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There’s a New Moon in the Solar System

Hubble WFC3 observations of 2007 OR10 in the Kuiper Belt in Nov. 2009 and Sept. 2010 reveal a small moon. Credits: NASA, ESA, C. Kiss (Konkoly Observatory), and J. Stansberry (STScI).

Ok, technically it’s not a new moon as it’s probably several billion years old but we didn’t know about it before, so it’s new to us! A team of researchers has just announced the discovery of a 150- to 250-mile-wide moon orbiting a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt named 2007 OR10. This distant, icy world is only 950 miles wide itself but it’s still the third largest dwarf planet, ranking behind Pluto and Eris in size.

The existence of the moon was first hinted at in observations by NASA’s Kepler telescope, which showed 2007 OR10 to be rotating suspiciously slowly for a KBO—45 hours as compared to a more typical under 24. After reviewing earlier Hubble observations of the object a moon was positively identified.

This discovery not only adds a new member to the Solar System’s family tree but also helps better understand the formation of KBOs.

“The discovery of satellites around all of the known large dwarf planets—except for Sedna—means that at the time these bodies formed billions of years ago, collisions must have been more frequent, and that’s a constraint on the formation models,” said Csaba Kiss of the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary, lead author of the research. “If there were frequent collisions, then it was quite easy to form these satellites.”

Read the full article from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center here: Hubble Spots Moon Around Third Largest Dwarf Planet

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Did Ancient Supernovas Change Earth’s Climate?

Visible, infrared, and X-ray image of Kepler’s supernova remnant located about 13,000 light-years away. The bubble of ionized gas is about 30 light-years across. Credit: NASA, ESA, R. Sankrit and W. Blair (Johns Hopkins University).

Supernovas are some of the most powerful and energetic events in the entire Universe. When a dying star explodes you wouldn’t want to be anywhere nearby—fresh elements are nice and all, but the energy and radiation from a supernova would roast any planets within tens if not hundreds of light-years in all directions. Luckily for us we’re not in an unsafe range of any supernovas in the foreseeable future, but there was a time not very long ago (in geological terms) that these stellar explosions occurred nearby (in astronomical terms) and in 2016 scientists found the “smoking gun” evidence at the bottom of the ocean.

What’s more, the arrival of the iron-rich fallout from those stellar explosions seems to coincide with ancient global temperature changes*, the most recent dated near the start of the last major ice age which brought lower sea levels, widespread glaciation…and eventually the rise of the first modern humans.

Read more at Universe Today here: Nearby Supernovas Showered Earth With Iron

*Note: the changes in climate referred to here are not the same as the climate change we are witnessing today. Not only are we now seeing rapid warming of land and sea temperatures globally, but today’s forcings are the result of increasing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—not radioactive iron from exploding stars.

“Alien Megastructure” May Actually Be Scraps of an Ingested Planet

Artist’s impression of the star KIC 8462852, surrounded by randomly transiting objects. Credit: NASA/JPL

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?

Breaking News: Kepler Team Spots First Earth-Sized Exoplanets

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The video above sums up the big astro-news of the day: NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the existence of not one but TWO Earth-sized planets orbiting a Sun-like star 1,000 light-years away. This is a big deal!

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Kepler Finds a Real-Life Tatooine

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Kepler, NASA’s exoplanet hunter extraordinaire, has confirmed the existence of the first planet orbiting two suns, not unlike Luke’s homeworld Tatooine from the Star Wars films! Unlike Tatooine, however, the planet –named Kepler-16b – is a cold Saturn-sized gas giant unlikely to harbor life. Still, it showcases the variety of planetary systems to be discovered and is another step from science fiction to science fact! Read the rest of this entry

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