On October 19th, 2017, astronomers from the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii announced the first-ever detection of an interstellar object in our Solar System. In honor of the observatory that first spotted it, this object (designated 1I/2017 U1) was officially named ‘Oumuamua by the IAU – a Hawaiian term loosely translated as “Scout” (or, “a messenger from afar arriving first.”)
Multiple follow-up observations were made as ‘Oumuamua left our Solar System and countless research studies resulted. For the most part, these studies addressed the mystery of what ‘Oumuamua truly was: a comet, an asteroid, or something else entirely? Into this debate, Dr. Shmuel Bialy and Prof. Avi Loeb of the Harvard Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC) argued that ‘Oumuamua could have been an extraterrestrial probe!
Having spent the past few years presenting this controversial theory before the scientific and astronomical community, Prof. Loeb has since shared the story of how he came to it in his new book, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. The book is a seminal read, addresses the mystery of ‘Oumuamua, and (most importantly) urges readers to take seriously the possibility that an extraterrestrial encounter took place
Continue reading “A Review of “Extraterrestrial” by Prof. Avi Loeb”
Lightning is one of the most powerful forces in nature. Up to 1 billion volts of electricity can flow into a strike in less than a second. Such a large energy buildup can be created by even a relatively simple cause – two particles rubbing together. A team at the University of Oregon has now studied whether those simple interactions might cause lightning on a place it hasn’t been seen before – on Mars.
Continue reading “Dust Particles in the Martian Atmosphere can Create Static Electricity, but not Enough to Endanger the Rovers”
Mars’ surface is a harsh environment for life. But life on Earth is notoriously resilient as well. No one is quite sure yet how microbes from Earth would fare on the Martian surface. However, the impact of a potential transmigration of microbes to the red planet could be immense. Not only could it skew any findings of potential real Martian life we might find, it could also completely disrupt any nascent biosphere that Mars might have.
To understand whether that much disruption is really possible, first we must understand whether any Earthly life can survive on Mars itself. According to a new study recently published in Frontiers in Microbiology, the answer to that is yes.
Continue reading “Some Earth Life Could Already Survive on Mars”
Some lucky astronomers get to work with some of the rarest material in the world. Real Martian meteorites are extraordinarily rare, but are invaluable in terms of understanding Martian geology. Now, one of the most famous meteorites, nicknamed “Black Beauty”, is helping shed light on a much more speculative area of science: Martian biology.
Continue reading “Did Ancient Martian Life Eat Rocks For Food?”
It was the brightest supernova in nearly 400 years when it lit the skies of the southern hemisphere in February 1987. Supernova 1987A – the explosion of a blue supergiant star in the nearby mini-galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud – amazed the astronomical community. It offered them an unprecedented opportunity to observe an exploding star in real-time with modern instruments and telescopes. But something was missing. After the supernova faded, astronomers expected to find a neutron star (a hyper-dense, collapsed stellar core, made largely of neutrons) left-over at the heart of the explosion. They saw nothing.
Continue reading “Astronomers Think They’ve Found the Neutron Star Remnant Left Behind from Supernova 1987A”
Every now and then there is a burst of radio light in the sky. It lasts for just milliseconds before fading. It’s known as a Fast Radio Burst (FRB), and they are difficult to observe and study. We know they are powerful bursts of energy, but we aren’t entirely sure what causes them.
Continue reading “One Type of Fast Radio Bursts… Solved?”
Astronomers always like to look at incredibly violent places. Violence, in the astronomical sense, makes for rare conditions that can explain much about our universe. One of the violent places that astronomers love to study is the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Now, astronomers from the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) at Harvard have come up with a new catalogue of some of the most intense areas near the galactic core. They hope it will increase our understanding of these potential star-forming regions – and help explain why so few stars are actually formed in them.
Continue reading “The Core Of The Milky Way Is An Extreme Place”
Geologists love fieldwork. They love getting their specialized hammers and chisels into seams in the rock, exposing unweathered surfaces and teasing out the rock’s secrets. Mars would be the ultimate field trip for many of them, but sadly, that’s not possible.
Instead, we’ve sent the Perseverance rover on the field trip. But if a geologist were along for the ride, what would it look like to them?
Continue reading “What a Geologist Sees When They Look at Perseverance’s Landing Site”
Beyond Earth, the general scientific consensus is that the best place to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life is Mars. However, it is by no means the only place. Aside from the many extrasolar planets that have been designated as “potentially-habitable,” there are plenty of other candidates right here in our Solar System. These include the many icy satellites that are thought to have interior oceans that could harbor life.
Among them is Titan, Saturn’s largest moon that has all kinds of organic chemistry taking place between its atmosphere and surface. For some time, scientists have suspected that the study of Titan’s atmosphere could yield vital clues to the early stages of the evolution of life on Earth. Thanks to new research led by tech-giant IBM, a team of researchers has managed to recreate atmospheric conditions on Titan in a laboratory.
Continue reading “Titan’s Atmosphere Recreated in an Earth Laboratory”
Binary star systems are everywhere. They make up a huge percentage of all known solar systems: from what we can tell, about half of all Sun-like stars have a binary partner. But we haven’t really had a chance to study them in detail yet. That’s about to change. Using data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, a research team has just compiled a gigantic new catalog of nearby binary star systems, and it shows that at least 1.3 million of them exist within 3000 light-years of Earth.
Continue reading “Our Part of the Galaxy is Packed with Binary Stars”