From Small Star to Brown Dwarf:
Cooler temperature stars are harder to see and observe because they don’t give off as much light as their hotter sisters. Astronomers use the term “red dwarf” to classify anything considered “cool,” and within this category, you will find brown dwarfs (stars without enough mass to fuse hydrogen) and ultracool stars (objects juuuuuuust massive enough to start the fusion process). How to tell them apart? Simply take their temperature.
Gene Editing Tricks:
There is a machine that can literally change any gene in any plant or animal. WHAT?! The machine is called CRISPR and for the past four years it has been used to prepare pig organs for human transplant, fix genetic diseases in animals, sterilize mosquitos, and combat viruses. The problem? The tech raises a moral debate over the ability to design the perfect baby...and wipe out an entire species.
Let’s Raise $100K to Look for Aliens in Orbit:
I’ve been following the Tabby’s Star Kickstarter campaign since the beginning (May 2016)...and this story just keeps getting crazier! The star was made famous in 2011 when astronomer Tabitha Boyajian (who the star is named after) discovered its strange flickering patterns, indicating that SOMETHING was blocking 15% of its light. Since, that percentage has only grown...as has the “hype” around this star. Why? Because one of the possible explanations, albeit highly improbable, points to alien activity. The thought excites so many people, that the campaign successfully raised $107K in 30-days. (insert X-Files theme music here)
Luigi, the PoopBot:
Fecal matter is home to all sorts of bacteria and disease...but it’s also a carrier of DNA, drug metabolites, and can help identify the presence of diabetes. Testing sewage for this type of information has been risky and just plain gross...until now. MIT has invented Luigi, the PoopBot, and he is designed to test - yes you guessed it - poop. Luigi is safe, sanitary, and about to expand to Boston and Kuwait. Arrivederci!
Proxima Centauri’s Habitable Planet:
Everyone is talking about Proxima b, an exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri, discovered last week. Why? Because it’s about the same size as Earth, it might be habitable (its distance from its star tells us the surface is warm enough for liquid water), AND it’s in the closest system to our own, a mere 4.2 light years away.
But before you start assuming the future of mankind is destined to colonize this relatively nearby planet, let’s look at some of the facts. According to an article on Wired.com, Proxima b is currently being hit with high-energy radiation from its star, meaning surface water probably completely evaporated a long time ago. Just because the planet is located in the “habitable zone,” doesn’t mean it’s actually habitable.
Also, sure, it’s the closest habitable (maybe) exoplanet outside our own solar system, but 4.2 light-years away is still really REALLY far! An article in Science News states that we are a millennia away from developing technologies that would actually allow us to travel to the planet. Currently, it would take our fastest spaceship 80,000 years to get there.
Awwww, don’t get too disappointed...there are still plans to send spacecraft to Proxima b. The Breakthrough Starshot initiative wants to send some postage-stamp sized probes there, and if they are successfully able to use lasers to get them to the exoplanet, we could have data to observe in as little as 20 years.
Stars That Live Fast and Die Young:
O-type stars are mysterious and rarely observed...probably because they only live for 10-100,000 years. There are a couple sitting on Orion’s belt and they are important to the universe because they produce heavier elements. A recent study from the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii and the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico now indicate these stars form very similarly to our Sun.
This Galaxy is Mostly Dark Matter:
Dark matter freaks me out. It doesn’t interact with the stuff that makes the world go round (electromagnetic force) meaning we can’t see see it...but we know it’s there...CREEPY! It dominates the universe. The Milky Way is 90% dark matter...but a recently discovered galaxy, Dragonfly 44, is made up of 99.9% of the stuff! Finding this gem is important because it will allow scientists to observe dark matter without a ton of neighboring, and visually intrusive, stars.
Weather Bomb Storms and Earth Shattering Shock Waves:
Seismic activity is how scientists learn about the center of the earth, and just recently Japanese scientists observed a really rare one. It came from a growing North Atlantic Ocean cyclone, not an earthquake. It’s called an s-wave and it was caused by a “weather-bomb”, a storm so strong that it shook the bottom of the ocean.
Venus’ Habitable Past:
A new theory states that, based on the planet’s current glacial rotation rate, as recently as 715 MILLION years ago (ha!), 15 degrees Celsius was the average temperature on Venus. Meaning, the planet may have been lush with life for billions of years! This of course would also depend on the Venetian atmosphere at the time, making the possibility less likely.
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine