Free Astronomy Magazine – November-December 2023 Issue Available For Reading And Download

Above: An international team of scientists have used data collected by the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope to detect a molecule known as the methyl cation (CH3+) for the first time, located in the protoplanetary disc surrounding a young star. They accomplished this feat with a cross-disciplinary expert analysis, including key input from laboratory spectroscopists. The vital role of CH3+ in interstellar carbon chemistry has been predicted since the 1970s, but Webb’s unique capabilities have finally made observing it possible — in a region of space where planets capable of accommodating life could eventually form. Also, the slider bar option to compare Hubble (visible) and Webb (near-infrared) in the same region is a real treat. ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb), the PDRs4All ERS Team

The most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (November-December 2023) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Arabic at (and facebook).

Another gorgeous edition and I was delighted to get a second SSA contribution myself in for 2023 (with Michele leading the article beautification effort with his selection of images). The article "Ancient and everywhere, Webb detects organic molecules" is based on only two publications of recent Webb discoveries, in both cases articles that came out in June of this year. The June 5th article in Nature on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the galaxy SPT0418-47 only provided about five days MAX to get something into the July-August issue. The second article, also from Nature and on the detection of methyl cation, landed on the 26th, ruining any chance for inclusion in the next issue. The September-October issue might have been an option, but it was booked solid by the time the final edition of my article was ready for translation.

And the article could have gone on and on with other relevant articles discussing organic molecules detected by Webb during June and early July.

The organization background of scheduling and publishing is not without its complexities – the goal is still about 50 pages per issue, for which precious few issues have had a singular focus (I've only been an active participant for one). Add to that the need to translate each article roughly four times (my English article to French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic), which itself is a feat of coordination by our fearless leader. With ten pages and pictures to sharpen the mind, this forces a tug-of-war of depth vs. breadth (especially if you're a scientist who really enjoys all this stuff and would rather bore someone to tears for pages and pages on the fine details).

Additionally, the cadence of the (bimonthly) magazine means that, in terms of one writer's publication proximity to the original article, quite a bit of liquid water will have been shot out of an Enceladus geyser by the time your take on the new science is available for download and reading. Personally, I take that as a challenge to find something else to say that hasn't been a focus of any of the rapid-response articles on the subject. This article featured a little bit of an expansion on our amazing ability to do vibrational spectroscopy over 12-ish billion years and a little bit more about how highly reactive chemical species combine with time and a reactivity driver (UV radiation) to enable the synthesis of increasingly large molecules – admittedly in an exobiological vein that has been a staple topic in the magazine for years now.

And we will endeavor to show Hubble, which has produced data that will remain a centerpiece in the peer review process long after Webb shuts off completely, some love in future issues.

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Free Astronomy Magazine – January-February 2021 Issue Available For Reading And Download

Above: The OSIRIS-REx TAGSAM on touch-down at the Nightingale sampling site on Bennu. [NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona]

The most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (January-February 2021) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure at

This issue marks a bit of a change in format under the direction of our fearless leader Michele Ferrara. PDF or not, there are only so many hours and pages one can commit to all that goes into writing, editing, and formatting. This is contrast to the seemingly unlimited (+/-) number of studies getting published and discussed that an editor would really like others to see. Add in the desire to include some additional context to bridge the gap between what a reader is reading and what else you (as the writer) think is worth stressing about the broader scope of the study, and you see how daunting a task it is for a few (5?) people (total) to try to sample everything bimonthly to everyone's satisfaction.

"I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write you a short one." – Blaise Pascal (d. 1662. And, for those now asking in their noggin, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.” – Mark Twain, b. 1835)

After several years of feature articles surpassing the +10 page mark, the recent change now features more shorter articles covering a bit more variety but, with a 6-ish page limit, a less broad analysis and discussion for each.

This month's contribution from here (with my NASA Solar System Ambassador helmet on) is about the successful sample collection and return prep by OSIRIS-REx at Bennu. Astronomical mythology nut, I opted to wrap in a bit of the olde stories for both Osiris and Bennu before digging into the much older aspects of accretion theory and the upcoming issues of planetary defense.

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Jump to the PDF download (14.7 MB): January-February 2021