Star Formation: The Game

starformation

Dave Mosher, I’m pointing my finger at you for this late night effort! Usually I stay up late to write articles, but for the last 30 minutes I’ve been playing this game after Dave sent a message on Twitter saying he had been playing a “simple” and “addictive” star formation game. No kidding! I shouldn’t have even clicked the link. But like a caffeine-infused moth to a super-shiny flame, off I went for some simple star-creation fun.

It looks like the Star Formation game is part of Discover Magazine’s featured article about the mysteries of star birth (it’s a great read, check it out). The game is simple, yet captivating (despite a few minor bugs). You play the role of supernova progenitor, dropping some massive star fury on an unsuspecting nebulous cloud of hydrogen. According to the game developers, the situation is physically accurate, it is just up to you to create the perfect conditions for stars to form in the dense cloud. It would appear the lectures I attended on star formation paid off, as I speak I’m on top of the leaderboard with a whopping 21122 points (see the screengrab above, I saved it posterity, I doubt I’ll be at #1 for much longer).

I’m all for games with an educational element, and I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening (well, I can, but if you’re stuck in the office, this is a great alternative to work). I’m off to create some more stars, check out Discover so you can do the same (just you try to knock me from the #1 slot!).

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What Will Happen When the Sun Turns into a White Dwarf?

Strong tidal interactions are thought to shred any asteroids or comets as they get too close to a white dwarf (NASA)

All the way back in January, I had the great fortune to attend the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) conference in Long Beach, California. I had a lot of fun. However, between the free beer and desperately searching for wireless Internet signal, I also did some work. During my travels, I spent some time browsing the poster sessions, trying to get inspiration for an article or two. You’d think that when presented with hundreds of stunning posters that inspiration wouldn’t be that far away. However, I was repeatedly frustrated by information overload and defaulted to a clueless meander up and down the pathways walled with intense science debates.

But then I saw it, right at the end of one of the poster walls, a question that got my imagination bubbling: “Will The Sun become a Metal Rich White Dwarf After Post Main Sequence Evolution?” The Sun? After the Main Sequence? Metal rich? To be honest, these were questions I’d never really pondered. What would happen when the Sun turns into a white dwarf? Fortunately, I had Dr John Debes to help me out with the answers…
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Small but Mighty: KPD 0005+5106, the 200,000K White Dwarf

Sirius B1 - one of the more famous white dwarf stars (Frank Gregorio)

A white dwarf called KPD 0005+5106 has been identified as the hottest star observed, ever. KPD 0005+5106 lives in the globular cluster M4, 7,200 light years away, and astronomers have always been intrigued by this stellar lightweight as its emissions have previously hinted it was quite toasty. Now, astronomers using data from the defunct NASA Far-Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE), have studied the white dwarf in more detail. KPD 0005+5106 emits radiation in the far-ultraviolet, indicating that its surface has a temperature of 200,000K. This is an unprecedented discovery, far-ultraviolet emissions are usually reserved for superheated stellar coronae. It may be small, but it’s a record-breaker
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New Addition to the Exoplanetary Menu: The WASP-12b Sizzler

The hotspot: A very, very hot Jupiter has been discovered (ESA/C Carreau)

The hotspot: A very, very hot Jupiter has been discovered (ESA/C Carreau)

So how hot is the hottest known planet? Usually the temperature of a planet orbiting another star is of little concern to us. At the end of the day, are we really looking for an interstellar getaway? The chance that we’ll be colonizing any extra-solar planets in the near future is pretty low, but that won’t stop us from peering up the the heavens studying “Hot Jupiters” orbiting stars hundreds of light years away. However, astronomers have just discovered a planet I doubt we’ll ever want to visit. Enter WASP-12b, the hottest, and fastest gas giant ever observed…
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What Type of Star is Our Sun?

