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What are the Differences Between Quasars and Microquasars?

Universe Today - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 5:31am

Quasars are fascinating objects; supermassive black holes that are actively feasting on material from their accretion disks. The result is a jet that can outshine the combined light from the entire galaxy! There are smaller blackholes too that are the result of the death of stars and these also sometimes seem to host accretion disks and jets just like their larger cousins. We call these microquasars and, whilst there are similarities between them, there are differences too.

The term quasar gives a clue to their nature, the term is an abbreviated version of ‘qausi-stellar radio source’ which is exactly what they are.  A source of radio energy which seems to present as the pinpoint nature of stars.  The first quasar to be discovered was given the rather unimaginative name ‘3C 273’ and it was found in the constellation Virgo.  Most objects of this nature tend to have catalogue numbers rather than more common names and in the case of 3C 273 it tells us it is the 273rd object in the 3rd Cambridge Catalogue of Radio Sources.

It was in 1964 that we started to understand the nature of quasars and their incredible luminosity which is the result of the accretion of material onto a supermassive black hole. The accretion process seems to drive twin radio lobes that appear as opposing jets out of their rotational axis. The microquasars seem to be scaled-down versions. 

In a paper recently published by J I Katz from the Washington University the differences between the two are explored and, despite the common nature of quasars across the Universe, to date only 19 microquasars have been discovered and there is one key difference emerging.

It seems that the radio lobes are the key.  In quasars, a significant propotion of the power appears to come from particle acceleration along their polar jets, driving the energy release from the radio lobes. In microquasars, this seems to be the opposite with thermal emissions from their accretion disk more prominent. In quasars, for some as yet unknown reason, the accretion of material onto the supermassive black holes seems to drive the particle acceleration along the jet rather than thermal radiation yet this is not the case for the smaller microquasars. 

Supermassive blackholes that are the powerhouses for quasars seem to offer a more favourable environment for the accretion and acceleration of energetic particles. Katz proposes that a lower electron density in the accretion disk of supermassive black holes allows quasars to accelerate much larger quantities of relativistic particles than their stellar mass equivalents.

Source : Quasars vs. Microquasars

The post What are the Differences Between Quasars and Microquasars? appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

PLD Space gets even more Boost!

ESO Top News - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 5:04am
Categories: Astronomy

Cosmic dust may have been crucial to the beginnings of life on Earth

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 5:00am
Earth lacks some of the ingredients that would have been key to the origins of life – they may have been delivered to glacial ponds by tiny specks of cosmic dust
Categories: Astronomy

Cosmic dust may have been crucial to the beginnings of life on Earth

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 5:00am
Earth lacks some of the ingredients that would have been key to the origins of life – they may have been delivered to glacial ponds by tiny specks of cosmic dust
Categories: Astronomy

The place to film 'space'

ESO Top News - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 1:30am

It's 'Lights, camera and... action!' for ESA as the agency launches Film ESA, a dedicated film location guide.

Categories: Astronomy

Odysseus Moon Lander Sends Back Selfies With Earth in the Picture

Universe Today - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 1:03am

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander has beamed back a series of snapshots that were captured as it headed out from the Earth toward the moon, and one of the pictures features Australia front and center. The shots also show the second stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the spacecraft, floating away as Odysseus pushed onward.

Intuitive Machines successfully transmitted its first IM-1 mission images to Earth on February 16, 2024. The images were captured shortly after separation from @SpaceX's second stage on Intuitive Machines’ first journey to the Moon under @NASA's CLPS initiative. pic.twitter.com/9LccL6q5tF

— Intuitive Machines (@Int_Machines) February 17, 2024

The pictures were taken on Feb. 16, the day of the launch.

“Payload integration managers programmed the lander’s wide and narrow field-of-view cameras to take five quick images every five minutes for two hours, starting 100 seconds after separating from SpaceX’s second stage,” Houston-based Intuitive Machines explained in a posting to X / Twitter. “Out of all the images collected, Intuitive Machines chose to show humanity’s place in the universe with four wonderful images we hope to inspire the next generation of risk-takers.”

If Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 mission is successful, Odysseus is due to become the first commercial spacecraft to make a soft landing on the moon, and the first U.S. spacecraft to do so since NASA’s Apollo 17 crewed mission in 1972.

The lander, which is about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth, is carrying six science payloads for NASA, plus six commercial payloads — including a miniaturized camera system that would be dropped off just before landing to record the touchdown.

Odysseus is scheduled to reach lunar orbit on Feb. 21 and descend to Malapert A crater, near the moon’s south pole, on the 22nd. The mission’s objective is to test out spacecraft systems and assess the environment in the south polar region, in advance of a crewed landing that could take place as early as 2026.

