By: Macy Dennon
With our perception and knowledge of space constantly changing due to discoveries and observations, it is difficult to keep track of all of the new additions to our knowledge of the universe. Researchers have made a number of exciting discoveries just in the past month that will surely inspire the future of astrobiology and astrophysics.
On Feb. 6, a team of over 59 scholars working with the HiPERCAM found a new ring system around a dwarf planet named Quaoar. This planet is almost half the size of Pluto and officially joins the small list of other known planets with ring systems: Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Chariklo and Haumea. Though the discovery of rings is nothing to disregard, the true unique aspect of this system is the proximity, or lack thereof, that the rings have to the parent body. Seeing that the ring system is close to the planet, tidal forces prevent them from combining into moons. The rings encompassing Quaoar are over two times as far away than what was originally thought to be the maximum distance for ring systems to reside. This new discovery means that astrophysicists must rethink how rings are formed.
Going back to one of the planets with known rings, scientists discovered twelve new moons of Jupiter in 2022 and 2023. Though a group or researchers observed the moons in 2022, the researchers needed to make sure that what they observed were moons by tracking their orbits around Jupiter, which takes 340 days. These 12 additions bring Jupiter’s known natural satellite count up to 92, and astronomers expect to find even more. The European Space Agency plans to launch a spacecraft this spring to study Jupiter’s frigid moons. To learn whether Jupiter’s moon Europa can support life, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to launch the Europa Clipper spacecraft in October 2024.
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) aided in the discovery of another planet in the TOI 700 system. Prior to the discovery of the fourth planet, in 2020 scientists believed that the system contained three planets named TOI 700 b, c, and d. The new planet, TOI 700 e, is in the habitable zone of the system with a similar size to that of the Earth. There has been some discussion in the scientific community about the possibility of life on this new planet and TOI 700 d, which is also in the habitable zone.
Though the year 2023 has just begun, the universe never ceases to amaze even the brightest minds and stumps the most creative thinkers with unfathomable new possibilities. It is evident that the study of the Universe will never cease.
(Sources: Science Daily, University of Sheffield, ScienceDaily, Sky Telescope, European Space Agency, NASA)