Category Archives: Science/Tech

Extraordinary footage from the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter (which still hasn’t reached its closest distance to the sun) showing surface features of our star including phenomena called “campfires” – omnipresent miniature eruptions that could be contributing to the high temperatures of the solar corona and the origin of the solar wind – too small to have been captured by previous instruments.

And that’s not all. To wit:

“Right now, we are in the part of the 11-year solar cycle when the Sun is very quiet,” says Sami Solanki, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, and PHI Principal Investigator. “But because Solar Orbiter is at a different angle to the Sun than Earth, we could actually see one active region that wasn’t observable from Earth. That is a first. We have never been able to measure the magnetic field at the back of the Sun.”

It gets better. As the mission progresses, the Solar Orbiter’s image resolution capabilities will roughly double.


The night sky would present a very different vista if you had X-ray vision (and could tear your eyes away for two seconds from looking at people in their pants). To wit:

X-rays are about 1,000 times more energetic than visible light photons and are produced by violent explosions and high temperature astronomical environments. Instead of the familiar steady stars, the sky would seem to be filled with exotic stars, active galaxies, and hot supernova remnants. The featured X-ray image captures in unprecedented detail the entire sky in X-rays as seen by the eROSITA telescope onboard Spektr-RG satellite, orbiting around the L2 point of the Sun-Earth system, launched last year. The image shows the plane of our Milky Way galaxy across the centre, a diffuse and pervasive X-ray background, the hot interstellar bubble known as the North Polar Spur, sizzling supernova remnants such as Vela, the Cygnus Loop and Cas A, energetic binary stars including Cyg X-1 and Cyg X-2, the LMC galaxy, and the Coma, Virgo, and Fornax clusters of galaxies. This first sky scan by eROSITA located over one million X-ray sources, some of which are not understood and will surely be topics for future research.

(Image: J. Sanders, H. Brunner, A. Merloni & eSASS Team (MPE); E. Churazov, M. Gilfanov, R. Sunyaev (IKI))


Colourful clouds, plumes and dots in the sky over Norway last Friday. Not extra terrestrials – all NASA’s doing apparently. To wit:

The colours were actually created by the NASA-funded Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment (AZURE) which dispersed gas tracers to probe winds in Earth’s upper atmosphereAZURE’s tracers originated from two short-lived sounding rockets launched from the Andøya Space Center in Norway. The harmless gases, trimethylaluminum and a barium/strontium mixture, were released into the ionosphere at altitudes of 115 and 250 km. The vapor trails were observed dispersing from several ground stations. Mapping how AZURE’s vapors dispersed should increase humanity’s understanding of how the solar wind transfers energy to the Earth and powers auroras.

(Image: Yang Sutie)


Well now, if it isn’t the International Space Station. To wit.

Using precise timing, the Earth-orbiting space platform was photographed in front of a partially lit gibbous Moon last month. The featured image was taken from Palo AltoCaliforniaUSA with an exposure time of only 1/667 of a second. In contrast, the duration of the transit of the ISS across the entire Moon was about half a second. A close inspection of this unusually crisp ISS silhouette will reveal the outlines of numerous solar panels and trusses. The bright crater Tycho is visible on the lower left, as well as comparatively rough, light colored terrain known as highlands, and relatively smooth, dark colored areas known as maria.

(Image: Eric Holland)


Last month, Japanese Space Agency JAXA’s robotic Hyabusa2 spacecraft shot and deliberately bounced off asteroid 162173 Ryugu just to see what would happen. Hardcore. To wit:

Before impact, Hayabusa2 fired a small bullet into 162173 Ryugu to scattered surface material and increase the chance that Hayabusa2 would be able to capture some. Next month, Hayabusa2 will fire a much larger bullet into Ryugu in an effort to capture sub-surface material. Near the end of this year, Hayabusa2 is scheduled to depart Ryugu and begin a looping trip back to Earth, hopefully returning small pieces of this near-Earth asteroid in late 2020. Studying Ryugu could tell humanity not only about the minor planet‘s surface and interior, but about what materials were available in the early Solar System for the development of life.


The concept of ‘Warp Drive’ featured in Star Trek (and other science fiction) can be a little tricky to visualise, given that Warp 1 is the speed of light and Warp 6 is 392 times the speed of light.

Trekkie EC Henry compares the relative speeds of various ships from the Star Trek canon including the original Enterprise NX-01, subsequent Enterprises, Voyager and Defiant, racing them from Earth to the edge of the solar system,.