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Category: astronomy and planetary science

MIT in the media: 2021 in review | MIT News
December 22, 2021

From Institute-wide efforts to address the climate crisis to responding to Covid-19, members of the MIT community made headlines this year for their innovative work in a variety of areas. Faculty, students, and staff were on the front lines of addressing many pressing issues this year, raising their voices and sharing their findings. Below are highlights of news stories that spotlight the many efforts underway at MIT to...

MIT engineers test an idea for a new hovering rover | MIT News
December 21, 2021

Aerospace engineers at MIT are testing a new concept for a hovering rover that levitates by harnessing the moon’s natural charge. Because they lack an atmosphere, the moon and other airless bodies such as asteroids can build up an electric field through direct exposure to the sun and surrounding plasma. On the moon, this surface charge is strong enough to levitate dust more than 1 meter above the ground, much the way...

Could acid-neutralizing life-forms make habitable pockets in Venus’ clouds? | MIT News
December 20, 2021

It’s hard to imagine a more inhospitable world than our closest planetary neighbor. With an atmosphere thick with carbon dioxide, and a surface hot enough to melt lead, Venus is a scorched and suffocating wasteland where life as we know it could not survive. The planet’s clouds are similarly hostile, blanketing the planet in droplets of sulfuric acid caustic enough to burn a hole through human skin. And yet, a new...

Super-bright stellar explosion is likely a dying star giving birth to a black hole or neutron star | MIT News
December 13, 2021

In June of 2018, telescopes around the world picked up a brilliant blue flash from the spiral arm of a galaxy 200 million light years away. The powerful burst appeared at first to be a supernova, though it was much faster and far brighter than any stellar explosion scientists had yet seen. The signal, procedurally labeled AT2018cow, has since been dubbed simply “the Cow,” and astronomers have catalogued it as a fast...

“Newer, nimbler, faster:” Venus probe will search for signs of life in clouds of sulfuric acid | MIT News
December 10, 2021

With multiple rovers landed and a mission set to return samples to Earth, Mars has dominated the search for life in the solar system for decades. But Venus has some fresh attention coming its way. In a new report published today, a team led by MIT researchers lays out the scientific plan and rationale for a suite of scrappy, privately-funded missions set to hunt for signs of life among the ultra-acidic atmosphere of the...

NASA selects three MIT alumni for astronaut training | MIT News
December 8, 2021

On Monday, MIT confirmed once again its status as a popular launchpad for future astronauts. NASA announced that three MIT alumni are among its 10-member astronaut candidate class of 2021. Marcos Berríos ’06, who graduated from the Department of Mechanical Engineering; Christina Birch PhD ’15, who earned a doctorate from the Department of Biological Engineering, and Christopher Williams PhD ’12, who earned a...

TESS discovers a planet the size of Mars but with the makeup of Mercury | MIT News
December 2, 2021

Ultra-short-period planets are small, compact worlds that whip around their stars at close range, completing an orbit — and a single, scorching year — in less than 24 hours. How these planets came to be in such extreme configurations is one of the continuing mysteries of exoplanetary science. Now, astronomers have discovered an ultra-short-period planet (USP) that is also super light. The planet is named GJ 367 b,...

One year on this giant, blistering hot planet is just 16 hours long | MIT News
November 23, 2021

The hunt for planets beyond our solar system has turned up more than 4,000 far-flung worlds, orbiting stars thousands of  light years from Earth. These extrasolar planets are a veritable menagerie, from rocky super-Earths and miniature Neptunes to colossal gas giants. Among the more confounding planets discovered to date are “hot Jupiters” —  massive balls of gas that are about the size of our own Jovian planet...

Mark Vogelsberger: Simulating galaxy formation for clues to the universe | MIT News
November 19, 2021

For all its brilliant complexity, the Milky Way is rather unremarkable as galaxies go. At least, that’s how Mark Vogelsberger sees it. “Our galaxy has a couple features that might be a bit surprising, like the exact number of structures and satellites around it,” Vogelsberger muses. “But if you average over a lot of metrics, the Milky Way is actually a rather normal place.” He should know. Vogelsberger, a newly...

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