Sunday, December 16, 2018

Astronomers Investigate a Nearby Magnetar in a Quiescent State

Artist's conception of a powerful magnetar in a star cluster. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

A team of European astronomers has investigated XTE J1810-197, one of the closest magnetars to our planet, during a period of its low activity. The study, which reveals the magnetar’s X-ray properties in detail, is available in a paper published December 7 on

Rocket Lab Successfully Launches NASA CubeSats to Orbit

ELaNa-19 liftoff on December 16, 2018. Credit: Trevor Mahlmann

US small satellite launch company Rocket Lab has launched its third orbital mission of 2018, successfully deploying satellites to orbit for NASA. The mission, designated Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 , took place just over a month after Rocket Lab’s last successful orbital launch, ‘It’s Business Time.’ Rocket Lab has launched a total of 24 satellites to orbit in 2018.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen Passes by Earth

An image of Comet 46P/Wirtanen taken by Wouter Van Reeven at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) near Madrid, Spain, on December 6, 2018. Credit: ESA / ESAC Astronomy Club / W. Van Reeven

A special visitor is crossing the sky this December: Comet 46P/Wirtanen, sighted with telescopes and binoculars in recent weeks, is on the way to its closest approach to Earth this weekend, when it might become visible to the naked eye.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Data Revolution in the Night Sky

Coffee break at the Astroinformatics Conference. Participants from four continents and different fields of research discussed machine learning methods in astronomy. (Photo: HITS)

The HITS Astroinformatics research group helps astronomers to better analyze the rapidly growing data-sets with modern methods from computer science. The researchers apply artificial intelligence techniques – among others – and develop new methods that are used in major projects, such as LOFAR and SKA. In addition, the group organized this year’s international “Astroinformatics” conference, which for the first time took place in Germany.

Prometheus: Testing of the Future LOx-Methane Engine Demonstrator Begins

Credit: ArianeGroup Holding \ Alpensektor

Exactly one year after the signing of the Prometheus demonstrator development contract between the European Space Agency (ESA) and ArianeGroup, testing of the 3D-printed gas generator has started at the DLR site in Lampoldshausen, Germany.

German-British Gravitational-Wave Detector Makes a Key Step Towards Third-Generation Observatories

The GEO600 squeezed light source (in the foreground) inside the GEO600 clean room together with the vacuum tanks (in the background). © H.Grote/Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics

The detection of Einstein's gravitational waves relies on highly precise laser measurements of small length changes. The kilometer-size detectors of the international network (GEO600, LIGO, Virgo) are so sensitive that they are fundamentally limited by tiny quantum mechanical effects. These cause a background noise which overlaps with gravitational-wave signals. This noise is always present and can never be entirely removed. But one can change its properties – with a process called squeezing, to date only used routinely at GEO600 – such that it interferes less with the measurement.

Geminid Meteor Shower Wows Skywatchers

Geminid meteor seen over Jeep Sculpture in Anza Borrego Springs in California desert NE of San Diego. Credit: Wally Pacholka /

The Geminid meteor shower peaked around the mornings of December 13 and 14, 2018, wowing skywatchers around the world. Although this shower favors Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, it’s visible from the Southern Hemisphere, too. The object called 3200 Phaethon is the parent body of this shower.