Space News: Meet the new neighbours, dwarfs, and ghosts

Brian G Turner

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barnards-star-b.jpg


1. Meet the new neighbour

The big news this week is that Barnard's Star has a planet: Planet found circling neighbouring star

Barnard's Star is the second closest star system to ours, the nearest - Centauri - being a three-star system that was also recently discovered to have at least one planet in it.

What's especially exciting is that Barnard's Star is a red dwarf, which is the most common type of star in our galaxy. Which means that if Barnard's Star is in any way typical, then planets could be very abundant throughout the galaxy. Phil Plait provides further commentary on this: Big news: A planet for Barnard’s Star… the fourth closest star to our own!

While it would seem logical to expect that planets should exist around many stars, as with all things astrophysics, we can always expect to be surprised.:)

In the meantime, above is an artists impression of what the surface may look like - though with the caveat that it's likely to be below-freezing cold.

SF writers - update your star charts!


2. Mapping dwarfs and ghosts

Information from the Gaia satellite, which maps the motions of billions of stars, has allowed scientists to study the motions of some of the dwarf galaxies which orbit our Milky Way in more detail. Curiously, a lot of them seem to follow a specific plane out of sync with our Galaxy's main disk: The dance of the small galaxies that surround the Milky Way

An international team led by researchers from the IAC used data from the ESA satellite Gaia to measure the motion of 39 dwarf galaxies. This data gives information on the dynamics of these galaxies, their histories and their interactions with the Milky Way.

The researchers found that many of them are moving in a plane known as the vast polar structure. "It was already known that many of the more massive dwarf galaxies were found in this plane, but now we know that also several of the less massive dwarf galaxies might belong to this structure," says Fritz, main author of the scientific article .
BONUS! Gaia also discovered a "ghost" galaxy on the edge of our own. Named Antlia 2, it's a very thinly spread galaxy that was hiding behind view on the other side of our main disk: Gaia spots a 'ghost' galaxy next door


3. The hungriest galaxy in the universe

Keeping with galaxies, the brightest one we know of may be like that because it's currently eating up three smaller galaxies at the same time: Trans-galactic streamers feeding most luminous galaxy in the universe

Most of W2246-0526's record-breaking luminosity comes not only from stars, but also a collection of hot gas and dust concentrated around the center of the galaxy. At the heart of this cloud is a supermassive black hole, recently determined to be 4 billion times more massive than the Sun. In the intense gravity, matter falls toward the black hole at high speeds, crashing together and heating up to millions of degrees, causing the material to shine with incredible brilliance. Galaxies that contain these types of luminous, black-hole-fueled structures are known as quasars.

4. Brown blown to bits

According to scientists, the following image shows a brown dwarf - a cross between a giant planet and a small star - being ripped to bits by a white dwarf:



Phil Plait provides more detail on this extraordinary photo: What do you get when a white dwarf eats a brown dwarf? A very, very energetic cosmic belch.



5. More new neighbours!

Clouds just above Earth are a common sight - but it's only just been confirmed that there are also two large if thinly spread dust clouds sharing the same orbit as Earth: Earth's dust cloud satellites confirmed



It just goes to show how even near space can be full of surprises for us.



BONUS! When the Atacama Desert in South America received its first rains for centuries, the expectations was that it would suddenly come into bloom. Instead, the bacterial colonies which had specialized in making it their home have been wiped out: The first rains in centuries in the Atacama Desert devastate its microbial life

As its often been compared to Mars, does this mean that terraforming Mars might actually wreak catastrophic damage on existing life there - presuming there is any?
 

Serendipity

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Oh pumpkins! This post gave me the startlements! I actually used the hypothesis of the dust clouds at L4 and L5 in one of my published short stories (though I note from article they were preliminarily discovered in the 1960s). Still it's nice to have it confirmed!
 

Robert Zwilling

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On one hand we can see all this stuff, on the other hand it has never been more disconnected. We also never had this much access to so much real data and been so blind in our understanding of what makes everything tick. The incomprehensibility of the universe seen outside our doors every day of the year.

The sheer number of planets forming under so many different conditions leaves the impression that there must be an unlimited number of populations all disconnected from each other all able to see each other's stars. Some of those stars blow up making the universe look like Earth with all it's natural disasters. There's no difference between suddenly being too close to a natural disaster and being stuck on a planet where the star gets wiped by any number of routines.

It would be nice if there was some kind of connection underneath everything that had no time component so it was instantaneous and immune to the noise of the universe so we could at least tap out messages to each other using some kind of crude telegraph set up. It's either on or its off seems to be the only constant everything else is an infinite set of possibilities.

Perhaps the isolation is more than just emptiness, maybe a readily accessible part of the entire system. Its too good at keeping the life separated. At the same time one galaxy can wipe out another in a totally impersonal manner, the same impersonalness possessed by the isolation of everything. Could it all be parallel courses that never intersect.

It would be funny if there were precious metals, rare Earths, stuff that doesn't even exist here sitting in those dust clouds. Even if there was stuff in it, the size of the particles would imitate the distance between stars, just another empty taste of everything that is out there. But maybe this time a simple self powered sailnet could bring enough of it home to do something with it.
 

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