Mars keeps on Surprising: It has Glaciers!

As the inevitable launch of humans to Mars slowly approaches over the coming decades, we are using our best technology to study our neighbour in detail.  With multiple orbiting satellites and ground surveyors, we are slowly learning more about the geology, climate, environment, and history of Mars.  It feels as if every new discovery is a surprise, and we never expected Mars to be such a dynamic and complex world.  With science and technology improving every year, humanity is focussing efforts on the red planet.  The latest incredible discovery comes from radar data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The...

Ancient Black Hole Larger than Current Theories can Handle

The thing about black holes is that they are very dense.  If we took the entire 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Kg of the Sun (This is the real mass of the Sun) and turned it into a black hole, it would be about 6 Km in diameter. It is theorized that there are around 100 Million Black holes in the Milky Way Galaxy alone.  But if they aren’t near a large reservoir of gas and dust, with their small size they are pretty harmless and invisible.  The only way we could find them would be through their gravitational influence, which is hard to...

Hubble’s Best View of a Planetary Disk

At one point in history, let’s say around 1994, astronomers were fairly confident in their understanding of the formation of planetary systems.  Even though at the time we hadn’t found any planets orbiting other stars, they had long been theorized, and we figured that systems would form much like our own solar system.  Rocky planets in the interior, gaseous giants further out, and a huge icy debris field at the outer edges. And then along came 51 Pegasi b.  Half the mass of Jupiter, it orbits its star in only 4 days, far closer than Mercury.  It was considered a...

Gravity Waves or Not? Big Discovery May Need a Tune-Up

Last year we received some incredible news about Cosmology and the Big Bang.  An experiment devised to find the signature of the inflationary model of the Universe told the world they had done it!  The world cheers, as did many scientists; but of course there are always reasons to be sceptical, especially with claims that have such an impact for humanity let alone the science world. And now it seems the scepticism was correct, as the conclusive result has now been deemed inconclusive.  This doesn’t mean its false, not by a long shot, but it does mean the research team...

Why Does This Galaxy Have Such an Odd Shape?

This Galaxy, NGC 7714, has an odd shape.  In fact we call it a ‘Peculiar Galaxy.’  Why doesn’t it have the characteristic spiral arms if it is indeed a spiral? Why doesn’t it look more diffuse and football shaped like an elliptical galaxy? The reason is that like millions of other galaxies in the Universe, it has recently collided with a nearby companion galaxy. Now using the term ‘collided’ is not really accurate.  In reality the two galaxies are interacting via gravity.  During a ‘collision,’ stars in the interacting galaxies don’t physically hit each other.  The galaxies are incredibly large,...

Space News: Photos of the Week

This week there were just too many fantastic photo releases to pick just one and stick with it, so here are some of the great stories popping up with fantastic images to accompany them: Fine Detail From Rosetta on 67P This amazing shot from the Rosetta orbiter shows such incredible detail as comet 67P catches light from the sun.  The shadows are what makes this image spectacular as you can see so many fine features.  The other noteworthy part of the image is the bright streaks of material coming off the comet in the background.  As the comet and the...

From One distant World to Another: How the Ocean Floor is Giving New Insight into Supernovae

I always like to bring up the crazy ways in which two areas of science that seem completely disconnected can relate to each other, occasionally giving incredible insights. By looking at the ocean floor, a world human beings can’t reach without special pressurized equipment, we are learning about space, a world human beings can’t reach without special pressurized equipment. So how is the ocean teaching us about space? Physicists at the Australian National University have been studying seafloor dust that has been raining down on Earth as micrometeorites over the past 25 Million years.  The dust is thought to originate...

Two Supermassive Black Holes are Merging

A vast number of Galaxies in the Universe have a central black hole that is incredibly massive.  The Black Hole at the centre of the Milky Way, dubbed Sag A*, is estimated to have a mass as high as three Million Suns.  We generally can’t see black holes, but when they start to pull in matter from surrounding gas and dust clouds, the material forms a disk around the star.  This accretion disk can heat up to incredible temperatures and emit X-rays and other high energy light, allowing us to see where the black holes are.  Sometimes the light from...

Exoplanets are Hot! Travel plans and 1 Million new Destinations!

NASA is sure to start selling trips to these fabulous space destinations! The only problem is that we have no way of getting there, or more importantly, back home.  Still the posters give a great homage to the ‘see America’ posters of the 1920s, and they sure make me want to visit. Kepler 186f is a habitable zone planet around a red dwarf star, meaning it could support liquid water.  If any plant life forms on this planet, it would photosynthesize differently, potentially giving it a red colour palette. HD 403007g is a planet with 8 times the mass of Earth....

Finding Planets is Easier than we Thought: Part Two – Less Dusty Sun-Like Stars

Yesterday I wrote about young stars that had a habitable zone further away than we thought, and how this would help us spot habitable planets more easily in the future. Today is the second news story this week dealing with finding planets, and it deals with more familiar Sun-like stars and their dusty planetary discs. Dust is both a good thing and a bad thing when looking for planets orbiting other stars.  Dust tells us that there is a high likelihood of finding planets, but too much dust blocks out the planets that we look for.  Warm dust is worse...