Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’

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.


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.

Why is the Solar System Flat?

January 16, 2015

Hubble’s new view of iconic ‘Pillars of Creation’

January 7, 2015

Twenty years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped one of its most iconic images ever. The three towering columns of gas bathed in the light of hot, young stars came to be called the Pillars of Creation:


Now, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Hubble has taken a new image of the well-known region in the Eagle Nebula, about 6,500 light-years away. (see full-size image here)

New view of the Pillars of Creation — visible

The Hubble team also photographed the region at infrared wavelengths, which can reveal infant stars inside the gas and dust. That should help astronomers work out whether the nebula is an efficient star-former.

Pillars of creation infrared 2014

Learn more here, here, here or here.

We Landed a Spacecraft on a Comet!

November 13, 2014

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta has become immortalised in space history as the first mission to land a spacecraft on a comet.

The ESA’s Rosetta mission sent a washing-machine-size probe named Philae to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Rosetta lander Philae

Despite a thruster failure on Wednesday, the three-legged, 100-kilogram probe set down successfully using harpoons and ice screws to anchor itself to the rubber-duck-shaped comet, to begin what could be up to a year or more of intensive scrutiny of the comet’s composition and structure.

The landing was predicted to be particularly fraught because of the comet’s rough surface, which is covered with boulders, crevasses and craters. Against all the odds, the 100-kilogram lander arrived safely within its target site.


Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 and travelled 6.4 billion kilometres through the solar system before arriving at the comet in August.

During its decade-long journey, Rosetta has continued to push the boundaries of space engineering, from its three slingshot flybys of Earth and its two and a half year hibernation to Philae’s completely automated descent and landing.

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

Cassini Sees Sunny Seas on Titan

November 2, 2014

As it soared past Saturn’s large moon Titan recently, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

In the past, Cassini had captured, separately, views of the polar seas and the sun glinting off them, but this is the first time both have been seen together in the same view. Check it out

Titan hydrocarbon seas


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