Astronomers Calculate Which Exoplanets Are Most Likely to Have Water

This illustration shows what the hot rocky exoplanet TRAPPIST-1 b could look like. A new method can help determine what rocky exoplanets might have large reservoirs of subsurface water. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, J. Olmsted (STScI)

Astronomers know of about 60 rocky exoplanets orbiting in the habitable zones of their stars. When they try to determine how habitable these planets might be, detecting water in their atmospheres plays a huge role. But what if there was another way of measuring the water content in these worlds?

Researchers are developing a way of modelling these worlds to determine how much water they have.

Continue reading “Astronomers Calculate Which Exoplanets Are Most Likely to Have Water”

Colliding Moons Might Have Created Saturn’s Rings

Saturn's rings are arguably the most recognizable feature in our Solar System and are made mostly of ice particles. New research says a collision between icy moons may have created them in the recent past. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

If we could wind the clock back billions of years, we’d see our Solar System the way it used to be. Planetesimals and other rocky bodies were constantly colliding with each other, and new objects would coalesce out of the debris. Asteroids rained down on the planets and their moons. The gas giants were migrating and contributing to the chaos by destroying gravitational relationships and creating new ones. Even moons and moonlets would’ve been part of the cascade of collisions and impacts.

When nature crams enough objects into a small enough space, it breeds collisions. A new study says that’s what happened at Saturn and created the planet’s dramatic rings.

Continue reading “Colliding Moons Might Have Created Saturn’s Rings”

Gluttonous Black Holes Eat Faster Than Thought. Does That Explain Quasars?

Illustration of an active quasar. What role does its dark matter halo play in activating the quasar? Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Illustration of an active quasar. New research shows that SMBHs eat rapidly enough to trigger them. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

At the heart of large galaxies like our Milky Way, there resides a supermassive black hole (SMBH.) These behemoths draw stars, gas, and dust toward them with their irresistible gravitational pull. When they consume this material, there’s a bright flare of energy, the brightest of which are quasars.

While astrophysicists think that SMBHs eat too slowly to cause a particular type of quasar, new research suggests otherwise.

Continue reading “Gluttonous Black Holes Eat Faster Than Thought. Does That Explain Quasars?”

Want Artemis to Succeed? Virtual Reality Can Help

Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. How will they store power on the Moon? 3D printed batteries could help. Credit: NASA
Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. How will they store power on the Moon? 3D printed batteries could help. Credit: NASA

Artemis astronauts are returning to the Moon, and they’ll be following in Apollo’s footsteps when they go. But things are different this time. Not only is technology far more advanced, but so is the way we think about technology and how we design it.

A new paper shows how two of modern technology’s offspring— virtual reality (VR) and user-centred design (UCD)—can be brought to bear on the Artemis Program.

Continue reading “Want Artemis to Succeed? Virtual Reality Can Help”

It Would Take Hubble 85 Years to Match What Nancy Grace Roman Will See in 63 Days

This image, containing millions of simulated galaxies strewn across space and time, shows the areas Hubble (white) and Roman (yellow) can capture in a single snapshot. Credits: NASA/GSFC/A. Yung

Less than a year and a half into its primary mission, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has already revolutionized astronomy as we know it. Using its advanced optics, infrared imaging, and spectrometers, the JWST has provided us with the most detailed and breathtaking images of the cosmos to date. But in the coming years, this telescope and its peers will be joined by another next-generation instrument: the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST). Appropriately named after “the Mother of Hubble,” Roman will pick up where Hubble left off by peering back to the beginning of time.

Like Hubble, the RST will have a 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) primary mirror and advanced instruments to capture images in different wavelengths. However, the RST will also have a gigantic 300-megapixel camera – the Wide Field Instrument (WFI) – that will enable a field of view two-hundred times greater than Hubble’s. In a recent study, an international team of NASA-led researchers described a simulation they created that previewed what the RST could see. The resulting data set will enable new experiments and opportunities for the RST once it takes to space in 2027.

Continue reading “It Would Take Hubble 85 Years to Match What Nancy Grace Roman Will See in 63 Days”

Ultra-Massive Black Holes: How Does the Universe Produce Objects So Massive?

Illustration of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF
Illustration of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It's huge, with over 4 times the mass of the Sun. But ultramassive black holes are even more massive and can contain billions of solar masses. Image Credit: Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

Black holes are the most massive objects that we know of in the Universe. Not stellar mass black holes, not supermassive black holes (SMBHs,) but ultra-massive black holes (UMBHs.) UMBHs sit in the center of galaxies like SMBHs, but they have more than five billion solar masses, an astonishingly large amount of mass. The largest black hole we know of is Phoenix A, a UMBH with up to 100 billion solar masses.

How can something grow so massive?

Continue reading “Ultra-Massive Black Holes: How Does the Universe Produce Objects So Massive?”

We Finally Understand how Black Holes can Release Powerful Flares

While black holes might always be black, they do occasionally emit some intense bursts of light from just outside their event horizon.  Previously, what exactly caused these flares had been a mystery to science.  That mystery was solved recently by a team of researchers that used a series of supercomputers to model the details of black holes’ magnetic fields in far more detail than any previous effort.  The simulations point to the breaking and remaking of super-strong magnetic fields as the source of the super-bright flares.

Continue reading “We Finally Understand how Black Holes can Release Powerful Flares”

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

An artist's impression of a Nearth-Earth Asteroid (NEA) breaking up. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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”

Simulating the Universe a Trillionth of a Second After the Big Bang

The Big Bang remains the best way to explain what happened at the beginning of the Universe.   However, the incredible energies flowing during the early part of the bang are almost incomprehensive to our everyday experience.  Luckily, computers aren’t so attached to normal human ways of thinking and have long been used to model the early universe right after the Bang.  Now, a team from the University of Göttingen have created the most comprehensive model of what exactly happened in that very early stage of the universe – one trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

Continue reading “Simulating the Universe a Trillionth of a Second After the Big Bang”

New Supercomputer Simulations Will Help pin Down Inflation

A diagram showing how the event of inflation laid down seeds that grew to become the largest structures in the universe. Image credit: The Institute of Statistical Mathematics

In the very earliest moments of the big bang, the universe experienced a period of rapid expansion known as inflation. That event planted the seeds that would eventually become galaxies and clusters. And now, a recent set of simulations is able to show us how that connection worked.

Continue reading “New Supercomputer Simulations Will Help pin Down Inflation”