Supermassive Black Holes Formed Directly out of Enormous Streams of Cold gas

Artist impression of a powerful young quasar. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

At the edge of known space are quasars. They are powerful cosmic engines capable of creating intense beams of light across billions of light years. And they are powered by supermassive black holes (SMBHs). Most galaxies have a SMBH, including our own galaxy, but for quasars to be so powerful their SMBHs must have become very large very quickly. We’re still learning just how they formed. We’ve long thought their formation involved a special set of circumstances, but a new study shows that early quasars could have formed purely from cold dark gas.

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Astronomers Find a Brand new Pulsar That's Probably Less Than 14 Years old

Artist view of the neutron star VT 1137-0337. Credit: Melissa Weiss, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Neutron stars are dense remnants of large stars. They are the collapsed cores of stars formed during a supernova explosion. While we know generally how they form, we are still learning how they evolve, particularly when they are young. But that’s starting to change thanks to large sky surveys, which have allowed astronomers to observe a neutron star that could be little more than a decade old.

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Another few Weeks of Observations Could Tell us if the Wow! Signal Repeats

A new study from the Center for Planetary Science claims that a comet may be responsible fr the famous Wow! Signal. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the decades-long search for extraterrestrial intelligence, there has never been confirmed evidence of an alien signal. There have, however, been a few tantalizing mysteries. Perhaps the greatest of these is known as the Wow Signal.

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Does a “Mirror World of Particles” Explain the Crisis in Cosmology?

Why create one universe when you could create two? Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team, modified by Brian Koberlein

The idea of a mirror universe is a common trope in science fiction. A world similar to ours where we might find our evil doppelganger or a version of us who actually asked out our high school crush. But the concept of a mirror universe has been often studied in theoretical cosmology, and as a new study shows, it might help us solve problems with the cosmological constant.

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A Recently Discovered Double Binary System is Unstable. Stars Could Collide, Leading to a Supernova

Artist view of an orbiting binary star. Credit: ESO/L. Cal├žada

Multiple star systems are very common in the Milky Way. While most of these systems are binary systems consisting of two stars, others contain three, four, or even six stars. These systems tend to be pretty stable since unstable systems tend to break apart or merge fairly quickly, but sometimes you can get a kind of meta-stable system. One that lasts long enough for stars to evolve while still being stable in the end. And that end could be a supernova.

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A Supermassive Black Hole Just Flipped its Entire Magnetic Field

Artist illustration of the supermassive black hole in 1ES 1927+654 before the flare. Credit: NASA/Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet

Black holes are powerful cosmic engines. They provide the energy behind quasars and other active galactic nuclei (AGNs). This is due to the interaction of matter with its powerful gravitational and magnetic fields.

Technically, a black hole doesn’t have a magnetic field on its own, but the dense plasma surrounding the black hole as an accretion disk does. As the plasma swirls around the black hole, the charged particles within it generate an electrical current and magnetic field. The direction of the plasma flow doesn’t change spontaneously, so one would imagine the magnetic field is very stable. So imagine the surprise of astronomers when they saw evidence that a black hole’s magnetic field had undergone a magnetic reversal.

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Venus' Atmosphere Stops it From Locking to the Sun

Venus' surface features are revealed in an image based on data from NASA's Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. (NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Of the thousands of exoplanets we’ve discovered, most of them closely orbit red dwarf stars. Part of this is because planets with short orbital periods are easier to find, but part of this is that red dwarf stars make up about 75% of the stars in our galaxy. This propensity of close orbiting planets has some pretty big implications for “potentially habitable” worlds, not the least of which is that most of these planets are likely tidally locked to their star. Or so we’ve thought.

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When Will Humanity Become a Type I Civilization?

Dyson Sphere as Depicted in the videogame "Stellaris", developed and published by Paradox Interactive. Used with permission. Screenshot by author

There are several ways we can measure the progress of human civilization. Population growth, the rise and fall of empires, our technological ability to reach for the stars. But one simple measure is to calculate the amount of energy humans use at any given time. As humanity has spread and advanced, our ability to harness energy is one of our most useful skills. If one assumes civilizations on other planets might possess similar skills, the energy consumption of a species is a good rough measure of its technological prowess. This is the idea behind the Kardashev Scale.

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Dying Star Puffs out six Smoke Rings

Artist view of V Hya in its death throes. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Our Sun’s days are numbered. In about 5 billion years the Sun will expand into a red giant, casting off its outer layers before settling down to become a white dwarf. It’s the inevitable fate of most sunlike stars, and the process is well understood. But as a recent study shows, there are still a few things we have to learn about dying Suns.

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Supermassive Black Holes Shut Down Star Formation

The Cigar Galaxy (M82), which is a starburst galaxy with high star production. Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

One of the key aspects of galactic evolution is star production. On a basic level, stars form within a galaxy’s gas and dust all the time, and where they form can help determine a galaxy’s shape and size. But there seems to be a sweet point when star production in a galaxy is particularly strong. Galaxies often have a period of rapid star production which then drops off. Astronomers are still trying to understand what causes this drop-off.

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