June 14-20, 2016
China’s Global Navigational Satellite System:
China is really REALLY close to a global GPS system. Currently, like India and Japan, China is on a regional system, but they have been active in the rocket launching department as of late. The communist nation has been sending satellites up to orbit around the Earth in order to improve their navigational network. More satellites mean a better system and eventually, global coverage. Currently only the US holds that distinction, with Russia close behind (sometimes they have the coverage and sometimes they don’t).
The Chiral Chemical Cosmic Cloud:
Life as we know it requires RNA, DNA, and other “handed” molecules, also known as chiral chemistry. Naturally we have found these molecules on Earth. We’ve even found them on comets and asteroids, but now, chiral chemistry has been found in space. The molecule was found in an “interstellar dust around Sagittarius B2, a molecular gas cloud in the center of the Milky Way.”
Close Orbiting Exoplanets:
More and more, astronomers are discovering exoplanets orbiting very close to their suns...and it’s puzzling because the behavior is nothing like we’ve observed in our own solar system. A new discovery of an 11 million year old planet, orbiting its sun in just five Earth days, has been made, offering scientists more information about how these planets form.
E.T. Phone Home...In 1500 Years:
According to the Mediocrity Principle, we are not unique in the universe, thus, we must not be alone. The idea of alien life in the universe is exciting, and with 200 billion stars in the Milky Way alone, the chances of finding it within our own galaxy, is high. The problem is that pesky little thing called time. For the past 80 years, we have been sending radio signals into space, and...have heard nothing back. A new theory proposes that if we DO hear from little green monsters, it won’t be for another 1500 years…
First Generation Stars:
Using the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope, the Astrophysics Chair at Notre Dame University, has discovered something unique while studying the Milky Way’s brightest second generation star, BD+44 493. The star contains phosphorus and sulphur, two elements never before seen in a second generation star. It is believed that we will never be able to directly observe a first generation star because they transitioned into a supernova only a few million years after their inceptions...but by studying second generation stars, especially those with unique elemental composition, we now may have a few more clues about how those first generation stars were formed.
HELLLOOOO Gas Giant Cluster!
A group of international scientists led by Roberto Saglia at the Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik in Garching, Germany, and Luca Pasquini from the European Space Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, have been studying Messier 67, a cluster where the stars are much closer together than average. In these types of clusters, star and planet formation is abundant, but what these researchers found so exciting was that the cluster is full of hot-Jupiters, massive planets that are orbiting very close to their suns.
Juno and Jupiter, Together At Last:
Juno, the NASA spacecraft, has almost reached its final destination. The spacecraft left Earth’s atmosphere 5 years ago with the sole purpose of uncovering the mysteries that live underneath the gas giant’s infamous cloud cover. There is still so much we don’t know about our solar system’s second biggest influencer (the Sun is the first, duh)...but space lovers around the globe have high hopes for Juno because it will reach Jupiter soon. No matter the data that it delivers, we will undoubtedly understand a little more about the gas giant.
LIGO Loves It Some Gravitational Waves:
This past week, LIGO detected a second gravitational wave cascading through the universe, disproving theories that the first detection on December 25, 2015, was a fluke. We are now able to “see things that have only been theorized or indirectly observed before,” says Maura McLaughlin, a professor at West Virginia University. So cool.
LIGO Gravitational Wave Theories:
With the second gravitational wave detection now behind us, the scientific community has been rumbling with theories. Two of these theories seem the most likely. The first is that two stars, 20 times bigger than the sun and very dense, moved through their life cycles in complete harmony, turned into black holes at the same time, and then spiraled towards one another until they crashed into each other. The other theory is that there are a bunch of black holes, all living within the same star cluster and that the waves we’ve detected are the black holes bumping into one another. Hmm. Black hole bumper cars?
The Little Brown Dwarf That Could:
A very cold brown dwarf star, approximately 440 degrees Fahrenheit, has been observed creating solar flares more powerful than those created by our Sun. Even though these stars never get hot enough to grow into full-fledged stars, it is now clear that they still can generate energy from magnetic fields. The observed dwarf is much younger than the Sun, creating theories that young stars have more active magnetic fields than older stars.
Primordial Black Holes, AKA, Dark Matter?
Dark matter makes up about 27% of the universe. It’s the amount of matter that isn’t accounted for by stars. For decades, dark matter has puzzled astronomers and physics alike, and now, there’s a new theory to consider. A physicist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Alexander Kashlinsky, thinks dark matter may actually be black holes that were formed in the early universe...like SECONDS after the Big Bang. Who knows if this theory will ever be, COULD ever be proved. Only time will tell.
