Check Out 26 Fascinating Breakthroughs from 2019 in Space (with 4 in Solar System Science that include 3 from UCLA Scientists!)

With 2019 being very exciting in new discoveries and breakthroughs in astronomy, this story from Business Insider outlines the 26 most fascinating breakthroughs. Of those 26, two come from UCLA Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences Department Professor Dr. David Jewitt on taking images and performing studies of the first ever interstellar comet to visit our Solar System as well as former iPLEX Speaker, Dr. Scott Sheppard and Dr. David Jewitt leading observing teams to put the number of Saturn’s Moons at 82. Next is Professor Marco Velli, the observatory scientist on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe which found reversals of the Sun’s magnetic field at unprecedented detail, and finally, the Mars 2020 Rover which has completed driving tests and is about to be sent off to Mars, of which, Dr. David Paige is the Deputy PI of the RIMFAX instrument, which is a ground-penetrating radar that will study underground layers of rock and ice on the Martian surface!

(This story appears in Business Insider and has been reprinted below)

The biggest breakthroughs in space in 2019, from the farthest object ever visited to the first photo of a black hole

An artist’s illustration of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun. 

Morgan McFall-Johnsen Dec 26, 2019, 7:37 AM

This year was full of astronomical breakthroughs in space.

Photos captured phenomena nobody had ever seen before. Ambitious spacecraft revealed new secrets about the sun and the edges of our solar system. Astronomers spotted the brightest light in the universe, found new planets circling distant stars, and detected a collision between a black hole and a neutron star that warped the fabric of space-time.

In our own solar system, scientists also discovered new moons and evidence of violent collisions from the past.

Here are the 26 biggest discoveries and achievements in space from 2019.

On New Year’s Day, NASA’s New Horizons probe snapped unprecedented photos of the most distant object any spacecraft has ever visited.

New Horizons’ former best view (left) of Arrokoth next to the most detailed version yet (right). 

After New Horizons flew past Pluto in July 2015, its long journey to the edge of our solar system took it to a distant space rock nicknamed Arrokoth. The probe snapped hundreds of photographs as it flew by the space rock at 32,200 miles per hour on New Year’s Day. 

Arrokoth, which was previously nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” is more than 4 billion miles from Earth. 

Just a few days later, China landed on the far side of the moon — the first time humanity had ever achieved that feat.

China’s Chang’e 4 moon lander reached the moon’s far side on January 3, 2019. The mission’s Yutu 2 rover took this photo. 

On January 3, the Chang’e 4 mission touched down on the side of the moon we can’t see from Earth. The spacecraft sent back the first photos ever taken from that part of the moon’s surface.

It turned out to be a year of photographic firsts. Researchers stitched together 7,500 photos taken over 16 years by the Hubble Space Telescope. The result was this unprecedented mosaic of the deep universe.

Astronomers developed a mosaic of the distant universe, called the Hubble Legacy Field, that documents 16 years of observations from the Hubble Space Telescope. 
NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Connecticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field team.

The image above, published in May, contains about 265,000 visible galaxies crammed into a region smaller than the moon’s apparent size in the sky. The light from some of those galaxies comes from 13.3 billion years years ago, just 500 million years after the Big Bang.

“No image will surpass this one until future space telescopes like James Webb are launched,” Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a press release.

A worldwide team of scientists also released the first photo ever taken of a black hole.

The first image of a black hole, taken using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87. 
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

The unprecedented photo, published in April, shows the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy, which is about 54 million light-years away from Earth. The black hole’s mass is equivalent to 6.5 billion suns. 

Scientists struggled for decades to capture a black hole on camera, since black holes distort space-time, ensuring that nothing can break free of their gravitational pull — even light. That’s why the image shows a shadow in the form of a perfect circle at the center.

The following month, the supermassive black hole at our galaxy’s center suddenly lit up, suggesting that it may have swallowed something big.

An artist’s concept of a supermassive black hole surrounded by a swirling disk of material falling into it. 

In May, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way suddenly flashed twice as brightly as scientists had seen in 20 years of observation. Nobody knows what caused the flash, but two objects that passed near the black hole in 2014 and 2018 could be the culprits.

“We think that something unusual might be happening this year because the black hole seems to vary in brightness more, reaching brighter levels than we’ve ever seen in the past,” Tuan Do, an astronomer and lead author of the paper about the finding, told Vice.

