Baby Stars Discharge “Sneezes” of Gas and Dust

The baby star at the center surrounded by a bright disk called a protostellar disk. Spikes of magnetic flux, gas, and dust in blue. Researchers found that the protostellar disk will expel magnetic flux, gas, and dust—much like a sneeze—during a star's formation.

I’m really not sure what to call it but a ‘dusty sneeze’ is probably as good as anything. We have known for some years that stars surround themselves with a disk of gas and dust known as the protostellar disk. The star interacts with it, occasionally discharging gas and dust regularly. Studying the magnetic fields revealed that they are weaker than expected. A new proposal suggests that the discharge mechanism ‘sneezes’ some of the magnetic flux out into space. Using ALMA, the team are hoping to understand the discharges and how they influence stellar formation. 

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How Did Pluto Get Its Heart? Scientists Suggest an Answer

New Horizons view of Pluto
The heart-shaped region of Pluto's surface was formed at least in part by a cataclysmic "splat," scientists say. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

The most recognizable feature on Pluto is its “heart,” a relatively bright valentine-shaped area known as Tombaugh Regio. How that heart got started is one of the dwarf planet’s deepest mysteries — but now researchers say they’ve come up with the most likely scenario, involving a primordial collision with a planetary body that was a little more than 400 miles wide.

The scientific term for what happened, according to a study published today in Nature Astronomy, is “splat.”

Astronomers from the University of Bern in Switzerland and the University of Arizona looked for computer simulations that produced dynamical results similar to what’s seen in data from NASA’s New Horizons probe. They found a set of simulations that made for a close match, but also ran counter to previous suggestions that Pluto harbors a deep subsurface ocean. They said their scenario doesn’t depend on the existence of a deep ocean — which could lead scientists to rewrite the history of Pluto’s geological evolution.

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The Milky Way’s Role in Ancient Egyptian Mythology

the sky goddess Nut, covered in stars, is held aloft by her father, Shu, and is arched over Geb, her brother the Earth god. On the left, the rising sun (the falcon-headed god Re) sails up Nut’s legs. On the right, the setting sun sails down her arms towards the outstretched arms of Osiris, who will regenerate the sun in the netherworld during the night.

Look through the names and origins of the constellations and you will soon realise that many cultures had a hand in their conceptualisation. Among them are the Egyptians who were fantastic astronomers. The movement of the sky played a vital role in ancient Egypt including the development of the 365 day year and the 24 hour day. Like many other cultures they say the Sun, Moon and planets as gods. Surprisingly though, the bright Milky Way seems not to have played a vital role. Some new research suggests that this may not be the case and it may have been a manifestation of the sky goddess Nut! 

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You Can't Know the True Size of an Exoplanet Without Knowing its Star's Magnetic Field

Artist's impression of a "hot Jupiter" orbiting close to a Sun-like star. Credit: NASA

In 2011, astronomers with the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) consortium detected a gas giant orbiting very close to a Sun-like (G-type) star about 700 light-years away. This planet is known as WASP-39b (aka. “Bocaprins”), one of many “hot Jupiters” discovered in recent decades that orbits its star at a distance of less than 5% the distance between the Earth and the Sun (0.05 AU). In 2022, shortly after the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) it became the first exoplanet to have carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide detected in its atmosphere.

Alas, researchers have not constrained all of WASP-39b’s crucial details (particularly its size) based on the planet’s light curves, as observed by Webb. which is holding up more precise data analyses. In a new study led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), an international team has shown a way to overcome this obstacle. They argue that considering a parent star’s magnetic field, the true size of an exoplanet in orbit can be determined. These findings are likely to significantly impact the rapidly expanding field of exoplanet study and characterization.

