This Spacespiracy Moment

August 1, 2016

 

A Binary Star Saga:

A new type of binary star has been discovered...and it appears to be hostile. Using the VLA (Very Large Array) and other telescopes around the world, the European Southern Observatory has detected a white dwarf star and a red dwarf star orbiting each other. Located 380 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius, the white dwarf is spinning really REALLY fast, causing its electrons to speed through space and emit radiation. The radiation, ranging from radio to ultraviolet waves, hits the white dwarf’s companion red dwarf star, approximately every 2 minutes. I don’t know what that red dwarf did to make the white dwarf so angry, but maybe they should work it out in therapy. Oooo! What a great premise for a science fiction story!

 

Another Prediction of General Relativity Has Been Confirmed:

With the help of the orbiting X-ray observatory called XMM-Newton and NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), a team of people working for the ESA (European Space Agency), have uncovered a “gravitational vortex” in the space-time surrounding a black hole. Also called “frame dragging,” this observation confirms another general relativity prediction. Physics has never been my strong suit, but I’ll try to explain this as best I can (you can always click above to access the original article). In 2004, we determined that the precession cycle (“the time it takes for the axis of rotation to come back around to the same position”) of Earth’s gravitational vortex was 33 million years. The black hole measured in this study has a much stronger gravitational field than Earth and thus, according to Einstein’s theory, its precession cycle *should* be MUCH shorter than Earth’s. This study determined that “the plasma inner flow around black hole H1743-322 completes a precession cycle in 4 seconds.” Eureka!

 

The Black Hole Rock Opera?

We’ve known for some time that black holes "sing" in the “language of X-rays,” but for the first time, we have evidence of higher-pitched voices, specifically in the form of high-energy X-rays. For years, these higher octave singing galactic phenomena have kept themselves hidden from NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory...but they couldn’t escape NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). Now, more than 35% of the high-energy X-ray background has been resolved (up from 2%). This helps astronomers better understand our universe’s most mysterious entities.  

 

Ceres Should Be Littered with Impact Craters, But It Isn’t:

Dawn, NASA’s spacecraft dedicated to Ceres and Vesta, two Asteroid Belt objects, has delivered some interesting topological data on Ceres. Based on our belief that Ceres was formed 4.5 billion years ago, during the inception of our solar system, the asteroid should be littered with impact craters. Instead, data shows barely any signs of damage. Not only are the impacts craters too few, they are also way too small. Simulations tell us that the little rock *should* have taken several large beatings throughout its long life...so where are all of the craters? Hmmm.

 

 

Deep Space Cardiovascular Disease?

The Earth is awesome in oh-so-many ways, one being that its magnetic field protects us from radiation further out in space. Unfortunately, that reach only extends to astronauts flying low-Earth orbit missions, meaning our American heroes, the men who walked on the moon, were left exposed. A new study shows that, because of that exposure, all astronauts that have flown to the moon, are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Well shoot...


Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower, This Week Is All About You!

It’s that time of year again! The end of July means it’s time for the Delta Aquariid meteor shower to dance across the night sky. The best days to view are typically the 29th and 30th, but if you were out on July 28th or 31st, you probably were able to see a great show too, about 15-20 “shooting stars” per hour. “For the best views, look about two-thirds of the way from the horizon to the zenith.” Missed it this year? Well then don’t forget to mark your 2017 calendars!

 

Is Gene Doping Really A Thing?

Typically, methods to test athletes for illegal drug use are usually a few steps behind. But with the 2016 Summer Olympic Games scheduled to begin in Rio later this month, officials are trying to get in front of a new enhancement method called “gene doping.” This is definitely the stuff science fiction is made of. Gene doping allows for the “genetic manipulation of the body’s own cellular machinery” and even though there isn’t any proof that this method is currently being used, officials are ready to test for it, JUST IN CASE.

 

Jupiter’s Red Spot Is As Hot As It Looks:

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a ginormous storm, bigger than our entire planet, that we now know is really, REALLY hot. Like “hundreds of degrees warmer than neighboring parcels of air” hot. Considering how far the gas giant is from the Sun, the hot red spot is probably the reason why the entire planet is relatively warm.

 

Kepler-80 Is One Weird Solar System:

An undergraduate student at the Florida Institute of Technology, Mariah McDonald, has observed something strange while studying the Kepler-80 solar system: all of its exoplanets are orbiting within 0.1 AU from their sun.  To put things into perspective, that’s less than half the distance between our Sun and Mercury. We’ve seen planets orbiting close to their host stars before...but this system is special because it hosts 4 orbital resonances, something never before seen. For more information on orbital resonances, click here.

