Astronomers discover more than 800 new supermassive black holes

Using archival data from both the orbiting Chandra X-Ray telescope and the ground-based Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope (SDSS), astronomers have discovered more than 800 new supermassive black holes hidden in the center of galaxies.

By systematically combing through the deep Chandra Source Catalog and comparing to SDSS optical data, the researchers identified 817 XBONG candidates, more than ten times the number known before Chandra was in operation. Chandra’s sharp images, matching the quality of those from SDSS, and the large amount of data in the Chandra Source Catalog made it possible to detect this many XBONG candidates. Further study revealed that about half of these XBONGs represent a population of previously hidden black holes.

The key to this discovery is the use of telescopes observing in different wavelengths, X-rays with Chandra and optical with SDSS. Combined the data showed evidence of the hidden supermassive black holes.

January 11, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.




A collapse on Mars

A collapse on Mars
Click for full image.

The photo to the right, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on October 27, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The full photo was simply labeled as a “collapse feature”, and because it contained a few other sinks to the north beyond the top edge of this cropped picture, it is unclear if the scientists were referring to this sink in particular.

This sink is the most interesting however, because it really looks like something had sucked material out from below, causing the surface crust to fall downward, intact except for some cracks along the perimeter of the collapse.

The overview map below as always provides some context that might explain what we are seeing.
» Read more

A new hotspot map of Io, based on Juno data

Hot spot map of Io
Click for original figure.

Scientists have compiled a new map of the many volcanic hotspots on the Jupiter moon Io, based on data obtained by Juno, including 23 spots previously undetected. From the paper’s abstract:

We mapped the hot spot distribution on Io’s surface by analyzing the images acquired by the JIRAM instrument onboard the Juno spacecraft. We identified 242 hot spots, including 23 not present in other catalogs. A large number of the new hot spots identified are in the polar regions, specifically in the northern hemisphere. The comparison between our work and the most recent and updated catalog reveals that JIRAM detected 82% of the most powerful hot spots previously identified and half of the intermediate-power hot spots, thus showing that these are still active. JIRAM detected 16 out of the 34 faint hot spots previously reported.

The map above is taken from figure 2 of the paper. The data, when compared to other earlier data, confirms that many of these hot spots are long-lived, and have been erupting now for decades.

Ingenuity about to fly up onto the delta

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

The engineering team that operates the helicopter Ingenuity on Mars announced today that the next flight, #39, will go about 456 feet and travel to the northeast.

The green dot on the map to the right shows Ingenuity’s present location. The yellow lines indicate the territory within which this flight will head. If successful it will be the first time the helicopter has left the floor of Jezero Crater, and moved uphill onto the delta that flowed into that crater sometime in the far past.

The blue dot marks Perseverance’s present location. The dotted red line indicates its eventual planned route on that delta.

The engineers state that their flight goal is to “flight test new software”. This new software is supposed to allow Ingenuity to fly over rougher terrain. On the 38th flight, it proved its worth by not only flying over an area of rippled sand dunes, it landed between two.

This next flight, scheduled for sometime today, will be even more challenging, because the helicopter will have to fly upward above higher terrain.

World View gets new lease from Pima County

Because the original lease was ruled unconstitutional under the Arizona state constitution, Pima County yesterday approved a new lease for the high altitude balloon company World View.

The original deal had the county build the building. World View would lease it for 20 years, guarantee employment of 400 people, and then buy the facility for $10 at the end of the lease. This was ruled unconstitutional.

Lesher said [the new lease] will give the county more flexibility and a safeguard when it comes to those terms and they’ll be able to base the appraisal price on a percentage of the fair market value. Another big change – the employee benchmark has been significantly lowered. In the original contract, World View was required to hire 400 workers, now that’s down to 125.

Until more details are provided, it is unclear what has changed to make the new deal acceptable to the courts. I suspect the big change is that World View will not have an option to buy for $10.

TESS finds a second Earthsize planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a star

TESS solar system

The orbiting survey telescope TESS has discovered a second Earthsize planet in a solar system of four exoplanets.

The graphic to the right, a screen capture from a short video provided by the press release, shows these four exoplanets. Planet D had previously been discovered. Planet E is the new discovery, and is thought to be 95% Earth’s mass and likely terrestrial in make-up. Both are near the inner edge of the habitable zone.

