Little more than a decade ago, two astronomers discovered mysterious bursts of radio waves that seem to take place all over the sky, often outshining all the stars in a galaxy. Since then, the study of these fast radio bursts, or FRBs, has taken off, and while we still don’t know what exactly they are or what causes them, scientists are now edging closer to some answers.
Scientists have revealed the first ever image of a black hole, a major milestone in astrophysics which not only backs up Einstein’s theory of general relativity but also opens up a new era of black hole observations.
The first-ever image of an event horizon – the gravitational boundary of a black hole beyond which light cannot escape – was revealed on 10 April and is the best evidence yet that these phenomena really do exist. It was the result of a global collaboration of hundreds of scientists, using multiple telescopes around the world to pick up the high-frequency radio waves emitted by matter pulled into the event horizon.
Gravitational waves – the invisible ripples in the fabric of space predicted by Albert Einstein – are opening up a new era of astronomy that is allowing scientists to see parts of the universe once thought to be invisible, such as black holes, dark matter and theoretical subatomic particles called axions.
Space missions have long benefited from some autonomous operations being carried out aboard spacecraft, but with a sharp increase expected in the number of satellites being launched in the next few years, researchers are using automation and artificial intelligence to make them smarter and more effective.
In the solar system’s early days, a first Earth is thought to have been pulverised by a planet that scientists call Theia. We don’t know what it was made of or where it came from, only that it may have been the size of Mars. The powerful collision destroyed both planets so completely that scientists can only guess what they were like.
Humans have not set foot on the moon since 1972, when the last Apollo mission came back to Earth. That could all change in the coming years, however, as entities like the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing not just to return, but to build a permanent base on the surface.
Horizon spoke to virologist Johan Neyts.
Dr Alexey Solodovnikov on why we need a less biased view of the animal kingdom.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.