The new and improved Great Dark Spot

NeptuneNASA’s Hubble Space Telescope confirms the observations of Earthbound astronomers with high-powered telescopes: a new dark atmospheric feature has emerged on the planet Neptune, signifying a major new storm system in the planet’s atmosphere. The new vortex feature emerges near the south polar area of Neptune, and was first observed by telescope in 2015.

Vera Rubin, astronomer, dies

Vera RubinPioneering astronomer Vera Rubin, whose research led to the discovery of dark matter, dies at the age of 88. In the 1960s and ’70s, Rubin found that the rate of galaxies’ rotation could not be accounted for unless galaxies contained, on average, ten times more mass than could be distributed among the visible stars in that galaxy. This research led her to propose the theory of dark matter in the 1970s, though she tried for many years to find – or at least rule out – any other possible explanations to the galaxy rotation problem.

The seven worlds of TRAPPIST-1

Trappist-1NASA announces the discovery, via the Spitzer Space Telescope, of a system of seven Earth-sized worlds orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, only 40 light years from Earth’s solar system. Though water may exist in some state on all seven of the planets, three of them are thought to be orbiting within the “Goldilocks zone” in which liquid water would be abundant, making life possible on the surfaces of those planets.

Professor Stephen Hawking, physicist, dies

Professor Stephen HawkingWidely regarded as one of the 20th and 21st centuries’ finest minds in the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology, Professor Stephen Hawking dies at the age of 76, having suffered from ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for over 50 years. He far outlived the few years he was expected to live when he was diagnosed in 1963. In that time, he co-authored a 1970 paper which referred back to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity to lend great credibility to the then-new (and not widely accepted) theory of the universe’s origins in a “big bang”. Later that same year he began working on research that would eventually lead to the theory that black holes would emit a signature radiation, dubbed Hawking radiation, though those emissions had yet to be observed directly at the time of Hawking’s death. His best-selling 1988 book, “A Brief History Of Time”, propelled Hawking (and his remarkable survival story) into the public eye, though by this time he was wheelchair-bound and reliant on a speech synthesizer to communicate with others.

Arecibo Observatory slated for demolition

Arecibo ObservatoryAfter being in operation for most of the past 57 years, the fate of the Arecibo Radio Telescope facility is sealed by the failure of two major tension cables suspending the 900-ton equipment platform over the dish carved into the Puerto Rican countryside. Engineering safety assessments reveal that other cables are on the verge of failure, which could lead to an “uncontrolled collapse” putting the lives of nearby researchers and engineers at risk. As a result, the Arecibo facility – originally a project of Cornell University but now managed by the University of Central Florida – is slated for demolition as soon as is safely possible, provided its aging superstructure doesn’t collapse under its own weight first. The observatory’s physical superstructure had been under close observation since suffering major damage from Hurricane Maria, which caused widespread destruction in Puerto Rico in 2017. The closure of the Arecibo facility marks the end of a significant era of radio astronomy.

Arecibo Radio Telescope collapses

Arecibo Radio TelescopeThe 57-year-old Arecibo Radio Telescope is destroyed when its 900-ton equipment platform, suspended over the massive dish built into a geographic feature near Arecibo, Puerto Rico, falls into the dish, causing catastrophic damage to both. The platform had been suspended by miles of steel cables from three towers over the dish, through a recent assessment of the ability of both cables and towers to bear the platform’s load had raised doubts that the facility could remain operational. As the decision had already been made to decommission and dismantle the Arecibo telescope, the facility had already been evacuated prior to the collapse. The towers holding the platform over the dish also suffer severe damage, rendering them structurally unsafe as well. Locals compared the sound of the event to that of an avalanche or an earthquake.