Assuming all goes well, Intuitive Machines is in line to receive $118 million from NASA through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which was created to take advantage of private-sector innovation and reduce NASA’s costs.

In a Feb. 18 mission update, Intuitive Machines reported that Odysseus “continues to be in excellent health, and flight controllers are preparing planned trajectory correction maneuvers to prepare the lander for lunar orbit insertion.”

Odysseus continues to be in excellent health, and flight controllers are preparing planned trajectory correction maneuvers to prepare the lander for lunar orbit insertion.
?(18FEB2024 1745 CST) 1/5 pic.twitter.com/vp6PV5hqGU

— Intuitive Machines (@Int_Machines) February 18, 2024

Success isn’t guaranteed: Just last month, a NASA-supported commercial lander built by Astrobotic fell back to Earth after missing its chance to make a moon landing due to a propellant leak. Over the past few years, other robotic moon landing missions planned by Israel’s SpaceIL team, Japan’s iSpace and the Russian Space Agency have also ended in failure.

That being said, failure isn’t inevitable: In the past year, India and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have successfully put landers on the lunar surface to send back science data.

If Odysseus survives its landing attempt, Intuitive Machines expects the solar-powered robot to be in operation for seven days. The mission is expected to end when the sun sinks below the lunar horizon.

The post Odysseus Moon Lander Sends Back Selfies With Earth in the Picture appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

Stem cells grown in labs for experimental therapies pose a cancer risk

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 1:00am
Around one-fifth of the stem cells grown in laboratories for as-yet-unapproved medical treatments have cancer-causing mutations
Categories: Astronomy

Stem cells grown in labs for experimental therapies pose a cancer risk

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 1:00am
Around one-fifth of the stem cells grown in laboratories for as-yet-unapproved medical treatments have cancer-causing mutations
Categories: Astronomy

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APOD - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 12:00am

Did you see the full moon last month?

Categories: Astronomy, NASA

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APOD - Mon, 02/19/2024 - 12:00am

Categories: Astronomy, NASA

Solar Eclipses Provide a Rare Way to Study Cloud Formation

Universe Today - Sun, 02/18/2024 - 1:50pm

April 8’s North American solar eclipse is just around the corner, and it has astronomy fans and weather aficionados alike preparing for an incredible show. But it’s not just fun and games. Eclipses are rare opportunities for scientists to study phenomena that only come around once in a while.

Last week, a team of meteorological experts from the Netherlands released a paper describing how eclipses can disrupt the formation of certain types of clouds. Their findings have implications for futuristic geoengineering schemes that propose to artificially block sunlight to combat climate change.

Published in Nature Communications Earth & Environment, the paper examines satellite imagery of cloud cover during three solar eclipses between 2005 and 2016.

They found that in the wake of an eclipse, shallow cumulus clouds tend to disappear – and it doesn’t even need to be a total eclipse for this to occur – it happens when just 15% of the Sun is obscured.

The effect isn’t immediate. There’s a delay of about 20 minutes. That’s because the eclipse isn’t destroying the clouds directly. Instead, it’s cooling the land beneath, interrupting packets of warm air that race upwards in updrafts to condense into clouds. By suppressing the updrafts, the eclipse puts a pause on cumulus cloud formation.

Proposals to reduce climate change by artificially blocking the Sun work on a similar principle to an eclipse. A swarm of sun-shade spacecraft, or an injection of light-absorbing aerosols into the atmosphere, could reduce the amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the Earth, cooling the temperature back to historical norms. For a project like this to work, about 3.5% to 5% of sunlight would have to be blocked.

The cloud modeling data from this paper indicates reasons to be cautious, however. First and foremost, it suggests that blocking sunlight isn’t as effective as you might think, because while it does cool the ground initially, it also reduces cloud cover, which once again increases the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth.

The decrease in cloud cover would also have an effect on precipitation – fewer clouds means less rain – which might result in regional increases in drought and desertification.

It’s unclear whether the reduction in cumulus clouds would persist with a more permanent, artificially constructed eclipse – true solar eclipses only last a few minutes locally, after all. But the authors say the data ought to influence the design of any serious geoengineering proposals going forward. A solar shade stationed between the Sun and Earth, at Lagrange point 1, for example, might not block the Sun uniformly. If it caused either partial or intermittent local eclipses, it would be more likely to feature these cloud-destroying effects.

Atmospheric aerosol injection might seem like a more uniform method of blocking sunlight, but large-scale weather patterns actually make these methods potentially even more variable, blocking up to 45% of sunlight locally on occasion (well beyond the 15% needed to see a reduction in cloud formation).

