Archive for the ‘Astronomy’ Category

Credit: NASA


Could there even be more than one black hole? The search for a significant extra planet has drawn a blank so far.
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A coming sky survey will help test a wild idea — that a grapefruit-sized black hole lurks undiscovered in the outer solar system, says Mike Wall @ Space.com.

Over the past few years, researchers have noticed an odd clustering in the orbits of multiple trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), which dwell in the dark depths of the far outer solar system.

Some scientists have hypothesized that the TNOs’ paths have been sculpted by the gravitational pull of a big object way out there, something 5 to 10 times more massive than Earth (though others think the TNOs may just be tugging on each other).

This big “perturber,” if it exists, may be a planet — the so-called “Planet Nine,” or “Planet X” or “Planet Next” for those who will always regard Pluto as the ninth planet.

But there’s another possibility as well: The shepherding object may be a black hole, one that crams all that mass into a sphere the size of a grapefruit.

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Their orbits have a ratio of 247:63, whereas 248:62 = 4:1.
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Several interacting exoplanets have already been spotted by satellites.

But a new breakthrough has been achieved with, for the first time, the detection directly from the ground of an extrasolar system of this type, reports Phys.org.

An international collaboration including CNRS researchers has discovered an unusual planetary system, dubbed WASP-148, using the French instrument SOPHIE at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence (CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université).

The scientists analyzed the star’s motion and concluded that it hosted two planets, WASP-148b and WASP-148c. The observations showed that the two planets were strongly interacting, which was confirmed from other data.

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Nabta Playa


An inventory of Egyptian archaeo-astronomical sites for the UNESCO World Heritage Convention evaluated Nabta Playa as having “hypothetical solar and stellar alignments.” – Wikipedia.
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This 7,000-year-old stone circle tracked the summer solstice and the arrival of the annual monsoon season. It’s the oldest known astronomical site on Earth, says Discover magazine.

For thousands of years, ancient societies all around the world erected massive stone circles, aligning them with the sun and stars to mark the seasons.

These early calendars foretold the coming of spring, summer, fall and winter, helping civilizations track when to plant and harvest crops.

They also served as ceremonial sites, both for celebration and sacrifice.

These megaliths — large, prehistoric monuments made of stone — may seem mysterious in our modern era, when many people lack a connection with, or even view of, the stars.

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During a total solar eclipse, the Sun’s corona and prominences are visible to the naked eye [image credit: Luc Viatour / https://Lucnix.be ]


There’s an interesting time-series animation of the solar corona here. Clear differences in the corona at solar minimum compared to maximum were observed by the globetrotting researchers.
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While the world has been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (IfA) have been hard at work studying the solar corona, the outermost atmosphere of the sun which expands into interplanetary space, reports Phys.org.

This stream of charged particles radiating from the surface of the sun is called the solar wind and expands to fill the entire solar system.

The properties of the solar corona are a consequence of the sun’s complex magnetic field, which is produced in the solar interior and extends outward.

A new study by IfA graduate student Benjamin Boe, published Wednesday, June 3rd in the Astrophysical Journal, used total solar eclipse observations to measure the shape of the coronal magnetic field with higher spatial resolution and over a larger area than ever before.

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Credit: NASA


Looks like game over for the Planet Nine idea. Unavoidable observational biases may be at least partly to blame.
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Planet Nine is a theoretical, undiscovered giant planet in the mysterious far reaches of our solar system, says The Conversation (via Phys.org)

The presence of Planet Nine has been hypothesized to explain everything from the tilt of the sun’s spin axis to the apparent clustering in the orbits of small, icy asteroids beyond Neptune.

But does Planet Nine actually exist?

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Browsing twitter recently I ran across this short video of a solar flare shot a few days ago.

After asking for some clarification on frame rate I was really intrigued.

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The linked article contains more video material and images.
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In February 2020, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory—SDO—is celebrating its 10th year in space, reports Phys.org.

Over the past decade the spacecraft has kept a constant eye on the sun, studying how the sun creates solar activity and drives space weather—the dynamic conditions in space that impact the entire solar system, including Earth.

Since its launch on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO has collected millions of scientific images of our nearest star, giving scientists new insights into its workings.

SDO’s measurements of the sun—from the interior to the atmosphere, magnetic field, and energy output—have greatly contributed to our understanding of our closest star.

SDO’s images have also become iconic—if you’ve ever seen a close up of activity on the sun, it was likely from an SDO image.