TOI 700 is a small, cool M dwarf star located around 100 light-years away in the southern constellation Dorado. In 2020, Gilbert and others announced the discovery of the Earth-size, habitable-zone planet d, which is on a 37-day orbit, along with two other worlds.

The innermost planet, TOI 700 b, is about 90% Earth’s size and orbits the star every 10 days. TOI 700 c is over 2.5 times bigger than Earth and completes an orbit every 16 days. The planets are probably tidally locked, which means they spin only once per orbit such that one side always faces the star, just as one side of the Moon is always turned toward Earth.

This discovery only underlines the infinite possibilities and variables that exist for life on other worlds. These planets might be similar in mass to the Earth and get about the same heat/light energy from their sun, but the star is very different, their orbits are very different, and their environment is very different.

Leaking Soyuz to return empty; Unmanned Soyuz to be launched to replace it

The Russians announced today the plan to deal with the leaking Soyuz capsule on ISS as well as provide transportation back to Earth for its three astronauts.

First, the damaged Soyuz will return empty to Earth. Second, the next Soyuz will be launched in February unmanned so that it can bring back all three astronauts. Their mission however will likely be extended. Instead of returning in March as planned, they will stay in orbit until September, when that capsule was originally going to return to Earth. If this happens, it means their flight will end up being about a full year long. For the American in that crew, Frank Rubio, this could mean he will set a new American record for the longest spaceflight.

The Russians also added these details about the puncture in the Soyuz, which is believed to have been caused by a meteor:

According to calculations, a hole in the instrument compartment of the spacecraft, observed with a camera of the American ISS Segment, could be caused by a one-millimeter particle striking the vehicle with a speed of around 7,000 meters per second. Borisov also said that a possibility of a manufacturing defect in the radiator system of Soyuz MS-22 had also been evaluated but had not been confirmed.

ABL’s first launch attempt fails

The first launch of ABL’s RS1 rocket failed yesterday when the first stage engines shut down right after liftoff so that the rocket fell back onto the launchpad and exploded.

The company said in subsequent updates that the nine engines in its first stage shut down simultaneously after liftoff, causing the vehicle to fall back to the pad and explode. The company did not disclose when after liftoff the shutdown took place or the altitude the rocket reached. The explosion damaged the launch facility but no personnel were injured.

This rocket startup has raises several hundred million dollars, with its chief investor Lockheed Martin, which has also signed a contract for as many as 58 RS1 launches.

Starlink and National Science Foundation sign deal coordinating spectrum use

SpaceX and the National Science Foundation (NSF) today signed an agreement coordinating the use of radio spectrum so that Starlink satellites will not interfere with radio astronomy.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and SpaceX have finalized a radio spectrum coordination agreement to limit interference from the company’s Starlink satellites to radio astronomy assets operating between 10.6 and 10.7 GHz. The agreement, detailed in a statement released by NSF today, ensures that Starlink satellite network plans will meet international radio astronomy protection standards, and protect NSF-funded radio astronomy facilities, including the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the Green Bank Observatory (GBO).

This deal was part of a larger negotiation with the entire astronomy community to limit the problems caused to astronomy by the 3,000-plus Starlink satellites presently in orbit. These other actions include

…continuing to work to reduce the optical brightness of their satellites to 7th visual magnitude or fainter by physical design changes, attitude maneuvering, or other ideas to be developed; maintaining orbital elevations at ~700 km or lower; and providing orbital information publicly that astronomers can use for scheduling observations around satellite locations.

This agreement demonstrates again that SpaceX has tried hard to be a good citizen in this matter. It also illustrates once again that ground-based astronomical observations is becoming increasingly impractical. Astronomers have to go to space, and if Starship flies as SpaceX desires, the company will provide them a way to do it.

January 10, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay, who probably has more energy than me at this time.




  • Virgin Orbit’s finances are really bad
  • The article essentially outlines the loss of revenue because the company could not launch in 2022, waiting for the UK bureaucrats to say yes. To stay afloat it borrowed lots of money, with the hope that revenues would begin pouring in with launches in 2023. That is now unlikely, at least for several months.



  • China’s CAS-Space shows off models of its future rockets
  • CAS-Space is a pseudo-company, supposedly private but really owned by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. As Jay wrote, “Looks like they copied both SpaceX and Blue Origin.” I found the similarity to be shameless, especially with its manned capsule.


