Astronomy, Astrophysics, News, Space

ESA’s billion-star surveyor, Gaia, ready to begin its science mission

Artistic representation of the ESA.

Gaia is an unmanned space observatory of the European Space Agency (ESA) which aims to catalog approximately 1 billion astronomical objects (mostly stars), about 1% of the Milky Way population. Gaia will provide a trove of valuable and spectacular data, including a precise three-dimensional map of astronomical objects throughout the Milky Way and map their motions. We were telling you in January that Gaia was already in orbit, in a stable point at about 1.5 million km from Earth. Now, Gaia is finally read to start working on its mission, observing each of its billion stars an average of 70 times each over five years. Furthermore, Gaia will also measure…

Alien life, Astronomy

101 Dalmatians ?! Probe counts and maps the geysers on Enceladus

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The geysers on the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus have been counted and mapped, strengthening theories that Enceladus is one of the best extraterrestrial places in our solar system to look for life. Earth is not the only place in our solar system which holds water. For example, Enceladus also has liquid oceans – albeit ones covered by a thick layer of ice. Researchers believe that the oceans are kept liquid by heat generated by the gravitational stress which Saturn holds on its satellite. The tectonics of Enceladus is also surprisingly active, and one of the results are the 101 geysers on its surface. Scientists are fairly sure that the…

Astronomy, Astrophysics

When Galaxies Collide: Triple Black Hole System Discovered

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Two decades ago, astronomers started to find evidence that almost all galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their center. However, the discovery of a trio of black holes circling the center of a distant galaxy, reported by astronomers on Wednesday indicates that duos and trios of black holes are much more common than previously thought. “We were quite surprised to find it,” says Roger Deane, of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, lead author of the report. It’s believed that multiple black hole systems occur when galaxies merge together – the gravitational attraction of the galaxies makes them merge together, and what you end up is three black…

Alien life, Astronomy, Interviews

Scientist Interviews: Marie-Eve Naud [Astrobiology]

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A while ago, we were telling you about the discovery of a huge exoplanet – a gas giant, found just 155 light years away from Earth. The head researcher behind that study was Marie-Eve Naud. Her main research field is the detection and characterization of exoplanets, with a focus on astrobiology. She was kind enough to talk to us and shed some light on what she studies, and what’s it like to be in such an exciting field! You can read the interview below: ZME Science (Andrei): I read that you directly imaged the planet in infrared. How did you find it, is it like looking for a needle in a hay stack,…

Astronomy, Geology

Never before seen “magic island” pops up on Saturn’s Moon Titan

Titan Ligeia Mare.

Astronomers have discovered a previously unspotted geological feature on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Pictures taken by the Cassini probe revealed a transient geological feature – a “magic island”. Now you see it, now you don’t The bright, mysterious object was seen in Ligeia Mare, the second-largest sea on Saturn’s moon Titan. But Cassini took pictures of that area before, and the island wasn’t spotted – which can only mean that this is a transient geological feature, something which comes and goes. It’s not exactly clear what’s the cause, but astronomers have a few ideas. Reporting in Nature Geoscience, scientists note that this is the first time an active geological feature was observed on…

Astronomy, Astrophysics, News

Oldest known potentially habitable exoplanet discovered just 13 lightyears away

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An international team of astronomers reported the discovery of two new planets orbiting a very old and nearby star to the Sun named Kapteyn’s star; one of the planets, Kapteyn b, is potentially habitable – it has the right size, and is at the right distance from its start to host liquid water. What makes it even more interesting is that at just 13 light years away from Earth, it is the oldest potentially habitable exoplanet found so far. It’s an exciting time to be an astronomer! It’s like every couple of days there’s an exciting exoplanet discovered, each more spectacular, similar to Earth, or potentially habitable - especially thanks to the Kepler…

Astronomy, Astrophysics

Scientists find double supermassive black hole

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Astronomers have for the first time discovered a pair of supermassive black holes that orbit each other in an ordinary galaxy. At the heart of most galaxies, there lies a supermassive black hole – as you probably already figured out from the name, it’s like a normal black hole, but much bigger. But two supermassive black holes? That’s a smoking gun – a clear indication that the galaxy in which they are located is in fact the result of a collision between two galaxies. As you might guess, these collisions are not particularly frequent. Up to date, only a few candidates for such binary black hole systems have been located,…

Astronomy, News, Space

NASA activates veggie growing system on the ISS

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Growing vegetables in outer space – something which science fiction readers are very familiar with, but in the real world, this is a first – NASA’s veggie growing chambers have activated. We were telling you a while ago about NASA’s plans to start growing vegetables onboard the ISS – and now, the system is online. The main question which is on everybody’s mind is “Will plants grow normally in microgravity?”. The plausible answer is mostly ‘Yes’. There will be of course differences in the growth patterns (plants will grow in all directions equally probably), but biologists do expect them to grow. The first fresh food production system, along with the…

Astronomy, News, Space

Asteroids can have rings, too

Saturn's Rings. Image via NASA.

When it comes to rings, we usually think about gas giants – Jupiter and Saturn have spoiled us that way. But astronauts have showed that asteroids can have rings too – at just 250 kilometres across, Chariklo is the smallest known body which has rings. Previously, only gas giants in our solar system have been seen sporting them: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Planetary rings When I was a kid, Saturn’s rings were the most mysterious things to me. For a while, I thought that’s just a cartoon creation, but when I found out they are real, I was puzzled; how could a planet have rings? It just seemed so…

Astronomy, Space

All Red Dwarf stars have planets orbiting them

Artist's impression. Credit: Neil Cook, University of Hertfordshire.

A new study has concluded that virtually all red dwarfs, the stars which make up at least three quarters out of all the stars in the Universe, have planets orbiting them. The study suggested that habitable-zone super-Earth planets (where liquid water, and therefore life as we know it can exist) orbit around at least a quarter of the red dwarfs in the Sun’s own neighborhood. Among the planets which astronomers described there were also three planets classified as habitable-zone super-Earth. Dr Mikko Tuomi, from the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Astrophysics Research and lead author of the study, said: “We were looking at the data from UVES alone, and noticed…