We’ve Now Seen Planet-Forming Disks Around Hundreds of Young Stars. What Do They Tell Us?

Is our Solar System comparable to other solar systems? What do other systems look like? We know from exoplanet studies that many other systems have hot Jupiters, massive gas giants that orbit extremely close to their stars. Is that normal, and our Solar System is the outlier?

One way of addressing these questions is to study the planet-forming disks around young stars to see how they evolve. But studying a large sample of these systems is the only way to get an answer. So that’s what a group of astronomers did when they surveyed 873 protoplanetary disks.

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Our Complete Guide to This Weekend’s Total Lunar Eclipse

Becke eclipse

Don’t miss one of the top astronomical events for 2022: Sunday night’s total lunar eclipse.

The first eclipse season of 2022 reaches its climax this coming weekend, with a fine total lunar eclipse transpiring on Sunday night into Monday morning. All of South America and most of North America will see the eclipse in its entirety, while Alaska and western Canada will see totality underway at moonrise, and western Europe will see the reverse at moonset near dawn.

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China Announces Its New Flagship Space Telescope Mission

Artist's concept of Chinese Space Station Telescope (CSST).  Credit: Jaimito130805, CC BY-SA 4.0
Artist’s concept of the Chinese Space Station Telescope (CSST). Credit: Jaimito130805, CC BY-SA 4.0

Distant galaxies, dark matter, dark energy, and the origin and evolution of the universe itself are some of the many scientific goals of China’s newly announced space telescope. If all goes according to plan, the China Space Station Telescope (CSST) will blast off atop a Long March 5B rocket sometime in late 2023. Once in a safe orbit, CSST should begin observations in 2024. Judging by these research topics, it looks like the Chinese Academy of Sciences is throwing down an impressive scientific gauntlet for itself and its astronomers.

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We can Probably Find Supernovae Enhanced by Gravitational Lensing, We Just Need to Look

Gravitational lensing provides an opportunity to see supernovae and other transients much farther than we normally can. A new research proposal outlines a plan to use a comprehensive catalog of strong gravitational lenses to capture these rare events at extreme distances.

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Even Stars Doomed to Die as Supernovae can Have Planets

90 percent of all exoplanets discovered to date (there are now more than 5000 of them) orbit around stars the same size or smaller than our sun. Giant stars seem to lack planetary companions, and this fact has serious implications for how we understand solar system formation. But is the dearth of planets around large stars a true reflection of nature, or is there some bias inherent in how we look for exoplanets that is causing us to miss them? The recent discovery of two gas giants orbiting a giant star called µ2 Scorpii suggests it might be the latter.

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A Giant Galaxy has been Unwinding its Neighbor for 400 Million Years

The interacting galaxy pair NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 take center stage in this image from the Dark Energy Camera, a state-of-the art wide-field imager on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory
The interacting galaxy pair NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 take center stage in this image from the Dark Energy Camera, a state-of-the art wide-field imager on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. Courtesy NOIRLab.

Sometimes you have to just sit back and marvel at a particularly gorgeous view of a galaxy interaction. When these giant space cities merge with each other, wild and crazy things happen—a sort of “Galaxies Gone Wild” scenario. Take this pair, for example. We see them locked together in a cosmic dance that has lasted for not quite a half-billion years. With each turn on the intergalactic dance floor, they change each other permanently. Eventually, they’ll combine to make one giant galaxy.

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Scientists Create Molecules that can Follow Darwinian Evolution

photo of a turtle swimming underwater

A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo have discovered a set of RNA molecules that are capable of replication and diversification. This potentially allows the molecules to undergo Darwinian evolution, pointing the way to a possible first step to life on Earth. As lead author Assistant Professor Ryo Mizuuchi said, “The results could be a clue to solving the ultimate question that human beings have been asking for thousands of years — what are the origins of life?”

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A Pulsar and Star are Orbiting Each Other Every 62 Minutes. The Fastest “Black Widow” Binary Ever Seen

Caption:An illustrated view of a black widow pulsar and its stellar companion. The pulsar’s gamma-ray emissions (magenta) strongly heat the facing side of the star (orange). The pulsar is gradually evaporating its partner.
Credits:Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Cruz deWilde
Caption: An illustrated view of a black widow pulsar and its stellar companion. The pulsar’s gamma-ray emissions (magenta) strongly heat the facing side of the star (orange). The pulsar is gradually evaporating its partner. Courtesy NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Cruz deWilde

The Milky Way Galaxy has its share of oddities, from black holes and magnetars to luminous blue variable stars and strange new worlds. But, have you ever heard of a “black widow binary?” Not exactly an easy name to wrap your head around, especially if you’re afraid of spiders. But, these things actually exist in our galaxy and they’re fascinating.

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