An Updated Map of the Milky Way
Gaia, one of the ESA’s (European Space Agency) active spacecrafts, has just found 400 million new stars. How you ask? By creating a new, much more detailed, map of the galaxy. The map actually depicts the exact locations of over 1 billion stars, 400 million of which are new discoveries. This map is only a fraction of the amount of data Gaia is expected to return on its five-year mission. If everything goes according to plan, it will not only provide a 3-D map of 1 billion stars, it will chart 250,000 asteroids and comets (within our solar system), 1 million galaxies, and 500,000 quasars (massive celestial objects that burn like crazy but aren’t stars). Oh, and scientists expect the survey will find 10,000 planets too. AWESOME!
Can the Moon Cause Earthquakes?
The Moon affects the tides because of its gravitational pull, right? Well, this same gravitational pull is affecting the Earth’s crust...and, together with the Sun’s gravitational pull, a bi-monthly event called a Spring Tide, may be causing earthquakes. While no correlations were made between Spring Tides and small earthquakes, scientists are starting to match the data to BIGGER earthquakes, like 7+ on the Richter Scale big. It’s still way too early to make any kind of concrete statement about the theory, but this might be the big break seismologists have been looking for...
Curiosity Captures Ancient Martian Sand Dunes
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Curiosity, the little rover that could! The Martian globetrotter has done it again, this time snapping pics of layered rock formations on the red planet. Located in the “Murray Buttes” region of Mount Sharp, scientists say these images paint a picture of Mars’ past, that the formations are the remains of buried sand dunes being chemically changed, eroded, and exhumed, over a very long amount of time. Just how long? They’re working on that.
The Evolution of a Star, In Our Lifetime
Compared to our own life-cycles, stars evolve very VERY slowly. So slowly, in fact, that witnessing an evolution has been impossible. But Star SAO 244567 (in the Stingray nebula) has proven to be quite the anomaly. It was was first observed in the 1950’s and was classified as a star, but 40 short years later, it was reported that the celestial body was ejecting shells of ionized gas, turning it into a planetary nebula. The star continued to heat up (40,000 degrees celsius from 1971-2002), but now, it has started to cool, making it the first star to be observed both heating up and cooling down.
The Genetics of the Modern Giraffe
For years, scientists have classified Giraffa camelopardalis as one species with nine different subspecies, but now, based on research conducted in Africa, it would seem that there are actually four different types of giraffes: the northern giraffe, the southern giraffe, the reticulated giraffe, and the Masai giraffe. How can something like this happen? Before advancements in DNA research, taxonomists (biologists that group organisms into categories) used physical characteristics to classify animals. Now, with advancements in genetic testing, scientists can use data to reexamine these classifications. For the past five years, biopsy darts have been used to extract genetic data from giraffes all over Africa...and according to researchers studying that data, it looks like we have four different species of giraffes on our hands.
How Jeff Bezos Could Get Us All to Mars
SpaceX has been dominating the media for some time now...but what about Blue Origin? You know, the Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO), funded commercial airline company that was the FIRST to land a rocket back on Earth? As soon as SpaceX cleared the atmosphere (going further into space than Blue Origin) and landed, Bezos’ accomplishments fell to the wayside...quickly forgotten. But last week’s Falcon 9 explosion has forced customers to reconsider their options. With the exception of an explosion in 2011, Blue Origin has been free of failure...making them the safer, albeit slower, option. What does this have to do with Mars? Well, according to David Hewitt (a rocket scientist), it will take a spaceship bigger than the ISS to get to the red planet...meaning this ship will likely need to be built in space. And who better than to get those pieces up there? With the reveal of their New Glenn spacecraft, engineered to be capable of getting bigger, heavier objects into space, maybe it’s Blue Origin, and not SpaceX.
Moon Rocks and the Late Heavy Asteroid Bombardment
Ok, so you know all of those craters on the Moon’s surface? Astronomers attribute them to a period of time when the moon was pummeled with asteroids (called the Late Heavy Asteroid Bombardment). Studying Apollo mission moon rocks, scientists theorized that the bombardment happened about 3.9 billion years ago...but a new team is analyzing the rocks again, and they’re finding varying results, info that suggests the bombardment wasn’t a bombardment at all. It’s still too early to make any concrete claims, but it does give pause for thought.
The Moon’s History, Abridged
Ever wonder how the Moon came to be? You aren’t the only one. Since the Apollo missions, scientists have been studying Moon rocks, theorizing about the celestial body’s origin. We know that, at one point in history, a now non-existent planet, Theia, rammed into the Earth. Many scientists theorize that the Moon is the remnants of Theia, forever trapped in our orbit. However, when researchers study the rocks, that theory, doesn’t quite make sense. The rocks are too similar to be from a completely different planet...so, a new theory has formed. Now astronomers think that Theia was destroyed completely on impact and that the Moon, is actually dust and debris from the Earth, spun so rapidly as to create a spherical body. Hmmm...
Is this for real? Apparently, there is a cockroach that produces milk that is three-times more nutritious than cow’s milk. It’s called the pacific beetle cockroach and the species mothers produce a milk-like substance to feed their young. The milk is so nutritious that researchers want to turn it into a protein supplement to feed the hungry. Mmmm???
These Black Holes Get Along Just Fine
Everything we know about black holes paints a pretty violent picture. They tear through space and time without remorse. They are relentless and more powerful than anything else in the universe. So a bunch of them, all grouped together, should tear each other apart, right? Wrong. In the center of our galaxy sits the globular cluster, NGC 6101, and it is riddled with black holes. Based on predictive behavior, scientists have always thought that these black holes would push each other out of the cluster, quite rapidly, but in this particular cluster, that process is taking much longer than expected. Maybe black holes can be friends after all!
Why is Charon’s North Pole Red?
Charon, Pluto’s largest moon, has a very red north pole. Thanks to New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto and its moons in 2015, we have visuals of the big red spot, something not seen anywhere else in our solar system. But what could have caused it? Researchers think the stain comes from Pluto itself...specifically, methane gas on the dwarf planet’s surface. Because Charon has winters that last for decades (“Winter Is Coming”, anyone?) the methane clings to its subzero north pole. When that pole is exposed to the Sun during the moon’s summer months, the methane is transformed to tholins, a red organic goopy substance.
The Universe Was Re-Ionized Later Than We Thought
The ESA is all over the news this week! According to Big Bang astronomers, the universe was ionized (the appearance of the first specs of light) twice: once immediately after the Big Bang, and a second time, millions of years later. This is where the ESA comes in. Their spacecraft, Planck, has detected microwaves that change the timeframe of the re-ionization, placing it 700 million years after the Big Bang (it was previously at the 450 million-year mark).
We’ve all been talking a lot about the newly discovered exoplanet (Centauri b) orbiting our nearest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri. Some of us have even imagined what it looks like, right? Well, the funny thing is that no one has any idea! No really...scientists have no idea what any of the exoplanets actually look like. How could they? It will take our fastest space ship almost 18,000 years to get there. So, astronomers must rely on their knowledge of science to create visuals of these planets, making them the artists of the scientific community. By using data, they can loosely determine the radius, temperature, and the distance to its host star.
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine