An Asteroid with Rings?

From ESO, observations made at telescopes in South America have made the surprise discovery that the remote asteroid Chariklo is surrounded by two dense and narrow rings. This is the smallest object to have rings and only the fifth body in the Solar System — after the much larger planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — to have this feature. The origin of these rings remains a mystery, but they may be the result of a collision that created a disc of debris.

The rings of Saturn are one of the most spectacular sights in the sky, and less prominent rings have also been found around the other giant planets. Despite many careful searches, no rings had been found around smaller objects orbiting the Sun in the Solar System. Now observations of the distant minor planet Chariklo as it passed in front of a star have shown that this object too is surrounded by two fine rings.

Chariklo is the largest member of a class known as the Centaurs and it orbits between Saturn and Uranus in the outer Solar System. The astronomers found much more than they were expecting. A few seconds before, and again a few seconds after the Continue reading An Asteroid with Rings?

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Earth’s Most Destructive Supervolcanoes – Preview

Here’s a preview of our newest Cosmic Journeys episode. It surveys the most powerful supervolcanoes and the scientific quest to understand them. Coming soon.

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Major New Cosmic Simulation: Why it’s Significant

Scientists have created an important new simulation of cosmic evolution. It takes place in a virtual cube 350 million light-years squared, and spans a time period from 12 million years after the Big Bang to the present day, or around 13 billion years’ worth of cosmic evolution.

The project, called Illustris, encompasses over 12 billion data points to track the rise and evolution of some 50,000 galaxies. The simulation used a total of 8,000 processors, the equivalent of 2,000 years of processing time on a standard desktop computer. The run created half-petabyte of information.

The end result is a model that not only recreates the emergence of stars and galaxies, but the influence of dark matter and the spread of heavy metals throughout the universe.

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Cosmic Journeys – Supervolcanoes

They are eruptions so vast, so Earth-shattering, they have changed the history of our planet. Climate collapse. Toxic turmoil. Mass extinction. Worse than a killer asteroid, or nuclear war, they are Earth’s most destructive Supervolcanoes.

North America, the time was six hundred and forty thousand years ago, long before humans arrived on the continent. Amid one of nature’s great mountain building projects, the Rockies, vast columns of smoke began to rise high into the atmosphere. And soon a smokey haze wrapped the globe.

A thick blanket of ashe spread over the western United States. Geologists have traced this event to a depression in the land known as a caldera, in the heart of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Today, we venture to Yellowstone to admire its spectacles of steam and boiling mud.

Visitors to Yellowstone may never suspect they are atop one of the world’s largest active volcanoes.

The last time it blew, it sent an estimated 1000 cubic kilometers of dirt, rocks, ashe, dust, and soot into the atmosphere. But that’s small compared to Earth’s largest super volcanoes. Find out what made Toba, Siberian Traps, Deccan Traps and other super eruptions so powerful.

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Cosmic Journeys – Fate of Antarctica

The episode of Cosmic Journeys explores the intersection of paleoclimate and current climate science. Through its turbulent history, Antarctica has played an important role in the evolution of planet Earth. This role will likely continue as a warming global climate begins to eat away at the ice sheets that cover the continent. The fate of the world as we know it is linked to the fate of Antarctica.

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Life: Destiny or Chance – PREVIEW

Our latest episode of Cosmic Journeys. We ask the question: Are the universe and its physical laws so fine-tuned that the rise of life is inevitable? Or is life a fluke, a lucky roll of cosmic dice? The film investigates the rise of one important component of life, water. It turns out that the universe is laden with water, a byproduct of dust kicked out and spread around by supernovas and black holes.

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Cosmic Journeys – Life: Destiny or Chance?

Are the universe and its physical laws so fine-tuned that the rise of life is inevitable? Or is life a fluke, a lucky roll of cosmic dice? We look for the answer in the rise of two important components of life, dust and water. It turns out that the universe is laden with water, a byproduct of dust kicked out and spread around by supernovas and black holes.

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Interstellar flight: 10 Hard Facts

We can build powerful rockets able to carry people and machines into orbit, or even vault them to the moon. But our fastest spacecraft don’t hold a candle to the distances that define Interstellar Flight. So what’s on the drawing boards? What futuristic designs and fuel options promise to one day transport us to the stars, and how practical are they?

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Supermassive Black Holes: 10 Astounding Facts

Find out what astronomers have been learning when they look deep into the core of giant galaxies. In nearly every one, they are turning up supermassive black holes that are tearing space to shreds, blasting away at their environments, and raging against the relentless force of gravity that created them in the first place.

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Super Earths: 10 Major Discoveries

A Super Earth is a planet smaller than Neptune, but larger than Earth. There are no Super Earths in our solar system. But they may be the most common type of planet in our galaxy, according to data from the Kepler Space Telescope. Some have rock or ice cores wrapped in hydrogen and helium gas. Others are solid rock covered in water or ice, or flowing lava.

The planet HD189733b may become a Super Earth. This gas giant orbits its parent star at 1/30th the distance between Earth and the Sun. A flare from the star blasted its atmosphere, sending a plume of gas flying into space at a rate of 1000 tons per second.

GJ 1214b, orbiting a star 40 light years away, has a mass 6 times that of Earth. It is surrounded by an atmosphere of steam or thick haze.

HD 85512b is 3.6 times the mass of Earth. It orbits a sun-like star and lies at the edge of the habitable zone. Liquid water, and perhaps even life, could exist on its surface. Gliese 667 is a triple star system. The fainter of the three, 667C, has been found to host three Super Earths, all within the Continue reading Super Earths: 10 Major Discoveries

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