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Space news weekly recap: China space station mission, ‘cannibalistic’ Andromeda and more

From China's crewed missions to its new space station to the second-closest supermassive black hole to our planet, read about it all in our weekly space news recap.

china spacecraft news, indian expressAstronauts Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu attend a see-off ceremony before the Shenzhou-15 spaceflight mission to build China's space station, at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China. (Reuters)

In the past week, China sent a mission carrying three astronauts to its space station, which is the second inhabited outpost orbiting the Earth after the International space station while scientists published research on how the Andromeda galaxy gorges on smaller galaxies and gets bigger. Read about all that and more in our weekly space news recap.

China’s manned mission

On November 29, a spacecraft dubbed Shenzhou-15 or “Divine Vessel” took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert. It carried three astronauts and was propelled by a March-2F rocket.

The three astronauts travelled to the country’s Tiangong space station in order to take over from the Shenzhou-14 crew that arrived in June. The space station is designed to last at least a decade and is expected to host over 1,000 scientific experiments during its lifetime. This includes studies on how plants adapt in space to how fluids behave in microgravity.

A camera mounted on one of Orion’s solar arrays captured this image of the Moon as the spacecraft prepared to leave the distant retrograde orbit. (Image credit: NASA)

Smooth sailing for NASA’s Artemis 1

Before it left the distant retrograde lunar orbit, NASA’s Orion spacecraft captured and transmitted imagery of the Earth and the Moon together. The spacecraft also reached the farthest distance that it will travel away from our planet during the Artemis 1 mission—268,563 miles, or approximately 432,210 kilometres.

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At 3.23 AM IST on December 2, Orion fired up its engine for about one minute and 45 seconds to leave a distant retrograde orbit of the Moon. This is one of the two manoeuvres required before the spacecraft’s planned splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on December 11. On December 5, the Artemis 1 mission will fly about 127 kilometres above the surface of the Moon.

The dwarf galaxy Leo I appears as a faint patch to the right of the bright star Regulus. (Image credit: Scott Anttila Anttler / CfA Harvard)

Second-closest supermassive black hole

Scientists earlier proposed a supermassive black hole that was three million times the mass of the Sun at the centre of the dwarf galaxy Leo I. While this was proposed in 2021, it has proven difficult to obtain data of this cosmic behemoth to confirm its existence. Now, two astronomers have proposed a way to observe this black hole.

According to the Harvard Centre for Astrophysics, the scientists proposed that the small amount of mass lost by the stars that wander near black holes could help confirm its existence. The scientists say that there are enough “red giant” stars in the vicinity of Leo I*, the supermassive black hole, to make it observable.

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Studying the Andromeda galaxy, pictured here, also helps scientists better understand our own Milky Way galaxy. (Image credit: Robert Gendler / NASA)

Andromeda’s cannibalism

According to new research, the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest large neighbour of our Milky Way, might be a “cosmic cannibal” that gets bigger by consuming smaller galaxies. The Andromeda Galaxy will merge with the Milky Way galaxy in about four billion years from now.

The research is based on the discovery of a structure of stars, called a globular cluster, in Andromeda. These structures with their origin outside of the galaxy is formed from the leftovers of a massive feeding event when the Andromeda galaxy consumed a smaller galaxy. This research on the Andromeda Galaxy also helps scientists understand better about the Milky Way.

This undated artist’s impression illustrates how it might look when a star approaches too close to a black hole, where the star is squeezed by the intense gravitational pull of the black hole. (ESO/M.Kornmesser/Handout via REUTERS)

Distant black hole annihilating star

Astronomers detected a black hole more than halfway across the known universe shredding apart a star after it wandered too close. This is only the fourth time that this event, called a tidal disruption event, was detected. During a tidal disruption event, a black hole tears apart a passing star and launches luminous of high-energy particles into space.

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The black hole in question appears to be hundreds of millions of times the mass of our Sun and is located around 8.5 billion light years away from our planet. According to Reuters, the black hole was probably spinning rapidly, which might be why two jets war launched into space at almost the speed of light.

James Webb Space Telescope data of Saturn’s moon Titan has helped scientists confirm that a bright spot in Titan’s northern hemisphere is actually a Moon. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Webb Titan GTO Team, Alyssa Pagan)

Webb’s view of Saturn’s moon Titan

Just like Earth, Saturn’s moon Titan has rivers, lakes and seas. But these bodies on Titan are filled with liquids that are composed of hydrocarbons including methane and ethane, not water. After years of waiting, scientists finally got their hands on the James Webb Space Telescope’s view of Saturn’s peculiar moon.

The data from Webb will prove especially important when NASA will land its planned Dragonfly rotorcraft in the Selk Crater region of Titan in 2034. According to NASA, the data from Webb’s NIRSpec (Near Infrared Spectrograph) will allow scientists to investigate the composition of Titan’s surface and lower atmosphere in ways that were not possible with the Cassini spacecraft.

An image of a dust storm on Mars captured by the Hubble telescope on July 18, 2018. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, and STScI)

Martian megatsunami

Scientists traced the cause of a megatsunami on Mars to an asteroid impact similar to the Chicxulub collision—a massive asteroid impact that caused the extinction of most dinosaurs on Earth. They proposed that this collision led to the formation of a crater that has a diameter of 110 kilometres.

To test their hypothesis, the scientists made simulations of asteroid collisions in the region to find out what type of impact could have caused the crater and the megatsunami. Based on the simulations, they found that it was caused either by a nine-kilometre-wide asteroid that encountered strong ground resistance or a three-kilometre-wide asteroid that encountered weak ground resistance.

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These collisions could have released either 13 million megatons of TNT energy or 0.5 million megatons. To put that into context, the Little Boy atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima generated between 15 and 20 megatons of TNT equivalent energy.

First published on: 04-12-2022 at 17:51 IST
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