Something Really Wants our Attention. One Object Released 1,652 Fast Radio Bursts in 47 Days

The energetic phenomena known as Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are one of the greatest cosmic mysteries today. These mysterious flashes of light are visible in the radio wave part of the spectrum and usually last only a few milliseconds before fading away forever. Since the first FRB was observed in 2007, astronomers have looked forward to the day when instruments of sufficient sensitivity would be able to detect them regularly.

That day has arrived with the completion of the 500-Meter FAST Radio Telescope (aka. Tianyan, “Eye of Heaven”). Since it commenced operations, this observatory has vastly expanded the number of detected FRBs. In fact, according to research led by the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAO/CAS), the observatory detected a total of 1,652 independent bursts from a single source in 47 days.

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What Are Your Options When you’ve Only Got Hours or Days to Prevent an Asteroid Impact?

Imagine a scenario where we detect an asteroid heading straight for Earth. Imagine that it will arrive in a couple of days, or worse, only a few hours. What could be done to stop it?

It might be possible to protect ourselves and the planet on such short notice. But we’d have to test and build the right infrastructure to do it.

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What’s Causing the Mysterious Radio Waves Coming From the Center of the Milky Way?

The center of the Milky Way is a mysterious place. Astronomers think there’s a supermassive black hole there, though it could be dark matter instead. The region is densely packed with stars, dominated by red giants. And because of all the dust between Earth and the galactic center, we can’t see anything with visible light, ultraviolet light, or low-energy x-rays.

But we can detect radio waves, and there are some unexplained ones coming from the center of the galaxy, and adding to the mystery.

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Europa has Water in its Atmosphere

Since the Voyager probes passed through the Jupiter system in 1979, scientists have been intrigued and mystified by its moon Europa. Once the images these probes acquired of the moon’s icy surface returned to Earth, scientists began to speculate about the possibility of a subsurface ocean. Since then, the detection of plume activity and other lines of evidence have bolstered this theory and fed speculation that there could be life beneath Europa’s icy surface.

According to new research, another critical piece of evidence of Europa’s watery nature has at least been confirmed. Using a similar technique that confirmed the presence of atmospheric water vapor in Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, Lorenz Roth of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology confirmed that Europa has water vapor in its atmosphere. This discovery could lead to a greater understanding of Europa’s atmosphere and surface environment, informing missions headed there in the near future.

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This’ll be us… in 5 Billion Years

Scientists have long known the fate of our solar system – and likely the fate of Earth itself.   In a few billion years, the Sun will run out of fusion fuel and expand to a “red giant” phase, likely swallowing everything in the solar system up to the orbit of Mars.  But, some of the planets past that point could survive, like Jupiter and Saturn.  Now, scientists have used the Keck Observatory to see a system that looks like what ours will after the Sun’s red giant phase for the very first time.

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A Spacecraft Could use Gravity to Prevent a Dangerous Asteroid Impact

The idea of avoiding asteroid impacts has featured prominently in the public’s mind for decades – especially since the release of Deep Impact and Armageddon.  But is using a nuclear explosion the best way to deal with potentially hazardous space rocks?  Decidedly not.  If given enough time, there is a much more effective (and safer) way to dealing with any object on a collision course with Earth – a gravity tractor.  Now, Dr. Yohannes Ketema from the University of Minnesota has developed a flight pattern that makes this simplest of all asteroid defense mechanisms that much more effective.

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Did Titan Give Saturn its Tilt?

Giant planets like Saturn don’t just tilt over all by themselves: something has to knock them over, or tug on them gravitationally, to push them off axis. Scientists expect that when new planets are born, they form with almost no tilt at all, lining up like spinning tops, with their equators level to the orbital plane in which they circle around their sun.

But no planet in our solar system is perfectly level. Jupiter is the closest, boasting an obliquity (tilt) of just 3.12 degrees. Earth’s obliquity is much more substantive at 23.45 degrees, causing us to experience an annual cycle of seasons as our homeworld wobbles on its axis. Saturn’s tilt is more extreme yet, with an obliquity of 26.73 degrees (though it’s nowhere near as extreme as Uranus, which is practically sideways, spinning at a 97.86-degree angle to its orbital plane).

We can learn a lot from these obliquities.

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Advanced Civilizations Could use Their Stars to Communicate (and as Telescopes)

A Long Distance Call

E.T. managed to call home with a Speak and Spell, buzzsaw blade, and an umbrella. The reality of interstellar communication is a bit more complicated. Space is really, really big. The power needed to transmit a signal across the void is huge. However, rather than using super high power transmitters, recent research by Stephen Kerby and Jason T. Wright shows that we could make use of a natural signal gain boost built into solar systems – the gravitational lensing of a solar system’s star. Networking a series of stars as nodes could get signals across vast tracts of the Milky Way. And we may be able to detect if our Sun is already part of an alien galactic communication network.

Distant Satellites at the far reaches of the solar system may use the natural focusing of light by the Sun to communicate across space – c. NASA
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