These geoengineering projects, in other words, might solve climate change only to introduce new, unexpected challenges, and the costs might not be borne equitably across the globe.

So what’s the lesson? Well, if you’re going out to see the eclipse on April 8, and you feel a little chill in the air, you’re not imagining it. The Earth around you is cooling – and it might also get a little sunnier after it’s over, as cumulus cloud formation gets interrupted. These effects are tangible reminders that the relationship between Earth’s climate and the Sun is complex – and tinkering with it comes with a high chance of unintended consequences.

Read the Paper:

Victor Trees et al. “Clouds dissipate quickly during solar eclipses as the land surface cools.” Communications Earth and Environment. February 12, 2024.

The post Solar Eclipses Provide a Rare Way to Study Cloud Formation appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

Even Eris and Makemake Could Have Geothermal Activity

Universe Today - Sun, 02/18/2024 - 1:39pm

Whether or not you agree that Pluto isn’t a planet, in many ways, Pluto is quite different from the classical planets. It’s smaller than the Moon, has an elliptical orbit that brings it closer to the Sun than Neptune at times, and is part of a collection of icy bodies on the edge of our solar system. It was also thought to be a cold dead world until the flyby of New Horizons proved otherwise. The plucky little spacecraft showed us that Pluto was geologically active, with a thin atmosphere and mountains that rise above icy plains. Geologically, Pluto is more similar to Earth than the Moon, a fact that has led some to reconsider Pluto’s designation as a dwarf planet.

Astronomers still aren’t sure how Pluto has remained geologically active. Perhaps the gravitational interactions with its moon Charon, or perhaps interior radioactive decay. But regardless of the cause, the general thought has been that Pluto is an exception, not a rule. Other outer worlds of similar size and composition are likely dead worlds. But a new study shows that isn’t the case for at least two dwarf planets, Eris and Makemake.

This new study doesn’t rely on high-resolution images like we have for Pluto. Our current observations of Eris and Makemake show them only as small, blurry dots. But we do have spectral observations of these worlds, which is where this study comes in.

The team looked at the spectral lines of molecules on the surface of these worlds, most specifically that of methane. Methane, or CH4 has two important variants. One is composed of standard hydrogen atoms, while the other contains one or more atoms of a type of hydrogen known as deuterium. Deuterium has a nucleus containing a proton and neutron rather than just a proton, and this skews the spectrum of methane a bit. From the spectral observations, the team could measure the D/H ratio for methane on both worlds.

How D/H ratios compare to possible origins. Credit: Glein, et al

This ratio is determined by the source of the methane. If Eris and Makemake are dead worlds, then the methane they have stems from their origin more than 4 billion years ago, and the D/H level should be on the higher end. On the other hand, if the surface methane was generated through an interior process and vented through active geological processes, then the D/H ratio should be lower. The team found that the ratio is most consistent with thermogenic and abiotic mechanisms, suggesting that both Eris and Makemake are active worlds, or at least were active in geologically recent times.

Eris is about the same size as Pluto, so it isn’t too surprising that it’s a geologically active world given what we now know about Pluto. But Makemake is much smaller, about 60% the size of Pluto. If Makemake is an active world, then it is likely that other dwarf planets such as Haumea are as well. If that’s the case, then most if not all dwarf planets are geologically active. As the authors suggest, it might be worth sending a probe or two to the outer worlds for more study.

Reference: Glein, Christopher R., et al. “Moderate D/H ratios in methane ice on Eris and Makemake as evidence of hydrothermal or metamorphic processes in their interiors: Geochemical analysis.” Icarus (2024): 115999.

The post Even Eris and Makemake Could Have Geothermal Activity appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

How Did an Aquarium Stingray Get Pregnant without a Mate?

Scientific American.com - Sun, 02/18/2024 - 10:15am

Charlotte, a stingray in a small North Carolina aquarium, is taking a DIY approach to reproduction

Categories: Astronomy

Our universe is merging with 'baby universes', causing it to expand, new theoretical study suggests

Space.com - Sun, 02/18/2024 - 10:00am
The universe is expanding faster and faster, but not all scientists agree that dark energy is the cause. Perhaps, instead, our universe keeps colliding with and absorbing smaller 'baby universes,' a new theoretical study suggests.
Categories: Astronomy

Watch trailer for 'Space: The Longest Goodbye,' new film exploring astronaut mental health (video)

Space.com - Sun, 02/18/2024 - 9:00am
The new documentary 'Space: The Longest Goodbye' looks at how long-term space missions, such as a trip to Mars, could affect astronaut mental health.
Categories: Astronomy

