Over the past several weeks, a flurry of intriguing and surprising outer space-related discoveries have been made, ones that warrant a recap for those who may have missed them. I have selected four of the more fascinating ones, plus one related, really cool piece with a video, and they are:
1] Magnetic Bubbles Discovered at the Edge of Our Solar System,
2] Biggest Blast Ever Seen In Our Universe
3] Aussie Grad Student Finds Missing Mass in Galaxies
4] ‘Rogue’ Planets, More Plentiful than Stars, May Be Roaming the Galaxy
5] (An extra-special space goody:) A Supernova Sonata – Turning Exploding Stars into Music
And here we go…
Mysterious, Massive “Magnetic Bubbles” May Fill the Edge of the Solar System
Like the Earth, the sun has magnetic poles resulting from the magnetic field (magnetosphere) that surrounds it. Like the Earth, the Sun spins on an axis (though the sun reverses itself every eleven years). This creates twists and loops in the magnetic field. Unlike the Earth, however, the Sun’s magnetic field extends all the way to the “edge” of our solar system. At this great distance (10 billion miles from home), the Sun’s magnetic field interacts with energetic particles from other stars in our neighborhood of the galaxy. How these particles interact with our Sun’s magnetic field, and impact our solar system, is a subject of on-going study.
Astronomers are finding that this outer perimeter of the Sun’s field (the heliosheath) does not curve or dissipate smoothly, but rather, it appears that out there, magnetic field lines get twisted and bunched into discreet “bubbles” of magnetic energy. The bubbles in this “froth”, however, are huge — measuring 100 million miles (about one Astronomical unit, see top photo) in diameter. Whether these bubbles are the natural outcome of the Sun’s own activity, or due to an interaction with particles from other stars, is a question that remains to be answered.
So far, evidence for this “turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles” comes from a single particle detector on board one of the Voyager spacecraft that serve as our planet’s most distant probes. Scientists are still trying to verify the data and are using a computer model to confirm the existence of these massive bubbles of magnetic energy.
Reference: (Astrobio.net) Magnetic Bubbles at the Edge of the Solar System
Biggest Blast Ever Seen May be a Star-Eating Black Hole
Astronomers may be observing the biggest blast ever seen in the Universe. NASA’s SWIFT observatory detected the mega-blast on March 28. At that time it was thought to be a massive star going supernova and observers assumed that it would fade in a few hours, but in the two weeks before its reporting in Science, the blast was still going strong.
That’s no ordinary supernova. Hubble Space telescope and Chandra X-ray observatory located the source as being the center of a galaxy 3.8 billion lights years away (so, the event actually happened “out there” as single-celled life was just beginning here). Scientists believe that the explosion was caused by a large star passing too close to a black hole. As the black hole grabs hold and begins “consuming” the star’s hot, outer gases, it produces enormous bursts (“jets”) of high-energy particles (and “gamma ray bursts”)
Although its intensity has decreased from its maximum, the blast is putting our more energy than previously seen. As it continues to stay bright (a measure of its intensity), some are looking at alternative explanations, such as a massive dormant quasar suddenly “waking up”
This is the Sound of Supernovae – Translating An Exploding Star into Music
How do your memorialize the death of a star as it goes supernova? Translate the explosion into music! And these are Type 1-a supernovae which help astronomers measure distance and time in the cosmos, showing that the cosmos is accelerating, providing proxy proof of dark energy. Watch and Listen to the video! (article continues below)
Reference: (ScientificAmerican.com) The Real Explosions in the Sky: Supernovae Translated into Music [Video]
Aussie Grad Student Finds Missing Mass in Galaxies
It’s been a long-standing puzzle to astrophysicists: Where is the missing mass that must exist to account for the uneven rotational speeds observed in clusters of spiral galaxies? Scientists have proposed that the matter would need to be low in density but high in temperature. A few had previously postulated that the high-temp, missing mass should be detectable at x-ray wavelengths, and possibly, in a medium called the Warm-Hot Intergalactic Medium (WHIM), which forms into giant “filaments”, but no one had actually bothered to look really hard to substantiate the hypothesis.
That was until Australian grad student Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, working with a team of astronomers at the Monash School of Physics, conducted an x-ray survey of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It took a while — nearly three months — but her diligence paid off big. She was able to detect long “filaments” of low density and high-temperature — verifying both theoretical predictions.
Current theory holds that the universe is composed of dark energy (72%), dark matter (22%) and baryonic matter (4%). Most of the baryons (protons, electrons, neutrons) in the Universe are now thought to be contained within filaments of galaxies, but until Ms Fraser-McKelvie’s survey, no study targeting and analyzing the actual physical properties (temperature, electron density) of such filaments had been conducted or published.
Reference: (Universetoday.com) Australian Student Uncovers the Universe’s Missing Mass
Rogue Planets, More Numerous than Stars, May be Roaming the Galaxies
More things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio…More planets than stars, quite possibly, in our galaxy (and others). That’s the latest estimation from a joint Japan-New Zealand survey of some 50 million stars. The team was searching for “micro-lensing events” that cause a star’s brightness to increase (for short durations of time) whenever a smaller body transits i(from our view) in front of it. They detected over 400 such events — ten of which lasted for less than 2 days. This is far more than was estimated based upon then number of stars — including “failed stars” like brown dwarfs — likely to be hosting planets and/or solar systems.
These postulated, Jupiter-class planetary objects are either in extremely wide orbits around distant stars, or, they have no parent star at all. Astronomers are now having to reconsider earlier estimates, with many claiming that such “rogue” planets must be more numerous than stars, which are estimated at some 150 billion in number.
Reference: (Astronomynow.com) Free-floating planets more common than stars?
Top photo: Magnetic bubbles at the edge of the solar system are about 100 million miles wide–similar to the distance between Earth and the Sun. Credit: NASA