Hard Science Fiction by Brandon Q. Morris
The most distant galaxy in the universe Astrophysics

The most distant galaxy in the universe

How large is the universe? As large as the most distant object we can detect, might be one answer. But this is not quite true: The most distant visible object only marks the boundaries of the observable universe. This could be GN-z11. A team of astronomers used the Keck I telescope to measure the distance to this ancient galaxy. They found that GN-z11 is not only the oldest galaxy, but also the most distant. It is so far away that it actually defines the boundary of the observable universe itself. The team hopes its study can shed light on a…
A lonely pair of gas giants that could never become a star Space

A lonely pair of gas giants that could never become a star

Star formation processes sometimes give rise to astronomical objects called brown dwarfs. They are smaller and colder than stars, and in the most extreme cases can have masses and temperatures down to those of exoplanets. Like stars, brown dwarfs often wander through space alone, but they can also appear in binary systems, where two brown dwarfs orbit each other and travel together in the galaxy. Researchers led by Clémence Fontanive of the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern have now discovered a curious starless binary system of brown dwarfs. The system, CFHTWIR-Oph 98 (or…
Richly covered menu in the Enceladus ocean Enceladus

Richly covered menu in the Enceladus ocean

Life needs energy for its existence. The more extensive and diverse the supplies of a potential ecosystem are, the more stable the communities that develop there can be. For Saturn's moon Enceladus, a new study now indicates that a diverse metabolic menu could support a potentially diverse microbial community in the liquid-water ocean beneath the moon's icy skin. Using data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have modeled the chemical processes in the subsurface ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Before its deorbit in September 2017, Cassini studied the cloud of ice grains and water…
Mysterious Signal from Proxima Centauri Life

Mysterious Signal from Proxima Centauri

"Towards the end of the 21st century, a call for help reaches Earth from the star closest to the sun, Proxima Centauri," begins the blurb for "Proxima Rising." The end of the century is still far off, but an apparently non-natural radio signal from the red dwarf has already reached us. The Guardian was the first to report it, and now the story is going around the world. The data in question was collected by the Parkes Observatory in Australia back on April 29, 2019. "This is the most exciting signal we've discovered in the Breakthrough Listen project," says…
Spiders in Space: Light as a Substitute for Gravity Life

Spiders in Space: Light as a Substitute for Gravity

The University of Basel has just issued a very nice story in a press release. It's about spiders, and the following is probably only great for those who like the useful animals at least a little bit. But let the (translated) press release have its say. On earth, spiders form asymmetrical webs, whose center is shifted towards the upper edge. In resting state the spiders sit upside down, because they can move faster in the direction of gravity towards freshly caught prey. But what do arachnids do in zero gravity? In 2008, NASA wanted to get high schools in…
Life on Mars: Search deeper! Life

Life on Mars: Search deeper!

Has Mars ever had a surface that is friendly to life? Planetary scientists are struggling to find enough remnants of a former atmosphere. Even if one considers that Mars may have lost a large part of its oxygen and water to space, gaps remain - even for the past. On the other hand, there are of course the valleys, dry waters and river systems still visible today, into which water would have had to have flowed billions of years ago. And if the water on the surface was not frozen, the temperatures must have been pleasant. Even if this…
When the fog dissolves Astrophysics

When the fog dissolves

In winter the fog sometimes does not dissolve the whole day. In space, planetary nebulae usually exist for many millennia, because they are star shells that have been ejected by their stars at the end of their lifetime. In the case of the Stingray Nebula, which was first catalogued in 1976 and is located 18,000 light years from Earth, this seems to be an exception. Images of the system taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2016 show a nebula that has drastically lost brightness and changed shape compared to Hubble images from 1996. Light blue gas shells near…
The solar system – a crash birth Space

The solar system – a crash birth

About 4.5 billion years ago, a large cloud of gas and dust collapsed where the solar system is today. Everything that makes up our sun, the planets, moons, asteroids and other celestial bodies in the solar system comes from this cloud. As an international team of researchers led by planetologists from the University of Münster has now discovered, the formation of the entire system took a surprisingly short time: only 200,000 years. The first solids that formed in the solar system can now be found as micrometer to centimeter-sized inclusions in meteorites. The so-called calcium- and aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs)…