In August, scientists detected what they think was a collision between a black hole and a neutron star (the super-dense remnant of a dead star) for the first time ever.

An artist’s depiction of a black hole about to swallow a neutron star. 
Carl Knox, OzGrav ARC Centre of Excellence

Gravitational-wave detectors in the US and Italy picked up ripples in space-time from that event as they passed through Earth. 

Gravitational waves were first theorized by Albert Einstein, who predicted in 1915 that accelerating massive objects, like neutron stars or black holes, would create “waves” in the fabric of space and time.

The first observations of gravitational waves, however, didn’t come until 100 years later. In 2015, researchers detected waves from two black holes colliding, and in 2017 they observed two neutron stars merging.

Scientists think this year’s waves came from a black hole swallowing a neutron star 1 billion years ago. If confirmed, this would be the third type of event detected using gravitational waves.

Another violent space explosion, called a gamma-ray burst, emitted the brightest, most energetic light in the universe. Scientists saw that light for the first time.

The Hubble Space Telescope imaged the fading afterglow of the gamma-ray burst, officially called GRB 190114C, seen here in the center of the green circle. 
NASA, ESA, and V. Acciari et al. 2019

Telescopes had previously observed low-energy rays that come from the initial gamma-ray burst and the afterglow. But scientists had never caught the ultra-high-energy light until these two recent observations.

The second burst, captured in January, produced light containing about 100 billion times as much energy as the light that’s visible to our eyes.

“It turns out we were missing approximately half of their energy budget until now,” Konstancja Satalecka, who coordinates telescope searches for gamma-ray bursts, said in a press release after the findings were released in November. “Our measurements show that the energy released in very-high-energy gamma-rays is comparable to the amount radiated at all lower energies taken together. That is remarkable.”

Yet another explosion may have annihilated the most massive star ever known to die in a supernova. It lasted over 800 days, longer than any supernova seen before.

This image shows the largest star in the Eta Carinae system in ultraviolet and visible light as it nears the end of its life and a probable supernova explosion. 
NASA Goddard

Scientists think this may be the first observation of a rare type of supernova — the final explosion of a dying star — that completely annihilates its star, leaving nothing behind. 

“Everything about this supernova looks different — its change in brightness with time, its spectrum, the galaxy it is located in, and even where it’s located within its galaxy,” Edo Berger, the author of an August study that described the event, said in a press release. “We sometimes see supernovas that are unusual in one respect, but otherwise are normal; this one is unique in every possible way.”

This could be how the most massive stars in the universe die.

While some discoveries offered promising answers, others just raised more questions. New measurements of the universe’s expansion highlighted a “crisis in cosmology” that could require a “new physics.”

An artist’s depiction of the standard model of cosmology. 

The universe is always getting bigger, stretching galaxies farther apart. But measurements of the contemporary universe show it’s expanding much faster than the standard model of its history predicts.

“Therein lies the crisis in cosmology,” Chris Fassnacht, an astrophysicist and co-author of a study about this, said in a press release.

This year, one study found that the universe is expanding 9% faster than calculations based on radiation from the Big Bang would predict. Other research has reached similar conclusions using different techniques.

Scientists think these mismatched measurements show that something is missing from their model of the universe. They just don’t know what.

“It could be exotic dark energy, or a new relativistic particle, or some other new physics yet to be discovered,” astrophysicist Sherry Suyu said in a release about a December study on the topic.

Other discoveries this year happened by accident. An amateur astronomer spotted the second object ever known to enter our solar system from interstellar space.

An image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope reveals a central concentration of dust around the interstellar comet’s unseen nucleus. 
NASA, ESA and J. DePasquale (STScI)

The comet, called 2I/Borisov, came from an unknown star system. It’s only the second interstellar object ever found passing through our solar system.

Crimean amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov first spotted the comet on August 30. Now it’s hurtling past the sun at 100,000 miles per hour, passing outside Mars’ orbit. It’s making its closest approach to Earth this month, getting no closer than 190 million miles (300 million kilometers).

The first interstellar object ever seen, the mysterious and cigar-shaped ‘Oumuamua (which a few scientists controversially argued could be alien in origin), sped past Earth at a distance of 15 million miles in October 2017.

“The main difference from ‘Oumuamua and this one is that we got it a long, long time in advance, ” Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory, told Business Insider when the comet was first reported in September. “Now astronomers are much more prepared.”

