All posts by Max Sky

Pluto’s Wandering Heart Hints at Subsurface Ocean

Pluto’s famous heart-shaped feature caused the dwarf planet to roll over the eons, and this reorientation probably wouldn’t have been possible without a subsurface ocean, new research suggests.

The left lobe of Pluto’s “heart” is a 600-mile-wide (1,000 kilometers) plain called Sputnik Planitia (formerly known as Sputnik Planum), which astronomers think is an enormous impact crater. This basin has been filling with nitrogen ice over the years and now contains huge amounts of the stuff. Indeed, observations by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which flew by Pluto last year, suggest that Sputnik Planitia’s ice may be up to 6 miles (10 km) thick. Continue reading Pluto’s Wandering Heart Hints at Subsurface Ocean

Electronic E.T.: Intelligent Aliens Are Likely Machines

Any intelligent aliens that humans manage to contact probably won’t look much like you or me, or the squid-like creatures in the new film “Arrival.”

If an extraterrestrial species becomes advanced enough to send signals Earthlings can pick up, it will likely shed its traditional biological trappings and become a form of machine intelligence in rather short order, said veteran alien hunter Seth Shostak.

To make his case, Shostak pointed to the path that humanity appears to be on. The human species invented the radio around 1900 and the computer in 1945, and it’s already manufacturing relatively cheap devices with greater computing power than the human brain. Continue reading Electronic E.T.: Intelligent Aliens Are Likely Machines

National Geographic ‘MARS’ Offers History of Future 1st Landing on Red Planet

Humanity is still years away from landing on Mars, but the first documentary to look back at that achievement is already complete.

The six-part television docudrama “MARS,” premiering on the National Geographic Channel Monday night (Nov. 14), chronicles the first mission to the Red Planet in 2033 using footage of the crew’s activities on the surface and through “flashbacks” to 2016, when the journey to Mars began. Continue reading National Geographic ‘MARS’ Offers History of Future 1st Landing on Red Planet

Telescope Team-Up Holds Cosmic Lens to Rare Brown Dwarf

Two space telescopes’ lucky perspectives have revealed an unusual brown dwarf that seems to be crowding close to a small star.

When a huge cloud of gas is pulled together by gravity, it can collapse down into a ball. Often, it becomes dense enough that the center bursts into nuclear fusion and that ball becomes a star. If it’s not dense enough, but is close, it will instead become a ball of gas called a brown dwarf. Brown dwarfs can have orbiting systems of planets of their own at times, and they can also orbit stars. But for some reason, researchers rarely find a brown dwarf orbiting within three Earth-sun distances of a sun-mass star. Continue reading Telescope Team-Up Holds Cosmic Lens to Rare Brown Dwarf

We’ve Found 15,000 Near-Earth Space Rocks

News reports of incoming asteroids are a dime a dozen. Most headlines shout about these incoming marauding space rocks, but buried in the text is the big reveal that those asteroids will fly safely by, missing Earth by a large margin. Though the tabloid press may dull our fears of these scary interplanetary vagabonds, our planet getting hit by an asteroid is a credible threat. We’ve been hit before, and we will get hit again. Continue reading We’ve Found 15,000 Near-Earth Space Rocks

Monster Chinese Telescope to Join Tabby’s Star Alien Hunt

Although it’s uncertain when the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) will zoom-in on Tabby’s star, hopes are high that the world’s biggest single dish radio observatory will contribute greatly to Breakthrough Listen’s SETI project. Continue reading Monster Chinese Telescope to Join Tabby’s Star Alien Hunt

Weird Deep Space X-Ray Flashes Stump Astronomers

The X-ray emissions were discovered by chance beyond the Milky Way and no one really knows what is causing them. Jimmy Irwin wasn’t looking to get a paper published in Nature when he gave three of his University of Alabama undergraduate students an assignment.

He told them to comb through archived Chandra and XMM-Newton telescope data for examples of bright X-ray emissions coming from galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The catch was to find examples emanating from globular cluster galaxies, a type of very old galaxy. Continue reading Weird Deep Space X-Ray Flashes Stump Astronomers