This Week’s Top Space Stories!

Satellites watch the Cumbre Vieja eruption happening in the Atlantic Ocean, the Milky Way has a massive cavity and Earth welcomes its last equinox of 2022. These are some of the top stories this week at 

Cumbre Vieja volcano erupts with steam and lava. 

The eruption of the La Palma volcano in the eastern Atlantic Ocean captured by the U.S. GOES East satellite. (Image credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Thousands of residents and tourists evacuated from the Canary Island of La Palma on Sept. 19 because the Spanish island’s Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted for the first time since 1971. Satellites have been tracking the lava activity from space to offer data to scientists. The boiling lava has been slowly spreading towards the western part of the island. 

Full story: Satellites watch as volcano erupts on Spanish island La Palma after half a century of silence

The Milky Way has a massive cavity. 

Astronomers have discovered a giant, spherical cavity within the Milky Way galaxy; its location is depicted on the right. A zoomed-in view of the cavity (left) shows the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds in blue and red, respectively. Though they appear to sit within the cavity and touch, new 3D images of the clouds show they border the cavity and are quite a distance apart. (Image credit: Alyssa Goodman/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian)

Astronomers have discovered a bubble-shaped void in the Milky Way galaxy. The massive cavity is 500 light-years wide and is believed to have formed after a star exploded millions of years ago. Astronomers hope this cosmic oddity could help scientists learn how supernovas generate star formation. 

Full story: Astronomers discover mysterious 500-light-year-wide ‘cavity’ in our Milky Way

Scientists find possible explanation for gamma-ray bursts. 

Gamma rays (magenta) blast out of the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant in this composite satellite image. New research suggests the most mysterious gamma-ray bursts in the universe may form in a similar way. (Image credit: NASA Goddard)

New research suggests that gamma-ray bursts, which are the brightest blasts of light in the universe, could be caused by massive stellar explosions in distant galaxies. Gamma-ray bursts are so energetic that this cosmic explosion can shine about a million times brighter than the Earth’s sun. Typically, gamma-ray bursts detected by scientists on Earth occur billions of lightyears away, making it harder for astronomers to glean what causes these incredible bursts. 

Full story: Scientists finally have an explanation for the most energetic explosions in the universe

Earth welcomes autumn in the north, and spring in the south.

Google celebrated the 2021 autumn equinox with the release of this doodle of a spiky hedgehog awash in autumn colors. (Image credit: Google)

This week, Earth experienced its second equinox of the year. The autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere was accompanied by the spring equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. During an equinox, each hemisphere receives the same amount of sunshine during a 24-hour period. Nights will grow longer in the north until March 2022, when Earth experiences its next equinox. 

Full story: Autumnal equinox brings first day of fall to Earth’s Northern Hemisphere

NASA splits its human spaceflight directorate into two. 

Artist’s illustration of an Artemis astronaut stepping onto the surface of the moon. (Image credit: NASA)

On Tuesday (Sept. 21), NASA announced that its current Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) will be split into two new entities. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement that the decision to reorganize the directorate would help the future of human space exploration. The two new organizations are called the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD).

Full story: NASA splits human spaceflight directorate into two new branches

NASA’s InSight mission detected its three strongest marsquakes yet.

NASA’s InSight lander snapped this image of the area in front of it on July 20, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s InSight lander, which reached its Martian basecamp in November 2018, has recently detected its three most powerful marsquakes yet. The mission is designed to measure the activity occurring in Mars’ interior. On Wednesday (Sept. 22), NASA announced that InSight detected 4.2- and a 4.1-magnitude shakes on Aug. 25, and one 4.2-magnitude quake on Sept. 18 that lasted about an hour and a half. 

Full story: NASA’s InSight Mars lander detects 3 biggest marsquakes to date

FAA releases draft environmental review for SpaceX’s Starship program. 

SpaceX’s first orbital Starship SN20 is stacked atop its massive Super Heavy Booster 4 for the first time on Aug. 6, 2021 at the company’s Starbase facility near Boca Chica Village in South Texas. They stood 395 feet tall, taller than NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has cited the environmental review from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as one of the most important milestones the company must pass in order to start orbital flights for its next-generation rocket program called Starship. The FAA released a draft review for public comment last week and will take suggestions until Oct. 18. One major concern is whether or not wildlife and habitat will be adequately protected during the flights. 

Full story: FAA releases draft environmental review of SpaceX’s Starship

Inspiration4 mission safely returns home. 

The Inspiration4 crew poses for a selfie in the Crew Dragon cupola. (Image credit: Inspiration4)

The four civilian astronauts who flew as part of the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission safely returned to Earth following their 3-day mission to space. The crew landed in the Atlantic Ocean via their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Sept. 18. “Happy. Healthy. Home.” Inspiration4’s official mission Twitter account shared that same day. “Welcome back to Earth.”

Full story: Inspiration4 crew celebrates return to Earth after 3-day SpaceX mission

See Also: SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission just opened a new era of private spaceflight

Studying the formation of planets with a telescopic array in Chile. 

An artist’s depiction of planets forming from the disk around the young star GM Aurigae. (Image credit: M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian)

Planets form from protoplanetary disks, which are clouds of material that circle young stars and eventually coalesce to form individual celestial bodies. A new set of 20 research papers describes how scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) located in the Chilean desert to study protoplanetary disks. 

Full story: Scientists chip away at secrets of planet formation, origin of life in bevy of new research

China launches cargo ship to Tianhe space station. 

A Hubble Space Telescope image of AG Carinae, an unstable star that is on the brink of exploding.  (Image credit: CASC)

China launched a Long March 7 rocket up to its new space station this week. Monday’s (Sept. 20) launch happened just three days after three Chinese astronauts returned from the space station, called Tianhe, following their three-month mission there. The recent flight was a cargo mission that docked with Tianhe a little more than six hours after launch. 

Full story: China launches Tianzhou 3 cargo ship to new space station

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