As 2I/Borisov was visiting from outside our solar system, scientists released findings from the Voyager 2 spacecraft’s journey into interstellar space.

An illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes outside the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. 

Voyager 2 found a mysterious extra layer outside our solar system.

The probe entered interstellar space in December 2018, six years after its sister spacecraft, Voyager 1, which reached the limits of the solar system in 2012. But a plasma-measuring instrument on Voyager 1 had been damaged, so that probe could not gather crucial data about the transition from our solar system into interstellar space.

Voyager 2, however, beamed back unprecedented data about previously unknown boundary layers at the far edge of our solar system — an area known as the heliopause.

The discovery of these boundary layers suggests there are stages in the transition from our solar bubble to the interstellar space beyond that scientists did not know about until now.

NASA also released new findings from another spacecraft: the Parker Solar Probe. The high-speed probe discovered never-before-seen activity at the edges of the sun’s atmosphere.

An artist’s illustration of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun. 

Since it launched in August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe has rocketed around the sun three times, getting closer than any spacecraft before it and traveling faster than any other human-made object in history.

The probe’s early data, released in December, revealed reversals of the solar magnetic field and “bursts” in its stream of electrically charged particles, called solar wind.

This solar wind washes over Earth, so the Parker probe could help scientists figure out how to protect astronauts and Earth’s electric grid from unpredictable, violent solar explosions.

The spacecraft is set to zip around the sun 21 more times in the next six years.

A Japanese spacecraft landed on an asteroid after blasting it with a bullet in order to collect samples of subsurface rock. Japan plans to bring those rocks to Earth.

A computer graphic image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 approaching the asteroid Ryugu. 
Associated Press

In July, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft collected deep rock from Ryugu, a primitive asteroid half-a-mile in diameter that orbits the sun at a distance up to 131 million miles.

Some asteroids date back to the dawn of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago, when materials leftover from the formation of planets coalesced into these chunks of rock. In that sense, asteroids can serve as time capsules: What scientists find in those primitive rocks could tell us a lot about the solar system’s history.

Below Ryugu’s surface, rock is sheltered from the wear and tear of space. It might contain amino acids, the essential building blocks of life.

If successful, Hayabusa-2 will be the first mission to bring samples from such an asteroid back to Earth. 

NASA launched an atomic clock into space in June. The super-accurate timekeeping technology could one day serve as a kind of GPS in deep space.

An illustration of NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock project. 

The Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), which is the size of a four-slice toaster, is designed to keep time that’s accurate to within one-ten-millionth of a second over the span of a year.

The experiment launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

The super-accurate timekeeping technology could one day allow robotic and crewed spaceships to compare their local time to times broadcasted by atomic clocks on Earth. This would allow them to calculate their location and speed and navigate the solar system autonomously, without instructions from Earth. 

“If we get out to Mars, the crew is going to want to know where they’re at, and they will need to know it — potentially in real-time — in case they have to make last-minute course adjustments,” Todd Ely, the leader of the DSAC experiment, previously told Business Insider.

The first solar sailing spacecraft hitched a ride on the same rocket as the atomic clock. The technology could help future spacecraft achieve interstellar travel.

An artist’s concept of LightSail 2 above Earth. 
Josh Spradling/The Planetary Society

When the experimental spacecraft, called LightSail 2unfurled its sails nearly a month after launch, it became the first spacecraft ever propelled solely by sunlight. 

This type of solar sail could one day enable spacecraft to travel beyond the solar system, since it’s continuously pushed through space by the pressure of photons.

“Solar sails are just ideal,” Bill Nye, head of the Planetary Society, which led the mission, said in a video. “People have speculated on using solar sails as cargo ships to take material to Mars and so on.”

In March, SpaceX launched Crew Dragon, making it the first commercial spaceship designed for humans ever to leave Earth.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft takes off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop a Falcon 9 rocket on March 2, 2019. 
Associated Press

The seven-person space capsule is designed for NASA astronauts, but no people were on board for this demo launch — just 400 pounds of cargo and a crash-test dummy named Ripley.

The next day, the Crew Dragon successfully docked onto the International Space Station. Nearly a week later, the spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida.

“This is an amazing achievement in American history,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, said during a broadcast after the landing. He described it as “the dawn of a new era in American human spaceflight, and really in spaceflight for the entire world.”

