The Cosmic Companion August 17, 2019

Giant Pancakes, Planetary Collisions, and the Largest Supernova Ever Seen

Hello Everyone!

This week gave us big structures, big collisions, and big explosions! '

Computer simulations revealed the behavior of matter in between giant galactic pancakes in space, new evidence shows Jupiter may have swallowed a massive planet billions of years ago, and the most powerful supernova ever recorded could change our notions of stellar physics.

Let’s take off!

The Week in Space

Space is Filled with Giant Pancakes - Yale University astronomers ran computer simulations showing how matter behaves in regions of space between sheets of galaxies. Between these giant “pancakes” in space lies the intergalactic medium (IGM), clouds of hydrogen and helium.

A temperature map of the IGM, with hot regions in red and cooler areas in blue. Image credit: Screenshot from video by Yale University.

The study found the thermal instabilities in the gas could shatter the sheets, as well as supply galaxies with material to feed star formation.

Despite a density of just around one atom per cubic meter, the clouds of the IGM contain most of the “normal” matter of the Universe. Temperatures in these regions can reach millions of degrees Celsius.

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Did Jupiter Collide with a Massive Planet? - The Juno spacecraft, orbiting Jupiter since 2016, noted the core of the gas giant was “fuzzy,” more like a handful of slush than a firm snowball.

A young Jupiter is struck by a planetary body 10 times more massive than Earth in this artist’s conception. Illustration by K. Suda & Y. Akimoto/Mabuchi Design Office, courtesy of Astrobiology Center, Japan

Computer simulations showed this structure may be the result of a collision between that world and a giant planet, 10 times the size of the Earth, 4.5 billion years ago. A head-on strike between the bodies as Jupiter was still gathering its significant atmosphere would explain the readings from Juno, Rice University researchers surmised.

It would take Jupiter billions of years to recover from such an impact, the simulation suggests.

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Largest Supernova Ever Seen Could Rewrite Physics of Stars - A massive supernova explosion, a billion light years from Earth, completely destroyed the star which produced the event. This eruption challenges basic ideas about the deaths of supermassive stars.

The supermassive star Eta Carinae is destined to explode as a massive supernova. Before its demise, it is kicking off material, much like SN2016iet did previous to its eruption. The “bells” recorded in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope, were first seen in 1840, and may be the result of a collision with another star. This body sits 7,500 light years from Earth. Image credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona) and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute)

The supernova, SN2016iet, marked the death of a star which once had 200 times the mass of our Sun. Despite shedding off much of its material prior to the eruption, the star still had 55 to 120 times as much mass as our Sun at the time of the supernova.

When stars much larger than our Sun explode, they usually leave behind an ultra-dense neutron star or black hole. This eruption was so devastating, the event did not even leave behind a stellar corpse.

Astronomers expect SN2016iet to shine for years, providing data on this remarkable supernova.

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Coming soon: The First Woman on the Moon: The Past and Future History of Women in Space by James Maynard

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- James