Fantasist & Futurist
- Nov 23, 2002
A flood of interesting news this week:
1. Spock's homeworld found
A planet has been found orbiting 40 Eridani A - which, according to the original Star Trek canon, is the system where Spock's home world of Vulcan is: Exoplanet News: Astronomers have found Vulcan!
40 Eridani A, also know as Keid, is just over 16 light years from our own sun - relatively close - hence why it was probably chosen as the star system for Vulcan.The DPS astronomers found a clear 42.4 day signal in Keid’s motion. This indicates the star is orbited by a planet (which would be called Keid b, or 40 Eri Ab… or, y’know, Vulcan) with a mass of about 8.4 times Earth’s (at a minimum; it could be more). This puts it almost exactly between Earth and Neptune in mass — Neptune’s mass is 17 times Earth’s. This makes it either what we call a super-Earth or a mini-Neptune.
And, while the headlines today scream "Vulcan found!" there are a couple of interesting notes about this:
i) As Phil Plait mentions above, the planet's mass suggest it's either a rocky "superearth" or a gassy mini-Neptune. We don't know which yet, so it may be a little premature to break out the Romulan Ale;
ii) Science already knows of a planet Vulcan - it was originally suggested to lie between the sun and Mercury, in order to explain Mercury's odd orbital period. However, the Theory of Relativity finally put that idea to rest.
2. Disturbing galactic clouds
The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are both small satellite galaxies around our Milky Way that are relatively near to each other - but a new theory suggests there may have been a third galaxy which was absorbed by the Large Magellanic Cloud: Magellanic clouds duo may have been a trio
Although our Milky Way is likely to absorb both mini-galaxies in future, it also appears that the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy may have passed close to us around 500 million years ago - which would explain why some of the stars in our galaxy have disturbed motions: Gaia detects a shake in the Milky Way
3. Neutron star disks and pasta
Neutron stars offer such extreme stellar environments that we tend to imagine them alone in space - even though the first exoplanets were found around one. However, recent observations of RX J0806.4-4123 suggest it may have a large disk of matter around it - though there's an alternative explanation: The surprising environment of an enigmatic neutron star
Additionally, what's stronger than the material on the surface of a neutron star? The theoretical geometric shapes - aka, pastas - that reside beneath it: Simulation shows nuclear pasta 10 billion times harder to break than steel
4. Originators of life found?
RNA helps to build and regulate DNA, but how it might arise naturally remains a mystery. Now a group of scientists have looked at various organic molecules to identify which could have helped form the first RNA molecules - and therefore begun the process of life: New study identifies possible ancestors of RNA
5. Moving fossils confuse mass extinctions
We all know that the Earth has experienced a number of mass extinctions - but contrary evidence has always suggested that these may have been gradual rather than sudden. A recent test of fossil evidence suggests that changing environments may give the illusion of mass extinctions: The walking dead: Fossils on the move can distort patterns of mass extinctions
BONUS Miscellaneous news!
Artificial gravity required to stop astronauts going blind: To avoid vision problems in space, astronauts will need some kind of artificial gravity
Boundary between brown dwarfs and active stars remains blurred: When is a star not a star? The line that separates stars from brown dwarfs may soon be clearer
Earth's spin axis drift explained by 3 recent causes: Scientists ID three causes of Earth's spin axis drift
And now for something different: Greek island covered by spider webs: Giant spiderweb cloaks Greek coast