Institute of Astronomy

Astronomy News

X-rays reveal the magnetic field lighting up a stellar graveyard

22 December 2022 - 9:09am

Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04445-2

An X-ray imaging mission has unveiled the magnetic field in the environment of a dead star. The order and symmetry of the field will reshape our understanding of how it accelerates particles to ultra-high energies.

Vela pulsar wind nebula X-rays are polarized to near the synchrotron limit

22 December 2022 - 9:09am

Nature, Published online: 21 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41586-022-05476-5

Polarization can exceed 60% at the leading edge of the inner part of the Vela pulsar wind nebula; in contrast with the case of the supernova remnant, the electrons in the pulsar wind nebula are accelerated with little or no turbulence in a highly uniform magnetic field.

NASA Gets Unusually Close Glimpse of Black Hole Snacking on Star

22 December 2022 - 9:07am
Portal origin URL: NASA Gets Unusually Close Glimpse of Black Hole Snacking on StarPortal origin nid: 484729Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2022 - 09:17Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Recent observations of a black hole devouring a wandering star may help scientists understand more complex black hole feeding behaviors.Portal image: A disk of hot gas swirls around a black hole in this illustration

New AI Algorithms Streamline Data Processing for Space-based Instruments

21 December 2022 - 9:42am

A team of NASA personnel and contractors has prototyped a new set of algorithms that will enable instruments in space to process data more efficiently. Using these algorithms, space-based remote sensors will be able to provide the most important data to scientists on the ground more quickly and may also be able to autonomously determine which Earth phenomena are the most important to observe.

The International Space Station, where Steve Chien and his team prototyped a new set of AI algorithms that will reduce data latency and improve dynamic targeting capabilities for satellites. (Credit: NASA/ISS)

Earth-observing instruments can gather a world’s worth of information each day. But transforming that raw data into actionable knowledge is a challenging task, especially when instruments have to decide for themselves which data points are most important.

“There are volcanic eruptions, wildfires, flooding, harmful algal blooms, dramatic snowfalls, and if we could automatically react to them, we could observe them better and help make the world safer for humans,” said Steve Chien, a JPL Fellow and Head of Artificial Intelligence at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Engineers and researchers from JPL and the companies Qualcomm and Ubotica are developing a set of AI algorithms that could help future space missions process raw data more efficiently. These AI algorithms allow instruments to identify, process, and downlink prioritized information automatically, reducing the amount of time it would take to get information about events like a volcanic eruption from space-based instruments to scientists on the ground.

These AI algorithms could help space-based remote sensors make independent decisions about which Earth phenomena are most important to observe, such as wildfires.

“It’s very difficult to direct a spacecraft when we’re not in contact with it, which is the vast majority of the time. We want these instruments to respond to interesting features automatically,” said Chien

Chien prototyped the algorithms using commercially available advanced computers onboard the International Space Station (ISS). During several different experiments, Chien and his team investigated how well the algorithms ran on Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2), a traditional rack server computer, as well as on embedded computers.

These embedded computers include the Snapdragon 855 processor, previously used in cell phones and cars, and the Myriad X processor, which has been used in terrestrial drones and low Earth orbit satellites.

Including ground tests using PPC-750 and Sabertooth processors – which are traditional spacecraft processors – these experiments validated more than 50 image processing, image analysis, and response scheduling AI software modules.

The experiments showed these embedded commercial processors are very suitable for space-based remote sensing, which will make it much easier for other scientists and engineers to integrate the processors and AI algorithms into new missions.

The full results of these experiments were published in a series of three papers at the 2022 IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, which can be accessed through the links below.


The Spaceborne Computer 2 aboard the ISS, which allowed Chien to verify that his algorithms could not only run effectively on compact commercial processors, but also that those processors were fit for space-based applications. (Credit: NASA)

Chien explains that while it is easiest to deploy AI algorithms from ground computers to larger, rack-mounted servers like the SBC-2, satellites and rovers have less space and power, which means they would need to use smaller, low-power, embedded processors similar to the Snapdragon or Myriad units.

By processing the data onboard, these AI algorithms prevent important or urgent information from being buried within larger data transmissions. A researcher wouldn’t have to downlink and process an entire transmission to see that a hurricane is intensifying or a harmful algal bloom has formed.

“A large image could have gigabytes of data, so it might take a day to get it to the ground and process it. But you don’t need to process all that data to identify a wildfire. These algorithms pre-process data onboard so that researchers get the most important information first,” said Chien.