SDO’s long career in space has allowed it to witness nearly an entire solar cycle—the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity.

Here are a few highlights of SDO’s accomplishments over the years.

Visualization of the Radcliffe Wave. The wave is marked by red dots. The Sun is represented by a yellow dot to show our proximity to this huge structure. Courtesy of Alyssa Goodman/Harvard University


Scientists have previously reported evidence for a 26-million-year cycle of extinction on Earth, but the idea has remained controversial and unexplained. Now the discovery of the Radcliffe Wave may offer an explanation, but has anyone so far said so?

The team also found the wave interacts with the Sun. It crossed our path about 13 million years ago and will again in another 13 million years. What happened during this encounter is also unknown.

“There was no obvious mass extinction event 13 million years ago, so although we were crossing a sort of minefield back then, it did not leave an obvious mark,” Alves said. “Still, with the advent of more sensitive mass spectrometers, it is likely we will find some sort of mark left on the planet.”

13+13 = 26 (million). Can such a mark be found?
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From the article, ‘Something Appears to Have Collided with the Milky Way and Created a Huge Wave in the Galactic Plane’:

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Having one side of the planet constantly facing the star due to tidal locking could make habitability tricky though. There are three known planets in the system.
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From Wikipedia:
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered its first Earth-size planet in its star’s habitable zone, the range of distances where conditions may be just right to allow the presence of liquid water on the surface.

Scientists confirmed the find, called TOI 700 d, using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and have modeled the planet’s potential environments to help inform future observations.

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The distance from the Oort cloud to the interior of the Solar System, and two of the nearest stars, is measured in astronomical units. The scale is logarithmic; each indicated distance is ten times farther out than the previous distance. The red arrow indicates the location of the space probe Voyager 1, which will reach the Oort cloud in about 300 years [credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech]


Note that the Oort Cloud referred to in the article, although often discussed as though it exists, has to date never been directly observed, perhaps due to its supposed great distance from Earth.
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Stars and comets make unlikely dance partners, says Live Science.

Their gravitational partnership is one that astronomers have long suspected but have never seen — until now. For the first time, a Polish group has identified two nearby stars that seem to have plucked up their icy partners, swinging them into orbits around our sun.

The astronomers found the stellar duo after studying the movements of over 600 stars that came within 13 light-years of the sun. The new findings validate a theory born more than a half-century ago, and in doing so have also shown just how rare these stellar dances can be.

Out on the far edge of the solar system, hanging like wallflowers around the planetary dance floor, is the Oort Cloud.

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Artist’s impression of the Kepler telescope [credit: Wikipedia]


So said researchers in their 2015 study which had that title. Then a third planet was seen.

In the abstract they say:

Methods. Our search through two separate pipelines led to the independent discovery of K2-19b and c, a two-planet system of Neptune-sized objects (4.2 and 7.2 R⊕), orbiting a K dwarf extremely close to the 3:2 mean motion resonance. The two planets each show transits, sometimes simultaneously owing to their proximity to resonance and the alignment of conjunctions.

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Credit: reference.com


There are many reasons NASA is pursuing the Artemis mission to land astronauts on the moon by 2024: It’s a crucial way to study the moon itself and to pave a safe path to Mars, says Phys.org.

But it’s also a great place to learn more about protecting Earth, which is just one part of the larger Sun-Earth system.

Heliophysicists—scientists who study the Sun and its influence on Earth—will also be sending up their own NASA missions as part of Artemis. Their goal is to better understand the complex space environment surrounding our planet, much of which is driven by our Sun.

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The predicted ninth planet has so far proved elusive, with searches of 50 per cent of the sky in the range where it ‘should’ be having turned up nothing. But planetary theorists Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin insist the evidence shows they are on the right track. Others talk of broken glass and fingerprints – shades of Sherlock Holmes.

Beyond Neptune, a handful of small worlds are moving in harmony.

Astronomers think they might be dancing to the tune of a third world lurking in the darkness, one that’s four times bigger than Earth and significant enough to be named our Solar System’s ninth planet.

Now they think they know exactly where to look for it, says Science Focus.

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In 2011, astronomers were saying:
“We’ve crossed a threshold: For the first time, we’ve been able to detect planets smaller than the Earth around another star.”

The planets in question were Kepler-20 e and Kepler-20 f.

In the end six planets were detected: b,e,c,f,d, and g (in order of proximity to their star). Orbit periods range from about 9.38 to 63.55 days, all the planets being closer to the star than Mercury is to the Sun.

