Astronomers See a Star Crash Through the Planetary Disk of Another Star

What causes an otherwise unremarkable star to become over 100 times brighter? That’s a question astronomers have been pondering since 1936, when a star in Orion brightened from 16th magnitude to 8th magnitude in a single year.

The star, named FU Ori, is still bright to this day. Astronomers have come up with different explanations for the star’s brightening, but none of them provides a complete explanation.

Now we might have one.

Continue reading “Astronomers See a Star Crash Through the Planetary Disk of Another Star”

Astronomers Find a Planet That Orbits its Star in Just 16 HOURS!

Mercury is the speed champion in our Solar System. It orbits the Sun every 88 days, and its average speed is 47 km/s. Its average distance from the Sun is 58 million km (36 million mi), and it’s so fast it’s named after Mercury, the wing-footed God.

But what if instead of Mercury, Jupiter was closest to the Sun? And what if Jupiter was even closer to the Sun than Mercury and far hotter?

Continue reading “Astronomers Find a Planet That Orbits its Star in Just 16 HOURS!”

Is That a Fossil on Mars? Non-Biological Deposits can Mimic Organic Structures

There’s nothing easy about searching for evidence of life on Mars. Not only do we somehow have to land a rover there, which is extraordinarily difficult. But the rover needs the right instruments, and it has to search in the right location. Right now, the Perseverance lander has checked those boxes as it pursues its mission in Jezero Crater.

But there’s another problem: there are structures that look like fossils but aren’t. Many natural chemical processes produce structures that mimic biological ones. How can we tell them apart? How can we prepare for these false positives?

Continue reading “Is That a Fossil on Mars? Non-Biological Deposits can Mimic Organic Structures”

There’s So Much Pressure at the Earth’s Core, it Makes Iron Behave in a Strange Way

It’s one of nature’s topsy-turvy tricks that the deep interior of the Earth is as hot as the Sun’s surface. The sphere of iron that resides there is also under extreme pressure: about 360 million times more pressure than we experience on the Earth’s surface. But how can scientists study what happens to the iron at the center of the Earth when it’s largely unobservable?

With a pair of lasers.

Continue reading “There’s So Much Pressure at the Earth’s Core, it Makes Iron Behave in a Strange Way”

We Now Know Exactly Which Crater the Martian Meteorites Came From

Mars is still quite mysterious, despite all we’ve learned about the planet in recent years. We still have a lot to learn about its interior and surface evolution and how changes affected the planet’s history and habitability. Fortunately, an impact on the red planet sent clues to Earth in the form of meteorites.

The geological information contained in these meteorites would be even more valuable if we knew exactly where they came from. A team of researchers say they’ve figured it out.

Continue reading “We Now Know Exactly Which Crater the Martian Meteorites Came From”

Scientists Simulate the Climate of Arrakis. It Turns Out Dune is a Pretty Realistic Exoplanet

Science fiction author Frank Herbert is renowned for the richly-detailed worlds he created. None of his work is more well-known than “Dune,” which took him six years to complete. Like his other work, Dune is full of detail, including the description of planet Dune, or as the Fremen call it, Arrakis.

Dune is an unforgiving desert world that suffers powerful dust storms and has no rainfall. Scientists who specialize in modelling climates set out to see how realistic Dune is compared to exoplanets. Their conclusion?

Frank Herbert did a great job, considering he created Dune in the 1960s.

Continue reading “Scientists Simulate the Climate of Arrakis. It Turns Out Dune is a Pretty Realistic Exoplanet”

This is How You Get Moons. An Earth-Sized World Just got Pummeled by Something Huge.

Titanic collisions are the norm in young solar systems. Earth’s Moon was the result of one of those collisions when the protoplanet Theia collided with Earth some 4.5 billion years ago. The collision, or series of collisions, created a swirling mass of ejecta that eventually coalesced into the Moon. It’s called the Giant Impact Hypothesis.

Astronomers think that collisions of this sort are a common part of planet formation in young solar systems, where things haven’t settled down into predictability. But seeing any of these collisions around other stars has proved difficult.

Continue reading “This is How You Get Moons. An Earth-Sized World Just got Pummeled by Something Huge.”

The Early Solar System Had a Gap Where the Asteroid Belt is Today

Wind the cosmic clock back a few billion years and our Solar System looked much different than it does today. About 4.5 billion years ago, the young Sun shone much like it does now, though it was a little smaller. Instead of being surrounded by planets, it was ensconced in a swirling disk of gas and dust. That disk is called a protoplanetary disk and it’s where the planets eventually formed.

There was a conspicuous gap in the early Solar System’s protoplanetary disk, between where Mars and Jupiter are now, and where the modern-day asteroid belt sits. What exactly caused the gap is a mystery, but astronomers think it’s a sign of the processes that governed planet formation.

Continue reading “The Early Solar System Had a Gap Where the Asteroid Belt is Today”

You Can Blow Up an Asteroid Just a few Months Before it Hits Earth and Prevent 99% of the Damage

So far, the battle between life on Earth and asteroids has been completely one-sided. But not for long. Soon, we’ll have the capability to deter asteroids from undesirable encounters with Earth. And while conventional thinking has said that the further away the better when it comes to intercepting one, we can’t assume we’ll always have enough advance warning.

A new study says we might be able to safely destroy potentially dangerous rocky interlopers, even when they get closer to Earth than we’d like.

Continue reading “You Can Blow Up an Asteroid Just a few Months Before it Hits Earth and Prevent 99% of the Damage”