Hard Science Fiction by Brandon Q. Morris
Earth has a new companion – and why that’s exciting Space

Earth has a new companion – and why that’s exciting

Don't worry: this story is not about the imminent destruction of Earth again. On the contrary: asteroids like 2020 XL5, discovered in 2020, are exciting because they could provide insights into Earth's early past. 2020 XL5 is a so-called Trojan, as astronomers confirm now in the science magazine Nature (the assumption existed already before): An asteroid which accompanies Earth in its orbit. If one considers only the system from sun and planet, there are several places, at which the attractive forces of planet and sun cancel each other out. These are the so-called Lagrange points. Objects residing there can…
Is there a highest temperature? Astrophysics

Is there a highest temperature?

It cannot get colder than -273.15 degrees Celsius (0 Kelvin, -459,67 Fahrenheit). The reason physics gives for this is that temperature is a measure of the kinetic energy of particles, i.e. it tells us something about how fast they are moving. When all motion stops, we have reached the minimum of the temperature scale, which by definition is 0. But is there also a highest temperature? One could assume that, because there is not only a minimum speed (0), but also a maximum speed (the speed of light c). But then it is not so simple, because the energy…
X(3872): A mysterious particle from the early days of the universe Astrophysics

X(3872): A mysterious particle from the early days of the universe

At the very beginning of the universe, it was still very, very hot. At that time, matter did not consist of the particles we know today, such as protons or neutrons. If it becomes too hot for these particles (generally called hadrons), they start to boil and decompose into their components, like water becomes steam. For this it must be at least 1.7 trillion Kelvin (3 trillion Fahrenheit) hot, the so-called Hagedorn temperature. The particles which then float in the soup, the plasma, are on the one hand quarks, on the other hand gluons. The gluons are normally the…
How a false vacuum could lead to the destruction of the universe Astrophysics

How a false vacuum could lead to the destruction of the universe

When physicists at CERN discovered the Higgs boson in 2012 with the help of the Large Hadron Collider, they not only confirmed the last important building block of the Standard Model of elementary particle physics, which explains how particles acquire their mass (through the Higgs field, through which they move as through a viscous mass). In the process, they also measured the weight of the Higgs particle, which is 125GeV (giga-electron volts). And this is not just a number: It means that our universe is very likely in a metastable state, i.e. a state that is stable only at…
Mimas has an ocean under the surface too Enceladus

Mimas has an ocean under the surface too

Saturn's moons Enceladus and Titan have one, as do Jupiter's moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa and the dwarf planet Pluto: a liquid ocean beneath their icy surfaces. Perhaps the same is true of Saturn's moon Mimas, as a Southwest Research Institute scientist suspects. Dr. Alyssa Rhoden, a specialist in the geophysics of icy satellites, actually set out to prove that Saturn's tiny, innermost moon is a frozen, inert satellite. Instead, she found evidence that the moon also has a liquid inner ocean. One of the most fundamental discoveries of the past 25 years in planetary science is that worlds…
How many black holes are there in the universe? Astrophysics

How many black holes are there in the universe?

A lot. If a star is heavy enough (i.e., it is still at least 2.5 solar masses after its supernova), then it continues to collapse until a black hole forms. Such stellar-sized black holes have been forming for quite some time, and more and more are forming. How many are there already? This intriguing question has been addressed by Alex Sicilia, a PhD student under the supervision of Prof. Andrea Lapi and Dr. Lumen Boco of Italy's Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati. In a first paper just published in the Astrophysical Journal, the authors studied the demography of…
Earth cools faster Life

Earth cools faster

Earth is hot: up to 3500 degrees Celsius (6300 °F) in the mantle, 5000 degrees Celsius (9000 °F) in the outer core and 6000 °C (10,800 °F) in the (solid) inner core. This brings us some advantages. Not only us, but all life on Earth. There is, for example, the magnetic field, which is fueled by iron currents in the outer core and protects us from cosmic radiation. But also plate tectonics, which not only gives us mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes, but has also favored the emergence of complex life forms. If it stops at some point, erosion will…
New candidate for exomoon discovered Space

New candidate for exomoon discovered

Almost all planets in our solar system - and even some dwarf planets - are orbited by moons. In other star systems, however, astronomers have not yet been able to definitively confirm a single moon. Is it because there are no moons there? Certainly not - our observational technology simply isn't ready yet. But an article published in Nature Astronomy now introduces at least one new candidate for an exomoon. If confirmed as an exomoon, Kepler-1708 b-i - which is 2.6 times larger than Earth - could provide a missing piece of the puzzle for understanding the formation and…