Weekly News Roundup: April 7th, 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.
Magnifying with Mass
Published April 2nd, 2018
Astronomers have discovered a new star. While it may not sound all that special, what is important is how they found it. It turns out if you have enough gravity, light can be bent around an object. Astronomical objects like large stars, dense neutron stars, and black holes are capable of this effect. In the case of this new star (nicknamed Icarus), it took a galaxy cluster to get the same effect.
Breaking Barriers without Shattering Eardrums
Published April 3rd, 2018
The idea of supersonic jet aircraft often comes with certain assumptions. They are fast, of course, but the problem with going faster than the speed of sound is that the sound waves
are playing catch up. The jet will appear to pass overhead in complete silence. When the sound generated by a supersonic aircraft catches up to a stationary point (someone’s house, perhaps), whoever is standing there will get all the sound all at once. This is what is called a “sonic boom,” and NASA has contracted Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company to eliminate it. Their goal is to create an aircraft that can fly at 940 miles per hour and sound “about as loud as a car door closing.”
Living on the Edge: Venus Edition
Published April 4th, 2018
The surface of Venus is well known as perhaps one of the most hostile environments in the
solar system. With temperatures hot enough to melt lead and sulfuric acid raining from the skies, our technology is lucky to last a few hours. Yet scientists are beginning to wonder if there may yet be a chance for life on this unfriendly planet. A team of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are suggesting that the search for life in our solar system should include the clouds of Venus. They have observed dark patches in the Venusian sky, patches they theorize are similar to algae blooms in terrestrial bodies of water.
F.E.L.T. and Furious
Published April 5th, 2018
Supernovae are among the brightest objects in the universe. They occur when some stars are in their death throes. They grow intensely bright, exploding and ejecting large amounts
of their total mass into the space around them. There is a specific category of supernovae, however, which is exceedingly rare simply because it does not last long. Fast-evolving luminous transients (F.E.L.T.s) are equivalent to a normal supernova with the exception that they are over in almost no time at all. Only a few have been observed, so the models describing them are still uncertain. It is unclear if the dead stars are cocooned in their own ejected matter, or if something else is at play. Only more F.E.L.T.s furiously exploding will tell us more!
Did You Lose a Ring?
Published April 6th, 2018
Moons can lose rings too. Who would have thought? They aren’t so much for decoration or
nostalgia or the many other things we use rings for as jewelry. For the most part, rings around planets represent some of the leftovers from the formation of the solar system. All of the gas giants in our system have them, Saturn’s rings being the most obvious. What happens, however, if a planet loses its ring? It is entirely possible the answer lies with Iapetus, Saturn’s 3rd largest moon. It has a strange ring of peaks that circle its equator. Many suggestions have been made as to what made these peaks, but a recent model has suggested that they may be evidence of a ring of material that once orbited the moon. If that is the case, the twelve-mile-tall peaks may be the largest lost ring in the solar system.