I put Abisko's 'cloud-busting weapon' to the test during a Sweden northern lights adventure and was not disappointed

Space.com - Sun, 02/18/2024 - 6:00am
High in the Arctic Circle lies Abisko National Park, Sweden. The unique microclimate of the region means clear skies are more likely which is great news for those wishing to see the northern lights.
Categories: Astronomy

Rocket Lab launches ADRAS-J space junk inspection satellite for Astroscale (video)

Space.com - Sun, 02/18/2024 - 12:01am
Rocket Lab will launch an ambitious space-junk inspection mission for the Japanese company Astroscale this morning (Feb. 18), and you can watch the action live.
Categories: Astronomy

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APOD - Sat, 02/17/2024 - 8:00pm

Why would the shadow of a

Categories: Astronomy, NASA

There’s One Last Place Planet 9 Could Be Hiding

Universe Today - Sat, 02/17/2024 - 7:30pm

 A recently submitted study to The Astronomical Journal continues to search for the elusive Planet Nine (also called Planet X), which is a hypothetical planet that potentially orbits in the outer reaches of the solar system and well beyond the orbit of the dwarf planet, Pluto. The goal of this study was to narrow down the possible locations of Planet Nine and holds the potential to help researchers better understand the makeup of our solar system, along with its formation and evolutionary processes. So, what was the motivation behind this study regarding narrowing down the location of a potential Planet Nine?

Dr. Mike Brown, who is a Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Astronomy at Caltech and lead author of the study, tells Universe Today, “We are continuing to try to systematically cover all of the regions of the sky where we predict Planet Nine to be. Using data from Pan-STARRS allowed us to cover the largest region to date.”

Pan-STARRS, which stands for Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, is a collaborative astronomical observation system located at Haleakala Observatory and operated by the University of Hawai’I Institute of Astronomy with telescope construction being funded by the U.S. Air Force. For the study, the researchers used data from Data Release 2 (DR2) with the goal of narrowing down the possible location of Planet Nine based on findings from past studies.

In the end, the team narrowed down possible locations of Planet Nine by eliminating approximately 78 percent of possible locations that were calculated from previous studies. Additionally, the researchers also provided new estimates for the approximate semimajor axis (measured in astronomical units (AU)) and Earth-mass size of Planet Nine at 500 and 6.6, respectively. So, what are the most significant results from this study, and what follow-up studies are currently being conducted or planned?

“While I would love to say that the most significant result was finding Planet Nine, we didn’t,” Dr. Brown tells Universe Today. “So instead, it means that we have significantly narrowed the search area. We’ve now surveyed approximately 80% of the regions where we think Planet Nine might be.”

In terms of follow-up studies, Dr. Brown tells Universe Today, “I think that the LSST is the most likely survey to find Planet Nine. When it comes online in a year or two it will quickly cover much of the search space and, if Planet Nine is there, find it.”

LSST stands for Legacy Survey of Space and Time, and is an astronomical survey currently scheduled as a 10-year program to study the southern sky and take place at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, which is presently under construction. Objectives for LSST include studying identifying near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) and small planetary bodies within our solar system, but also include deep space studies, as well. These include investigating the properties of dark matter and dark energy and the evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy. But what is the importance of finding Planet Nine?

Dr. Brown tells Universe Today, “This would be the 5th largest planet of our solar system and the only one with a mass between Earth and Uranus. Such planets are common around other stars, and we would suddenly have a chance to study one in our own solar system.”

Scientists began hypothesizing the existence of Planet Nine shortly after the discovery of Neptune in 1846, including an 1880 memoir authored by D. Kirkwood and later a 1946 paper authored by American astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh, who was responsible for discovering Pluto in 1930. More recent studies include studies from 2016 and 2017 presenting evidence for the existence of Planet Nine, the former of which was co-authored by Dr. Brown. This most recent study marks the most complete investigation of narrowing down the location of Planet Nine, which Dr. Brown has long-believed exists, telling Universe Today, “There are too many separate signs that Planet Nine is there. The solar system is very difficult to understand without Planet Nine.”

He continues by telling Universe Today that “…Planet Nine explains many things about orbits of objects in the outer solar system that would be otherwise unexplainable and would each need some sort of separate explanation. The cluster of the directions of the orbits is the best know, but there is also the large perihelion distances of many objects, existence of highly inclined and even retrograde objects, and the high abundance of very eccentric orbits which cross inside the orbit of Neptune. None of these should happen in the solar system, but all are easily explainable as an effect of Planet Nine.”

Does Planet Nine exist and where will we find it in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

The post There’s One Last Place Planet 9 Could Be Hiding appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy