Prof. Steve runs down the latest science stories that have piqued his interest
Hey everyone! It’s time for another Research Roundup! Here are some of the most interesting Science stories that have popped up in the first weeks of 2016.
Super Big Supernova
Back in June of 2015, a couple of telescopes in Chile spotted what scientists now think is the largest, most powerful supernova every observed by humans.
Labeled ASASSN-15lh, this bad boy was, at its peak, 570 billion times brighter than the Sun! To put it another way, that’s about 20 times the entire output of the 100 billion stars that make up our own Milky Way galaxy. To put it another other way, while it was dying, this thing cranked out 10 times more energy than the Sun will over the course of 10 billion years.
Good thing it is way across the universe in another galaxy. If it were in our galaxy, it would be very visible in the sky. If it were in or near our Solar System, well, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it.
Of course, this is a ludicrous amount of energy, and the whole thing is causing some serious debate among Astronomers. This thing is so big that it threatens to break (or at least bend) the more prevalent theories about how Supernovas work. Then again, having a theory challenged by new evidence is what makes science fun.
Yabba Dabba… Holy Crap!
If you love dinosaurs (or you have a kid that loves them), you might have heard about the “Titanosaur.” No?
Basically, this is one of the biggest creatures that ever lived on land. It’s skeleton is 122 feet long, and almost 40 feet of that is just neck! In fact, the thing is so long, that it won’t actually fit into the main fossil hall at the Museum of Natural History in New York. So, its neck and head stick out into the next room as a sort of “Howdy Folks!” to let people know they’re in the right place.
Titanosaur is a relatively recent find, with the first skeleton being found in Argentina back in 2012. Maybe you remember seeing a photo of a scientist lying on (and being dwarfed by) a dinosaur femur a few years back? That femur belonged to Titanosaur. If you are going to be in New York City anytime soon, be sure to stop by the Museum of Natural History and check it out. Not only do they have the enormous, reconstructed skeleton, they also have many of the original bones from the site in Argentina.
Good Night, Little Philae
I’ve written a couple of times now about the Rosetta mission to comet 67P. Not only did this mission rendezvous with the comet and send back some amazing photos and data, it also placed a lander, named “Philae,” on its surface.
Unfortunately, the lander had its share of ups and downs…literally. Its landing systems misfired and failed to anchor it to the comet’s surface, so it bounced multiple times before coming to rest in a very precarious location. That final resting place was shaded in such a way that the lander’s solar panels couldn’t get any light, and its batteries quickly went dead.
But, as the comet got closer to the Sun, Philae would occasionally get a bit of sunlight, wake up, and try to reconnect with the Rosetta spacecraft. These periods were frustratingly brief and stopped altogether in July of last year.
Now, as the comet speeds away from the Sun, it’s looking as if we’ll never hear from Philae again. The amount of sunlight that will reach the comet will decrease dramatically each day, and the temperature on 67P will drop well below the lander’s operating temperature.
Of course, 67P will be back this way in about 6 years, but by then it will sadly be too late. In September of this year, Rosetta itself will make a “crash landing” on the comet to gather one last round of photos and data.
So, even if Philae wakes up in 2022, there won’t be anyone to talk to.
Steven Disbrow is a computer programmer who specializes in e-commerce and mobile systems development, an entrepreneur, comic-book nerd, writer, improviser, actor, sometime television personality and parent of two human children.
Image courtesy ESA / C. Carreau.