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,...

Rings around this Exoplanet put Saturn to Shame

Move over Saturn, J1407b has rings that are far more spectacular than anyone would have imagined.  This distant ‘planet’ (It may not actually be a planet) orbits an orange star 117 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, and has a ring system consisting of 30 separate rings, each of which could be tens of Millions of Kilometres wide. In Spring of 2007, while monitoring the light from the star, astronomers noticed that the star was being eclipsed multiple times to varying degrees.  This led the team, consisting of astronomers from Leiden Observatory and the University of Rochester, to conclude that...

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...

Motivation Monday: 5 Minutes a day to Incredible Progress

Note: This post parallels my post from last week on SMART goals, but adds a lot of valuable information for achieving your goals. Okay so it’s the new year, you’ve settled back into work, school, or whatever else you do for a few hundred days a year.  You’re motivated to get a new project started, get going on those new goals, or even just make some positive change because you are feeling fresh.  You may have had a busy holiday, but it was fun to see all your old friends and family, and you are totally re-energized. So you start all...

Next Year we could Discover Hundreds of new Black Holes!

I’ve talked about black holes previously, and only in our own Galaxy, and only the big one in the middle, Sag A*. When I speak with the public and with kids about Black Holes, most people never really understand that there aren’t just one or two kicking around, but potentially there are as many as a Billion Black Holes in our own Galaxy! The problem is, we are not very good at finding them.  It makes sense, they give off no light, and we can only find them through indirectly measuring their effects on the surrounding environment.  We can sometimes see...

Hubble has nothing on ALMA: Planets forming around a star captured in finest detail ever

The Hubble Space telescope produced the finest Astronomical images in a generation, but Hubble’s time in the limelight has ended, and now it’s time for a new generation of both space- and ground-based telescopes to take over with their own jaw-dropping images and revolutionary science. Recently the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) has taken the leap and used its full power to take an astonishing image of the protoplanetary disk of the young star HL Tau. This image is of a very young star, only about a million years old (Which is really young compared to the 4.5 billions year old...

Mystery of the Black Hole Cloud Solved

If you’re in Astronomy circles you may have heard about a big cloud of Hydrogen heading toward the supermassive black hole in the centre of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*.  The lead up to the cloud approaching the black hole had astronomers buzzing this year, as it would be a direct opportunity for us to see the black hole ‘devour’ the cloud.  The black hole would show us some celestial fireworks and give us a huge opportunity to study their behaviour. Astronomers watched closely, and then the cloud passed right by…. We should have seen the cloud torn apart as matter spiralled...