China’s Mars orbiter and rover in trouble

Yesterday we reported a tweet from Scott Tilley that suggested engineers were having trouble establishing a communications link with China’s Mars orbiter Tienwen-1.

Today it appears that communications with China’s rover Zhurong have also not resumed following its winter hibernation from May until December.

The Post independently confirmed with two sources on Thursday that the rover should have resumed running by now, but no contact has been established.

Though Zhurong’s solar panels can be tilted to kick dust from them, during hibernation this is apparently not possible. Because the winter dust season this year was especially bad (killing InSight for example), it is possible that Zhurong experienced the same fate.

Zhurong had a 90 day mission, and instead lasted a year. Moreover, tt was never expected to survive a Martian winter. The achievement thus remains grand.

As for the Tienwen-1 orbiter, it would be a much bigger failure if communications cannot be re-established. China without question expected this orbiter to operate for years, even functioning as a communications link for later landers/rovers. Its loss will force a revision of later plans.

SpaceX successfully launches 40 OneWeb satellites

Using its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX tonight successfully placed 40 OneWeb satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

This was only the second launch of this first stage, which landed successfully at Cape Canaveral. The rocket has now deployed all 40 satellites successfully, putting more than 80% of OneWeb’s constellation in orbit.

SpaceX had also planned a Starlink launch from Vandenberg in California tonight, but an hour before launch it was delayed until tomorrow.

At the moment only SpaceX and China have launched any satellites in 2023, and are both tied at 2 launches each.

Virgin Orbit launch a failure today from Cornwall, Great Britain

Five minutes after I posted the information below, Virgin Orbit’s announcer came on to announce that LauncherOne had suffered “an anomaly” and would not successfully place the satellites in orbit.

The failure must have occurred during a later stage after the rocket was released and was preparing for the second engine burn of its upper stage. They have ended the live stream without providing a further update, which is not surprising considering the data that needs to be analyzed.

Original post:
Virgin Orbit today successfully completed the first orbital launch ever the United Kingdom, taking off from a runway in Cornwall, Great Britain, and then releasing its LaunchOne rocket from the bottom of a 747.

All in all 9 satellites were launched. This was Virgin Orbit’s fifth successful commercial launch, and hopefully will open a 2023 whereby the company will makeup for six months of bureaucratic red tape that essentially blocked about six launches last year. As of this writing the satellites have not yet deployed.

The 2023 launch race:

2 China
1 SpaceX

Two SpaceX launches coming later this evening.

January 9, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.

  • An image and video as SpaceX restacks Superheavy #7 and Starship #24 for testing





Defrosting Martian Dunes

Defrosting Martian dunes
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was a captioned image on January 6, 2023 from the science team of the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). From the caption by Alfred McEwen of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory in Arizona:

In the late winter when first illuminated, the carbon dioxide frost at high latitudes will begin to sublimate. Over sand dunes, the defrosting spots and mass wasting on steep slopes produce striking patterns. This scene is especially artistic given the shapes of the dunes as well as the defrosting patterns.

» Read more

Webb finds “wide diversity of galaxies in the early universe”

Webb galaxies in the early universe
Click for full image.

New data from the Webb Space Telescope and presented this week at an astronomy conference has found that galaxies in the early universe exhibit much of the same range of shapes and morphologies seen in the recent universe, a result that was not expected.

The image to the right comes from the press release. You can read the research paper here [pdf].

The study examined 850 galaxies at redshifts of z three through nine, or as they were roughly 11-13 billion years ago. Associate Professor Jeyhan Kartaltepe from Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Physics and Astronomy said that JWST’s ability to see faint high redshift galaxies in sharper detail than Hubble allowed the team of researchers to resolve more features and see a wide mix of galaxies, including many with mature features such as disks and spheroidal components.

“There have been previous studies emphasizing that we see a lot of galaxies with disks at high redshift, which is true, but in this study we also see a lot of galaxies with other structures, such as spheroids and irregular shapes, as we do at lower redshifts,” said Kartaltepe, lead author on the paper and CEERS co-investigator. “This means that even at these high redshifts, galaxies were already fairly evolved and had a wide range of structures.”

