Fantasist & Futurist
- Nov 23, 2002
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
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 doorAn 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 .
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?