STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

This week in space: The stellar things you missed

There was enough happening on Earth to keep us occupied this week, but don't forget to look up once in a while. Here's everything galactic you missed during Halloween and early voting.

Posted: Nov 7, 2018 1:19 PM

(CNN) -- There was enough happening on Earth to keep us occupied this week, but don't forget to look up once in a while. Here's everything galactic you missed during Halloween and early voting.

NASA happenings

Two historic NASA missions ran out of fuel this week: the 11-year Dawn mission to explore the two biggest objects in the asteroid belt and the nine-year Kepler Space Telescope mission that discovered thousands of exoplanets.

Although both mission conclusions were expected, it's sad to see them come to an end. Luckily, the data they provided will lead to discoveries for years to come. And neither is on a collision course with Earth. Dawn will orbit the dwarf planet Ceres for decades, and Kepler is 94 million miles away.

Farewell, brave voyagers, and thanks for all the science.

But let's give the Parker Solar Probe a hearty cheer for breaking a record and coming closer to the sun than any other spacecraft.

Hubble's awake; Opportunity isn't

Despite our letter to the Mars Opportunity rover, it still hasn't awakened and responded to NASA's many messages since it became shrouded in a planet-encircling dust storm that began in May.

NASA will continue to send more messages, and scientists hope that increasing winds will knock the dust off of Oppy's solar panels.

Meanwhile, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is back in business and making observations again.

A gyro, or device that measures the speed at which the spacecraft is turning, had failed. This meant Hubble couldn't turn and lock on to new targets. A backup gyro turned out to be no help when it malfunctioned as well.

The backup was recovered, so expect more gorgeous images from the famed space telescope.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, which also had a gyro issue recently, is also back up and running.

Shadows in space

Speaking of Hubble, the space telescope captured an image called a bat shadow 1,300 light-years away in the stellar nursery known as the Serpens Nebula.

So what is it? A sun-like star, HBC 672, is surrounded by a big dusty debris ring. But Hubble can't see that ring. Instead, it's capturing the shadow of the ring created by the star's bright light. NASA scientists compared the large shadow to what happens when something small crosses in front of a flashlight beam.

"This is an analog of what the solar system looked like when it was only 1 or 2 million years old," explained Klaus Pontoppidan, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. "For all we know, the solar system once created a shadow like this."

Don't get too close

If you were in space, the last thing you'd want to get too close to is a black hole, the terrifyingly destructive and insatiable garbage disposals of the universe. Once you're near one, you're really past the point of no return.

Many astronomers assume that a supermassive black hole is at the center of the Milky Way, our galaxy. That's because they tend to lurk at the center of other galaxies, too.

But for the first time, material has been seen circling the drain, so to speak. The European Southern Observatory's GRAVITY instrument observed bright radiation flares around the disc belonging to Sagittarius A, this massive object at the galactic center.

"It's mind-boggling to actually witness material orbiting a massive black hole at 30% of the speed of light," said Oliver Pfuhl, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.

It makes for a trippy image, too.

A Milky Way of stars

Have you ever wondered why there are so many stars in our galaxy? It turns out that the Milky Way's halo was gifted -- well, kind of.

Galaxies aren't exactly friendly neighbors in the universe. Instead, they tend to merge or cannibalize one another. The Milky Way is one of the largest galaxies, and astronomers are trying to figure out whether it grew after many small mergers or just a few large ones. Sometimes, the evidence of these mergers can be found using "galactic fossils" or just following an unusual stream of stars.

New data from the Gaia satellite mission, published this week, revealed that 10 billion years ago, the Milky Way merged with another large galaxy, Gaia-Enceladus. The stars from that galaxy make up most of the Milky Way's halo and helped shape its thick disk.

The stars donated by the merger stand out from the "native stars" of our galaxy because they're younger, the researchers said.

And in about 4 billion years, the Milky Way will collide with the neighboring gigantic Andromeda galaxy. So there's that to look forward to.

Hey, Bennu!

After two years of trekking through space for a date with an asteroid, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is sending images of the primitive asteroid Bennu.

The spacecraft and asteroid will have their official rendezvous in December. And then we'll have some photos with color filters on them. Can't wait to see the Instagram of that date.

Huntsville
Scattered Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 94°
Florence
Broken Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 92°
Fayetteville
Scattered Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 89°
Decatur
Broken Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 93°
Scottsboro
Broken Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 89°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 91776

Reported Deaths: 1639
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12186230
Mobile9269204
Montgomery6350148
Madison512227
Tuscaloosa400269
Baldwin332223
Shelby311932
Marshall300134
Unassigned287856
Lee255442
Morgan227015
Etowah196728
DeKalb172113
Elmore163337
Calhoun162713
Walker147964
Houston133412
Dallas129823
Russell12672
St. Clair125214
Limestone122713
Franklin121520
Cullman117112
Colbert112213
Lauderdale111113
Autauga103021
Escambia98115
Talladega94613
Jackson8904
Chambers83238
Tallapoosa82778
Dale79823
Butler75435
Blount7453
Chilton7386
Coffee7255
Covington71620
Pike6727
Barbour5645
Lowndes56124
Marion54724
Marengo52914
Clarke4919
Hale45926
Bullock44411
Winston43511
Perry4324
Wilcox41110
Monroe3964
Randolph39210
Bibb3844
Pickens3769
Conecuh37310
Sumter36018
Lawrence3251
Macon31613
Washington31512
Crenshaw3073
Choctaw27612
Cherokee2497
Greene24711
Henry2473
Geneva2430
Clay2255
Lamar2052
Fayette1785
Cleburne1211
Coosa952
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 114098

Reported Deaths: 1144
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby21924298
Davidson19812208
Rutherford625453
Hamilton580347
Knox418638
Williamson336322
Sumner326471
Unassigned29285
Out of TN279314
Wilson215223
Montgomery178113
Bradley177112
Sevier17636
Putnam164613
Trousdale15766
Robertson147519
Hamblen131113
Blount11868
Tipton11379
Washington11142
Maury11077
Madison95714
Bedford89011
Sullivan85911
Macon84713
Hardeman84312
Lake7580
Loudon6863
Bledsoe6741
Fayette6468
Anderson6376
Dickson6301
Gibson6152
Dyer5797
Cheatham5546
Rhea5141
Jefferson5133
McMinn49820
Lawrence4976
Henderson4830
Obion4644
Warren4544
Carter4525
Coffee4482
Lauderdale4457
Hardin4267
Cocke4212
Haywood4145
Greene3986
Roane3982
Cumberland3976
Smith3933
Hawkins3915
Monroe3809
Giles36012
McNairy3355
Weakley3293
DeKalb3261
Franklin2964
Marshall2713
Lincoln2591
Carroll2513
Crockett2464
Hickman2400
Claiborne2350
White2323
Henry2310
Campbell2241
Wayne2222
Johnson2140
Marion2104
Chester2012
Grainger1810
Polk1813
Decatur1742
Overton1411
Unicoi1410
Union1330
Cannon1310
Humphreys1133
Benton1111
Jackson1091
Scott1050
Grundy1042
Meigs990
Sequatchie960
Morgan941
Perry770
Fentress760
Hancock761
Stewart720
Clay660
Lewis621
Houston540
Moore530
Van Buren330
Pickett271

Community Events