Opaque universe gives insight into galaxy formation

A new study sheds light on both the cosmic web, as well as what the universe was like when the first galaxies formed.

Researchers from numerous California universities found that 12.5 billion years ago the most opaque place in the universe had almost no matter, a new study in the Astrophysical Journal reports.

Almost all of the universe contains a vast, web-like network of dark matter and gas. Known as the “cosmic web,” that lattice accounts for most of the matter in the universe.

Though the gas within the network is almost completely transparent because it is kept ionized by ultraviolet radiation, it was not always that way.

Researchers first found that information roughly 10 years ago, when they realized 1 billion years after the Big Bang the gas hanging throughout the cosmos was not only opaque as a result of ultraviolet light, but also that its transparency changed greatly from region to region.

Then, a few years past that finding, the team behind the recent research found that the differences in opacity were so large that either the amount of gas — or the radiation in which it sits — also shifted in each area.

“Today, we live in a fairly homogeneous universe,” said lead author George Becker, a researcher from the University of California, Irvine, according to Science Daily. “If you look in any direction you find, on average, roughly the same number of galaxies and similar properties for the gas between galaxies, the so-called intergalactic gas. At that early time, however, the gas in deep space looked very different from one region of the universe to another.”

To take a closer look at the notable differences, scientists used the Subaru telescope in Hawaii to search for galaxies in a vast, 300-light-year stretch of the universe where intergalactic gas was extremely opaque.

In terms of the cosmic web, more opacity typically equals more gas, which means more galaxies. However, in the study the team found the exact opposite. The region they analyzed, despite being opaque, had much less galaxies on average.

Though they are not sure why that is, the researchers postulate it is because UV light could not travel very far in the early universe. As a result, any section with only a few galaxies would look much darker than one with more activity.  

This discovery is important because it could help scientists gain insight into the first billion years after the Big Bang, when ultraviolet light from the first galaxies filled the universe and permanently transformed the gas in deep space. In addition, analyzing deep space galaxies may also shed light on how the cosmic web first came to be. 

“There is still a lot we don’t know about when the first galaxies formed and how they altered their surroundings,” said Becker, according to SciTechDaily.

More mini-moons may be found in the future, study reports

Astronomers believe that new technology could lead to the discovery of more mini-moons, a process that could shed more light on asteroid composition.

A of team of international astronomers believe new space technology could be used to track and monitor mini-moons, according to new research published in the journal Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Nearly 12 years ago scientists detected a tiny asteroid known as 2006 RH120. They took interest in the small space rock because it was the first-known natural object to orbit Earth other than the moon.

Though scientists predicted they would find more of those “mini-moons” — asteroids that measure just 39 to 79 inches across and get temporarily caught in the Earth’s orbit — in the future, they have had no such luck. The team in the recent study states that is because current technology is not quite there.

Mini-moons are extremely small and move incredibly fast. That combination makes it so current asteroid surveys are not able to detect them.

“Mini-moons can provide interesting science and technology testbeds in near-Earth space,” said lead author Robert Jedicke, a researcher at the University of Hawaii, in a Newsweek. “These asteroids are delivered towards Earth from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter via gravitational interactions with the Sun and planets in our solar system. The challenge lies in finding these small objects, despite their close proximity.”

The reason mini-moons are so important is because they could one day help scientists gain a better understanding of both asteroids and the Earth-moon system.

Currently, researchers do not fully know what asteroids are made of. Mini-moons could give them insight into that make-up and potentially allow better analysis of deep space rocks. New technology will make that happen.

For instance, the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) — set to be operational in a few years — could use its large mirror and wide field camera to pick up mini-moons traveling through space.

“I hope that humans will someday venture into the solar system to explore the planets, asteroids and comets—and I see mini-moons as the first stepping stones on that voyage,” added Jedicke, according to Phys.org

The tiny bodies could be the perfect platform for companies to develop or test both asteroid mining and planetary defense technologies as well.

Scientists finally explain Jupiter’s colorful bands

A new study offers the first concrete explanation for why Jupiter is covered in bright, colorful bands.

Astronomers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Australian National University may have finally uncovered the mystery behind Jupiter’s brightly colored bands, a new study in the Astrophysical Journal reports.

Jupiter is unique because, unlike many planets, it has no solid surface. Rather, it is completely made up of gas.

