Black Holes: Why study them? What makes them so fascinating?

Simulation of a black hole. (Credit: NASA/ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

Over the last few months, Universe Today has explored a plethora of scientific fields, including impact craters, planetary surfaces, exoplanets, astrobiology, solar physics, comets, planetary atmospheres, planetary geophysics, cosmochemistry, meteorites, radio astronomy, extremophiles, and organic chemistry, and how these various disciplines help scientists and the public better understand our place in the cosmos.

Continue reading “Black Holes: Why study them? What makes them so fascinating?”

Formation-Flying Spacecraft Could Probe the Solar System for New Physics

A solar flare erupts on the Sun. Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

It’s an exciting time for the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. Thanks to cutting-edge observatories, instruments, and new techniques, scientists are getting closer to experimentally verifying theories that remain largely untested. These theories address some of the most pressing questions scientists have about the Universe and the physical laws governing it – like the nature of gravity, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy. For decades, scientists have postulated that either there is additional physics at work or that our predominant cosmological model needs to be revised.

While the investigation into the existence and nature of Dark Matter and Dark Energy is ongoing, there are also attempts to resolve these mysteries with the possible existence of new physics. In a recent paper, a team of NASA researchers proposed how spacecraft could search for evidence of additional physical within our Solar Systems. This search, they argue, would be assisted by the spacecraft flying in a tetrahedral formation and using interferometers. Such a mission could help resolve a cosmological mystery that has eluded scientists for over half a century.

Continue reading “Formation-Flying Spacecraft Could Probe the Solar System for New Physics”

A Supermassive Black Hole with a Case of the Hiccups

Artist’s illustration of a small black hole orbiting a supermassive black hole, resulting in the former producing bursts of energy from the supermassive black hole’s disk of gas and dust. (Credit: Jose-Luis Olivares, MIT)

Can binary black holes, two black holes orbiting each other, influence their respective behaviors? This is what a recent study published in Science Advances hopes to address as a team of more than two dozen international researchers led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) investigated how a smaller black hole orbiting a supermassive black hole could alter the outbursts of the energy being emitted by the latter, essentially giving it “hiccups”. This study holds the potential to help astronomers better understand the behavior of binary black holes while producing new methods in finding more binary black holes throughout the cosmos.

Continue reading “A Supermassive Black Hole with a Case of the Hiccups”

Colliding Neutron Stars are the Ultimate Particle Accelerators

This artist’s impression shows two tiny but very dense neutron stars at the point at which they merge and explode as a kilonova. Such a very rare event is expected to produce both gravitational waves and a short gamma-ray burst, both of which were observed on 17 August 2017 by LIGO–Virgo and Fermi/INTEGRAL respectively. Subsequent detailed observations with many ESO telescopes confirmed that this object, seen in the galaxy NGC 4993 about 130 million light-years from the Earth, is indeed a kilonova. Such objects are the main source of very heavy chemical elements, such as gold and platinum, in the Universe.

Gamma-ray telescopes observing neutron star collisions might be the key to identifying the composition of dark matter. One leading theory explaining dark matter it that is mostly made from hypothetical particles called axions. If an axion is created within the intensely energetic environment of two neutron stars merging, it should then decay into gamma-ray photons which we could see using space telescopes like Fermi-LAT.

Continue reading “Colliding Neutron Stars are the Ultimate Particle Accelerators”

Could Forests Become Ultrahigh Energy Neutrino Detectors? 

A Forest - potential for becoming a neutrino detector!

I really don’t know how to introduce this article. Neutrinos are elementary particles and are electrically neutral. They are produced by numerous cosmological events. Trees, well, we all know what they are and in a recent paper, scientists believed it may be possible to use entire forests as neutrino detectors! I was a bit sceptical when I read the paper but its an interesting concept and certainly trees have been used as broadband antennae so perhaps, well its a fascinating concept.

