Category Archives: Deep Space Objects
Like anything else, stars have life spans. They are born (from collapsing clouds of interstellar dust), they go through a long main phase where they fuse various elements in their cores, and eventually they die when they run out of fuel. The finer details of these steps are based on what the star is made of, how massive it is, and what sort of company it keeps. Stars like our Sun have lifespans in the 9-10 billion year range—of which ours is near the middle—but other stars can have much shorter or longer lifespans, and as astronomers look out into the galaxy they can find stars at all different phases of their lives…of course, the longer a phase lasts, the more likely it is to find stars existing within it. We’ve found stars that are only a few thousand years old and we know of regions where stars are, right now, in the process of being born, but what is the oldest star we know of?
Actually, it’s not all that far away, in cosmic terms. Just 190 light-years distant in our own galaxy, HD 140283 (aka the Methuselah star) is, as of 2013, the oldest star ever discovered. Based on its stage as a subgiant and its remarkably low amount of heavy elements, astronomers have estimated the age of this star as 14.3 billion years old. Now this number is actually more than the estimated age of the Universe itself, but don’t worry—there’s a reason for that.
Read the rest of this story by astronomer Phil Plait on Slate here: The Oldest Known Star in the Universe.
For the past couple of years the astronomy world has been abuzz with news of the strange and randomly-occurring dimming of the star KIC 8462852—aka Tabby’s Star—located 1,276 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus and recently observed by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Hypotheses about the cause range from conservative (a transiting cloud of comets) to quite speculative (an “alien megastructure” constructed around the star) but to date nothing seems to perfectly fit the observations. Now, researchers from Columbia University and UC Berkeley are proposing a new idea: the dimming of Tabby’s Star is being caused by debris left over from a planet that was consumed by the star thousands of years ago, the orbiting scraps from a case of stellar infanticide.
Read more in a Universe Today article by Matt Williams: Finally, An Explanation for the Alien Megastructure?
What would happen if you somehow had a coin-sized black hole to play with? (Come on, you know you’ve been wondering about this.) Well, besides the fact that you’d quickly be dead (spoiler alert) a lot of things would happen—to you, to the world around you and, depending on the kind of black hole, to the entire planet. Munich-based design studio Kurzgesagt has created a handy informational video to illustrate what you can expect should you suddenly find yourself in possession of a miniature black hole*—check it out above, and find more fun info videos by Kurzgesagt here.
Also learn more about what black holes are (and why it’s important that we study them) in this PHDComic here.
*Private ownership of black holes is not recommended and is possibly illegal.**
**If not it should be. Contact your representative.
Get into a little “Hubble trouble” with this music video by NPR’s Adam Cole, aka Skunk Bear. Produced in honor of the 25th anniversary of the space telescope’s launch aboard Discovery STS-31 on April 24, 1990, the video is a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Trouble” and, in my opinion, surpasses it astronomically.
(See what I did there?)
We’re all used to seeing fantastic images of Saturn and its family of moons from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has spent the last decade in orbit around the ringed world. But every now and then Cassini aims its cameras outwards, capturing images of the sky beyond Saturn – just like we might look up at the stars from here on Earth. And while it’s not designed to be a deep-space observatory like Hubble or Subaru (or even like a modest backyard telescope, really) Cassini can still resolve many of the same stars we can easily see in the night sky… and, on April 12, 2015, it spotted something much farther away: the Sombrero Galaxy (M104), 29 million light-years distant!
Coincidentally Cassini grabbed its image of M104 exactly five years after it was imaged with Japan’s Subaru Telescope, located atop Mauna Kea.
Neutron stars are strange cosmic beasts. Stellar corpses that are several times the mass of our Sun but only about the width of Manhattan, they can contain a mountain’s worth of star-stuff within the space of a sugar cube, creating all sorts of weird physics that requires funny-sounding names like “quark-gluon plasma” to even try to describe what’s going on. The video above, created by Munich-based design studio Kurzgesagt (which means “in a nutshell” in German) illustrates how neutron stars form and what we think is happening on, around, and inside them.
See more In a Nutshell videos by Kurzgesagt on YouTube here, and find some interesting neutron star facts below: