Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

Jupiter does not orbit the sun

August 27, 2016

If we picture the solar system, we often picture our dominant star at the center of things, static and immobile as planets orbit circles around it. That picture makes things simple to understand, but technically it’s inaccurate. Take our largest planet Jupiter, for instance. It doesn’t orbit the sun’s center — it orbits a spot in empty space between it and the sun called the barycenter. This is because the sun doesn’t just exert gravity on Jupiter — Jupiter’s so big that its own pull affects how the sun moves, too.

Learn more here.

What a planet needs to sustain life

August 14, 2016

“Venus is too hot, Mars is too cold, and Earth is just right,” says planetary scientist Dave Brain. But why?

A planet with three suns

July 9, 2016

Researchers have spotted a super-Jupiter orbiting a star in a three-sun system at a distance twice as far as Pluto is from our own sun.

Preliminary data suggest that the gas giant—about four times the mass of Jupiter—orbits the largest and brightest of the three stars (which has about 1.8 times the mass of our sun) once every 550 years or so. The other two suns in the system, smaller stars that orbit each other relatively tightly and quickly, lie somewhere between 45 billion and 60 billion kilometers away. The intricate dance of the planet and these stars is taking place about 320 light-years from us. Measurements at near-infrared wavelengths suggest that HD 131399Ab’s atmosphere contains water vapor and methane, and that the planet’s cloud tops are about 850 K (577°C). Check it out below or learn more here.

Jupiter’s Northern Lights are Awesome

July 1, 2016

Have you ever seen the aurora borealis or the aurora australis? They’re wonders to behold, but auroras are not limited to Earth. Jupiter has them, too. NASA and the European Space Agency has recently been training the far-seeing Hubble Space Telescope on nearby Jupiter. It reveals ultraviolet auroras larger than the Earth itself.

Jupiter Northern Lights.jpg

Jupiter’s glorious auroras—caused by the gas giant’s enormous magnetic field reeling in charged particles from the solar wind—were first discovered by the Voyager spacecraft in 1979. The lights appear at their brightest when viewed through an ultraviolet filter.

Jupiter Northern Lights.gif

Learn more here, here or here.

Scientists Find Evidence for Ninth Planet in Solar System

January 21, 2016

Is there anybody out there? Two astronomers say they have found evidence that a planet around 10 times the mass of Earth is lurking in the outer reaches of the solar system, on an orbit that comes no closer than 200 times the distance between the sun and Earth. Dubbed Planet Nine, it hasn’t been seen directly. Instead scientists of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena have inferred its existence from the strange orbits of other, smaller bodies.

Learn more here, here, here or here.

Have We Detected Megastructures Built By Aliens Around A Distant Star?

October 16, 2015

It has been called the most bizarre star in our galaxy and some think it just might be home to high-tech aliens.

The unlikely suggestion that aliens live in this star system is being taken so seriously that a team of astrophysicists wants to train a radio telescope in its direction to determine if any signals could indicate advanced extraterrestrial life.

According to Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoctoral astrophysicist at Yale University, the most likely natural explanation is that light from the star is being blocked by a massive swarm of comets that has descended close to the solar mass.

Dr Wright at Penn State is about to publish an alternative explanation for the star’s light patterns. He says the patterns of light are also consistent with a “swarm of megastructures” orbiting the star, perhaps formed by enormous solar collectors.

Such energy collectors are dubbed Dyson structures, named after physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, who suggested in 1960 that advanced civilisations would use such structures to collect massive amounts of solar energy.

A drawing of a Dyson Sphere

A drawing of a Dyson Sphere

What does that mean? It means we’re allowed to get a little bit excited! Not because aliens are a likely possibility, but because we’re in the middle of an awesome mystery the likes of which we haven’t seen before in the history of space exploration. Word is that SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute scientists are considering devoting their time to it, and hopefully more research teams will get involved too. I seriously cannot wait to see what they come up with.

Learn more here, here or here.

Water flows on Mars

September 29, 2015

Beginning in 2011, scientists using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)—the best camera looking down on Mars—found hundreds of streaks, about 5 meters wide, that appear seasonally on steep slopes. They show up during the warm season, grow hundreds of meters long, and then fade as winter approaches. For many years, the team made the obvious interpretation: the streaks meant that water was flowing. Salts were expected to be present in the water, because they lower the freezing point of water by tens of degrees, and they also make the water less likely to evaporate in Mars’s barely-there atmosphere. But until the researchers directly detected a signature for water in the streaks, or found evidence for salts precipitating out of the water, they were unwilling to declare the case solved.

Now, they have found evidence for those salts, using a different instrument on the MRO. And this suggests that water is flowing on Mars!

Salty water on Mars

Learn more, here, here, here, here, here, here or here.

Sunlight is way older than you think

May 15, 2015

So it turns out that light from the very core of our Sun actually takes around 170 years (and 8 minutes) to reach Earth!

See why …

Jupiter’s moon has more water than all the oceans on Earth

March 13, 2015

The solar system’s largest moon, Ganymede, in orbit around Jupiter, harbors an underground ocean containing more water than all the oceans on Earth.

Ganymede

Scientists were already fairly confident in the ocean’s existence, based on the moon’s smooth icy surface—evidence of past resurfacing by the ocean—and other observations by the Galileo spacecraft, which made a handful of flybys in the 1990s. But new observations by the Hubble Space Telescope remove any remaining doubt. Ganymede now joins Jupiter’s Europa and two moons of Saturn, Titan and Enceladus, as moons with subsurface oceans—and good places to look for life. Learn more here or here.

Riding Light Through our Solar System

February 5, 2015

I just can’t get enough of stuff that illustrates just how ridiculuosly enormous the universe and the objects in it are.

In our terrestrial view of things, the speed of light seems incredibly fast. But as soon as you view it against the vast distances of the universe, it’s unfortunately very slow. This animation illustrates, in realtime, the journey of a photon of light emitted from the surface of the sun and traveling across a portion of the solar system, from a human perspective.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 723 other followers