agogino and her UC Berkeley group were awarded Early Stage Innovations (ESI) money in 2014 to study tensegrity

Tensegrity Robots
Weighing less than three pounds, the stationary robot can be integrated with most commercial drones.
Credits: Squishy Robotics Inc.

robot mobility utilizing gas thrusters. The multi-year, $500,000 ESI proof-of-concept grants aim to speed the development of novel space technologies with great promise. The funds are provided by the Space Technology Research Grants program, which assists academic scholars working on space-related science and technology.

What is the focus of Agogino and her colleagues’ research?

Agogino and her colleagues were developing probes that could drop from planetary orbit or larger spacecraft, survive the plunge while carrying sensitive sensors, and then roll and hop through rugged terrain to perform missions and study distant worlds.

Terry Fong:

“Think about the Mars Curiosity and Perseverance rovers,” said Terry Fong, chief roboticist in NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. 

What are the current updates of the rover on the moon?

The rovers had to be delicately lowered to Mars’ surface using the sophisticated Sky Crane system, according to Fong, NASA’s technical representative for Agogino’s grant.

“With tensegrity robots, the robot itself is the landing device,” Fong explains. “It could survive a fall from very high up and keep going.” 

The tensegrity devices can be folded flat for transport; in fact, Agogino distributes robots to customers in this manner. The instruments and sensors are suspended in the center when they unfurl, protecting them from the impact of a fall.

“So, you save on throwaway mass,” Fong explained. “It’s expensive and difficult to launch mass into space, so you want more of it to be used beyond landing, on the surface with scientific instrumentation and other payloads.”

How is NASA using tensegrity robots in Earth science research?

Tensegrity robots, whether on Earth or on other planets, make it easier to position delicate instruments in difficult-to-reach regions. That is, after all, the underlying premise of Squishy Robotics. NASA has investigated Earth science uses for tensegrity robots, which may monitor a glacier that is poised to break off into the ocean, for example. 

“That’s the kind of place you wouldn’t want to send a person to because it’s extremely dangerous,” Fong explained.

“The entire surface may collapse.” A super instrument positioning system would be a structure that could withstand a drop while remaining mobile.” 

What is customer discovery and how did Agogino and her team use it?

In a process known as customer discovery, Agogino, and her team interviewed 300 first responders. Squishy Robotics now incorporates miniature chemical gas sensors onto tensegrity robots that may be dropped by aircraft to take readings in an area before firefighters arrive. The company now only provides stationary robots, but Agogino and her team are working on mobile ones. 

The data collected by these robots can help firemen decide whether to wear hazardous material gear, which can add up to an hour of prep time – a delay that is only worthwhile if it is absolutely essential.

Which agencies have Squishy Robotics collaborated with?

Squishy Robotics has collaborated with some of the country’s largest fire agencies, including Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue in Florida, Tulsa Fire Department in Oklahoma, and San Jose Fire Department in California. In addition, the company has reseller partnerships with a number of wholesalers. 

What are the potential applications of Agogino’s tensegrity robots?

  • Defusing of bombs:

Agogino’s tensegrity robots could also aid in the defusing of bombs and the monitoring of gas and electric lines.

  • Wildfire prevention:

Another emerging field for Squishy Robotics is wildfire prevention. Tensegrity robots might be used to monitor high-risk regions, assist authorities in responding to reports, and ensure that lesser fires are completely doused.

“The early detection of wildfires is critical,” Agogino says, “because so many of the wildfires that have become raging firestorms could have been prevented if they had been caught early.” 

NASA’s Fong expressed delight that Agogino was able to commercialize the tensegrity robot technology. “We believe these robots could serve unique purposes for space,” he said. “She obviously saw a way to also have a major impact on Earth.”

Additional Information:

Agogino is currently emeritus, having retired from Berkeley in December, allowing her to devote more time to Squishy Robotics.   NASA has a long history of technology transfer to the private sector. The agency’s Spinoff publication highlights NASA innovations that have evolved into commercial products and services, illustrating the broader advantages of America’s investment in space. The spinoff is a magazine of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Technology Transfer program.

This view from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the globular cluster NGC 6325, which is closely packed.  Glistening Star Cluster is located in the constellation Ophiuchus, approximately 26,000 light-years from Earth.






 

How do astronomers use globular clusters to study the birth of stars?

Globular clusters, such as NGC 6325, are tightly bonded groups of stars with tens of thousands to millions of members. They can be found in all kinds of galaxies and serve as real-world research facilities for astronomers who investigate the birth of stars. Because the constituent stars of globular clusters tend to develop at around the same time and with comparable starting compositions, astronomers may use them to fine-tune their theories of how stars grow.

Why did astronomers focus on

Glistening Star Cluster

 examining this particular cluster?

Astronomers examined this particular cluster

 in order to find a hidden monster rather than to understand star formation better. Though it appears to be serene, astronomers believe this cluster contains an intermediate-mass black hole that subtly alters nearby stars’ velocity. Previous research discovered that the dispersion of stars in some highly concentrated globular clusters – those with stars packed relatively tightly together – differed slightly from what astronomers predicted.

How did researchers investigate the possibility of a black hole in NGC 6325?

This discrepancy shows that a black hole may be hiding at the center of at least part of these tightly packed globular clusters, maybe NGC 6325. To investigate this concept further, researchers used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to observe a broader sample of densely packed globular clusters, including this star-studded image of NGC 6325. This image also includes data from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.