Astronomy today: recent astronomical discoveries outside our world

You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

Elon Musk, creator of SpaceX

When curious minds look up into the night sky, many often wonder of a world beyond us. With the help of newly created technology, scientists all over the world are able to answer our world-wide curious questions. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, widely known as NASA, is America’s number-one space research center and has made recent unbelievable discoveries that make us question where we came from and drive us into the depths of space further then we’ve ever gone.

NASA was created as a space agency by The United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, aeronautics and space research in 1958. The administration is responsible for most of the well-known space exploration efforts. Other space organizations contribute greatly to our recent discoveries, including SpaceX, EHT, and even Cornell University.


With eight satellites around Earth focusing on the distant galaxy Messier 87, EHT scientists (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration) were able to produce the first image of a black hole with a method called “interferometry” on April 10, 2019. The black hole weighs 6.5 billion times the sun and resides 55 million light-years away. More than 200 researchers worked towards the goal, but Katie Bouman, an American computer scientist, was able to lead the creation of the algorithm that led to the eventual image of the supermassive black hole. Click here to watch her TED talk about the process.

“We’re a melting pot of astronomers, physicists, mathematicians and engineers, and that’s what it took to achieve something once thought impossible.”

Dr Katie Bouman

Along with the black hole image, scientists uncovered a nearby, seemingly habitable super-Earth– planet outside our solar system, which weighs between 1 and 10 times Earth. Scientists deem super-Earths in the “habitable zone” based on the planet’s temperature compared to Earth’s. NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is responsible for it’s discovery in July of 2019. Many exoplanets have been discovered, but most aren’t nearby and / or can’t support life.

“GJ 357 d is located within the outer edge of its star’s habitable zone, where it receives about the same amount of stellar energy from its star as Mars does from the Sun. If the planet has a dense atmosphere, which will take future studies to determine, it could trap enough heat to warm the planet and allow liquid water on its surface.”

Diana Kossakowski, one of the two astronomers who discovered the planet


Scientists have traced radio emissions coming from outside our solar system for the first time in late 2020. Astronomers used a radio telescope in the Netherlands to study three stars that are known to carry exoplanets and compared their findings with Jupiter. But one star system stood out – Tau Boötes b, an exoplanet in the constellation Boötes around 51 light years away from Earth. Researchers yearn to detect radio emission from planets because the information could potentially help astronomists learn about the planet’s magnetic field, which influence the planet’s conditions, and tell scientists about its structure and history. Jake D. Turner, a postdoctorial researcher at Cornell University led the research team that found the radio bursts.

“We learned from our own Jupiter what this kind of detection looks like. We went searching for it and we found it.”

Jake Turner

The Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s prized telescope, launched 30 years ago in April of 2020. Throughout its years the telescope has taken brilliant pictures of deep space and has led to eerie discoveries, which enables scientists to dig deeper into the universe around us. Hubble permits scientists around the world to study foreign phenomenons like black holes, planets outside our solar system, dark energy, nebulas, outlying galaxies and other mysterious spectacles.

[Images: A collection of photos NASA’s Hubble telescope produced from around the universe. Credit:]


NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars mid-February and sent us back stunning photos from the Red Planet’s surface. Perseverance didn’t come alone, though. Along with Curiosity, a rover operating since 2012, Perseverance brought Ingenuity, NASA’s helicopter. While Perseverance and Curiosity’s mission is to uncover the unknowns of the planet’s history, Ingenuity was sent to prove that flying was possible in the Red Planet’s atmosphere and to explore how aerial scouting could benefit NASA’s future projects to Mars and other worlds. Perseverance is sent to collect soil and rock samples, whereas Curiosity explores multiple craters and cliffs. Perseverance recently finished collecting samples from the Jezero Crater, and as of Dec. 6, Curiosity is riding through the Maria Gordon notch.

[Photo credit:]

“The Ingenuity technology demonstration has been a resounding success. Since Ingenuity remains in excellent helth, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms while prioritizing and moving forward with the Perseverance rover team’s near-term science goals.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

Future Projects

Scientists will continue to explore the starry unknown, and have groundbreaking missions in the future that space lovers wouldn’t want to miss.

  • NASA’s Artemis program plans to put another man and the first woman on the moon by 2024.
  • NASA will contribute to the European Space Agency’s mission, JUICE, to study three icy moons of Jupiter: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.
  • Starship, one of SpaceX’s prized projects, is the world’s most powerful launch vehicle, and is able to carry 100 metric tonnes into Earth’s orbit. It is planned to launch several times in the next year, and the company prospects it will be used as a transport system in the future.
  • DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) will aim to test our defense against asteroids hurtling towards Earth.
  • Psyche and Lucy will examine asteroids – Psyche will fly to a metal one to learn about it’s nickel-iron core and Lucy will observe seven Trojan asteroids near Jupiter.
  • Euclid, an ESA mission that NASA will take part, will explore the nature of dark energy and matter, which make up most the energy and mass known in the universe.

“Ultimately, Starship is designed to be a generalized transport system mechanism for the greater solar system.”

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX

Click here for NASA’s list of upcoming launchings and projects.

Alexia Caldwell teaches Astronomy at CHS. This is her first year teaching the subject, and teaches it second and third period. She also teaches AP Physics first and seventh, along with on-level physics fifth period.

I think that Astronomy is an very interesting class. It’s a great fourth-year science option for students who aren’t necessarily the best at science. I also find the content matter really interesting.

Alexia Caldwell

When she was asked what she thinks about the recent space advancements and if she is excited for any future projects, she stated that she was excited about what SpaceX has to offer.

There are political questions whether privatization is a great thing or not in the space race. I think we have a lot of really interesting things coming forward, and I am really excited to teach those interesting things. That’s one of the best parts about teaching Astronomy. It’s changing every year and so we get to cover a lot of current events, where in Physics and Biology are old and established.

Alexia Caldwell
[Image: The largest forming cluster in the constellation of Orion, the Flame Nebula. Credit: NASA via Instagram.]

Astronomy Terminology

  • Light-year: equivalent to 5.88 trillion miles; would take 37,000 human years to travel the distance of one light-year; used to measure the distance of objects in space.
  • Nebula: body of interstellar clouds; a could of gas and dust in space
  • Milky Way: galaxy that includes our Solar System; band of light formed from stars
  • Solar System: gravitational bound collection of stars, planets, comets, asteroids meteoroids that revolve around a sun
  • Comet: celestial object consisting of ice and dust; warms when near the sun- releases gas (outgassing), making it visible to onlookers
[Art provided by theouterspace via Instagram.]
  • Galaxy: system of stars and interstellar matter; collection of gas, dust, stars and solar systems held together by gravity
  • Supernova: extreme explosion at the end of a star’s lifespan
  • Black hole: hole in space where gravity pulls everything in; nothing can escape
[Mosaic of six images taken by NASA’s Hubble of the Veil Nebula. Credit: NASA via Instagram.]

Works Cited 

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