How big is a 'supermassive' black hole? Inside the best space stories of the week.
Saturn’s rings are disappearing, an inspiring astronaut origins story, ‘brigadier general’ Buzz Aldrin and a special bonus round from our partners
Welcome to “This Week in Outer Space,” where you’ll find a roundup of the best space coverage from Yahoo News and our partners from the past week or so. Last week we discovered NASA’s plans to get into the rideshare business, a space-related feud between Sweden and Norway, an unfortunate series of events for a Japanese moon landing and more. This week we’re going deep on exactly how big celestial objects like supermassive black holes really are.
NASA visualized the scale of a supermassive black hole and it is crazy big
Truly grasping just how vast our universe is can be a challenge. Sure, we might be able to do the math on paper, but human brains aren’t wired to comprehend scales billions and trillions of times larger than ourselves. And when we’re talking about things in outer space that are trillions of miles away and billions of times the size of Earth,the numbers start to lose their meaning without some kind of visual comparison. And doing that is easier said than done.
Even in our own solar system, scale is difficult to visualize. You can either look at the distance between planets and the sun or their relative sizes — but you can’t show both at the same time without losing something. However, a new project from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab comes close to putting the cosmic scale of supermassive black holes in perspective.
It starts with the sun and the orbits of the planets surrounding it and slowly pulls back to show the relative size of known black holes — from the relatively small J1601+3133, to the one at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, and then a series of increasingly more massive black holes until finally landing on the largest ever discovered: TON 618, which is 66 billion times the mass of the sun. And if you play it back at fast speed, it gives you at least a sense of how small our pale blue dot really is.
You can watch the original video below:
Take a look while you can, Saturn’s rings are disappearing
Ask anyone what they know about Saturn and they’ll probably respond with some version of, “It’s the one with rings.” However, those rings may not be as permanent as you might think. Since the 1980s, astronomers have observed that Saturn’s innermost rings slowly fade as they are pulled into the planet’s upper atmosphere in the form of “ring rain.” But soon, thanks to a little help from the James Webb telescope, we may get a better understanding of how long they’ve got left.
The new project, a collaboration between the James Webb team and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, will monitor long-term fluctuations in the rings and the effects of solar radiation. The data should provide a more accurate forecast of when the inner rings will be completely eroded — currently estimated to be about 300 million years from now.
Meet the first Mexican-born woman to go to space
Manned spaceflight goes hand-in-hand with inspiring stories and NASA electrical engineer Katya Echazarreta is no exception. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Echazarreta migrated to the U.S. with her family two decades ago in order to seek medical treatment for her disabled older sister. Earlier this week, she joined In The Know by Yahoo for an exclusive interview revealing how she became the first Mexican-born person to travel in space.
You can watch the full interview below:
That’s ‘Brigadier General Buzz Aldrin’ to you
And finally, on Friday afternoon retired U.S. Air Force Col. Buzz Aldrin, the second (and probably funniest) man to take a step on the moon, was awarded an honorary promotion to brigadier general. Aldrin, who recently married at the tender age of 93, is no stranger to awards, having already earned the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and addition to numerous other accolades. The private ceremony was held at Los Angeles Air Force Base with close family and friends in attendance.
Bonus round! Even more space news from our partners!
Speaking of unfathomably large celestial objects, Brandon Specktor, an editor at LiveScience, has the details of a “gargantuan” solar flare that may be the largest ever observed.
For those who can’t wait for spooky season, there’s the somewhat morbid tale of a rocket carrying the remains of a deceased Australian-born astronaut that exploded shortly after liftoff from Futurism’s Victor Tangermann. Don’t worry, the remains were eventually recovered.
Business Insider gave us a mind-blowing view of the International Space Station as it passed in front of the sun.
And though not technically space news but close enough: Thursday marked “Star Wars Day” and was celebrated with Carrier Fisher posthumously receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Oh, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now in theaters. I won’t be going until Sunday, so no spoilers in the comments, please!