These algorithms could be useful not only for Earth-observing instruments, but also for instruments observing other planets as well. The proposed Europa Lander mission, for example, could use Chien’s algorithms to help search for life on the Jovian moon.

“There are several missions that are in concept development right now that could use this technology. They’re still in the early phases of development, but these are missions that need the kind of onboard analysis, understanding, and response these algorithms enable,” said Chien.

The team is also testing neural network models to interpret Mars satellite imagery. “Someday such a neural net could enable a satellite to detect a new impact ejecta, evidence of a meteorite impact, and alert other spacecraft or take follow-up images,” said JPL Data Scientist Emily Dunkel. “Rovers could also use these processors with neural networks to determine where it is safe for the rover to drive,” Dr. Dunkel added.

“We used the CogniSat framework to deploy models to the Myriad X, reducing the effort to develop deep learning models for onboard use. This experience helps prove that this advanced hardware and software system is ready now for space missions,” said Léonie Buckley, Senior Engineer at Ubotica.

As climate change continues to alter the world we live in, information systems like Chien’s allow scientific instruments to be as dynamic as the Earth systems they observe.

“We don’t often think about the fact that we’re walking around with more computing power in our cell phones than supercomputers had forty years ago. It’s an amazing world we live in, and we’re trying to incorporate those advancements into NASA missions,” said Chien.


Steve Chien, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office in collaboration with NASA Earth Science Division (ESD) Research and Analysis and Flight Programs.

Read more Technology Highlights

Master Image: 

ALMA Successfully Restarted Observations

20 December 2022 - 10:10am

Forty-eight days after suspending observations due to a cyberattack, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is observing the sky again. The computing staff has worked diligently to rebuild the affected observatory’s computer system servers and services. This is a crucial milestone in the recovery process. 

On 29 October, ALMA suffered a cyberattack. The computing staff took immediate countermeasures to avoid loss and damage to scientific data and IT infrastructure. The attack affected various critical operational servers and computers. 

The challenge was to securely restore all the communication and computer systems as quickly as possible. We established an aggressive plan that required coordination with the ALMA partnership worldwide,” explains Jorge Ibsen, Head of the ALMA Computing Department. “Thanks to the active engagement of everyone in the collaboration, especially the Computing, Engineering, and Science Operations staff, and the cybersecurity experts from ESO, NAOJ, and NRAO, we managed to be observing as planned.” 

In the coming weeks, the focus will be on recovering testing infrastructure and systems like the ALMA website and other services, which will allow the recovery of all the functionalities existing before the cyberattack. 

ALMA Director, Sean Dougherty, celebrates that: “It is fantastic to be back doing science observations once again! It has been an enormous challenge to rebuild our systems to return to observing securely. Thanks to everyone at the JAO and across the ALMA partnership for attaining this impressive milestone.”

How JWST revolutionized astronomy in 2022

17 December 2022 - 2:50pm

Nature, Published online: 16 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-01860-3

The far-seeing observatory has served up revelations from the most distant reaches of the Universe to a moon orbiting Saturn.

NASA Mars rover to cache first rock samples for delivery to Earth

17 December 2022 - 2:49pm

Nature, Published online: 16 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04433-6

Perseverance will leave ten tubes of Martian rock and other materials at a safe drop spot for possible trip off the red planet.

Hubble Views a Star-Studded Cosmic Cloud

17 December 2022 - 2:49pm
Portal origin URL: Hubble Views a Star-Studded Cosmic Cloud Portal origin nid: 484624Published: Friday, December 16, 2022 - 08:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: A portion of the open cluster NGC 6530 appears as a roiling wall of smoke studded with stars in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.Portal image: Clouds of gas cover the entire view, in a variety of bold colors. In the center the gas is brighter and very textured, resembling dense smoke. Around the edges it is sparser and fainter. Several small, bright blue stars are scattered over the nebula.

Early Results from NASA’s DART Mission

17 December 2022 - 2:48pm
Portal origin URL: Early Results from NASA’s DART MissionPortal origin nid: 484641Published: Thursday, December 15, 2022 - 14:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Since NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft intentionally slammed into the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos on Sept. 26 – altering its orbit by about 33 minutes – the investigation team has been digging into the implications of the effects of this planetary defense technique, should it need to be used in the future.Portal image: A composite image of the asteroid Dimorphos after being impacted by NASA's DART mission. Dimorphos appears as a bright white spot with a long, tapering white line trailing behind. Background stars appear as short trails of white dots.

