March 2019

A giant molecular cloud in which massive stars are forming studied with the SOFIA flying telescope

The SOFIA flying telescope was used to study a giant molecular cloud that is a star-forming area cataloged as W51 in order to analyze the newly formed or still forming stars within it. The researchers combined the observations made with SOFIA with those made over time with NASA’s Spitzer and Herschel space telescopes to obtain more complete information on those stars. There was a particular interest in the massive stars and one of them seems really huge, with a mass estimated at about 100 times the Sun’s. If that estimate is confirmed by follow-up observations it’s one of the most massive stars in formation in the Milky Way.

A preserved river channel on Mars (Image NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona/UChicago)

An article published in the journal “Science Advances” reports the results of a research on the ancient rivers that existed on the planet Mars that lead to think that they existed until less than a billion years ago. A team of researchers coordinated by the University of Chicago cataloged over 200 ancient rivers by analyzing model and photos showing the traces of their beds to obtain a conclusion that goes against what the scientists who studied the red planet generally think of, that is, rivers and rainfall disappeared over 3 billion years ago.

Artist's concept of the exoplanet HR 8799 e (Image ESO/L. Cal├žada)

An article published in the journal “Astronomy and Astrophysics” reports the first direct observation of an exoplanet using the technique of optical interferometry. The GRAVITY collaboration, so called because the researchers who belong to it manage the work of the instrument with the same name installed on ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), observed the exoplanet HR 8799 e, a super-Jupiter that has a atmosphere containing clouds rich in iron and silicates that swirl around in a storm that crosses the entire planet.

Artist's concept of Jupiter and its trojans (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An article published in the journal “Astronomy & Astrophysics” reports the results of a research on the migration of the solar system’s gas planets and in particular on Jupiter’s movements. A team of researchers led by Simona Pirani, a graduate student in astronomy at the Swedish University of Lund, created a series of computer simulations to try to explain the asymmetry in Jupiter trojans, given that there are about are approximately 50 per cent more Trojans in front of Jupiter than behind it. The result is that such asymmetry may have occurred if Jupiter was formed at a distance from the Sun four times greater than its current one and then approached and attracted the asteroids asymmetrically.

Asteroid Ryugu (Image courtesy Seiji Sugita et al., Science)

Three articles published in the journal “Science” describe as many researches on asteroid Ryugu. Three teams of researchers used the data collected by the Japanese space agency JAXA’s Hayabusa2 space probe to obtain the first precise descriptions of the characteristics of Ryugu and in particular its geology. The portrait that comes out is that of a porous asteroid containing hydrated minerals and at the same time very little water. It probably formed by a part of the debris of a larger asteroid that got destroyed.