A NASA article had the title: Kepler-20, An Unusual Planetary System — referring to the alternate large/small sizes of the planets.

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The Mysterious Movements of GOES-13

Posted: September 14, 2019 by oldbrew in Astronomy, satellites, Uncertainty

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Conspiracy theorists will probably like this one…

Spaceweather.com

Sept. 11, 2019: Scott Tilley has an unusual hobby. He scans the skies for satellites where they shouldn’t be. Using an S-band receiver, the amateur radio operator has tracked many classified spacecraft orbiting Earth and famously found NASA’s IMAGE satellite when it woke up from the dead last year. This past weekend he bagged another one: GOES-13.

“This was quite a surprise,” says Tilley. “I thought GOES-13 was in a graveyard orbit–yet I found it quite active and wandering on Sept. 8th.”

GOES-13 is a NOAA weather satellite. It was retired in January 2018 after a storied 12-year career during which it monitored some of the most notorious weather events in recent U.S. history – including Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the triple disaster of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2018. The satellite also experienced significant space weather: In December 2006, GOES-13 observed a solar flare so intense it…

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Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center


First the report, then a brief Talkshop analysis.

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered a world between the sizes of Mars and Earth orbiting a bright, cool, nearby star, reports MessageToEagle.com.

The planet, called L 98-59b, marks the tiniest discovered by TESS to date.

Two other worlds orbit the same star.

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A Sunspot from the Next Solar Cycle

Posted: July 11, 2019 by oldbrew in Astronomy, Solar physics
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The transition from solar cycle 24 to 25 is…out there somewhere. But it seems AR2744 is likely to become known as ‘the first official sunspot of Solar Cycle 25.’

Spaceweather.com

July 8, 2019: Solar Cycle 25 is coming to life. For the second time this month, a sunspot from the next solar cycle has emerged in the sun’s southern hemisphere. Numbered “AR2744”, it is inset in this magnetic map of the sun’s surface from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory:

How do we know this sunspot belongs to Solar Cycle 25? Its magnetic polarity tells us so. Southern sunspots from old Solar Cycle 24 have a -/+ polarity. This sunspot is the opposite: +/-. According to Hale’s Law, sunspots switch polarities from one solar cycle to the next. AR2744 is therefore a member of Solar Cycle 25.

Solar cycles always mix together at their boundaries. Right now we are experiencing the tail end of decaying Solar Cycle 24. AR2744 shows that we are simultaneously experiencing the first stirrings of Solar Cycle 25. The transition between Solar Cycle 24 and Solar Cycle…

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Get ready: “In June 2019 the Earth will approach within [0.06 AU or 9 million km] of the center of the Taurid swarm, its closest post-perihelion encounter with Earth since 1975”. Is there a Tunguska link?

Spaceweather.com

May 24, 2019: In November 2032, Earth will pass through the Taurid Swarm, a cloud of debris from Comet 2P/Encke that makes brilliant fireballs when its gravelly particles occasionally hit Earth’s atmosphere. Previous encounters with the Swarm in 2005 and 2015 produced showers of bright meteors observed around the world; in 1975 the Swarm contacted the Moon, making Apollo seismic sensors ring with evidence of objects hitting the lunar surface. If forecasters are correct, we’re in for similar activity 13 years from now.

Some researchers are beginning to wonder if there might be more to the Taurid Swarm than the pebble-sized particles that make fireballs–something, say, that could level a forest. On June 30, 1908, a forest in Siberia did fall down when a 100-meter object fell out of the sky and exploded just above the Tunguska River. Back-tracking the trajectory of the impactor suggests it may have come from…

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Saturn seen across a sea of methane on Titan by Huygens probe 2005


Not sure they mean Earth also has eerie lakes – apart from Lake Erie perhaps. Titan, billed here by a researcher as ‘the most interesting moon in the solar system’, has some observed similarities with Earth, plus some quirks of its own.

There’s one other place in the solar system where liquid rains, evaporates, and seeps into the surface to create deep lakes: Saturn’s moon Titan, says Tech Times.

In this alien world, the Earth-like hydrologic cycle does not take place with water, but with liquid methane and ethane. In Titan’s ultra-cold environment, these gases behave just like water.

Two new papers published in the journal Nature Astronomy detailed the findings of the concluded Cassini mission, particularly the details on Titan’s lakes and their composition.

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