Our Newest Planet: Is it real, and what can it tell us about our solar system?

by Chamith Fonseka figures by Anna Maurer The solar system may soon go back to having nine planets, but don’t rejoice yet, Pluto fans. Ten years ago, Pluto was downgraded to the status of a dwarf planet after a team of astronomers led by Michael Brown of Caltech, Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory, and David Rabinowitz of Yale discovered Eris, an object that was … Continue reading Our Newest Planet: Is it real, and what can it tell us about our solar system?

NASA’s Kepler Discovers over 1000 New Planets

Recently, the Kepler mission announced the discovery of 1,284 new planets. The announcement represents the most planets ever discovered at a single time, and more than doubles the total number of planets discovered by the Kepler telescope. Launched into space by NASA in 2009, Kepler’s goal is to determine how many Earth-sized planets reside in or near habitable zones, and estimate how many of such planets might exist … Continue reading NASA’s Kepler Discovers over 1000 New Planets

LIGO and Gravitational Waves: Discovery of the Century

The Twitter rumors are true! In what some scientists are calling the discovery of the century, LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) finally announced the first direct observation of gravitational waves.   Until a few days ago, gravitational waves were the only untested prediction of General Relativity. In General Relativity, space and time are not fixed. Spacetime curves around the matter and energy in the universe, … Continue reading LIGO and Gravitational Waves: Discovery of the Century

Surface of Pluto

Pluto Who? Astronomers Find Evidence for “New” Ninth Planet

It sounds like it belongs in a sci-fi B movie from the 1950s, but a growing body of evidence suggests that “Planet Nine” is the ninth planet in our solar system…if it actually exists.  Astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown recently observed that the orbits of several small, rocky objects beyond Neptune were arranged in an unexpected manner.  In fact, their alignment is so strange … Continue reading Pluto Who? Astronomers Find Evidence for “New” Ninth Planet

Going with the Flow: New Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars

Surface features such as canyons and valleys on the “Red Planet” suggest an abundance of liquid water in its geological past. Water vapors on Mars were first detected in the early 60s followed by observation of water-rich ice patches decades later, but it was not until 2011 that Lujendra Ojha, a Nepali undergraduate student, spotted signs of possible water flows on our neighboring planet. While … Continue reading Going with the Flow: New Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars

Closing in on the origin of terrestrial water: Philae calls back home

by Tansu Daylan figures by Kaitlyn Choi As Philae just woke up, we examine one exciting question of the Rosetta mission: what is the origin of water on Earth? A hypothesis proposes that comets brought to our planet this molecule central to life. The Rosetta mission is an ambitious scientific program launched by the European Space Agency to analyze the water on the comet 67P … Continue reading Closing in on the origin of terrestrial water: Philae calls back home

Sailing the Seas of Alien Worlds: The fate of oceans on rocky planets

Presented by Laura Schaefer Searching for life in our galaxy means first finding liquid water. Water is found throughout our Solar System in many different forms, but the Earth, because of its balmy temperatures and unique geology, is the only known planet with sailable seas. Astronomers are searching far and wide for other planets that might host liquid water. In their search, they have found … Continue reading Sailing the Seas of Alien Worlds: The fate of oceans on rocky planets

Cygnus Loop Nebula. Image courtesy of Skeeze (Pixbay).

Dark Matter Detected, or False Alarm?

Although dark matter makes up 80% of all matter in the universe, physicists are still struggling to understand exactly what it is. This perplexity is largely due to the fact that dark matter is invisible and difficult to study directly, but a dwarf galaxy named Reticulum 2 may have just changed the game. Many experts believe that when dark matter particles collide, high-energy light is … Continue reading Dark Matter Detected, or False Alarm?

Our Universe’s Story: Cosmos from chaos

Presented by Stephen Portillo, Zachary Slepian, and Kate Alexander As the result of observational and theoretical breakthroughs starting in the twentieth century, the cosmology of the Big Bang Theory was established. A crucial part of this captivating story is explaining how, from the violence and chaos of the Big Bang, organized structures like our own Milky Way galaxy formed. The first part of this lecture … Continue reading Our Universe’s Story: Cosmos from chaos

Exploring the Quantum World: From Plants to Pulsars

Exploring the Quantum World: From Plants to Pulsars

Presented by Mike Goldman, Joey Goodknight, and Tansu Daylan What do the interior of an atom, the bottom of a volcanic caldera, and the center of the sun have in common? Mike will begin with an introduction to quantum mechanics, which explores its relationship with our everyday world. Some aspects of the quantum world seem perfectly sensible but other concepts, like superposition, are deeply counterintuitive. … Continue reading Exploring the Quantum World: From Plants to Pulsars