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Stellar Winds Coming From Other Stars Measured for the First Time

Infrared image of the shockwave created by the massive giant star Zeta Ophiuchi in an interstellar dust cloud. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); C. R. O'Dell, Vanderbilt University

An international research team led by the University of Vienna has made a major breakthrough. In a study recently published in Nature Astronomy, they describe how they conducted the first direct measurements of stellar wind in three Sun-like star systems. Using X-ray emission data obtained by the ESA’s X-ray Multi-Mirror-Newton (XMM-Newton) of these stars’ “astrospheres,” they measured the mass loss rate of these stars via stellar winds. The study of how stars and planets co-evolve could assist in the search for life while also helping astronomers predict the future evolution of our Solar System.

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Neutron Stars Could be Heating Up From Dark Matter Annihilation

Artist’s impression of the magnetar in the star cluster Westerlund 1. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

One of the big mysteries about dark matter particles is whether they interact with each other. We still don’t know the exact nature of what dark matter is. Some models argue that dark matter only interacts gravitationally, but many more posit that dark matter particles can collide with each other, clump together, and even decay into particles we can see. If that’s the case, then objects with particularly strong gravitational fields such as black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs might capture and concentrate dark matter. This could in turn affect how these objects appear. As a case in point, a recent study looks at the interplay between dark matter and neutron stars.

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The Brightest Gamma Ray Burst Ever Seen Came from a Collapsing Star

This artist's visualization of GRB 221009A shows the narrow relativistic jets (emerging from a central black hole) that gave rise to the gamma-ray burst (GRB) and the expanding remains of the original star ejected via the supernova explosion. Credit: Aaron M. Geller / Northwestern / CIERA / IT Research Computing and Data Services

After a journey lasting about two billion years, photons from an extremely energetic gamma-ray burst (GRB) struck the sensors on the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope on October 9th, 2022. The GRB lasted seven minutes but was visible for much longer. Even amateur astronomers spotted the powerful burst in visible frequencies.

It was so powerful that it affected Earth’s atmosphere, a remarkable feat for something more than two billion light-years away. It’s the brightest GRB ever observed, and since then, astrophysicists have searched for its source.

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Formation-Flying Spacecraft Could Probe the Solar System for New Physics

A solar flare erupts on the Sun. Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

It’s an exciting time for the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. Thanks to cutting-edge observatories, instruments, and new techniques, scientists are getting closer to experimentally verifying theories that remain largely untested. These theories address some of the most pressing questions scientists have about the Universe and the physical laws governing it – like the nature of gravity, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy. For decades, scientists have postulated that either there is additional physics at work or that our predominant cosmological model needs to be revised.

While the investigation into the existence and nature of Dark Matter and Dark Energy is ongoing, there are also attempts to resolve these mysteries with the possible existence of new physics. In a recent paper, a team of NASA researchers proposed how spacecraft could search for evidence of additional physical within our Solar Systems. This search, they argue, would be assisted by the spacecraft flying in a tetrahedral formation and using interferometers. Such a mission could help resolve a cosmological mystery that has eluded scientists for over half a century.

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Watch a Satellite Reaction Wheel Melt in a Simulated Orbital Re-Entry

This illustrations shows one of the ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicles burning up during re-entry. Heavier spacecraft components like satellite reaction wheels don't always burn up and constitute a hazard. ESA engineers are working to change that. Image Credit: ESA LICENCE ESA Standard Licence

Most satellites share the same fate at the end of their lives. Their orbits decay, and eventually, they plunge through the atmosphere toward Earth. Most satellites are destroyed during their rapid descent, but not always

Heavy pieces of the satellite, like reaction wheels, can survive and strike the Earth. Engineers are trying to change that.

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NASA is Building an Electrodynamic Shield to Deal with all that Dust on the Moon and Mars

Astronaut on the Moon

Exploration of the Moon or other dusty environments comes with challenges. The lunar surface is covered in material known as regolith and its a jaggy, glassy material. It can cause wear and tear on equipment and can pose a health risk to astronauts too. Astronauts travelling to Mars would experience dust saucing to everything, including solar panels leading to decrease in power. To combat the problems created by dust, NASA is working on an innovative electrodynamic dust shield to remove dust and protect surfaces from solar panels to space suits. 

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