Outside our solar system, astronomers found a wealth of new exoplanets. Last week, NASA confirmed a new class of huge ‘super-puff’ planets that have the density of cotton candy.

An artist’s illustration of the sun-like star Kepler 51 and its three giant super-puff planets. 
NASA, ESA, and L. Hustak, J. Olmsted, D. Player and F. Summers (STScI)

Until recently, astronomers had only known about the three types of planets that we see in our own solar system: terrestrial planets like Earth, ice giants like Neptune, and gas giants like Jupiter.

But on Thursday, NASA confirmed that three exoplanets fall into the new super-puff grouping. Because their hydrogen-helium atmospheres balloon out, these planets are nearly as big as Jupiter, but have 100 times less mass.

Nobody knows why the planets’ lightweight atmospheres are so bloated.

Researchers also discovered several new super-Earths — planets larger than Earth but not large enough to be Neptune-like.

An artist’s concept of the super-Earth planet Kepler-62e, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth. 

NASA announced the year’s first super-Earth discovery in January. In July, researchers revealed that NASA telescopes had spotted another one

batch of new exoplanets announced on Monday included four super-Earths, which appear to be vaporizing in the intense heat of their stars.

Some recently discovered super-Earths are in their stars’ habitable zones — the range of distances in which a planet’s surface could be the right temperature for liquid water.

The “Goldilocks” zone around a star is where a planet is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water. 

Those planets could potentially host alien life. A series of upcoming telescopes aims to study such exoplanets to search for signs of life in their atmospheres.

A few of the new super-Earths were among the closest exoplanets ever found.

An illustrated interpretation of what the exoplanet GJ 357 d may look like. 
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith

One of the newly discovered planets, called GJ 357 d, is just 31 light-years away, scientists announced in July. It’s among the 45 closest exoplanets confirmed to date, out of a total 4,025 planets tallied so far outside our solar system.

“GJ 357 d is located within the outer edge of its star’s habitable zone, where it receives about the same amount of stellar energy from its star as Mars does from the sun,” Diana Kossakowski, who’s on the team that discovered the planet, said in a press release.

“If the planet has a dense atmosphere, which will take future studies to determine, it could trap enough heat to warm the planet and allow liquid water on its surface,” she added.

In September, scientists announced they had found water vapor in the atmosphere of an Earth-sized planet in a nearby star’s habitable zone.

An artist’s impression of the planet K2-18b, its host star, and an accompanying planet in the system.
ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

However, other scientists have said that the planet, called K2-18b, is too big to be a super-Earth. At eight times Earth’s mass, they say the planet is probably more like Neptune, with a thick atmosphere that exerts high pressure on the planet’s surface and makes it inhospitable to life.

Even if K2-18b isn’t the right place for life, billions more planets in our galaxy could meet those standards.

An August study found there could be up to 10 billion Earth-like worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone.

An illustration of Earth-like planets shows the ways they could vary in size and composition. 
NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech)

More and more evidence indicates that warm, watery planets like Earth are common in our galaxy.

Researchers at Penn State University ran the numbers by creating a simulation based on the Kepler Space Telescope’s search for exoplanets. They calculated that an Earth-like planet likely orbits one in every four sun-like stars. Totaled up, that means there could be up to 10 billion Earth-like worlds in our home galaxy.

Even worlds that aren’t Earth-like could have a shot at hosting alien life. In October, NASA found organic compounds in the ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Enceladus, an icy moon of Saturn, as seen by NASA’s Cassini probe. 


These compounds, which carry nitrogen and oxygen, play a key role in producing amino acids ⁠— complex molecules that serve as the building blocks of proteins. Without proteins, life as we know it on Earth couldn’t exist.

Scientists have long suspected that the ocean below Enceladus’ surface could harbor the ingredients for life. Researchers had detected other organic molecules coming from the icy moon before, but in October, they announced they’d detected them dissolved in the water for the first time. That’s critical, since it means the compounds could undergo deep-sea chemical reactions that produce amino acids.

Mars, by contrast, is unlikely to host life today. But this month, NASA scientists found a region where future astronauts could dig up subsurface ice with a shovel.

The annotated area of Mars in this illustration holds near-surface water ice that would be easily accessible for astronauts to dig up. 