The results of the study, which have been posted to ArXiv and accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, demonstrate JWST’s advances in depth, resolution, and wavelength coverage compared to Hubble. Out of the 850 galaxies used in the study that were previously identified by Hubble, 488 were reclassified with different morphologies after being shown in more detail with JWST. Kartaltepe said scientists are just beginning to reap the benefits of JWST’s impressive capabilities and are excited by what forthcoming data will reveal.

“This tells us that we don’t yet know when the earliest galaxy structures formed,” said Kartaltepe. “We’re not yet seeing the very first galaxies with disks. We’ll have to examine a lot more galaxies at even higher redshifts to really quantify at what point in time features like disks were able to form.”

In other words, it appears galaxies of all shapes, as we see them today, already existed 11-13 billion years ago, shortly after the universe was born. This defies most theories about the formation of the universe, which predict that these early galaxies would be different than today’s.

The data however at this point is sparse. Webb has only begun this work, and as Kartaltepe notes, they need to look a lot more galaxies.

Steady decline for decades in the publication of “disruptive science”

The steady decline in the publication of disruptive science

Though their definition of what makes a science paper disruptive is open to debate, a review of millions of peer-reviewed papers published since the end of World War II has shown a steady decline in such papers, as if scientists are increasingly unwilling or unable to think outside the box.

The graph to the right comes from this research.

The authors reasoned that if a study was highly disruptive, subsequent research would be less likely to cite the study’s references, and instead cite the study itself. Using the citation data from 45 million manuscripts and 3.9 million patents, the researchers calculated a measure of disruptiveness, called the ‘CD index’, in which values ranged from –1 for the least disruptive work to 1 for the most disruptive.

The average CD index declined by more than 90% between 1945 and 2010 for research manuscripts, and by more than 78% from 1980 to 2010 for patents. Disruptiveness declined in all of the analysed research fields and patent types, even when factoring in potential differences in factors such as citation practices.

The authors also analysed the most common verbs used in manuscripts and found that whereas research in the 1950s was more likely to use words evoking creation or discovery such as ‘produce’ or ‘determine’, that done in the 2010s was more likely to refer to incremental progress, using terms such as ‘improve’ or ‘enhance’.

The article that I link to above is from Nature, so of course it can’t see the elephant in the room, citing as a possible explanation “changes in the scientific enterprise” where most scientists today work as teams rather than alone.

I say, when you increasingly have big government money involved in research, following World War II, it becomes more and more difficult to buck the popular trends. Tie that to the growing blacklist culture that now destroys the career of any scientist who dares to say something even slightly different, and no one should be surprised originality is declining in scientific research. The culture will no longer tolerate it. You will tow the line, or you will be gone. Scientists are thus towing the line.

To my readers: I had intended to include this paper as part of a larger essay about the general blacklist culture that now dominates American society, but my continuing health issues make it difficult to sit at my desk for long periods. I hope to have things under control in the next few days, but until then my posting is going to continue to be limited.

Two nearby galactic neighbors

Two nearby galactic neighbors
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of two nearby galaxy neighbors to the Milky way.

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope features the galaxy LEDA 48062 in the constellation Perseus. LEDA 48062 is the faint, sparse, amorphous galaxy on the right side of this image, and it is accompanied by a more sharply defined neighbour on the left, the large, disc-like lenticular galaxy UGC 8603. A smattering of more distant galaxies also litter the background, and a handful of foreground stars are also visible throughout the image.

LEDA 48062 is estimated to be approximately 30 million light years away. This image was part of a recent Hubble campaign to study every known galaxy within 33 million light years.

Assuming that UGC 8603 is about the same approximate distance, the utter dissimilarity between these two galaxies is quite mystifying. It is also possible that UGC 8603 is larger and much farther away.

Musk: SpaceX is now targeting late February/March for 1st orbital launch of Starship

According to a tweet put out by Elon Musk on January 8, 2023, SpaceX is now targeting late February/March for 1st orbital launch of the 24th prototype of Starship and the seventh prototype of Superheavy.

The testing in 2022 has not gone as smoothly as hoped, and is the reason no launch occurred last year:

Super Heavy B7 first left SpaceX’s Starbase factory in March 2022 and has been in a continuous flux of testing, repairs, upgrades, and more testing in the nine months since. The 69-meter-tall (~225 ft), 9-meter-wide (~30 ft) steel rocket was severely damaged at least twice in April and July, requiring weeks of substantial repairs. But neither instance permanently crippled the Starship booster, and Booster 7 testing has been cautious but largely successful since the rocket’s last close call.

