If dark matter is a particle, it should get inside red giant stars and change the way they behave

Dark matter makes up the vast majority of matter in the universe, but we can’t see it. At least, not directly. Whatever the dark matter is, it must interact with everything else in the universe through gravity, and astronomers have found that if too much dark matter collects inside of red giant stars, it can potentially cut their lifetimes in half.

Continue reading “If dark matter is a particle, it should get inside red giant stars and change the way they behave”

Searching for Phosphorus in Other Stars

The Search for Life can be a lot messier than it sounds. The three words make a nice, tidy title, but what it entails is extraordinarily difficult. How, in this vast galaxy, can we find life and the planets or moons that might host it? We’re barely at the point of either discovering or ruling out other life in our own Solar System.

Finding it somewhere else in the galaxy, even in our own interstellar neighbourhood, is a task so daunting it can be hard to comprehend.

So any time scientists think they’ve found something that can give them an edge in their near-impossible task, it deserves to be talked about.

Continue reading “Searching for Phosphorus in Other Stars”

The Strange, Misshapen Orbits of Planet-Forming Disks in a Triple-Star System

Whatever we grow up with, we think of as normal. Our single solitary yellow star seems normal to us, with planets orbiting on the same, aligned ecliptic. But most stars aren’t alone; most are in binary relationships. And some are in triple-star systems.

And the planet-forming disks around those three-star systems can exhibit some misshapen orbits.

Continue reading “The Strange, Misshapen Orbits of Planet-Forming Disks in a Triple-Star System”

The Last Supernovae

A supernova is a powerful event. For a brief moment in time, a star shines as bright as a galaxy, ripping itself apart in a last, desperate attempt to fight against its gravity. While we see supernovae as rare and wondrous things, they are quite common. Based on observations of isotopes in our galaxy, we know that about twenty supernovae occur in the Milky Way every thousand years. These brilliant cosmic flashes fill the universe with heavy elements, and their remnant dust makes up almost everything we see around us. But supernovae won’t keep happening forever. At some point in the far future, the universe will see the last supernova.

Continue reading “The Last Supernovae”

Gamma-Ray Telescopes Can Measure the Diameters of Other Stars

In astronomy, the sharpness of your image depends upon the size of your telescope. When Galileo and others began to view the heavens with telescopes centuries ago, it changed our understanding of the cosmos. Objects such as planets, seen as points of light with the naked eye, could now be seen as orbs with surface features. But even under these early telescopes, stars still appeared as a point of light. While Galileo could see Jupiter or Saturn’s size, he had no way to know the size of a star.

Continue reading “Gamma-Ray Telescopes Can Measure the Diameters of Other Stars”

1 in 10 Red Giants are Covered in Spots, and They Rotate Surprisingly Quickly

Sunspots are common on our Sun. These darker patches are cooler than their surroundings, and they’re caused by spikes in magnetic flux that inhibit convection. Without convection, those areas cool and darken.

Lots of other stars have sunspots, too. But Red Giants (RGs) don’t. Or so astronomers thought.

A new study shows that some RGs do have spots, and that they rotate faster than thought.

Continue reading “1 in 10 Red Giants are Covered in Spots, and They Rotate Surprisingly Quickly”

It Should Be Easiest to Search for Young Earth-like Planets When They’re Completely Covered in Magma

How did Earth evolve from an ocean of magma to the vibrant, life-supporting, blue jewel it is now? In its early years, the Earth was a blistering hot ball of magma. Now, 4.5 billion years later, it’s barely recognizable.

Is it possible to find exoplanets out there in the vast expanse, which are young molten globes much like young Earth was? How many of them can we expect to find? Where will we find them?

Continue reading “It Should Be Easiest to Search for Young Earth-like Planets When They’re Completely Covered in Magma”

Huge Stars Can Destroy Nearby Planetary Disks

Westerlund 2 is a star cluster about 20,000 light years away. It’s young—only about one or two million years old—and its core contains some of the brightest and hottest stars we know of. Also some of the most massive ones.

There’s something unusual going on around the massive hot stars at the heart of Westerlund 2. There should be huge, churning clouds of gas and dust around those stars, and their neighbours, in the form of circumstellar disks.

But in Westerlund 2’s case, some of the stars have no disks.

Continue reading “Huge Stars Can Destroy Nearby Planetary Disks”

A New Kind of Supernova Explosion has been Discovered: Fast Blue Optical Transients

For the child inside all of us space-enthusiasts, there might be nothing better than discovering a new type of explosion. (Except maybe bigger rockets.) And it looks like that’s what’s happened. Three objects discovered separately—one in 2016 and two in 2018—add up to a new type of supernova that astronomers are calling Fast Blue Optical Transients (FBOT).

Continue reading “A New Kind of Supernova Explosion has been Discovered: Fast Blue Optical Transients”