 

Lightweight Telescope Madness:

It’s quite obvious that computers are getting smaller and smaller...so why shouldn’t telescopes get smaller and smaller too? Researchers at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto think they should. They have invented SPIDER (Segmented Planar Imaging Detector for Electro-optical Reconnaissance), a smaller and lighter telescope, in hopes that it will replace basic telescopes and long-range cameras. Now we just need to determine whether or not it works.

 

Martian Gullies Were NOT Formed By Water?

“The term “gully” is used to describe features with three distinct characteristics: a channel, deposited material at the bottom, and an alcove at the top.” On Earth, we have determined that gullies were formed by water, and given Mars’ wet, oceanic history, it was safe to assume that its gullies were formed similarly. However, after studying data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), liquid water, (or any of its bi-products), were nowhere to be found in the geological attributes of the Red Planet’s “gullies.” Scientists now think the freezing and thawing of carbon dioxide could be the culprit. Or maybe it was ALIENS!?!?! (My science fiction mind is ALWAYS reaching.)

 

 

Remember Dolly and Her Cloned Sheep Sisters?

Dolly, the sheep, was “born” in 1996. She died 6 years later, causing everyone to think, that in addition to a myriad of other issues (arthritis, short telomeres, etc), cloned mammals aged prematurely. Since, scientists have determined otherwise. Studying roughly 13 Dolly-cloned sheep, all between the ages of 7 and 9, a team from Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in College Station, determined that the cloned sheep are aging just like non-cloned sheep. This is GREAT news. I'm all about cloning my dog, Betsey.

 

Rocks On Mars Mean the Planet Once Had Oxygen?

In 2013, a rock containing manganese was found on the surface of Mars. The problem? Concentrated amounts of manganese can only be formed in water that contains dissolved oxygen. Since 2013, Curiosity, NASA’s Red Planet rover (say that 3x fast) along with an instrument called ChemCam, have studied more than a THOUSAND Martian rocks. Was more manganese found? Absolutely. This can only mean one thing: at one time, there was oxygen on Mars.

 

Saying Goodbye to Comet Lander, Philae:

In November of 2014, we landed a module on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Named Philae, the module transmitted data when it first landed, and then again in June and July of 2015. It has been quiet ever since. Philae was once attached to Rosetta, ESA’s solar powered space probe. Because the spacecraft is moving further and further away from the Sun, its operators need to conserve power. Meaning the equipment used to communicate with Philae, must be turned off. Bye-bye little lander!

 

The Search for Earth Proxima:

Thanks to Kepler’s discovery of thousands of exoplanets, the race is ON to find a habitable planet. (And because of my science fiction fantasies, colonize it, duh.) What better place to start than Alpha Centauri, our closest star-system neighbor? Only 4.37 light-years awa, a team of scientists is infatuated with Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B. they are building a low-Earth orbit space telescope, set to launch in 2019, to study the two stars and their orbiting exoplanets. Let’s do this!!

 

The Superluminous Supernovae:

There’s a new supernovae sheriff in town. Called an SLSN (superluminous supernovae), it’s the result of a star that exploded not once but twice. WHAT? We’ve only found about a dozen of these beauties, but because they are brighter for longer than a typical, class 1a supernovae, we know they must be more energetic. There is so much that is still unknown, but scientists believe SLSN’s form from magnetars, “a neutron star rotating very rapidly on its axis.”

 

 

This Star Is Young, Hot, and All Alone:

Finally, after 7 years of bewilderment, we finally have some solid information about object CX330. After cross-referencing observations from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and the Spitzer Space Telescope, a team at Texas Tech University, has determined that the object is an outbursting star. CX330 took a long time to categorize because not only has it been outbursting for a really long time (years), it is nowhere near any star-formation regions of the galaxy. Scientists still don’t know why the star is so sequestered, but at least we now know the thing is a star.

 

Using Kickstarter to Save Pluto’s Telescope:

Astronomers need money too...especially if they want to save and/or refurbish older telescopes. So why not default to Kickstarter like the rest of the money-raising masses? The Lowell Observatory thinks that’s a great idea and have started a campaign to save the telescope that was used to discover Pluto. Built from 1928-1929 and then used in 1930 to find the former ninth-planet, the galactic observational machine has continued to be used to observe small satellites, asteroids, and comets. The telescope attracts thousands of tourists each year and with a little TLC can continue to live on. Donate here!

 

Wearable Electronics?

Electronic parts are known to be stiff and fragile, which is why wearable technology is a hot topic of discussion. Thanks to Sam Yoon and his team at Korea University in Seoul, we are a little closer to tech fashion greatness. They have created a see-through “thin mesh that can both flex and conduct electricity.” The mesh consists of a plastic called polyacrylonitrile, PAN for short, layered with inert metals. Now I can WEAR science fiction?!?! YASSSSS.

 

Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine

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writer | author | sci-fi storyteller

Lisa Caskey

writer | author | sci-fi storyteller
© 2016 by Lisa Caskey
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