The Cosmic Companion February 8, 2020

The matter in the Universe may be the product of neutrinos, the icy heart of Pluto controls that world's climate, an ancient galaxy lived fast and died young, and the Cocoon galaxy has two cores.

Hello everyone!

In this week’s issue of The Cosmic Companion, we look at how the smallest subatomic particles could be responsible for all the matter in the Universe, the icy heart of Pluto could control the climate on that world, an ancient galaxy is discovered that lived fast and died young, and the Cocoon Galaxy is found to have a rare double core.

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The Week in Space

How the Tiniest Particles in the Cosmos Saved Us All from Annihilation

By James Maynard

Matter and anti-matter completely annihilate when they meet, erupting into pure energy. If the Universe began with equal amounts of each, why does anything still exist? The answer may lie with the smallest particle of all.

Anti-matter is seen on the surface of the Sun, as it collides with matter, annihilating both partners in subatomic collisions. So, why is matter so prevalent in the Universe, and anti-matter so rare? Image credit: NASA

Ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves could reveal the answer to one of the greatest questions in the study of the Cosmos — why anti-matter in the early Universe did not completely annihilate every particle of matter and vice versa.

According to widely-accepted models of the Big Bang, the enormous energy of the explosion soon began to freeze into subatomic particles. As the Universe continued to expand and cool, matter and anti-matter formed (theoretically) in equal amounts. Were that the whole story, however, these particles should have eventually wiped each other out of existence.

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Pluto’s ‘Icy Heart’ Controls the Dwarf Planet’s Winds

By Rob Lea

A ‘beating heart’ of frozen nitrogen on the surface of Pluto controls its winds and gives rise to the dwarf planet’s features.

Pluto’s beating heart of frozen nitrogen. Image credit: NASA

New research indicates that Pluto’s nitrogen heart may control its atmospheric circulation and shape its landscape. The structure — known as Tombaugh Regio — nicknamed the ‘heart of Pluto’ due to its distinctive shape, was observed by NASA’s New Horizons mission in 2015, proving that the dwarf-planet is nor as barren as researchers had previously believed.

“Before New Horizons, everyone thought Pluto was going to be a netball — completely flat, almost no diversity,” Tanguy Bertrand, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. “But it’s completely different. It has a lot of different landscapes and we are trying to understand what’s going on there.”

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Monster Galaxy from Ancient Universe Died Young

By James Maynard

A monster galaxy is spotted from the ancient Universe — it lived fast and died young — what killed XMM-2599?

Looking down into the Keck mirror assembly. Image credit: Andrew Cooper.

A monster galaxy from the early Universe, XMM-2599, lived out its life just a billion years after the Big Bang, before dying a mysterious death when the Universe was just 13 percent of its current age.

Galaxies like the Milky Way produce roughly one new star each year, but XMM-2599 developed a flurry of stars when it first formed, reaching a mass of more than 300 billion Suns. Star production then quickly shut down, making XMM-2599 a “dead galaxy.” Why this fast-living galaxy shut down stellar formation so quickly is a new mystery for astronomers to solve.

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The Strange Double Nucleus of the Cocoon Galaxy

By James Maynard

A galactic collision resulted in the creation of a strange pair of galaxies, and the larger one holds a second hidden core, a new finding reveals.

The galaxy NGC 4490, seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Red areas are regions of active star formation. Image credit: ESA/Hubble/NASA

Roughly 30 million light years from Earth, the Cocoon Galaxy (also known as NGC 4490) is home to two galactic cores, a new study shows. Optical observations clearly show one core which has long been known to astronomers. However, a second core was recently found by astronomers using radio telescopes, hiding in clouds of gas and dust.

This pair of galaxies are the products of an ancient collision between a spiral galaxy and a barred spiral galaxy (the shape of the present-day Milky Way, but much smaller). The pair, drawn together by gravity, collided, triggering a period of active star building in each cluster of stars.

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

Thanks for reading!

On the February 18th episode of the Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion podcast, I will be interviewing Dr. Gillian Wilson of the University of California Riverside, about her work on the recent discovery of XMM-2599, a monster galaxy from the early Universe that lived fast and died young. Excerpts will also be heard on the video version of the show. Make sure to listen to this exciting episode!

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Astronomy - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

- James

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