Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What's up, Doc?

Astronomical news, of course :-)

Neutrinos are amazing particles. They interact so weakly with more familiar matter that it took decades to decide a neutrino had any mass at all. Aim a beam of neutrinos at a light-year thickness of lead, and half the neutrinos will emerge out the far side.

Our neighborhood neutrino factory -- aka, the Sun -- spits out a torrent of these particles. "Theoretical calculations say that about 65 billion neutrinos pass through every square centimeter region of the Earth's surface every second." (*) So how amazing is it that one neutrino recently made big news?
(*) "Nobel neutrinos

Blazar saddles?
IMO, pretty amazing. Because this extremely high-energy neutrino was correlated to a particular event: a blazar -- aka, an active galactic nucleus -- about four billion light-years (and years) distant. 

This correlation marks the first step toward a third type of observation in the nascent science of multi-modal astronomy. That is, in addition to traditional observations (using, from longest to shortest wavelengths: radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-ray, and/or gamma-ray electromagnetic radiation) and -- for a very few years now -- gravitational-wave observations, we can now foresee combining neutrino observations. In a word: awesome.

For more on this particularly fascinating neutrino detection, see "Why a 4-Billion-Year-Old Particle That Hit Antarctica Is Such a Big Deal."

Much closer to home -- a mere twenty light-years distant -- astronomers have discovered a unique planetary mass object. (This body is not a planet, notwithstanding the article headline I'll cite below. To be a planet, an object must -- among other things -- orbit a star(s.))

A magnetic field at work
The newly detected object is slightly larger than Jupiter, and several times more massive, but that's not what makes this body interesting. What's really unique is that SIMP J01365663+0933473 -- how's that for a catchy moniker? -- has a magnetic field millions of times more powerful than Earth's. For reference, the magnetic field of Jupiter, by far the strongest field of any planet in the Solar System, is a "mere" 20K times stronger than Earth's. The hope is that studying SIMP (if I may be so familiar) will help scientists understand more about how magnetic fields develop in some non-stellar objects.

For more about this find, see "Astronomers discover a free-range planet with incredible magnetism."

In a final bit as stargazing news, and the closest to home, the hunt for a Planet X (a massive body hypothesized to explain an odd clustering of some Kuiper Belt Objects) has instead discovered "... 12 more moons of Jupiter, including an oddity." That brings the known number of Jovian moons to 79.

The oddity, you ask? One of the newly discovered, tiny moons has a prograde orbit (revolves in generally the same direction as the planet's spin) but at a distance from Jupiter at which most moons have retrograde orbits (revolve opposite the direction of planetary spin).

And is your head spinning? Then (for a week or so, anyway) my work here is done :-)

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