Finally, an Explanation for the Cold Spot in the Cosmic Microwave Background

According to our current Cosmological models, the Universe began with a Big Bang roughly 13.8 billion years ago. During the earliest periods, the Universe was permeated by an opaque cloud of hot plasma, preventing atoms from forming. About 380,000 years later, the Universe cooled to a temperature of about -270 °C (-454 °F), which converted much of the energy generated by the Big Bang into light. This afterglow is now visible to astronomers as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), first observed during the 1960s.

One peculiar characteristic about the CMB that attracted a lot of attention was the tiny fluctuations in temperature, which could provide information about the early Universe. In particular, there is a rather large spot in the CMB that is cooler than the surrounding afterglow, known as the CMB Cold Spot. After decades of studying the CMB’s temperature fluctuations, a team of scientists recently confirmed the existence of the largest cold spots in the CMB afterglow – the Eridanus Supervoid – might be the explanation for the CMB Cold Spot that astronomers have been looking for!

Continue reading “Finally, an Explanation for the Cold Spot in the Cosmic Microwave Background”

Missing Mass? Not on our Watch—Dr. Paul Sutter Explains Dark Matter

Do you have a few minutes to spare and a thirst for knowledge about one of the greater mysteries of the Universe? Then head on over to ArsTechnica and check out the new series they’re releasing titled Edge of Knowledge, starring none other than Dr. Paul Sutter. In what promises to be an enlightening journey, Dr. Sutter will guide viewers through an eight-episode miniseries that explores the mysteries of the cosmos, such as black holes, the future of climate change, the origins of life, and (for their premiere episode) Dark Matter!

As far as astrophysicists and cosmologists are concerned, Dark Matter is one of the most enduring, frustrating, and confusing mysteries ever! Then, one must wonder why scientists are working so tirelessly to track it down? The short answer is: the most widely accepted theories of the Universe don’t make sense without out. The long answer is… it’s both complicated and long! Luckily, Dr. Sutter manages to sum it all up in less than 15 minutes. As an accomplished physicist, he also explains why it is so important that we track Dark Matter down!

Continue reading “Missing Mass? Not on our Watch—Dr. Paul Sutter Explains Dark Matter”

Astronomers Might Have Detected the Background Gravitational Waves of the Universe

In February 2016, Gravitational Waves (GWs) were detected for the first time in history. This discovery confirmed a prediction made by Albert Einstein over a century ago and triggered a revolution in astronomy. Since then, dozens of GW events have been detected from various sources, ranging from black hole mergers, neutron star mergers, or a combination thereof. As the instruments used for GW astronomy become more sophisticated, the ability to detect more events (and learn more from them) will only increase.

For instance, an international team of astronomers recently detected a series of low-frequency gravitational waves using the International Pulsar Timing Array (IPTA). These waves, they determined, could be the early signs of a background gravitational wave signal (BGWS) caused by pairs of supermassive black holes. The existence of this background is something that astrophysicists have theorized since GWs were first detected, making this a potentially ground-breaking discovery!

Continue reading “Astronomers Might Have Detected the Background Gravitational Waves of the Universe”

If Launched by 2028, a Spacecraft Could Catch up With Oumuamua in 26 Years

In October 2017, the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua passed through our Solar System, leaving a lot of questions in its wake. Not only was it the first object of its kind ever to be observed, but the limited data astronomers obtained as it shot out of our Solar System left them all scratching their heads. Even today, almost five years after this interstellar visitor made its flyby, scientists are still uncertain about its true nature and origins. In the end, the only way to get some real answers from ‘Oumuamua is to catch up with it.

Interestingly enough, there are many proposals on the table for missions that could do just that. Consider Project Lyra, a proposal by the Institute for Interstellar Studies (i4is) that would rely on advanced propulsions technology to rendezvous with interstellar objects (ISOs) and study them. According to their latest study, if their mission concept launched in 2028 and performed a complex Jupiter Oberth Manoeuvre (JOM), it would be able to catch up to ‘Oumuamua in 26 years.

Continue reading “If Launched by 2028, a Spacecraft Could Catch up With Oumuamua in 26 Years”

NASA and HeroX Want to Convert Waste in Space and Monitor Air-Quality Here on Earth

In the coming years, NASA will be making the long-awaited return to the Moon, where they will be joined by multiple space agencies and commercial partners. This will be followed by NASA and China sending the first crewed missions to Mars and other locations in deep space in the next decade. This presents numerous challenges, not the least of which involves providing for astronauts’ basic needs while in flight. In keeping with Dr. Sian Proctor’s motto, “solving for space solves for Earth,” dedicated to addressing air-quality problems and Climate Change here at home.

To help NASA address these problems, the leading crowdsourcing platform HeroX has launched two new incentive challenges. First, there’s the “Waste to Base Materials Challenge: Sustainable Reprocessing in Space,” which seeks innovative solutions for what to do about all the waste that’s generated during long-duration spaceflights. (human and otherwise). Second, there’s the “NASA Air-athon Challenge,” which is looking to foster high-resolution air quality information to improve public health and safety.

