Hard Science Fiction by Brandon Q. Morris
The Secret of the Black Ice Astrophysics

The Secret of the Black Ice

We are familiar with the physical states of water - solid, liquid and gas. However, in its solid phase, as ice, water can form more than a dozen different structures whose properties vary. The ordinary ice on the puddles that soon awaits us again in the northern hemisphere is just the tip of the iceberg. Scientists have now succeeded in producing an ice phase in the laboratory that is much darker than normal ice - superionic ice. This type of ice forms at extremely high temperatures and pressures, such as those found deep inside planets like Neptune and Uranus. Until…
What are time crystals? Astrophysics

What are time crystals?

Ice crystals are more orderly than flowing water - right? Wrong. There is a so-called translational symmetry in the liquid. That is, no matter where we look in the stream, it always looks the same. However, when the water freezes, its molecules arrange themselves in a fixed lattice. Now, if we look at a particular spot, there is either a molecule there (if we are lucky) - or not (if we caught the interstices of the crystal). The translational symmetry of the system is broken, the physicist says, in terms of spatial coordinates. Moreover, crystals are normally in the…
Black holes determine the evolution of the universe Astrophysics

Black holes determine the evolution of the universe

In principle, they can only be recognized by what you can't see - and yet black holes have a decisive effect on the evolution of the universe. That's according to a new study by an international team of researchers from the University of Bologna and elsewhere. The work, published in Nature Astronomy, focuses on the Nest200047 system - a group of about 20 galaxies at a distance of about 200 million light-years from Earth. The central galaxy of this system hosts an active black hole, around which the researchers observed many pairs of gas bubbles of different ages, some unknown…
42 of the largest asteroids: from spheres to dog bones Space

42 of the largest asteroids: from spheres to dog bones

More than 650,000 objects orbit in the solar system's asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory ESO imaged 42 of the largest in a large-scale effort from 2017 to 2019; the results have now been published. What did they notice? (more…)
Planets on a collision course Space

Planets on a collision course

The binary star system XZ Tauri, 450 light-years from Earth, could be an interesting sight in a few billion years. As researchers have discovered with the help of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the protoplanetary disks of the two stars are perpendicular to each other, see animation. The first planets are apparently being formed in these disks, which consist of gas and dust. When this process is complete, it should have a fascinating (but possibly dangerous) effect for the system's inhabitants: Again and again, planets belonging to another star approach and move away again - depending on the…
Massive floods on Mars Mars

Massive floods on Mars

Today, it's pretty dry on the Red Planet. But that wasn't always the case - quite the opposite, as researchers at the University of Texas at Austin can see from the way rivers and lakes have changed. On Earth, erosion by rivers is usually a slow process. On Mars, however, massive floods from overflowing crater lakes played a preeminent role in shaping the Martian surface, scouring out deep chasms and moving huge amounts of sediment. The study, published Sept. 29 in the journal Nature, shows that the floods, which likely lasted only a few weeks, removed more than enough…
A planet at maximum fluffiness Astrophysics

A planet at maximum fluffiness

It's not often that the word "fluffy" appears in a press release about a new astronomical discovery. It refers to the exoplanet WASP-127b, which orbits a star a good 500 light-years from Earth that is slightly larger than the Sun. An international team of astronomers has now not only detected clouds there, but also measured their height with unprecedented precision. WASP-127b is a so-called "hot Saturn" - a giant planet with a similar mass to Saturn, but unlike our (cold) Saturn, it orbits very close to its sun. During one orbit around its star, WASP-127b therefore receives 600 times more radiation…
A huge hole in space Astrophysics

A huge hole in space

About 500 to 1000 light-years from Earth, two large masses of cold cosmic matter are concentrated in space. "Cold" because they are matter in molecular form. The Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds each contain so much mass that at least 10,000 suns could form from them. Nevertheless, they are almost invisible in their entire extent, because they do not glow. The situation is different in the infrared. Heat radiation arises here, because an area concentrates more and more and gives birth to new stars. Between these two clouds, however, there is no normal interstellar matter. Rather, astronomers have now…