A universe out of sight

The Pillars of Creation. Credit: NASA/ESA

We’ve been able to find that the universe is expanding faster than we thought. The LHC has produced the most data on one day. Good news, right?

We’ve become more ambitious about reaching Alpha Centauri – what changed?

The real innovation powering the idea of Starshot is not in terms of propulsion or even the lasers but of the miniaturisation of electronics.

‘World class’ optical telescope – India’s largest – to be activated near Nainital

The Devasthal optical telescope’s 3.6-m primary mirror with a hole in the middle, through which the secondary mirror will focus the light. Credit: IIST

The instrument is part of a widening foray into observational research in astronomy that India has undertaken since the 1960s, and bolstered with the successful launch of its first multi-wavelength satellite in September 2015.

Tabby’s star

An artist's rendition of KIC 8462852. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

A new thesis suggests that the star may not have been fading in brightness over the last century – but remains mum on what could be causing the erratic flux at all.

Not all waterworlds can host life

An illustration of an ocean planet with two natural satellites. Credit: Lucianomendez/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

During its formation, Venus was in the Solar System’s habitable zone – much like Earth is now. Scientists think its surface contained liquid water, and its atmosphere was somewhat like Earth’s. Maybe there was life, too. However, as the levels of carbon dioxide kept increasing, its atmosphere became opaque, trapping most of the heat reflected by its surface, and Venus heated up to the point where its oceans boiled away. Today, life on the planet’s waterless surface is considered unlikely, except perhaps by those who’ve read a November 2014 study involving supercritical… Read More

Astronomers find colossal ring system putting Saturn’s to shame

An astronomy professor at the University of Leiden, Ignas Snellen,called brown dwarfs ‘failed stars‘ because they were too heavy to be typical planets (13-75 times as heavy as Jupiter) and too light to sustain the fusion of hydrogen into helium. As a result, they exist in a limbo in astronomers’ textbooks, with the precise mechanism of their formation remaining a mystery. However, failed or no, brown dwarfs are still massive objects and make for interesting features in the universe. One stellar example is the pithily named J1407b. It was discovered in 2012 by… Read More

Astronomers strike gold with find of unique star-system only 150 ly away

Even after the loss of a critical stabilization system on-board, the NASA Kepler space telescope has made an important discovery. Scientists from the University of California have used the telescope to find a nearby star-system comprising a cool red M-dwarf and three planets slightly larger than Earth orbiting it. The find’s significance stems from various reasons, not the least of which is that this system is only 150 light-years away, close enough for astronomers to make direct observations of the star and the planets’ atmospheres*. The three planets’ radii are 2.1-, 1.7-… Read More

How Venus could harbor life: supercritical carbon dioxide

A new study published in the online journal Life says a hotter, pressurized form of carbon dioxide could harbor life in a similar way water does on Earth. This is an interesting find, theoretical though it is, because it might obviate the need for water to be present for life to exist on other planets. In fact, of the more than 2,700 exoplanet candidates, more than 2,000 are massive enough to have such carbon dioxide present on their surface. At about 305 kelvin and 73-times Earth’s atmospheric pressure, carbon dioxide becomes supercritical, a form of matter that exhibits… Read More

ALMA telescope catches live planet-forming action for the first time

The ALMA telescope in Chile has, for the first time, observed a star system that might be in the early stages of planet formation. The picture has astronomers drooling over it because the study of the origins of planets has until now been limited to simulated computer models and observations of planets made after they formed. According to a statement put out by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the observation was one of the first made with the ALMA, which opened in September 2014 for a ‘Long Baseline Campaign’ (ESO is the institution through which European countries… Read More

For planets, one thing leads to another

One of the biggest benefits of being a journalist is that you become aware of interesting things from various fields. As a science journalist, the ambit is narrowed but the interestingness, not at all. And one of the most interesting things I’ve come across is a relationship between the rate at which planets rotate – the equatorial rotation velocity – and their mass. It seems the lighter the planet, the lower its equatorial rotation velocity. This holds true for all the planets in the Solar System, as well as large asteroids and… Read More

New category: Exoplanets

Of late, telescopes like Kepler, Spitzer and ALMA are revealing new things about exoplanets as much as they’re exposing how clueless we are about their origins. Unlike in the search for life, where our only precedents are terrestrial, the search for and study of exoplanet systems is aided by Kepler’s revelation of hundreds of them, in a variety of flavors. And the more of them we discover, the more it becomes evident that in many ways the Solar System is actually an outlier, and that subjecting our stellar neighborhood to more probing… Read More

Why do tilted/eccentric orbits form?

For all its mysteries, the Solar System is uniquely ideal in many ways. For one, while it has rocky inner planets and giant, gassy outer ones, astronomers have found that elsewhere, massive exoplanets often orbit close to their stars, as if they formed at a greater distance and then moved in. For another, the orbits of the planets around the Sun are nearly circular and on the same plane. This is unlike what the Kepler space telescope has found in other star systems, where exoplanets often have eccentric orbits and orbits that are tilted… Read More