As a part of that, its upper atmosphere has several strong jet streams that carry clouds of different elements across the planet. That process then creates colored bands that range from shades of red and orange to brown and yellow.

While scientists have long postulated on how Jupiter’s jets form and how they move beneath the clouds, they have never been able to observe the phenomena until now.

“We know a lot about the jet streams in Earth’s atmosphere and the key role they play in the weather and climate, but we still have a lot to learn about Jupiter’s atmosphere,” said lead author Navid Constantinou, a researcher from the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, according to Newsweek. “Scientists have long debated how deep the jet streams reach beneath the surfaces of Jupiter and other gas giants, and why they do not appear in the Sun’s interior.”

To take a close look at that mystery, the team behind the research analyzed data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. That then showed the jet streams dip down at least 1,800 miles below the clouds.

Using that data in combination with a mathematical model, the team predicts the jets can become suppressed if magnetic fields ever get strong enough. That would then explain why the streams can only penetrate so far.

This new finding is important because, not only does it provide insight into the planet, but it helps further research about gas giants in general.

“There are no continents and mountains below Jupiter’s atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams,” said study co-author Jeffrey Parker, a researcher at the Livermore National Laboratory, according to Phys.org. “This makes the jet streams on Jupiter simpler. By studying Jupiter, not only do we unravel the mysteries in the interior of the gas giant, but we can also use Jupiter as a laboratory for studying how atmospheric flows work in general.”

New Horizons spots ‘hydrogen wall’ at edge of solar system

For the first time in history scientists believe they may be able to view the mysterious “hydrogen wall” that sits at the edge of our solar system.

For the first time in history astronomers believe they may be able to see the so-called “hydrogen wall” at the distant edge of our solar system, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The hydrogen wall is a boundary that sits at the edge of our home system. It is where the sun’s bubble of solar wind ends and where a mass of interstellar matter that is too small to break through that wind builds up. That then creates a visible boundary that has the last remains of solar wind on one side and interstellar matter on the other.

While scientists have never been able to view the odd phenomenon before, they believe that is about to change.

New Horizons, the craft that moved past Pluto in 2015, is able to see extra ultraviolet light out at the space where the wall should be. In addition, it also appears to be the same light that NASA’s probes first detected back in 1992.

While such observations are promising, they do not necessarily show that New Horizons can view the hydrogen wall. That is because the ultraviolet light detected by the probes could easily come from another source.

However, the team is still hopeful because Alice — the instrument on board New Horizons that detected the light — is much more sensitive than anything the Voyagers had on board.

“If the ultraviolet light drops off at some point, then New Horizons may have left the wall in its rearview mirror,” wrote the researchers, according to Live Science“But if the light never fades, then its source could be farther ahead — coming from somewhere deeper in space.”

The finding holds a lot of promise. To follow up on it, New Horizons will scan the cosmos for ultraviolet light twice a year and then report any findings back down to Earth. If anything unusual pops up again, astronomers will instantly know.

“It’s really exciting if these data are able to distinguish the hydrogen wall,” said David McComas, a researcher at Princeton University who was not involved in the new work, in a statement.

Ultrahot Jupiters burn off water in their atmosphere

Scientists have found that ultrahot Jupiters’ burning atmospheres destroy hydrogen and oxygen molecules before they can form water.

Scientists from Arizona State University have discovered the dayside atmosphere of ultrahot Jupiter-like worlds act much more like a star than a planet, according to a new study published in Astrology and Astrophysics.

Such worlds have confused scientists for years because, despite the fact that they are planets, they have extremely improbable compositions. More specifically, their atmospheres contain no water vapor.

This new study sheds light on the celestial bodies and reveals what makes them so unique.

“Interpreting the spectra of the hottest of these Jupiter-like planets has posed a thorny puzzle for researchers for years,” said study co-author Michael Line, a researcher at Arizona State University, according to Science Daily.

In the research, the team found that while ultrahot Jupiters contain the ingredients for water, their dayside temperatures are so high that the molecules are ripped to shreds before they can bond.

Unlike Earth, ultrahot Jupiters have one side that is permanently in day and one side permanently in night. The day side is extremely hot, with temperatures reaching between 3,600 to 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit. That is too hot for the oxygen and hydrogen that make up water to exist.

Researchers made that discovery by using a brown dwarf model and then applying it to the worlds. That revealed it is easy to explain ultrahot Jupiters once they are treated like stars rather than planets.