Water ice sits just an inch below the surface in the vast temperate region pictured above.

It could be the perfect place for astronauts to land, since any crew that visits the red planet would have to mine resources there, and water is the most important one. Mars astronauts would need to dig up ice to make drinking water and to create rocket fuel for the journey back to Earth (when you break down water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter can be used to make fuel).

“Bringing your own water from Earth would be incredibly expensive,” Sylvain Piqueux, the NASA planetary scientist who led the research, told Business Insider. “Everything that you don’t have to bring with you leaves more room for a science experiment or additional engineering capabilities.”

NASA’s Insight lander has been on Mars since November 2018. In April, its built-in seismometer detected the first Mars quakes.

An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars. 

Since then, researchers have recorded more than 100 events, about 21 of which are likely quakes. The Mars quakes suggest the red planet may be less Earth-like than we thought.

Researchers had expected quakes on Mars to be like earthquakes, since Mars once had plenty of volcanic activity and water. They also thought the planet had a similar crust to Earth. But the Mars quakes so far seem more similar to quakes on the moon than on Earth, which suggests Mars‘ crust is more dry and broken up than scientists anticipated.

“A moon quake builds up for minutes, then decays away for an hour or more. So it looks very different,” Mark Panning, a seismologist on the NASA InSight team, previously told Business Insider. “The reason moonquakes look that way is because the moon’s surface is really dry and really broken up. It’s been basically sitting there for billions of years and getting hit by meteorites.”

Research about other planets in the solar system revealed surprises, too. Scientists discovered that a huge planet may have crashed into Jupiter about 4.5 billion years ago.

An artist’s impression of a collision between a young Jupiter and a massive, still-forming protoplanet in the early solar system. 
Illustration by K. Suda & Y. Akimoto/Mabuchi Design Office, courtesy of Astrobiology Center, Japan

In an August study, researchers calculated that Jupiter probably absorbed a young planet with 10 times the mass of Earth after a head-on impact.

The ancient collision would explain why Jupiter’s core is less dense and more diffuse than scientists expected.

“Because it’s dense, and it comes in with a lot of energy, the impactor would be like a bullet that goes through the atmosphere and hits the core head-on,” Andrea Isella, an astronomer at Rice University and a co-author of the study, said in a press release.  “Before impact, you have a very dense core, surrounded by atmosphere. The head-on impact spreads things out, diluting the core.”

Astronomers also spotted 20 more moons orbiting Saturn than they knew about before, bringing the planet’s total up to 82.

An artist’s conception of the 20 newly discovered moons orbiting Saturn. 
Illustration courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science; Saturn image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute; Starry background courtesy of Paolo Sartorio/Shutterstock

hat’s more than any other planet in the solar system.

Each of the newly discovered moons is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) in diameter, and 17 of them orbit in retrograde, or in the opposite direction of Saturn’s rotation. One of them is now the farthest known moon of Saturn.

This was a big year for breakthroughs in space, but 2020 might be even bigger.

Engineers observe the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, December 17, 2019. 

NASA is set to launch a new Mars rover in July 2020, and the European Space Agency plans to launch one as well. NASA and SpaceX, meanwhile aim to launch the first astronauts on the Crew Dragon in the first quarter of the year.

Exploring Your Universe 2019!

Color Logo - Large

This year’s Exploring Your Universe (EYU) event at UCLA will be held on Sunday, November 3rd, 2019. (ALSO, PLEASE BE SURE TO NOTE THE TIME CHANGE OCCURRING THAT SAME WEEKEND)  Exploring Your Universe is an annual event held on the UCLA campus that includes science exhibitions, hands-on activities, demonstrations and experiments from multiple departments at UCLA such as: Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, Physics & Astronomy, Chemistry, and Mathematics.  The event is free, open to the public, and promises an exciting time and a great learning experience for kids and adults alike. As one of the main events in celebrating UCLA’s Centennial, EYU will have more booths, improved exhibits, and new activities. You won’t want to miss this year’s event! Please refer to THIS link for the program of events and a map!

EYU 2019 will be held in UCLA’s Court of Sciences (located in South Campus) from 12PM-5PM. Nighttime activities will take place from 5PM-8PM (weather permitting). Parking is available in Parking Structure #2 but expected to sell out so please be sure to arrive early.

To read more about previous years’ EYU events and other iPLEX outreach events, please visit the Exploring Your Universe page and prepare for this big event!

