Check out this live stream, provided by NASA, of today’s solar eclipse!
What will be the last surviving species on Earth? A recent collaborative study conducted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Oxford University shows that it will be the strange, eight-legged microscopic creature known as the water bear. The new study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that the water bear will be able to survive any future astrophysical catastrophe, and will be around for 10 billion years to come. While scientists have devoted a lot of time to what would happen to humans should an astrophysical calamity occur, not much attention has been devoted to the effects it would have on a water bear. According to this study, nothing really.
The study implies that life on earth will continue to exist as long as the sun does. The study further reveals that once life has developed on a planet, it is highly resilient and therefor very hard to completely annihilate (this data shows an increased chance of life existing on other planets).
The water bear (tardigrade being its scientific name) is a tiny, microscopic creature, about a millimeter or less in size. Like us, the water bear has a digestive tract and a nervous system. Like insects, the water bear has a hard shell, molts its skin, and lays eggs. Scientists have no idea how water bears even evolved. They can’t even guess.
Water bears are by far the most resilient form of life on Earth, being able to go 30 years without food or water, to endure temperature extremes of up to 120 degrees Celsius (240 degrees Fahrenheit), to survive the cold and crushing depths of the sea, and even being able to survive the vacuum of space. The fact that water bears can survive in space has lead many experts to wonder if that is where they come from.
As a part of the study, 3 possible calamities were taken into account:
- Asteroidal impact
- Gamma-Ray burst
To their surprise, the researchers found that although these calamities would spell bad news for the entire human race, water bears might be unaffected. Therefor, it is safe to say that life, once it gets going, is hard to wipe out completely. Granted, thousands of species can be wiped out by a calamity, but the existence of life as a whole will likely go on.
New evidence of 219 planets outside of our Solar System has been discovered by NASA. Ten of these planets are similar in size to Earth and orbit their stars in what is called the “habitable zone”; meaning they are just far enough away from their respective suns for water to develop, but close enough so that it doesn’t freeze. If this evidence is confirmed, these planets would be added to an ever-growing list of Earth-sized planets that occupy our area of the Milky Way.
This growing list is very exciting, because it shows that rocky planets are more common than we once thought. In addition to this, there is also a small chance that these worlds could harbor life. This catalog is being put together by NASA’s current Kepler space telescope mission, which has been surveying the Cygnus constellation since 2009. Kepler spots planets by looking for dips in a star’s brightness. When scientists observe this, they study the signals to confirm that the dip in brightness is caused by a planet passing in front of the star it is orbiting. Once the signal is confirmed to be a planet, the data is used to determine the mass of the planet and how long it takes to orbit the star.
NASA has also been working on classifying these new planets. The division is between two categories: “super-Earths”, which are rocky worlds about 1.5 times the size of Earth, and “mini-Neptunes”, gas planets more than 2.5 times the size of Earth. This knowledge of how to find planets similar to Earth will ultimately help scientist’s narrow down their targets which can be studied by powerful telescopes.
The final catalog of results from the Kepler space telescope mission detail the discovery of more than 5,000 exoplanets about 3,000 light-years away from us. The latest update has narrowed that figure down to 4,034, with 2,335 of them being identified as exoplanets. Out of those, 21 are Earth-sized and occupy their star’s habitable zone.
As for now, it is unknown whether or not these Earth-like planets are housing life like our own.
Space is a truly fascinating place, filled to the brim with awe-inspiring, godlike entities such as stars, planets, comets, nebulas, and so much more that takes our collective breath away every time we look up at the night sky. However, these things we can see only make up about 20 percent of the universe. So, what about those parts of space that we cannot observe, that other 80 percent? This would be what scientists call “dark matter”, defined as “non-luminous material that is postulated to exist in space and that could take any of several forms including weakly interacting particles ( cold dark matter ) or high-energy randomly moving particles created soon after the Big Bang ( hot dark matter )”. In other words, the gaps in between all that is observable in the universe, the things we cannot see, the structures that seemingly tie together galaxies across the universe. Since its very existence runs off of an assumption, as well as the fact that it does not give off, reflect, or absorb light, dark matter is very difficult to observe.
However, researchers now say that they have produced the first composite image of the dark matter that connects galaxies. Mike Hudson, a professor of astronomy at the University of Waterloo, says the image “moves us beyond predictions to something we can see and measure.” Hudson is also the co-author of a new study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The researchers employed a technique called “weak gravitational lensing”, which is a statistical measurement of the bends that happen in the path of light passing near mass. This, in turn, produces illustrations of galaxies that are warped by dark matter or other celestial masses.
In order to study the weak signal in the dark, they required two different pieces of data: a catalog of galaxy cluster pairs that were lensed, and a catalog of background source galaxies with accurate distance measurements. They combined lensing data from sky surveys over multiple years. They then combined more than 23,000 pairs of galaxies, all of which are about 4.5 billion light-years away. This enabled them to create a map of the presence of dark matter between the galaxies. The filament on their map is the average of all 23,000 galaxy pairs.
3 billion light years away, two huge black holes succumbed to one another’s gravitational pulls, collided…and merged, resulting in the creation of a new, single black hole.
The discovery of this interstellar occurrence proves that gravitational wave astronomy is here to stay. LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) used this special type of astronomy to make this discovery. Astronomers normally observe the universe in light wavelengths. However, black holes, as far as we know, do not emit light. In fact, they absorb it (that’s right, not even light can escape a black hole). This makes observing black holes extremely difficult.
However, the new astronomy of gravitational waves is allowing us to study the mysterious entities known as black holes. “We’re entering a whole new kind of astronomy,” said Clifford Johnson, a USC theoretical physicist. “Every time we find a new way of looking in the sky, we understand our universe in a whole new way, at a whole new level.”
That is very exciting news indeed, as there is so much of our universe that we do not yet understand.
Not only that, but the success of this new astronomy also confirms Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory of relativity. LIGO’s detectors give scientists a whole new way to observe black holes.
This latest find marks the third time that LIGO has detected a black hole collision. What makes this find different, however, is the distance from our planet. The first two black hole collisions happened around 1.3 million and 1.4 million light years away, respectively. This collision occurred around 3 billion light years away from us. What this basically means is that, 3 billion years ago, these two black holes collided, and we are just now hearing it in 2017.
The two black holes had solar masses of 31.2 and 19.4, colliding to create a singular black hole with a 48.7 solar mass, the remaining two suns of mass being morphed into gravitational waves. The solar mass of this merger is an intermediate weight class that scientists were not expecting to see. Most black holes are formed when the center of a dying star collapses in on itself, and these are usually a few times the mass of the sun that spawned them, much smaller than this new singular black hole. Others are classified as “supermassive black holes”, which have solar masses of billions and usually lie at the center of a galaxy. This singular black hole is in an intermediate weight class, bigger than the usual sun-spawned black holes, but way too small to be classified as supermassive.
“We have further confirmation of the existence of stellar-mass black holes that are larger than 20 solar masses—these are objects we didn’t know existed before LIGO detected them,” said MIT’s David Shoemaker, spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.
LIGO Laboratory executive director David Reitze stated that LIGO is “establishing itself as a powerful observatory for revealing the dark side of the universe”.
LIGO, meanwhile, is hoping to continue observing some of the most bizarre and elusive occurrences in the universe. Next on their agenda, among other things, is observing the collision of neutron stars.