Astronomers Detect Clouds on an Exoplanet, and Even Measure Their Altitude

The search for planets beyond our Solar System has grown immensely during the past few decades. To date, 4,521 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in 3,353 systems, with an additional 7,761 candidates awaiting confirmation. With so many distant worlds available for study (and improved instruments and methods), the process of exoplanet studies has been slowly transitioning away from discovery towards characterization.

For example, a team of international scientists recently showed how combining data from multiple observatories allowed them to reveal the structure and composition of an exoplanet’s upper atmosphere. The exoplanet in question is WASP-127b, a “hot Saturn” that orbits a Sun-like star located about 525 light-years away. These findings preview how astronomers will characterize exoplanet atmospheres and determine if they are conducive to life as we know it.

Continue reading “Astronomers Detect Clouds on an Exoplanet, and Even Measure Their Altitude”

Galactic Panspermia. How far Could Life Spread Naturally in a Galaxy Like the Milky Way?

Can life spread throughout a galaxy like the Milky Way without technological intervention? That question is largely unanswered. A new study is taking a swing at that question by using a simulated galaxy that’s similar to the Milky Way. Then they investigated that model to see how organic compounds might move between its star systems.

Continue reading “Galactic Panspermia. How far Could Life Spread Naturally in a Galaxy Like the Milky Way?”

Hubble Reveals the Final Stages of a Dying Star

In April 2021 Hubble released its 31st-anniversary image. It’s a portrait of AG Carinae, one of the most luminous stars in the entire Milky Way. AG Carinae is in a reckless struggle with itself, periodically ejecting matter until it reaches stability sometime in the future.

Thanks to the Hubble, we get to watch the brilliant struggle.

Continue reading “Hubble Reveals the Final Stages of a Dying Star”

Astronomers Discover an Intermediate-Mass Black Hole as it Destroys a Star

Supermassive black holes (SMBH) reside in the center of galaxies like the Milky Way. They are mind-bogglingly massive, ranging from 1 million to 10 billion solar masses. Their smaller brethren, intermediate-mass black holes (IMBH), ranging between 100 and 100,000 solar masses, are harder to find.

Astronomers have spotted an intermediate-mass black hole destroying a star that got too close. They’ve learned a lot from their observations and hope to find even more of these black holes. Observing more of them may lead to understanding how SMBHs got so massive.

Continue reading “Astronomers Discover an Intermediate-Mass Black Hole as it Destroys a Star”

A Particle Physics Experiment Might Have Directly Observed Dark Energy

About 25 years ago, astrophysicists noticed something very interesting about the Universe. The fact that it was in a state of expansion had been known since the 1920s, thanks to the observation of Edwin Hubble. But thanks to the observations astronomers were making with the space observatory that bore his name (the Hubble Space Telescope), they began to notice how the rate of cosmic expansion was getting faster!

This has led to the theory that the Universe is filled with an invisible and mysterious force, known as Dark Energy (DE). Decades after it was proposed, scientists are still trying to pin down this elusive force that makes up about 70% of the energy budget of the Universe. According to a recent study by an international team of researchers, the XENON1T experiment may have already detected this elusive force, opening new possibilities for future DE research.

Continue reading “A Particle Physics Experiment Might Have Directly Observed Dark Energy”

Using Quasars as a New Standard Candle to Define Distance

Quasar

A new study shows a way to use quasars to gauge distance in the early Universe.

The simple question of ‘how far?’ gets at the heart of the history of modern astronomy. Looking out across our galactic backyard into the primordial Universe, different yardsticks—often referred to as ‘standard candles’ —are used to gauge various distances, from near to far.

Continue reading “Using Quasars as a New Standard Candle to Define Distance”

How Could we Light our Cities and Still See the Night Sky?

The night sky is a part of humanity’s natural heritage. Gazing up at the heavens is a unifying act, performed by almost every human that’s ever lived. Haven’t you looked up at the night sky and felt it ignite your sense of wonder?

But you can’t see much night sky in a modern city. And the majority of humans live in cities now. How can we regain our heritage? Can quiet contemplation make a comeback?

Continue reading “How Could we Light our Cities and Still See the Night Sky?”

Astronomers See Carbon-Rich Nebulae Where Planets are Forming

Understanding the birth of a planet is a challenging puzzle. We know that planets form inside clouds of gas and dust that surround new stars, known as protoplanetary disks. But grasping exactly how that process works – connecting the dots between a dust cloud and a finished planet – is not easy. An international team of astronomers is attempting to unlock some of those secrets, and have recently completed the most extensive chemical composition mapping of several protoplanetary discs around five young stars. Their research allows them to begin to piece together the chemical makeup of future exoplanets, offering a glimpse into the formation of new alien worlds.

Continue reading “Astronomers See Carbon-Rich Nebulae Where Planets are Forming”

Something big Just hit Jupiter!

In 1994, the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) impacted Jupiter, which had captured the comet shortly before (and broken apart by its gravity). The event became a media circus as it was the first direct observation of an extraterrestrial collision of Solar System objects. The impact was so powerful that it left scars that endured for months and were more discernible than Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

Since then, astronomers have observed multiple objects impacting Jupiter, and it is expected that such impacts happen all the time (though unobserved). On September 13th, 2021, at 22:39:30 UTC (06:39:30 PM EDT; 03:39 PM:30 PDT), another impact was observed by multiple astronomers across the world. Images and a video of the impact (shown below) were captured by members of Société Lorraine d’Astronomie (SLA) in France.

Continue reading “Something big Just hit Jupiter!”

Cosmic Rays Erode Away All But the Largest Interstellar Objects

So far we know of only two interstellar objects (ISO) to visit our Solar System. They are ‘Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov. There’s a third possible ISO named CNEOS 2014-01-08, and research suggests there should be many more.

But a new research letter shows that cosmic ray erosion limits the lifespan of icy ISOs, and though there may be many more of them, they simply don’t last as long as thought. If it’s true, then ‘Oumuamua was probably substantially larger when it started its journey, wherever that was.

Continue reading “Cosmic Rays Erode Away All But the Largest Interstellar Objects”