Continue reading “NASA and HeroX Want to Convert Waste in Space and Monitor Air-Quality Here on Earth”

A Moon Might Have Been Found Orbiting an Exoplanet

An artist's illustration of the Kepler 1625 system. The star in the distance is called Kepler 1625. The gas giant is Kepler 1625B, and the exomoon orbiting it is unnamed. The moon is about as big as Neptune, but is a gas moon. Image: NASA, ESA, and L. Hustak (STScI)

In the past three decades, the field of extrasolar planet studies has advanced by leaps and bounds. To date, 4,903 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in 3,677 planetary systems, with another 8,414 candidates awaiting confirmation. The diverse nature of these planets, ranging from Super-Jupiters and Super-Earths to Mini-Neptunes and Water Worlds, has raised many questions about the nature of planet formation and evolution. A rather important question is the role and commonality of natural satellites, aka. “exomoons.”

Given the number of moons in the Solar System, it is entirely reasonable to assume that moons are ubiquitous in our galaxy. Unfortunately, despite thousands of know exoplanets, there are still no confirmed exomoons available for study. But thanks to Columbia University’s Professor David Kipping and an international team of astronomers, that may have changed. In a recent NASA-supported study, Kipping and his colleagues report on the possible discovery of an exomoon they found while examining data from the Kepler Space Telescope.

Continue reading “A Moon Might Have Been Found Orbiting an Exoplanet”

Exoplanet Found With a Highly Eccentric Orbit

The study of extrasolar planets has revealed some interesting things in recent decades. Not only have astronomers discovered entirely new types of planets – Super Jupiters, Hot Jupiters, Super-Earths, Mini-Neptunes, etc. – it has also revealed new things about solar system architecture and planetary dynamics. For example, astronomers have seen multiple systems of planets where the orbits of the planets did not conform to our Solar System.

According to a new study led by the University of Bern, an international team of researchers recently observed a Mini-Neptune (TOI-2257 b) orbiting a red dwarf star located about 188.5 light-years from Earth. What was interesting about this find was how the small ice giant had such an eccentric orbit, which is almost twice as long as it is wide! This is almost two and a half times as eccentric as Mercury, making TOI-2257 b the most eccentric planet ever discovered!

Continue reading “Exoplanet Found With a Highly Eccentric Orbit”

Fast Radio Bursts can now be Tracked in Real-Time

Located in the Okanagan Valley outside of Penticton, British Columbia, there is a massive radio observatory dedicated to observing cosmic radio phenomena. It’s called the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), a cylindrical parabolic radio telescope that looks like what snowboarders would call a “half-pipe.” This array is part of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO), overseen by the National Research Council (NRC).

Originally, the observatory was meant to detect radio waves from neutral hydrogen gas in the early Universe. Today, it is used for other objectives, such as detecting and studying Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs). Since it became operational, CHIME scientists have been busy sorting through terabytes of data to pinpoint signals, often finding several in a single day. To assist with all this data-mining and coordinate CHIMEs efforts with other facilities worldwide, scientists from McGill University have developed a new system for sharing the enormous amount of data CHIME generates.

Continue reading “Fast Radio Bursts can now be Tracked in Real-Time”

Rings in the Early Solar System Kept our Planet From Becoming a Super-Earth

To date, a total of 4,884 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in 3,659 systems, with another 8,414 additional candidates awaiting confirmation. In the course of studying these new worlds, astronomers have noted something very interesting about the “rocky” planets. Since Earth is rocky and the only known planet where life can exist, astronomers are naturally curious about this particular type of planet. Interestingly, most of the rocky planets discovered so far have been many times the size and mass of Earth.

Of the 1,702 rocky planets confirmed to date, the majority (1,516) have been “Super-Earths,” while only 186 have been similar in size and mass to Earth. This raises the question: is Earth an outlier, or do we not have enough data yet to determine how common “Earth-like” planets are. According to new research by an international team led by Rice University, it may all have to do with protoplanetary rings of dust and gas in an early solar system.

Continue reading “Rings in the Early Solar System Kept our Planet From Becoming a Super-Earth”

What is the Arecibo Message?

On November 16th, 1974, a coded radio message was broadcast from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The message contained information on mathematics, humanity, the Solar System, DNA, and the Observatory itself. The destination for this message was Messier 13 (NGC 6205 or “The Great Hercules Cluster”), a globular star cluster located about 25,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Hercules.

This historic signal was the Arecibo Message, humanity’s first attempt at Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI). Almost fifty years later, the Message remains a focal point in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), the ethics of messaging, and why we haven’t heard from any extraterrestrial civilization (the Fermi Paradox). What’s more, a growing movement today would like to see more METI efforts mounted in the future.

Continue reading “What is the Arecibo Message?”