NASA’s Webb Unveils Young Stars in Early Stages of Formation

16 December 2022 - 9:10am
Portal origin URL: NASA’s Webb Unveils Young Stars in Early Stages of FormationPortal origin nid: 484635Published: Thursday, December 15, 2022 - 10:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: Scientists taking a “deep dive” into one of Webb’s iconic first images, the Cosmic Cliffs region of the Carina Nebula, have discovered dozens of energetic jets and outflows from young stars previously hidden by dust clouds.Portal image: A collage image of the Carina Nebula, an undulating, translucent star-forming region, hued in ambers and blues; foreground stars with diffraction spikes can be seen, as can a speckling of background points of light through the cloudy nebula.

Two Exoplanets May Be Mostly Water, NASA's Hubble and Spitzer Find

16 December 2022 - 9:10am
Portal origin URL: Two Exoplanets May Be Mostly Water, NASA's Hubble and Spitzer FindPortal origin nid: 484611Published: Thursday, December 15, 2022 - 11:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: A team led by researchers at the University of Montreal has found evidence that two exoplanets orbiting a red dwarf star are "water worlds," where water makes up a large fraction of the entire planet.Portal image: Upper right: a blue world with white, linear clouds illuminated as a crescent by a distant star to the lower left of the planet. Two other distant planets are visible, one passing in front of the star, the other to the lower left of the star.

Twin planets orbiting a distant star may be half water

16 December 2022 - 9:09am

A pair of twin planets called Kepler-138 c and d appear to be water worlds, with steamy atmospheres and oceans that take up half their total volume

Gigantic telescope and AI supremacy

15 December 2022 - 10:21am

Nature, Published online: 14 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04424-7

The latest science news, in brief.

JWST gets first glimpse of 7-planet system with potentially habitable worlds

15 December 2022 - 10:19am

Nature, Published online: 14 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04452-3

Astronomers have been eager for the landmark telescope to study the TRAPPIST-1 system.

Telltale loops bring news from the Galactic black hole

15 December 2022 - 10:19am

Nature, Published online: 14 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04353-5

Analysis of radio emission from matter near the Milky Way’s central black hole sheds light on this previously unobservable region, revealing that the local magnetic field is carried around in complete loops by the matter orbiting the centre.

Confirm the Existence of Newly Discovered Worlds Right from Your Backyard with UNITE!

15 December 2022 - 9:52am

Jupiter-like planets play important roles in arranging planetary systems, and can influence the abilities of planets to host life. But detecting them requires coordinated observations across multiple hours or days by astronomers worldwide. That’s why out of the more than 5,200 known exoplanets, we only have a few dozen examples of these Jupiter-like objects. 

Enter the Unistellar Network Investigating TESS Exoplanets project, or UNITE, a new NASA citizen science project. UNITE brings together telescope users from around the world to make their own observations of transiting exoplanets to find these Jupiter-like objects.

UNITE volunteers observe planet candidates found by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. Transiting exoplanets are planets that orbit their stars at just the right angle for us to see these stars dim as the planet passes, or transits, in front of it. When UNITE volunteers detect multiple dimmings, or transits, that tells us how long an exoplanet takes to orbit its star, which then tells us 

where and when we should look if we want to study that exoplanet in detail later (say, with the James Webb Space Telescope). 

There are already 10,000 amateur astronomers from around the world collaborating as part of the Unistellar network, with daily, open communication

between participants and organizers at the SETI Institute on a dedicated digital collaboration platform. The project has already succeeded in confirming two new TESS exoplanet candidates and measuring their orbits!

Learn more

Project home: 
Recent project results:

NASA’s Citizen Science Program:
Learn about NASA citizen science projects
Follow on Twitter
Follow on Facebook 


News Article Type: Homepage ArticlesPublished: Tuesday, December 13, 2022 - 09:45

Hubble’s Sparkling New View of the Carina Nebula

15 December 2022 - 9:51am
Portal origin URL: Hubble’s Sparkling New View of the Carina Nebula Portal origin nid: 484574Published: Wednesday, December 14, 2022 - 08:00Featured (stick to top of list): noPortal text teaser: This sparkling new image depicts a small section of the Carina Nebula, one of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope’s most-imaged objects.Portal image: Dark, reddish-brown cloud fills the screen stretching from upper-left to filling the bottom of the image. Blue background is dotted with bright-white and yellow-orange stars.