Category Archives: Astronomy

What Earth owes to black holes

Marina Koren writes: The first picture ever captured of a black hole, one situated in the center of another galaxy, was pretty blurry. Seen in silhouette, it appeared fuzzy, as did the ring of hot gas surrounding it. The reaction of the public did not necessarily match the unalloyed joy of astronomers accustomed to extracting… Read More »

On the origin of an interstellar species

Caleb Scharf writes: Once upon a time there was a molecule. That molecule, when it reacted with other molecules, set in motion a story that would result in the universe making another molecule almost exactly like that first one. Then that new molecule, when it reacted with other molecules, set in motion a story that… Read More »

The hidden magnetic universe begins to come into view

Natalie Wolchover writes: Anytime astronomers figure out a new way of looking for magnetic fields in ever more remote regions of the cosmos, inexplicably, they find them. These force fields — the same entities that emanate from fridge magnets — surround Earth, the sun and all galaxies. Twenty years ago, astronomers started to detect magnetism… Read More »

Pentagon is open to replacing base names linked to white supremacy, but Trump shuts down the discussion

The New York Times reports: Monuments and memorials bearing the names of men who fought to preserve slavery and uphold white supremacy are facing a reckoning, as demonstrations against police brutality have erupted across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The protests have also reignited a… Read More »

The strange influence the sun has on whales

Ed Yong writes: The first clear evidence that some animals have a magnetic sense came from a simple-enough experiment—put an animal in a box, change the magnetic fields around it, and see where it heads. German scientists first tried this in the 1960s, with captive robins. When it came time to migrate, the birds would… Read More »

How dark is the cosmic web?

Paul M. Sutter writes: The universe is permeated by a vast, invisible web, its tendrils weaving through space. But despite organizing the matter we see in space, this dark web is invisible. That’s because it is made up of dark matter, which exerts a gravitational pull but emits no light. That is, the web was… Read More »

Do we live in a multiple universe?

David J. Eicher writes: Decades of astrophysical research beginning in the late 19th century established the universe as we see it, culminating with the Big Bang theory. We now know the universe is about 13.8 billion years old and at least 150 billion trillion miles across. But in recent years, astronomers have begun to address… Read More »

How far is it to the edge of the Universe?

Ethan Siegel writes: If you were to go as far out into space as you can imagine, what would you encounter? Would there be a limit to how far you could go, or could you travel a limitless distance? Would you eventually return to your starting point, or would you continue to traverse space that… Read More »

Could invisible aliens really exist among us? An astrobiologist explains

They probably won’t look anything like this. Martina Badini/Shutterstock By Samantha Rolfe, University of Hertfordshire Life is pretty easy to recognise. It moves, it grows, it eats, it excretes, it reproduces. Simple. In biology, researchers often use the acronym “MRSGREN” to describe it. It stands for movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition. But… Read More »

What makes us unexceptional

Corey S. Powell writes: One of the greatest debates in the long history of astronomy has been that of exceptionalism versus mediocrity—and one of the great satisfactions of modern times has been watching the arguments for mediocrity emerge triumphant. Far more than just a high-minded clash of abstract ideas, this debate has shaped the way… Read More »

Supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy may have a friend

An artist’s conception of two black holes entwined in a gravitational tango. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Christopher Go By Smadar Naoz, University of California, Los Angeles Do supermassive black holes have friends? The nature of galaxy formation suggests that the answer is yes, and in fact, pairs of supermassive black holes should be common in the universe. I am… Read More »

The chemistry at the heart of the Universe

Caleb A. Scharf writes: It’s a relatively little-known fact outside of astrophysics that the key to the first stars in the universe, and the earliest structures condensing out of the primordial murk, was chemistry. Specifically, the key was the formation of molecular hydrogen or H2. A pair of atoms bonded together and capable of rotating… Read More »