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?

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

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