That finding is important because the bodies have been the subject of research for decades. The new research gives insight into them and could completely alter the way scientists think about planets.

“Our role in this research has been to take the observed spectra of these planets and model their physics carefully,” added Line, according to Phys.org. “This showed us how to produce the observed spectra using gases that are more likely to be present under the extreme conditions. These planets don’t need exotic compositions or unusual pathways to make them.”

Distant star caught devouring planet

Researchers have finally observed a star devouring a planet.

For the first time in history astronomers have witnessed a star devouring a planet, a new study published in the Astronomical Journal reports.

This discovery comes from a team of international scientists who used NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory to capture the event, which took place 450 light years from Earth.

They believe a large star known as RW Aur A swallowed a pair of newborn planets that smashed into each other before collapsing down into the fiery body’s rotating disk.

The team first took note RW Aur A some 80 years ago. Since that time, they have noted that it sits in the constellation Taurus-Auriga and is part of a binary system with another star that weighs as much as the sun. 

However, what makes it particularly interesting is that it goes through a pattern where it dims for extended periods of time before slowly brightening again.

To explain its recent dimming, the team in the new study took a closer look at the star. They found that it may have gotten blocked by a thick cloud of gas and dust created by two planets smashing together and then falling into the star. That would have blocked out its light.

While computer models have long predicted that young stars can devour planets, this is the first scientists have observed such an event.

“If our interpretation of the data is correct, this would be the first time that we directly observe a young star devouring a planet or planets,” said lead author Hans Moritz Guenther, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to Tech Times.

This new information is important because, not only does it mark a never-before-seen event, it could explain previous dimming episodes as well. For example, if two planets or the remains of past collisions crashed into each other it may have created debris that spun off on rogue orbits.

The new finding marks a brand new phenomenon. Researchers hope they can shed more light on it in the future.

“Computer simulations have long predicted that planets can fall into a young star, but we have never before observed that,” added Guenther, according to Science Daily. “If our interpretation of the data is correct, this would be the first time that we directly observe a young star devouring a planet or planets.”

Jupiter’s moons emit extremely powerful waves

Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede have extremely powerful chorus waves that are much stronger than any other ones found in our solar system.

A team of international astronomers have found that the chorus waves around Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Europa are much more powerful than the waves around other planets in our solar system, a new study published in Nature Communications reports.

Chorus waves are electromagnetic waves that emit out from planets and cause different phenomena in their atmosphere. For instance, Earth’s waves cause the Northern Lights and generate extremely high-energy electrons.

In the new study, scientists analyzed such waves around the planets in our solar system and then used data gathered by the Galileo space to match that against Jupiter’s moons. That revealed the waves of Europa are 100 times more intense than average planetary waves, and the ones around Ganymede are 1 million times stronger than that.

“It’s a really surprising and puzzling observation showing that a moon with a magnetic field can create such a tremendous intensification in the power of waves,” said lead author Yuri Shprits, a professor at GFZ/ University of Potsdam, according to Phys.org.

While scientists are not sure why the natural satellites have such strong waves, they believe it could be partly due to the fact that they orbit within Jupiter’s magnetic field. That region is the largest field in the solar system, and it measures 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s.

At that power range, Ganymede would be able to accelerate particles to extremely high speeds and energies.

That is important because, as Earth’s chorus waves can create so-called “killer” electrons that severely damage spacecraft, there is a chance that Jupiter’s moons can generate them as well.

More research is needed, but such insight will give scientists a chance to understand the core processes that drive acceleration and loss around planets in our solar system. That may then allow them to gain new information about exoplanets as well as potential energy sources down the line.

“It’s a really surprising and puzzling observation showing that a moon with a magnetic field can create such a tremendous intensification in the power of waves,” added Shprits, in a statement.

Io may have another volcano

Astronomers believe a hotspot discovered on Jupiter’s moon Io may be the site of another volcano.

The NASA Juno spacecraft has potentially discovered a hidden volcano in Jupiter’s moon Io.

Juno is an important instrument that has made significant contributions to astronomy. It has spent nearly 150 million miles in Jupiter’s orbit since it first went up in 2016. Since then, the craft has taken pictures, recorded time-lapse photos, and made new discoveries.

The volcano on Io is the newest addition to that list.