Continue reading “Could Forests Become Ultrahigh Energy Neutrino Detectors? “

Supernovae Struck the Earth 3 Million and 7 Million Years Ago

X-ray image of the Tycho supernova, also known as SN 1572, located between 8,000 and 9,800 light-years from Earth. Its core collapse could result in a neutron star or a black hole, depending on final mass. (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN & GSFC/T. Sato et al; Optical: DSS)
X-ray image of the Tycho supernova, also known as SN 1572, located between 8,000 and 9,800 light-years from Earth. Its core collapse could result in a neutron star or a black hole, depending on final mass. (Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN & GSFC/T. Sato et al; Optical: DSS)

A recent study examines how the Earth was hit by blasts from supernovae (plural form of supernova (SN)) that occurred 3 million years ago (Mya) and 7 Mya with the goal of ascertaining the distances of where these blasts originated. Using the live (not decaying) radioactive isotope 60-Fe, which is produced from supernovae, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois was able to determine the approximate astronomical distances to the blasts, which they refer to as Pliocene Supernova (SN Plio, 3 Mya) and the Miocene Supernova (SN Mio, 7 Mya).

Continue reading “Supernovae Struck the Earth 3 Million and 7 Million Years Ago”

Afghanistan Students for the International Olympiad in Astronomy & Astrophysics Need Your Help

Students from the Kayhana astronomy organization in Afghanistan. Image courtesy of Amena Karimyan.

The 16th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) will be held this year in Silesia, Poland on August 10-20, 2023. 265 students from 53 countries will take part in this annual competition that challenges select high school students from around the world in astronomical science.

One group of student in particular stands out in overcoming incredible odds to qualify for participation in this event, and they need financial help to be able to attend. Student from Afghanistan have been restricted from publicly participating in science activities like astronomy due to the presence of the Taliban. Additionally, a majority of the students from Afghanistan who qualified to attend the IOAA are girls, and since the Taliban returned to power nearly two years ago, they have resumed pushing women and girls out of public life and out of schools.

Continue reading “Afghanistan Students for the International Olympiad in Astronomy & Astrophysics Need Your Help”

Magnetars are Extreme in Every Way, Even Their Volcanoes

Artist rendition of a magnetar eruption. These could be source of fast radio bursts. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
Artist rendition of a magnetar eruption. These could be source of fast radio bursts. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

In a recent study published in Nature Astronomy, an international team of researchers led by NASA and The George Washington University examined data from an October 2020 detection of what’s known as a “large spin-down glitch event”, also known as an “anti-glitch”, from a type of neutron star known as a magnetar called SGR 1935+2154 and located approximately 30,000 light-years from Earth, with SGR standing for soft gamma repeaters. Such events occur when the magnetar experiences a sudden decrease in its rotation rate, which in this case was followed by three types of radio bursts known as extragalactic fast radio bursts (FRBs) and then pulsed radio emissions for one month straight after the initial rotation rate decrease.

Continue reading “Magnetars are Extreme in Every Way, Even Their Volcanoes”

The Technique for Detecting Meteors Could be Used to Find Dark Matter Particles Entering the Atmosphere

A perseid meteor, streaking across the night sky. Image credit: Andreas Möller
A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky, leaving a glowing ionized trail. Image credit: Andreas Möller, licensed under

Researchers from Ohio State University have come up with a novel method to detect dark matter, based on existing meteor-detecting technology. By using ground-based radar to search for ionization trails, similar to those produced by meteors as they streak through the air, they hope to use the Earth’s atmosphere as a super-sized particle detector. The results of experiments using this technique would help researchers to narrow down the range of possible characteristics of dark matter particles.

Continue reading “The Technique for Detecting Meteors Could be Used to Find Dark Matter Particles Entering the Atmosphere”

Binary Stars Live Complicated Lives, Especially Near the End

Artist's impression of a red giant star. If the star is in a binary pair, what happens to its sibling? Credit:NASA/ Walt Feimer

We know what will happen to our Sun.

It’ll follow the same path other stars of its ilk follow. It’ll start running out of hydrogen, swell up and cool and turn red. It’ll be a red giant, and eventually, it’ll become so voluminous that it will consume the planets closest to it and render Earth uninhabitable. Then billions of years from now, it’ll create one of those beautiful nebulae we see in Hubble images, and the remnant Sun will be a shrunken white dwarf in the center of the nebula, a much smaller vestige of the luminous body it once was.

This is the predictable life the Sun lives as a solitary star. But what happens to stars that have a solar sibling? How would its binary companion fare?

Continue reading “Binary Stars Live Complicated Lives, Especially Near the End”