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Space, astronomy and planetary science

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NPR

Prof. Paulo Lozano speaks with Kaity Kline of NPR’s Morning Edition about the space stations of the future and how NASA collaborating with private companies on the development of the next iteration of the International Space Station could spur new technological advancements. “Once you have entrepreneurship and you have a commercial interest, that accelerates technology development,” says Lozano. 

Quanta Magazine

Prof. Erin Kara speaks with Quanta Magazine reporter Michael Greshko about her career as an observational astrophysicist and her work to better understand how black holes behave and reshape galaxies across the universe. “The thing that really got me excited about pursuing astronomy was the discovery aspect: It was just super thrilling to be the first person to look at light that was released from around a black hole a billion years ago,” says Kara.

The Boston Globe

Researchers at MIT have discovered 18 supermassive black holes that “are tearing apart nearby stars in ‘oddball’ tidal disruption events,” reports Ava Berger for The Boston Globe. Graduate student Megan Masterson says, “the events are powerful tools to understand the most extreme parts of our universe. They happen about once every 50,000 years, and help scientists learn more about the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and black holes in general.”

Newsweek

MIT researchers have discovered 18 new tidal disruption events (TDEs), “which are huge bursts of energy released as a star is shredded by a black hole,” reports Jess Thomson for Newsweek. “These new discoveries have also helped scientists learn more about what TDEs really are and where they occur,” explains Thomson. “The previous stock of TDEs had only been found in a rare form of galaxy known as a ‘post-starburst’ system, which once created a number of stars but has since stopped.”

Newsweek

MIT researchers have discovered that “stars at the edge of our home galaxy appear to be moving more slowly than expected,” reports Jess Thomson. This discovery “implies that the galaxy itself may be structured differently from how scientists first thought, with the core of the Milky Way possibly containing less dark matter and, therefore, being lighter in mass than first assumed,” explains Thomson.

Forbes

Forbes contributor Jamie Carter spotlights a new study co-authored by MIT scientists that suggests, “the absence of carbon dioxide in a rocky planet’s atmosphere—relative to others in the same star system—may indicate the presence of liquid water on the planet’s surface.”

Gizmodo

Gizmodo reporter George Dvorsky spotlights the Venus Life Finder mission, developed by researchers from MIT and Rocket Lab, which will be launching no earlier than December 2024. “The mission will send a small probe, equipped with a single science instrument, to analyze organic molecules and potential signs of life in the Venusian atmosphere,” writes Dvorsky.

Wired

Ariel Ekblaw, director of the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, speaks with Wired reporter Ramin Skibba on a panel discussion on the future of space exploration. “In the future, instead of thinking about space habitats and life in space as a domain where it’s just about survival, which it has certainly been until recently, we’re at this inflection point,” says Ekblaw. “We can begin to think about thriving in space, designing space architecture that is welcoming to more of the public that doesn’t just look like a science lab on orbit and so to be able to do that, we need responsive space habitats, really capable integration of all kinds of different systems, and AI will have a huge role in that.”

The Washington Post

Prof. Sara Seager and her colleagues have discovered “a six-pack of planets, formed at least 4 billion years ago,” that orbit a nearby sun-like star named HD110067, reports Joel Achenbach for The Washington Post. “Occasionally, nature reveals an absolute gem,” says Seager. “HD 110067 is an immediate astronomical Rosetta stone – offering a key system to help unlock some mysteries of planet formation and evolution.”

Quanta Magazine

Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers at MIT and elsewhere have discovered that the young cosmos hosted a large number of tempestuous galaxies with large black holes at their cores, reports Charlie Wood for Quanta Magazine. “The exact numbers and the details of each object remain uncertain, but it’s very convincing that we’re finding a large population of accreting black holes,” says Prof. Anna-Christina Eilers. “JWST has revealed them for the first time, and that’s very exciting.”

Science News

Science News reporter James Riordon writes that by employing a new technology called frequency-dependent squeezing, LIGO detectors should now be able to identify about 60 more mergers between massive objects like black holes and neutron stars than before the upgrade. Senior research scientist Lisa Barsotti, who oversaw the development of this new technology, notes that even next-generation gravitational wave detectors will be able to benefit from quantum squeezing. “The beauty is you can do both. You can push the limit of what is possible from the technology of laser power and mirror [design],” Barsotti explains, “and then do squeezing on top of that.”

Time Magazine

A number of MIT spinouts and research projects – including the MOXIE instrument that successfully generated oxygen on Mars, a new solar-powered desalination system and MIT spinout SurgiBox – were featured on TIME’s Best Inventions of 2023 list.

Curiosity Stream

MIT researchers Lisa Barsotti, Deep Chatterjee and Victoria Xu speak with Curiosity Stream about how developments in gravitational wave detection are enabling a better understanding of the universe. Barsotti notes that in the future, gravitational wave science should help enable us to, “learn more about dark matter about primordial black holds to try to solve some of the biggest mysteries in our universe.” Xu notes, “the detection of gravitational waves is a completely new window that has opened into our universe.”

Forbes

MIT researchers are leading three missions over the next decade to characterize Venus’ atmosphere for habitability, reports Bruce Dorminey for Forbes. “Understanding Venus is key to understanding exo-earths,” writes Dorminey.