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A place on Earth where everything’s dead

So far, the Earth is the only place in the universe where life has been proven to exist. But even on our planet, there are places that life cannot survive. The geothermal fields in the Ethiopian region of Dallol are one of these places. Near the Danakil Depression in northeastern Ethiopia, close to the border with Eritrea, a volcanic explosion in 1926 formed a crater with a diameter of 30 meters (98 ft), exposing hot salt springs. The emerging water is 70°C (158°F) and extremely acidic with a pH value below 1. At the same time, the air temperature is very hot at 45°C (113°F).

In the language of the Afar people living in this region, the word Dallol apparently doesn’t mean “dissolution” or “disintegration” for nothing. After very thorough testing, researchers are now reporting that they could find absolutely no living cells here, even though the area is constantly being inundated with microbes due to wind and humans in the very biologically active surroundings.

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Fascinating images from the beginning of the universe

Next to theory and experiments, simulations are one of the most important tools used in research today. Occasionally, scientists develop theories that cannot be tested using today’s practice or technology. Here, a simulation might then be able to point the theoretical physicist where he or she needs to look. Other times, it might happen that there are two different theories that could be suitable for describing reality. If simulations are built based on both theories, their results can sometimes separate the significant from the useless. And sometimes it also happens that there isn’t any theory yet, only data from measurements. If it’s possible to create a simulation that produces the same results as the experiment, then sometimes it’s also possible to derive a theory from the simulation.

Astronomers who want to simulate the cosmos are normally confronted with a choice: either they use their computational power for details or for the largest possible space in their simulation. Both methods have their drawbacks in their informational value: simulations of small numbers of galaxies cannot provide good statistical results, and large-scale simulations lack the details compared with reality. With the TNG50 astronomical simulation, researchers were able for the first time to combine a large-scale cosmological simulation with the high resolution of a detailed simulation, like those that were previously possible only for studies of individual galaxies.

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Could an Earth-like planet also survive in an eccentric solar system?

HR5183 is a yellow dwarf star, not very different from our own Sun and located about 103 light-years from Earth. After more than 20 years of observation, astronomers finally found a planet, of about three times Jupiter’s mass, orbiting the star this past summer. Why did it take so long? The planet, HR5183 b, needs 75 years to complete one orbit around its star. Therefore, the period at which it affects the light curve of its star is also correspondingly long.

But what surprised the astronomers even more was the planet’s unusual orbit. HR5183 b comes about as close to its star as Jupiter’s distance to the Sun and then swings out to a distance far beyond that of Neptune’s orbit. Such an eccentric orbit had previously been observed only very rarely.

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New organic molecules discovered on Saturn’s moon Enceladus

Two years ago, the Cassini probe was sent plummeting into Saturn to its fiery demise – but researchers are still finding new discoveries in the data it sent back. Now, scientists from the Free University Berlin have reported findings from the CDA, the “Cosmic Dust Analyzer,” which was on board Cassini. This instrument was developed in Germany and was designed to study very small particles.

The CDA could detect particles with a velocity of 5 kilometers per second and a mass of only 1013 grams (a ten-millionth of a millionth of a gram, which corresponds to a size of two-thousands of a millimeter). In addition to the particle velocity and particle size (10 nanometers to 100 micrometers), it also determined the electrical charge of the particles and their basic composition.

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Will our Solar System soon have its sixth dwarf planet?

According to the definition of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), dwarf planets are celestial bodies that do indeed have the round shape of a planet, but do not have sufficient mass to dominate the area around their distance to the Sun. The most well-known example of a dwarf planet is surely Pluto (with a diameter of 2400 kilometers (1490 miles)). Eris, Makemake, and Haumea are three other dwarf planets orbiting in the outer regions of our Solar System. At 950 kilometers (590 miles), Ceres is the largest object in the Asteroid Belt and simultaneously the smallest dwarf planet.

But maybe not for much longer, because the asteroid Hygiea also appears to be approximately spherical. The asteroid discovered by Annibale de Gasparis on April 12, 1849 in Naples was named after Hygieia, the daughter of the god Asclepios from Greek mythology. It is only the fourth largest object in the Asteroid Belt. However, differently than the somewhat larger asteroids, Vesta and Pallas, it actually appears to be spherical, as observations with the SPHERE instrument of the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory, ESO, have shown.

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