Following its return to the OLS [orbital launch site] in early August, Super Heavy B7 has completed six static fire tests of anywhere from one to fourteen of its 33 Raptor engines. It has almost certainly dethroned Falcon Heavy to become the most powerful SpaceX rocket ever tested. And on January 8th, 2023, SpaceX rolled the rocket back to Starbase’s orbital launch site for the seventh time. According to statements made by CEO Elon Musk and a presentation from a NASA official, the last major standalone test between Booster 7 and flight readiness is a full 33-engine static fire. Together, B7’s 33 Raptor 2 engines could produce up to 7600 tons (16.7 million lbf) of thrust at sea level, likely making Starship the most powerful rocket stage in the history of spaceflight.

I had read speculation earlier that it was impossible for SpaceX to do a full 33-engine static fire test because the OLS could not hold the rocket down. That now appears to be incorrect.

Musk’s tweet and proposed schedule should also not be taken with great seriousness. He routinely sets ambitious targets merely to keep the pace fast, even if those targets are not met.

Decision on leaking Soyuz and its replacement to be made by Russia on January 11th

According to Russian space reporter Anthony Zak, Russia now says it will make its final decision on replacing the leaking manned Soyuz capsule on ISS January 11. Zak added this:

According to unofficial reports, the damaged spacecraft would return to Earth without crew, while the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft would be launched in February 2023 piloted by a single cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. His crew mates Nikolai Chub and Andrei Fedyaev would remain on the ground to free return seats for the two Russian members of the stranded Soyuz MS-22 crew. NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who also traveled to the ISS on Soyuz MS-22, would return to Earth aboard a US Dragon vehicle, according to that scenario. On Jan. 9, 2023, Roskosmos denied that such a plan had been approved.

I have strong doubts about these “unofficial reports.” First, there would be no reason to fly the Soyuz manned, as it can do everything automatically, just like a Progress freighter. Second, there are serious safety issues about flying Rubio home as an extra passenger on Dragon. More likely someone in Russia wants to tweak some noses by suggesting Russia considers its own astronauts more valuable than the American.

Expect Russia to announce that the new Soyuz will arrive unmanned in February, and bring all three men home.

China launches twice today to start its 2023 year

China today launched twice with two different rockets from two different spaceports.

First, a Long March 7 rocket took off from its coast Wenchang spaceport, placing three satellites into orbit. Few details were released about the satellites, other than they were being used for various tests of new technology.

Second, the Chinese pseudo-company Galactic Energy used its military-derived solid fueled Ceres-1 rocket to place five smallsats into orbit from China’s interior Jiuquan spaceport. Once again, little information was released about the satellites.

At this moment China leads SpaceX 2 to 1 in the 2023 launch race. However, there are three more U.S. launches planned for today. First Virgin Orbit hopes to finally launch from Cornwall. You can watch the broadcast here.

Then SpaceX has two launches from opposite coasts within an hour, first launching a batch of Starlink satellites from Vandenberg at 9:15 pm (Pacific), then following with a launch from Kennedy of a batch of OneWeb satellites.

January 6, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of Jay, BtB’s stringer. I am still under the weather, so this might be the last post of the day.


  • Anthony Zak’s predicts major additional cuts in Russia’s space program
  • This only confirms what I have been saying for about a decade, since Putin consolidated the entire space industry into a single government-controlled corporation and thus ended all competition. His war in the Ukraine has only underlined his poor judgment. These cuts also continue the downward budget spiral for Roscosmos that has been ongoing for about a decade.


General Atomics wins Air Force contract to build technology test lunar satellite

General Atomics yesterday announced that it has been awarded an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) contract to build a satellite to test a variety of technologies in near lunar space.

The AFRL Oracle spacecraft program is intended to demonstrate advanced techniques to detect and track objects in the region near the Moon that cannot be viewed optically from the Earth or from satellites in traditional orbits such as geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO). The anticipated launch date for the Oracle spacecraft is late 2025.

While this is good business for General Atomics, the company is not selling its product to the Air Force, but building what the Air Force wants, making the spacecraft government owned. This is how the space industry functioned in the United States for almost a half century after Apollo, generally accomplishing little for great cost. Much better in the long run if the military bought this kind of product from private companies, who developed it for profit and for sale not just to the military.

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