Weird Science - Heavens Above!

It is surprising to think that less than fifteen years ago we knew of no planets but those in our own solar system. Now astronomers discover them with such frequency that it takes finding a potentially habitable one like Gliese-581d to stir the public’s interest. But a British team at the Isaac Newton Telescope on the Canary Islands may have done something much more amazing than finding another planet in the Milky Way, they believe they may have just detected one in another galaxy. The object orbits a star in the Andromeda galaxy, more than 2.5 million light-years away from Earth, causing that star to wobble. Normally any motion would be invisible at such a distance, but by chance the distant solar system is acting like a lens in front of even more distant stars, and every wobble of the lens is magnified enough to be discernable (Scientific American).

Closer to home, relatively, is the planet is known only as WASP-18b, but if it were ever to be given a proper name it would be “Icarus”, for this is a planet that has flown too close to its sun. WASP-18b is the 375th extrasolar planet discovered by astronomers, and is possibly the most extreme one yet. It is another gas giant like Jupiter, but ten times the size of our neighbourhood giant, yet it orbits its star in less than a day. This 22.5 hour long “year” would mean the planet is so close to its sun, and moving so fast, that tidal forces are almost certainly dragging the planet inwards to its doom. The team from Keele University that discovered WASP-18b, led by Coel Hellier, calculate that realistically the planet probably has less than a million years left (Nature).

But perhaps we shouldn’t feel so smug in our safe little backwater. In another paper from Nature, J. Laskar and M. Gastineau of the Observatoire de Paris report that in a study of 2500 possible futures for our solar system, in 1% of cases Mercury’s orbit became so unstable that it collided with either Venus or the Sun. Another scenario saw the orbits of the inner planets descend into chaos, putting Earth at risk of a collision with Mercury, Venus or Mars. The good news is that you don’t need to hide under the bed just yet, none of this is expected to occur for billions of years (Nature).

But, for all its violence and destruction, the universe is still an amazing and beautiful place. One such delight is a cosmic bubble, as perfect as any blown by a child, albeit one 20 trillion km across. It’s a planetary nebula, the remains of a star that has run its course and exploded, throwing huge shells of gas and dust into space, and lies in the constellation of Cygnus. Frequently these nebulae are spun into incredible shapes that are named for their resemblance to butterflies, hourglasses or eyes, but for me the Cygnus bubble is just as magnificent in its simplicity (New Scientist).

(Image sources: Case Western Reserve University, Kitt Peak Observatory.)
     Posted By: Dumbfounded - Thu Aug 27, 2009
     Category: Aliens | Armageddon and Apocalypses | Art | Science

Hmm...Cygnus bubble...looks more like God is farting in the cosmic bathtub.
Posted by numb in Philadelphia on 08/27/09 at 01:02 PM
wobble- it is just amazing what we can see out there. perhaps one day we really will travel in space seeking out beauty and wonder.

wasp 18b- how many millenia ,do you think, has this planet been there.

future- why do people insist on finding something to fret about. don't worry be happy!

bubble- dumbfounded, it is beautiful thanks for sharing honey!
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 08/27/09 at 02:44 PM
We're actually in one of those bubbles. The Local Bubble, as it is known, has existed for a few million years as the result of supernovae. A pulsar in Gemini is most likely the driving force behind it. The difference is that the bubble we occupy is so big that is has expanded to envelop multiple stars and a great deal of interstellar space, rather than just marking the place where a single star died.
Posted by venomlash on 08/27/09 at 02:47 PM
Such a subtle spam deserves a subtle de-spam. 😊
Posted by Dumbfounded on 08/27/09 at 07:22 PM
Sorry, this is just so much junk science! These guys only SUSPECT there is a planet because, well, the science they developed says so! I'll wait for the pictures!
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 08/29/09 at 11:34 AM
so basically all pictures are inividual rorchack test df? 😉
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 08/29/09 at 11:10 PM
i was being silly too but your point is well taken. as the technology improves we will learn more about wasp 18b and beyond i'm sure.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 08/30/09 at 12:14 AM
just you and me traveling the universe in your cosmic bubble baby! 💋
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 09/03/09 at 04:09 PM
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