Weekly News Roundup: April 1st, 2018

The following stories are a small collection of the news from the last week. This is not an exhaustive list, but represents some of the highlights.

 

Not so Far From Home

Titan: Facts About Saturn’s Largest Moon

Published March 26th, 2018

A common theme of astronomy news is the search for an Earth-like planet. One of the places astronomers look is in other star systems, but that creates a problem. All we can do

Image Credit: NASA

is observe other planets from a distance. As it turns out, we already have another rocky body (other than Mars) that has surprising similarities to ours. It is rocky, which is a good start, and has lakes. They are made of methane. Liquid methane. While this may not be particularly friendly for life as we know it, scientists hold out hope for new life on Titan, citing the possibility of organic chemistry even on its cold surface.

 

Too Much of a Good Thing

TRAPPIST-1 System May Have Too Much Water to Support Life

Published March 28th, 2018

In our world, there is a very dangerous chemical. Drink too much of it or breathe it in and it is likely to kill you. It is everywhere, covering just over 70% of the Earth’s surface. You can’t even drink coffee without it being present. What is this terrifying chemical?

Water.

Image Credit: NASA

It turns out there is such a thing as too much water, not only for human beings, but also for planets we hope may support life. As scientists continue their investigations into the TRAPPIST-1 star system, the planets’ masses consist of between 15-50% water ice. For reference, the Earth’s mass consists of about 0.02% water. Because of the difference in composition, it is currently believed these

Image Credit: NASA-JPL

icy worlds are unlikely to support life.

 

Mercury’s Cousin

Newfound Alien Planet is a Metal-Heavy Cannonball

Published March 29th, 2018

Not all planets are the same. Some are giant, failed stars made up of gas. Others are more like the Earth, Venus and Mars with metal cores. These cores make up about a third of their mass, and in the Earth’s case provide the added benefit of a protective magnetic field. Of all the rocky bodies in the inner solar system, Mercury stands out. Compared to our planet, it is heavy, with a core that takes up two thirds of its total mass. It is, more-or-less, a planet-sized wrecking ball. And scientists have found it a cousin. In a recently surveyed star system, astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting close to its star. It is estimated to be more than twice Earth’s mass, and is suspected to have a similar core to Mercury’s.

 

Recycling in the Space Age

Liftoff! Used SpaceX Rocket Launches 10 Iridium Satellites into Orbit

Published March 30th, 2018

SpaceX has taken recycling to a new level over the last year. About a year ago, they

Image Credit: SpaceX

launched a rocket that had already been used once, delivered a satellite into orbit, then returned the rocket safely to Earth. They have been doing more or less the same thing ever since, most recently launching a set or Iridium satellites into orbit on the anniversary of that first use of a recycled rocket.

 

Fashionably Late Fireballs

Chinese Space Station Tiangong-1 May Fall to Earth Later Than Expected

Published March 30th, 2018

The European Space Agency recently released a revised forecast for the reentry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1. Due to an apparent lull in solar activity, the Earth’s atmosphere will not “balloon” out as much. As a result, the station will experience less drag during the beginning of its descent to Earth. The revised date is April 1st! Don’t worry, there is no chance it is an April fools joke.