Hard Science Fiction by Brandon Q. Morris
The ashes of the very first stars Astrophysics

The ashes of the very first stars

The universe was just 100 million years old when the first stars already flared up. Very early on, dark matter amplified inhomogeneities in the structure of the universe in such a way that there were areas with a higher concentration of hydrogen. This clumped together, and as still happens today, a star was formed. With our sun these very first cosmic beacons, which are called "Population III" today, are hardly comparable. They must have consisted mainly of hydrogen and helium - already because there were no other elements at all in the early universe. This is how these stars should…
Conditions for life in the Enceladus ocean increasingly certain Enceladus

Conditions for life in the Enceladus ocean increasingly certain

Saturn's moon plays a special role in my books. Therefore, I am always very happy when there is news about possible life in the moon's ice ocean. Like the following. A team of scientists has apparently discovered new evidence for an important building block for life in the subsurface ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Their model calculations suggest that Enceladus' ocean should be relatively rich in dissolved phosphorus, an essential ingredient for life. "Enceladus is one of the most important targets in humanity's search for life in our solar system," said Dr. Christopher Glein of Southwest Research Institute, a…
Gas bubble chases around core of Milky Way Astrophysics

Gas bubble chases around core of Milky Way

Astronomers have discovered a hot gas bubble rotating clockwise around the black hole Sagittarius A* - the core of our Galaxy. However, this bubble has not been found directly, but via an accompanying phenomenon: flares in the X-ray range, which have been detected again and again, starting from the black hole Sgr A*. Since nothing can leave the black hole itself, a phenomenon in the immediate vicinity must be responsible - the gas bubble. (more…)
What do black holes have to do with the Big Bang? Astrophysics

What do black holes have to do with the Big Bang?

A few milliseconds after the Big Bang, there was apparent chaos in the universe. While particles merged and broke apart again, incredibly strong pressure waves ran through the early cosmos. They pressed the particles so tightly against each other that black holes were formed, today called primordial black holes by astrophysicists. What impact did these black holes have on the formation of the first stars, about a hundred million years later? The Standard Model assumes that black holes at that time favored the formation of halo-like structures through their gravitational pull as condensation nuclei, similar to how clouds are formed…
What saved Earth from the fate of Mars? Life

What saved Earth from the fate of Mars?

Three billion years ago, liquid water existed on Mars as well as on Earth. Today, this is only the case on our home planet. Why is that? Mars no longer has such a strong magnetic field as the Earth. Therefore the solar wind can take the atmosphere better there than here. The magnetic field is generated in the outer core of the Earth, where liquid iron rotates (this is called a "geodynamo"). About 565 million years ago, however, the strength of the magnetic field decreased to 10 percent of its present strength. Then the field mysteriously recovered and regained strength…
News from the cosmic origin of life Life

News from the cosmic origin of life

Nitriles, a class of organic molecules with a cyano group, i.e. a carbon atom bonded to a nitrogen atom via an unsaturated triple bond, are usually toxic. Yet, paradoxically, they are also an important precursor for molecules that are essential for life - namely, ribonucleic acid (RNA). Astrobiologists already knew that complex molecules are surprisingly common even in space, which is hostile to life. Now, a team of researchers from Spain, Japan, Chile, Italy and the United States has shown that a wide range of nitriles occur in interstellar space in the molecular cloud G+0.693-0.027, near the center of…
What’s hiding near Andromeda? Space

What’s hiding near Andromeda?

First there was an amateur astronomer: Giuseppe Donatiello found an interesting "spot" in the Dark Energy Camera data on the 4-meter Víctor M. Blanco telescope. Then, using the larger 8.1-meter Gemini North telescope, the professionals took a closer look and confirmed that the object, then named Pegasus V, was an ultra-faint dwarf galaxy on the edge of the Andromeda Galaxy. The observations revealed that the galaxy appears to be extremely poor in heavier elements compared to similar dwarf galaxies, which means that it is very old and probably represents a fossil of the first galaxies in the universe. In…
Worlds quite different from Earth could also harbor life Life

Worlds quite different from Earth could also harbor life

Are our ideas of the habitable zones around a star too Earth-centric? Of course. We've only found one example of life in the universe so far, so we all draw conclusions. But there are alternatives, as researchers from the University of Bern and the University of Zurich have just reported in a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. According to the study, favorable conditions could even prevail for billions of years on planets that barely resemble our home planet. "One of the reasons water can be liquid on Earth is its atmosphere," explained study co-author Ravit Helled, professor…