CLICK HERE FOR PLANETARIUM TICKETS (available on Nov. 1st, 12:00pm)

Be sure to follow @UCLAiPLEX (Twitter, Instagram), (Tumblr) and @eyu_ucla (Twitter)

Summary: International Observe The Moon Night 2019

10 years after the first NASA sponsored International Observe The Moon Night Event, and 5 decades after the Apollo 11 astronauts first set foot on the surface of the Moon, we’re proud to report the largest International Observe The Moon Night event, EVER, at UCLA thanks to help from volunteers from UCLA’s Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, and Physics and Astronomy Departments.

Just short of ~1000 visitors were entertained by experts in astronomy answering questions and showing views of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. This was the largest ever International Observe The Moon Night event held by UCLA, and a number growing each year. Many of those in attendance had never seen a celestial body through a telescope.

Please see the recap below by UCLA Professor Dr. David Jewitt, Dr. Jing Li, and Emmanuel Masongsong:

Many thanks to the UCLA EPSS Paige, & Jewitt Groups, as well as the Physics and Astronomy Rich Group, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Fox Searchlight for offering their support, artifacts, and giveaways for the public.

See you in 2020 for IOTMN 2020!

October 5th, 2019: International Observe The Moon Night

Please join us on the evening of Saturday 05 October, 2019 from 7 to 9 PM to participate and celebrate the 2019 edition of International Observe the Moon Night as well as the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Astronauts landing on the Moon! We will have telescopes set up on the roof (9th floor) of UCLA’s Mathematical Sciences Building including UCLA’s famous 14″ Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope, Moon and Solar System experts, fun activities, and even some surprises.. It’s FREE, open to the public, and you’ll be able to observe the Moon (weather permitting).

Specific information and details for the program and activities on International Observe The Moon Night hosted by UCLA’s Institute for Planets and Exoplanets, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Team (LRO) and UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences can be found at the link below:

UCLA Professor David Jewitt Leading New Studies on The Second Interstellar Visitor to Our Solar System

UCLA Professor Dr. David Jewitt is at the forefront of the newest study on an interstellar comet visiting the solar system. While you may remember that ‘Oumuamua (A/2017 U1 & aka 1/I ‘Oumuamua) passed into the solar system in 2017, a recent discovery by Gennadiy Borisov suggests this object is completely unbounded to the Sun with an eccentricity of ~3.5 and is the first interstellar comet, ever detected. This suggests a highly energetic object, unbound to the Sun which may have came from another planetary system.

In a new Popular Mechanics Article (c.f. , Dr. Jewitt mentioned: “The most excellent thing about these objects is the number of them”

“We’ll detect more of them as time goes on,” he says. “It’s already good that we got the second [comet] pretty much on schedule.”

This suggests more of these objects are able to be detected by our instruments on the Earth, and in space.

The future looks promising for Planetary Science as well as welcoming more and more of these interstellar visitors to our own solar system.

In the days to come, we will learn more about the composition of volatiles coming from comets in other systems, as well as our our solar system from researchers at UCLA, and all over the world leading the way.

October 20th, 2018: International Observe The Moon Night

The moon, or supermoon, is seen as it sets over the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. A supermoon occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest (perigee) to Earth. Early Monday morning, the moon was the closest it has been to Earth since 1948 and it appeared 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger than the average monthly full moon. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
The moon, or supermoon, is seen as it sets over the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. A supermoon occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest (perigee) to Earth. Early Monday morning, the moon was the closest it has been to Earth since 1948 and it appeared 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger than the average monthly full moon. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Please join us on the evening of Saturday 20 October, 2018 from 7 to 9 PM to participate and celebrate the 2018 edition of International Observe the Moon Night! We will have telescopes set up on the roof (9th floor) of UCLA’s Mathematical Sciences Building. It’s FREE, open to the public, and you’ll be able to observe the Moon (weather permitting).

Specific information and details on International Observe The Moon Night hosted by UCLA’s Institute for Planets and Exoplanets can be found at:


UCLA Astronomers Confirm the Very First Existence of an Asteroid Beyond Our Solar System

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A newly discovered object from another star system that’s passing through ours is shaped like a giant pink fire extinguisher.

That’s the word this week from astronomers who have been observing this first-ever confirmed interstellar visitor.