High-spatial and temporal resolution view from the Hinode SOT G-band filter (NASA)

High-spatial and temporal resolution view from the Hinode SOT G-band filter (NASA)

Our Sun is often called an “average” or “unremarkable” star. This is a little unfair, after all this unremarkable specimen is responsible for generating all the energy for all the planets in the Solar System and it has nurtured life on Earth for the past four billion years. We are also very lucky in that the Sun (or “Sol”) is comparatively stable with a periodic cycle. What’s more, it is alone, with no binary partner complicating matters. We live in a very privileged corner of the Milky Way, within the “Goldilocks Zone” (i.e. “just right” for life – as we know it – to thrive) from Sol, where there is a unique and delicate relationship between our star, the Earth and interplanetary space. This is all great, but in the star club, how does Sol measure up? Is it really just an average, boring star?
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Recoiling Supermassive Black Holes and Stellar Flares

Simulation of black holes colliding. In a word, awesome (Max Planck Group)

Astrophysicists love to simulate huge collisions, and they don’t get much bigger than this. From the discoverers of the first ever observed black hole collision back in April, new observational characteristics have been researched and Max Planck astrophysicists believe that after two supermassive black holes (SMBHs) have collided, they recoil and drag flaring stars with them. By looking out for anomalous X-ray flares in intergalactic space, or off-galactic nuclei locations, repelled black holes may be spotted powering their way into deep space at velocities of up to 4000 kms-1
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Observing Red Dwarf Stars May Reveal Habitable “Super-Earths” Sooner

A planet orbiting a red dwarf (NASA)

OK, so if you’re an exoplanet hunter, which stars would you focus your attention on? Would you look at bright blue young stars? Or would you look at dim, long-lived red stars? If you think about it, trying to see a small exoplanet eclipse (or transit) a very bright star would be very hard, the luminosity would overwhelm any attempt at seeing a tiny planet pass in front of the star. On the other hand, observing a planet transiting a dimmer stellar object, like a red dwarf star, any transit of even the smallest planet will create a substantial decrease in luminosity. What’s more, ground-based observatories can do the work rather than depending on expensive space-based telescopes…
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Wolf-Rayet Star: My Favourite Stellar Object

Artist impression of a Wolf-Rayet star (NASA)

Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars are my favourite stellar objects bar none. Due to the excitement factor I find them even more interesting than black holes, pulsars and quasars. Why? Well, they are a significant period of a massive star’s lifetime making its violent, self-destructive death, possibly culminating in a supernova or gamma ray burst (GRB). WR stars blast out dense stellar winds creating a bubble of matter that completely obscures the star’s surface from any attempts at observation. They are also very noisy neighbours, disrupting binary partners and messing up huge volumes of space. If you thought a star might die quietly, the WR phase ensures this isn’t the case and astronomers are paying attention, making some of the most detailed observations of WR stars yet…
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The Crab Pulsar is Probed By LIGO. Is it Really a Smooth Neutron Star?

The Crab Nebula contains the famous Crab Pulsar (NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Gehrz)

Scientists working with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have announced their first land-mark discovery. LIGO was built to detect gravitational waves (as predicted by Einstein’s general relativity), but this discovery is actually about not detecting gravitational waves. Hold on, what’s all the fuss about then? This sounds like a null result, and in some ways it is. But on the other hand it may be one of the most important neutron star observations ever. So what has LIGO (not) seen?
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Collapsing Wolf-Rayet Stars and Inverse Compton Scattering of Stellar Photons

A Wolf-Rayet star WR124 with surrounding nebula M1-67 (NASA)

Wolf-Rayet stars are a violent and self-destructive phase of a massive star’s lifetime. This is the point at which they begin to die as a prelude to a supernova and black hole formation. Often, large nebulae can be found around these bright stellar objects (pictured), emitting strong ultraviolet radiation. As Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars continue to lose huge amounts of mass and deplete all their fuel, they become even more unstable, resulting in a huge supernova. Exploding WR stars have been linked with powerful gamma ray (γ-ray) bursts; in fact the largest, most distant GRB was observed on March 19th in the constellation of Boötes by NASA’s Swift Observatory and the Polish “Pie of the Sky” GRB detector. There is some evidence that this GRB was the result of a WR star/neutron star binary pair, but what would happen if a WR star is sitting close to an O-type star just as it explodes?

As the WR star collapses, a shock wave (containing hot, relativistic electrons) sent hurtling toward the O-type star may cause inverse Compton scattering of the stellar photon field, generating powerful, long period emissions of γ-ray radiation. New research suggests that this mechanism may explain the 1-100 GeV γ-rays observed minutes or hours after the main GRB…
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