Researchers working with NASA first took note of the potential formation when analyzing data collected by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument. Study of the Io revealed a brand new heat source near its south pole.

Though astronomers are not sure what the heat source is, chances are that it is another volcano. Io — which is known as the most volcanically active body in the solar system — already has plenty, and the finding would further reinforce that title.

The newly discovered hotspot sits 200 miles from the nearest known heat signature. While there is a chance it is a previously known volcano that moved over time, more research needs to be done before any conclusions can be made.

“The new Io hotspot JIRAM picked up is about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the nearest previously mapped hotspot,” said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, according to Phys.org. “We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hot spot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature.”

NASA plans to follow up on their research in the coming months to see what else they can figure out about Io. They hope the Juno craft will give them more insight after the next flyby, which is set to take place in a few days.

“We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hotspot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature,” added Mura, in a statement.

Ten new moons found around Jupiter

New technology has enabled researchers to detect 10 new moons in Jupiter’s orbit.

A team of astronomers from the Carnegie Institution for Science have discovered 10 previously unknown moons around Jupiter, bringing the planet’s total amount up to 79.

Researchers first found the new bodies while searching for distant objects at the edge of our solar system. During their study they noticed a handful of never-before-seen objects near Jupiter. Intrigued, they then tracked the bodies for a year and confirmed them as moons.

Two of the natural satellites orbit close to Jupiter. They are “prograde moons,” which means they orbit in the same direction as the planet spins. As a result, astronomers believe they are pieces of a larger moon that broke apart many years ago.

Seven of the new moons orbit further away and in the opposite direction, which means they are retrograde moons. The team believes those were also once apart of a much larger body.

The tenth moon is strange in that it orbits on the same path as the retrograde moons but orbits in the opposite direction. That suggests it is the remnant of a random object that Jupiter sucked in with its gravity, such as a rogue comet.

“This just shows how chaotic our Solar System was in the past,” said team leader Scott Sheppard, a researcher at the Carnegie Institute for Science, according to GizmodoThese outer moons of Jupiter are remnants of chaos.”

Scientists just recently discovered the moons because telescope technology has come a long way within the last decade or two. That has enabled researchers to take much clearer pictures of the cosmos.

In fact, as technology continues to improve there is a chance even more moons could be found around Jupiter. That may one day help scientists understand the planet’s history and perhaps gain insight into the way other gas giants first formed.

“By looking at these outer moons we can get an insight into what the objects were like that ended up forming the planets we see today,” said Sheppard, according to The Washington Post

The universe appears to expand at different rates, study reports

New measurements show that modern physics cannot succinctly understand the rate at which the universe expands.

Astronomers from John Hopkins University have found new evidence that furthers the idea that the universe expands at different speeds depending on what part is observed, according to new research in The Astrophysical Journal. 

Many recent studies on the topic have found numerous discrepancies in how fast the universe moves out to distant locations.

In fact, the “tension” could reveal that scientists need to revise the modern understanding of how physics structures the universe and change ideas surround dark matter and dark energy.

Measurements gathered from the Hubble and Gaia space telescopes revealed that the universe expands at a rate of 45.6 miles per second per megaparsec. In other words, every 3.3 million light-years a galaxy is away from Earth, it appears to move 45 miles faster.

However, previous research from the Planck telescope shows that the more distant background universe moves at a slower 41.6 miles per second per megaparsec.

The difference between both of those measurements continues to grow as researchers refine measurements over time. In fact, the data from the new study reveals a gap that is four times the size of their combined uncertainty — a value that reflects researchers’ level of confidence in the results of a trial.

“At this point, clearly it’s not simply some gross error in any one measurement,” said lead author Adam Riess, an astronomy and physics professor at Johns Hopkins University, in a statement. “It’s as though you predicted how tall a child would become from a growth chart, and then found the adult he or she became greatly exceeded the prediction. We are very perplexed.”

Nobody can explain why the universe accelerates as it expands. Some believe it may be the result of dark matter or dark energy, while others suggest that it may be the result of a yet undiscovered particle.

While researchers are still analyzing the measurements from the recent study, they will likely help scientists better predict how the early universe have evolved into the expansion rate noted today.

“The tension seems to have grown into a full-blown incompatibility between our views of the early and late time universe,” added Riess, according The Independent“At this point, clearly it’s not simply some gross error in any one measurement.