Super cool (3/2/23)
Happy Thursday. Last night, stargazers watched Venus and Jupiter draw so close to one another in the sky, it looked as though they might have touched. Never a dull moment in this endless cosmic dance.
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Keep it ultracool
Researchers at Northwestern University and UC San Diego have spotted an unusual phenomenon invisible to our eyes: a binary system of ultracool dwarf stars, orbiting one another at an incredibly short distance.
In a study published yesterday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the researchers detail the discovery of the binary dwarf star system LP 413-53AB, in which the stars are so close to one another that it only takes 17 hours for them to complete a full rotation. “In principle, we knew these systems should exist, but no such systems had been identified yet,” Chih-Chun Hsu, the Northwestern astrophysicist who led the study, said in a press release.
Ultracool dwarfs: Our hometown star, the Sun, is classified as a yellow dwarf star with a temperature of ~5500°C. The ultracool dwarfs spotted in this study are far smaller and dimmer, with temperatures less than 2,430°C. This very low temperature means that most of the light they emit is in infrared wavelengths, making them much harder to spot.
LP 413-53AB presented another challenge. The two stars are, cosmically speaking, incredibly close together, at only ~1% of the distance between the Earth and Sun. At first glance, observations from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii appeared to indicate a single dwarf star. Then, the researchers noticed that the signature they were observing was changing very quickly.
“When we were making this measurement, we could see things changing over a couple of minutes of observation,” UCSD professor Adam Burgasser said in the release. “Most binaries we follow have orbit periods of years. ...With this system, we could see the spectral lines moving apart in real time.”
Thinking about life…Around most stars is a “habitable zone,” or a region where temperatures could be just right for liquid water—so, potentially, life as we know it—to exist. LP 413-53AB is different, though. The researchers determined that because the stars are so cool and so close together, the habitable zone would lie within the stellar orbit, making it impossible for a planet caught in the dance to host liquid water.
The hunt for similar systems: This is the first system of its kind scientists have been able to confirm so far. Now that it’s been found, researchers can use the observations to make inferences about how the system formed and to hunt for similar star systems elsewhere in the universe.
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Other News from the Cosmos
- DART, i.e. the Direct Asteroid Redirection Test, officially validated the kinetic impact approach as an effective form of planetary defense. NASA released the full analysis from the September crash yesterday.
- The RAS (Royal Astronomical Society) will make every article it’s published since 1827 completely open access as of Jan. 2024.
- An AI model has produced a map of the birthplaces of stars in the Milky Way.
- Glaciers move up to 22% faster in the summer, satellite data shows.
- Marine biologists are using satellite transmitters to track *checks notes* shark births.
- Mars habitats located in underground caves could be an effective way of shielding astronauts from cosmic radiation, and a study found that connecting landers and rovers through a mesh network could help to identify and monitor these locations.
- The Sun gives off far more high-energy radiation than scientists expect it to. A new study under review at Physical Review Letters begins to explain why.
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The View from Space
Hubble captured video of NASA’s Direct Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which slammed into the asteroid Dimorphos back in September. The agency has analyzed data coming from this video and a slew of other observations and determined that a direct kinetic impact is, in fact, a valid and effective planetary defense method. A win for Planet Earth!