Okay, New Idea. Oumuamua is an Interstellar “Dust Bunny”

Artist’s impression of the interstellar object, `Oumuamua, experiencing outgassing as it leaves our Solar System. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, ESO, M. Kornmesser

Explaining the concept of a dust bunny to small children can be quite amusing.  No, it’s not actually alive.  It’s moving around because of really small currents of wind that we can’t even see.  It’s mainly formed out of dead skin and spider webs.   No, the spiders don’t actually eat the dead skin.  Most of the time.

Now take that same concept of a bunch of particles stuck together, scale it up a few orders of magnitude, and put it in space.  Though it’s still not alive, it would be blown by solar radiation rather than the winds.  And instead of being made out of skin and spider webs, it could be made up of cometary dust particles.  That is what scientists think our first detected visitor from another star might be – an interstellar dust bunny.

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A New Non-toxic Propellant is Looking Promising

Believe it or not there are some people out there who think traditional rocket science is too easy and want more of a challenge.  A group at the University of Illinois (UI) decided to up the difficulty a bit by attempting to design a rocket engine that is capable of both electric and chemical propulsion. 

Such a dual-mode rocket engine would have the benefits from both kinds of propulsion.  The chemical side would give them significant thrust and quick reaction times when needed at the cost of efficiency, while the electric engine would allow for efficient, though slow, travel.  Recently the group tested a novel type of rocket fuel that might just be able to be used in both types of engines.

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There Could Be More Rogue Planets Than Stars in the Milky Way. Here’s How Nancy Grace Will Find Them

An artist's illustration of a rogue planet, dark and mysterious. Image Credit: NASA

Rogue planets are notoriously hard to detect, unless you’re the Jedi in an Extended Universe novel.  So far we have only been able to discover a handful, but estimates range from a few billion to a trillion solitary planets floating through the galaxy.  NASA hopes to dramatically increase the number we’ve detected, and thereby better our estimates of how many there actually are, with the launch of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (formerly called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST).

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Did Jupiter Push Venus Into a Runaway Greenhouse?

Venus has been garnering a lot of attention lately, though primarily in the scientific community as the last Hollywood movie about the planet was released in the 1960s.  This is in part due to its dramatic difference from Earth, and what that difference might mean for the study of exoplanets.  If we can better understand what happened during Venus’ formation to make it the hell scape it is today, we might be able to better understand what truly constitutes the habitable zone around other stars.

Numerous planetary scientists have focused on Venus’ formation and atmospheric development in the recent past.  Now a new paper posits that Venus might have had liquid water on its surface as recently as one billion years ago.  And a contributor to the disappearance of that water might be an unlikely culprit: Jupiter.

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Machine Learning Just Classified Over Half a Million Galaxies

Shows some of the galaxies in Subaru's image set that allows them to be classified.
Graphic showing some of the images successfully classified by the NAOJ's AI algorithm

Humanity is still a long way away from a fully artificial intelligence system. For now at least, AI is particularly good at some specialized tasks, such as classifying cats in videos.  Now it has a new skill set: identifying spiral patterns in galaxies.

As with all AI skills, this one started out with categorized data.  In this case, that data consisted of images of galaxies taken by the Subaru Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.  The telescope is run by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), and has identified upwards of 560,000 galaxies in images it has taken.

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What’s Possible When Earth and Space-based Telescopes Work Together?

Anyone who has ever worked on a team knows that their strength lies in coordination and a shared vision.  However, it is not always easy to provide that coordination and shared vision, and any team that lacks that cohesiveness becomes more of a hindrance than a help. 

Science is not immune to the difficulties of running effective teams.  There is plenty to be gained from more coordination between differing silos and physical locations.  Recently a meeting in Chile prompted a group of scientists to propose a plan to change that.  The result is a white paper that points out the potential benefits of coordinating ground, orbital and in situ based observations of objects.  But more importantly, it suggests a different path forward where all of the space science community can benefit from the type of coordinated output that can only come from a cohesive team.

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Asteroids Somehow Migrated Past Jupiter During the Solar System’s Early History

In baseball, players receive a Gold Glove award if they show outstanding fielding play throughout the course of the season.  Basically, they can’t let any ball get past them when playing in the field.  If a Gold Glove award was handed to planets in our solar system, it would undoubtedly be given to Jupiter.  It has long been thought that the massive gas giant hoovered up all of the asteroids in its vicinity.  In doing so, it would have created two distinct zones of asteroids – those inside it’s orbit and those outside.

Now scientists are starting to cast doubt on such a bifurcated model of the early solar system.  And they’re using hundreds of meteorites to do it.

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Antarctica Is the Best Place On Earth for a Telescope, Is Also the Hardest Place to Put a Telescope

Image of a telescope at Dome Argus, one of the coldest places on Earth. Credit: Zhaohui Shang

Twinkling stars might make for spectacular viewing on a hot summer’s night, but they are an absolute nightmare to astronomers. That twinkling is caused by disturbances in the Earth’s atmosphere, and can wreak havoc on brightness readings, a key tool for astronomers everywhere.  Those readings are used for everything from understanding galaxy formation to the detection of exoplanets.

Astronomers now have a new potential location to try to avoid the twinkling.  Only one problem though: it’s really cold, especially this time of year.  A team of astronomers from Canada, China, and Australia have identified a part of Antarctica as the ideal place to put observational telescopes.  Now the challenge becomes how to actually build one there.

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This Is Fascinating. An Image of a Galaxy’s Magnetic Field

There’s always more than one way to look at the world.  There’s also more than one way to look at a galaxy.  And sometimes combining those ways of looking can result in something truly special.

That is what happened recently when a team of astronomers from seven different universities in four different countries used three different telescopes to produce an absolutely spectacular image of a galaxy and its surrounding magnetic field.

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Saturn-sized Planet Found in the Habitable Zone of Another Star. The First Planet Completely Discovered by Amateur Astronomers

Exoplanets have been a particularly hot topic of late.  More than 4000 of them have been discovered since the first in 1995.  Now one more can potentially be added to the list. This one is orbiting Gliese 3470, a red dwarf star located in the constellation Cancer.  What makes this discovery particularly interesting is that this planet wasn’t discovered by any professional astronomers using high tech equipment like the Kepler Space Telescope.  It was found entirely by amateurs.

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