Awesome Space Discoveries of 2019
December 22, 2019
This year was filled with new scientific discoveries in the astronomy field, from Black holes captured on camera for the very first time, to finding easily accessible water on Mars' surface. Lets look back at the most awesome space discoveries of 2019!
The first image of a Black Hole
Source: Event Horizon Telescope
In April 2019, scientists accomplished what had seemed to be impossible -they took a photograph of a black hole for the very first time in history! We finally have the opportunity to witness the first ever image of a black hole thanks to the work of 200 scientists from across the world who collaborated for this extraordinary discovery.
This black hole is located just at the center of Messier 87 galaxy. It is at least 55 million light years away from us, far outside of our Milky Way galaxy. It is so distant that astronomers had to set up eight telescopes across five continents to look at it. These telescopes formed the Event Horizon Telescope project.
The stunning image shows black hole having a high gravitational field around it, while the yellowish color is thought to be heated gasses and dust.
The information gathered about the Messier 87 black hole also confirmed many theories about black holes, including Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Perhaps this was one of the greatest cosmos discoveries of the past decade.
Metal detected under the Moon's surface
In June 2019, scientists discovered a strange metal structure buried 180 miles beneath our Moon's surface. “Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That’s roughly how much unexpected mass we detected,” Peter B. James, assistant professor at Baylor University who was involved in the study, said in a statement. Scientists believe it is about 4.8 quintillion pounds of metal under the lunar soil.
“When we combined [that data] with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin,” James said. “One of the explanations of this extra mass is that the metal from the asteroid that formed this crater is still embedded in the Moon’s mantle.”
NASA aims to go back to the Moon by year 2024 under their Artemis mission program. Perhaps landing will shed more knowledge on what that metallic structure is.
The real shape of our Milky Way Galaxy
In August 2019, scientists pieced together the Milky Way on a larger scale creating the most-detailed 3D map of the galaxy ever. Our Milky Way galaxy is a spiral shape galaxy comprised of a bar-shaped region surrounded by a flat disk of gas, dust and stars about 120,000 light-years wide. Our solar system is located about 27,000 light-years from the galactic center within one of the disk's four spiral arms. The new map uses data from 2,400 cepheids, which are massive young stars that burn thousands of times brighter than our own Sun. It revealed that the Milky Way is twisted and not just a flat disk with spirals, our Galaxy mostly resembles an "S" shape, one end of the Milky Way is bent downwards, while the other is bent upwards.
First glimpse at Titan's lakes
Titan is one of Saturn’s largest moons. It is icy with methane lakes, caves and volcanoes. Scientists believe this strange moon could host life. Besides Earth, Titan is the only celestial object in the Solar System that is known to have liquid flowing on its surface. Though, Titan’s lakes, rivers, and seas are made up of the liquid methane and ethane that rain down from its clouds. In September 2019, a research with Cassini craft probe indicated that Titan’s methane filled lakes may have formed by exploding nitrogen bombs.
“The Cassini mission revealed that Titan is a geologically active world, where hydrocarbons like methane and ethane take the role that water has on Earth,” David Williams, associate research professor at Arizona State University and a co-author on the study, said in a statement. “These hydrocarbons rain down on the surface, flow in streams and rivers, accumulate in lakes and seas, and evaporate into the atmosphere. It’s quite an astounding world!”
The first geological map of Titan shows its lakes, dunes and flat plains in detail. NASA plans a mission, named Dragonfly, to Titan for by year 2026. Some astronomers believe Titan may harbor alien life so they would like to examine Titan’s icy terrain and bring back samples to Earth.
Easy to dig water ice on Mars
In a paper published this month, NASA revealed a new map of Mars where water ice is believed to be only about 2.5 centimeters below the topsoil's surface. This is a great discovery because humans need water for survival and future Mars explorers could easily dig up 2.5 centimeters by simply using a shovel. Water is a vital source for human survival on other worlds. The paper's lead author, Sylvain Piqueux, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said, "You wouldn't need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel. [...] We're continuing to collect data on buried ice on Mars, zeroing in on the best places for astronauts to land."
Water in it's liquid state cannot last on Mars because air is thin, the surface has very little air pressure so it evaporates solid water into gas water vapor when exposed to the planet's atmosphere. Martian water ice is found underground throughout the planet's mid-latitudes.
The data used in the paper are from NASA's Phoenix lander, which has studied the regions near the poles, by scrapping up the ice, and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) along with and the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on Mars Odyssey, that locates water ice that could potentially be easily accessible for future astronauts.
The multi-color map above shows underground water ice on Mars. The outlined box represents the ideal region where astronauts can dig up water ice easily on the Martian topsoil. On the map, the cool color hues, like blue and purple represent water that is closer to the surface; Warm colors, like red, orange and yellow represent water ice that's further below the soil
"The more we look for near-surface ice, the more we find," said MRO Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "Observing Mars with multiple spacecraft over the course of years continues to provide us with new ways of discovering this ice."
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.