Supermassive Black Holes Can’t Swallow Dark Matter

A modelled accretion disk around a black hole. Image credit: Michael Owen, John Blondin (North Carolina State Univ.). Source: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap050312.html

Apparently, black holes and dark matter don’t play well together. Broadly speaking, black holes can be considered to be a significant portion of the “missing mass” in the universe, but dark matter is distinguished as “non-baryonic matter”. It seems that this mysterious non-baryonic matter is being used to explain a huge number of unexplained cosmic mysteries, but in the case of supermassive black holes, dark matter plays a very small role insofar as being used as black hole food…
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Daily Roundup: Astronomy and Physics in the Arctic is More Popular than You Think

The EISCAT installation in Svalbard, High Arctic. Image credit: Me!

Svalbard has always had a special place in my heart. Way back in 2002, I spent a life changing five months living in this magical part of the world. Whilst I wouldn’t say it was easy, it was definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life. This is what the Arctic does to you, it embeds itself into your memory and imagination, and I had the amazing fortune to study up there as a student.

Suddenly, two stories come along involving the research being carried out (quite literally) on top of the world; I couldn’t resist talking about the important work currently being carried out up there…
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Daily Roundup: The Solar Wind Strips Mars Bare. Look Out Venus, You’re Next!

Venus atmosphere is being eroded by the Sun. Image credit: ESA

We are very lucky here on Earth, we have a powerful magnetic field, known as the magnetosphere surrounding us and our atmosphere, protecting us from the worst that the Sun can throw at us. Other planets in our Solar System ain’t so lucky. Poor old Mars has been damaged beyond repair by the constant erosion by the solar wind, dragging most of its atmosphere into space. Now, Earth’s planetary sister, Venus, is showing signs of atmospheric leakage… where will it end?
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Could Mars Quakes, Seasonal Temperature Changes or a Chance Meteorite Impact Cause Mars Avalanches?

Detailed view of one of the avalanches observed by the HiRISE instrument in the Mars North Pole region. Image credit: NASA/JPL/UA

It doesn’t get much better than this. A robotic orbiter snaps a photo hundreds of miles above the surface of an alien planet, capturing a geological event as it happens. Yes, we’ve seen Io’s immense volcanoes erupt, and we’ve seen huge storms rage on Jupiter, but often these large-scale planetary events are too massive for us to put into context and so we file them under “astronomy”. But, when we see an event like an avalanche on Mars, we can relate it with events on Earth, we have a “feel” for what this means. Suddenly an avalanche on Mars holds a special meaning to us; we instantly have a connection with other planets in our Solar System.

And now for the question… what caused the four near-simultaneous avalanches recently observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter?
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Daily Roundup: “It Ain’t Water On Mars” and Some Want UK Astronauts, But Others Don’t

Simulations of dry debris flow and water flow when compared with HiRISE observations. Figure credit: Jon Pelletier, University of Arizona

There has been much debate surrounding observations by the artificial satellites orbiting Mars, but with one discovery, the debate was… non-debatable. Liquid water was flowing (albeit quickly) across the Martian surface intermittently, creating river-like channels flowing down crater sides. But that was until a group of University of Arizona scientists tackled the situation. To their surprise it wasn’t water that was flowing, it was something entirely different…
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Daily Roundup: Universe Today Articles (4)

Space Shuttle Endeavour is preparing for a May 11th launch. Image credit: NASA. Source: http://www.nasa.gov

A mixed bag for today’s Universe Today articles. For starters, NASA has asked the ESA Mars orbiter, Mars Express, to help out when NASA’s Phoenix Mars Mission approaches the Red Planet in May this year. Along with NASA’s Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey missions, Mars Express will aid tracking duties as the lander begins its critical descent. Great international/interplanetary cooperation! But, back on Earth…
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Dark Matter Ain’t So Dark After All: Observing The Mysterious Cosmic Glow with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe

Observations by the WMAP observatory of the cosmic background radiation. Is there Dark Matter out there? Image credit: WMAP Science Team, NASA

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has observed something rather strange in our galaxy. There appears to be excess microwave radiation being emitted from the space around us, with apparently no explanation. In new research, this microwave excess may be caused by “nuggets” of dark matter, perhaps a few tonnes in mass, radiating some low energy EM waves. Could this be the first evidence of dark matter? If so, this could be a revolutionary method of observing the stuff…
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UK Physics and Astronomy in Danger

Color composite adaptive optics image of the planetary nebula M2-9 using the ALTAIR adaptive optics system on Gemini North. Image credit: Gemini Observatory/Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage

My true aim for astroengine.com is to post advanced (but interesting) space physics concepts on an informal stage. But when news like this comes along, I feel compelled to say something. In a nutshell, the UK physics and astronomy community has been hit with a series of harsh and ill thought-out budget cutbacks in recent years. Things have gotten worse since April 2007 (when the two main research councils PPARC and CCLRC merged) when all UK physics and astronomy funding started being managed by The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It would appear the main focus is to find ways to plug the £80 million funding deficit it has inherited and not to find ways to protect research projects.

So, physics and astronomy in the UK is facing cutbacks on a scale that defies intelligence. Why is a nation, as scientifically gifted as the UK, making cutbacks to research that will shape the most exciting era of science mankind has ever seen?
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Question of the Day: Were Moons Nix and Hydra Adopted by Pluto and Charon?

The Pluto-Charon system. Image credit: NASA/HST

OK, here are two questions on everybody’s lips:
1) Could we be wiped out by an asteroid in the near future?
2) Are Pluto and Charon’s kids adopted?

Well, #1 has probably been asked a few times (most likely during crappy movies like Deep Impact), but #2? I’m hoping this is the first time it’s ever been asked… and it’s a very important question… well, kinda.
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Daily Roundup: Universe Today Article

Just the one article this time for the Universe Today. Todays article covers a recent US satellite mission carrying out some cool experiments in space. This orbiting mini-lab is carrying out tests on a new nanotech sensor that is sensitive to poisons in air (useful for spaceships, protecting astronauts), and possibly even more interesting, experiments on a new electrochromic film that could be wrapped around spaceships to keep them warm or cool them down. The wonders never cease…