“I’m surprised by the elongated shape – nobody expected that,” said astronomer David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the observation team that reported on the characteristics.

Scientists are certain this asteroid or comet originated outside our solar system. First spotted last month by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, it will stick around for another few years before departing our sun’s neighborhood.

Jewitt and his international team observed the object for five nights in late October using the Nordic Optical Telescope in the Canary Islands and the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.

At approximately 100 feet by 100 feet by 600 feet (30 meters buy 30 meters by 180 meters), the object has proportions roughly similar to a fire extinguisher — though not nearly as red, Jewitt said Thursday. The slightly red hue — specifically pale pink — and varying brightness are remarkably similar to asteroids in our own solar system, he noted.

Astronomer Jayadev Rajagopal said in an email that it was exciting to point the Arizona telescope at such a tiny object “which, for all we know, has been traveling through the vast emptiness of space for millions of years.”

“And then by luck passes close enough for me to be able to see it that night!”

The object is so faint and so fast — it’s zooming through the solar system at 40,000 mph (64,000 kph) — it’s unlikely amateur astronomers will see it.

In a paper to the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the scientists report that our solar system could be packed with 10,000 such interstellar travelers at any given time. It takes 10 years to cross our solar system, providing plenty of future viewing opportunities, the scientists said.

Trillions of objects from other star systems could have passed our way over the eons, according to Jewitt.

It suggests our solar system ejected its own share of asteroids and comets as the large outer planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune — formed.

Why did it take so long to nail the first interstellar wanderer?

“Space is big and our eyes are weak,” Jewitt explained via email.

Anticipating more such discoveries, the International Astronomical Union already has approved a new designation for cosmic interlopers. They get an “I” for interstellar in their string of letters and numbers. The group also has approved a name for this object: Oumuamua (OH’-moo-ah-moo-ah) which in Hawaiian means a messenger from afar arriving first.

The Scientific Paper is available HERE:

And you can read more HERE:

As well as HERE:

Exploring Your Universe 2017!

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This year’s Exploring Your Universe (EYU) event at UCLA will be held on Sunday, November 5th, 2017.  Exploring Your Universe is an annual event held on the UCLA campus that includes science exhibitions, hands-on activities, demonstrations and experiments.  The event is free, open to the public, and promises an exciting time and a great learning experience for kids and adults alike.

EYU 2017 will be held in UCLA’s Court of Sciences (located in South Campus) from 12PM-5PM. Nighttime activities will take place from 5PM-8PM (weather permitting). Parking is available in Parking Structure #2 but expected to sell out so please be sure to arrive early.

To read more about previous years’ EYU events and other iPLEX outreach events, please visit our Exploring Your Universe page and stay tuned for more updates!

Be sure to follow @UCLAiPLEX (Twitter, Instagram), (Tumblr) and @eyu_ucla (Twitter)

NASA’s Hubble Observes the Farthest Active Inbound Comet Yet Seen

UCLA’s Professor David Jewitt has most recently been involved in using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to image the farthest active inbound comet yet seen.

The Comet that Came in from the Cold

A solitary frozen traveler has been journeying for millions of years toward the heart of our planetary system. The wayward vagabond, a city-sized snowball of ice and dust called a comet, was gravitationally kicked out of the Oort Cloud, its frigid home at the outskirts of the solar system. This region is a vast comet storehouse, composed of icy leftover building blocks from the construction of the planets 4.6 billion years ago.

The comet is so small, faint, and far away that it eluded detection. Finally, in May 2017, astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii spotted the solitary intruder at a whopping 1.5 billion miles away – between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus. The Hubble Space Telescope was enlisted to take close-up views of the comet, called C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS (K2).

The comet is record-breaking because it is already becoming active under the feeble glow of the distant Sun. Astronomers have never seen an active inbound comet this far out, where sunlight is merely 1/225th its brightness as seen from Earth. Temperatures, correspondingly, are at a minus 440 degrees Fahrenheit. Even at such bone-chilling temperatures, a mix of ancient ices on the surface – oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide – is beginning to sublimate and shed as dust. This material balloons into a vast 80,000-mile-wide halo of dust, called a coma, enveloping the solid nucleus.

Astronomers will continue to study K2 as it travels into the inner solar system, making its closest approach to the Sun in 2022.

Read more about Comet C/2017 K2 HERE