SpaceX Tries Again, But This Time Fails:
On the 15th, SpaceX launched their 26th Falcon 9, successfully sending two telecom satellites into geostationary transfer orbit. The satellites will eventually orbit the equator, with a full view of each hemisphere. Unfortunately, their attempted drone ship landing wasn’t successful, costing the company 60 million dollars in assets. Yikes.
Stars from Mars:
As conversations about missions to Mars become more frequent, who can’t help but wonder what life would be like on the Red Planet? Specifically, some have been speculating what the night sky would look like and luckily, thanks to the Opportunity rover, we have high res footage that can paint a pretty good picture. Would it be similar to the deserts of Arizona given the lack of light pollution? In some ways yes, and in some ways, no. Yes, the atmosphere is thinner, but there’s a ton of dust on Mars, and it often obstructs views of the night sky. Sunsets are better, however, and can last for hours. But the best thing? The rising and setting of Mars’ closest moon, Phobos, which occurs multiple times a night.
That Exoplanet is HOT HOT HOT:
The universe is full of action. Black holes are colliding, stars are exploding, and new planets are being formed ALL OF THE TIME. So it’s no wonder that scientists are constantly observing and discovering new intergalactic phenomena. This past week, astronomers have been raving about a planet that is radiating the same amount of heat as a dim star. It is orbiting the youngest, and most massive star ever observed with a planet in its orbit. What’s also unique about this star is that we are slowly watching itself spiral into oblivion. With each passing day of its incredibly short orbit, the exoplanet is getting closer and closer to its sun. That likely explains the planet’s extreme heat. It’s burning alive.
This Asteroid is Earth’s Best Friend:
Earth has a running partner. Researchers have discovered that asteroid 2016 HO3 has an orbit so similar to Earth’s, that it has been keeping pace around the Sun. The asteroid has been following us for at least 100 years, and scientists predict, will continue to do so for another few centuries at least.
Tilted Orbits Might Mean Tilted Seasons:
I think it’s pretty well known that stars are incredible gravitational forces. Our Sun has eight planets in its orbit...and it’s a relatively small star! Naturally, the Sun’s rotation, as well as it’s size and shape, affect the orbital patterns of those planets. Our Sun rotates at a speed that keeps energy flowing equally between its poles and equator...but not all stars were created equal. Scientists are discovering stars that rotate so fast, more energy is pushed through their equators, meaning the poles are warmer. Scientists suppose this affects seasonal changes on any planets orbiting such stars.
Volcanoes and the Apocalypse:
Volcanoes have been a hot topic of discussion as of late as more and more are being reported as “active.” Let’s face it folks, the media will spin just about anything to sell a story...including making us believe things are more catastrophic than they actually are. This article breaks down the science of an erupting volcano and how a massive volcanic apocalypse, is really only available for science fiction.
We’re Talking About Terraforming Mars?!?!? Is This for Real?!?!?
Astronomers, science fiction authors, and guys like Elon Musk have been fantasizing about terraforming Mars for decades. While outlandish ideas on how to do so have been suggested, real conversations ARE happening and making the Red Planet livable may be simple. Scientists are discussing raising temperatures and thickening the atmosphere by increasing greenhouse gases. Next, “hardy microbes that would synthesize the gaseous chemicals, beef up the atmosphere and add molecular diversity to the once-barren planet.” Finally, over time, trees would be planted and oxygen created. Eventually, in an estimated 100,000 years, Mars would be livable. I CAN’T WAIT THAT LONG!
White Dwarf Guzzles Limestone Planet:
The first limestone encrusted planet may have been discovered...too bad that discovery happened after it was swallowed by a white dwarf. University of California at San Diego’s Carl Melis has reported that an unrivaled amount of carbon, as well as calcium, silicon, and iron, is surrounding a white dwarf. Melis theorizes that those elements are remnants of a planet, covered in calcium carbonate, that was destroyed by the white dwarf’s gravity.
X-Rays That Effect Exoplanet Formation:
Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (and other telescopes), researchers have discovered that some younger stars emit massive amounts of x-rays. These x-rays provide enough radiation to damage the planet-forming disks surrounding these stars. To put things in perspective, the stars being studied, on average, are approximately 8 million years old whereas our Sun is roughly 4.5 BILLION years old.
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine