The Cosmic Companion November 2, 2019

New findings about the magnetic field of the Sun, large planets collide near their parent star, and a new exoplanet is found, thanks to an amateur astronomer and Albert Einstein.

Hello everyone!

This week, we look at a new finding from the Sun, suggesting that layers of surface material near the solar equator travel at unusual speeds, possibly explaining the odd behavior of the Sun’s magnetic field. We also look at a new finding showing that massive planets near alien stars regularly interact with each other, and occasionally collide, and the discovery of an unknown star by an amateur astronomer yields another finding — a new exoplanet 20 times larger than the Earth.

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The Week in Space

Bizarre Physics Seen on Sun Could Answer Mysteries of Magnetic Field

Sunspots near the surface of the Sun are driven by an unexpected magnetic instability, a new study finds. Could this explain the bizarre behavior of the Sun’s magnetic field?

Plasma rises from the surface of the Sun sue to the movement of magnetic fields. Image credit: NASA/SDO

What we see of the Sun is a rollicking, moving ball of plasma (ionized gas), rotating as the Sun moves around its axis. Electric currents within the Sun creates a massive magnetic field, which driving sunspot activity. Exactly how this happens, however, remains a mystery.

A new finding suggests an unexplained mechanism may be unfolding within this plasma, potentially playing a critical role in the behavior of the Sun’s magnetic field.

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Gas Giants Bounce Around — and Collide — in Alien Solar Systems

Gas giants around other stars often travel along highly-elliptical orbits, contrary to common thought, and massive collisions and interactions between gas giants may be to blame, a new study finds. The Cosmic Companion talks to lead researcher Renata Frelikh of UC Santa Cruz.

A period of collisions between planets and other bodies during the formation of solar systems could have unexpected results, new simulations suggest. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

More than 4,000 worlds are now known to orbit stars other than our sun, and a fraction of these are giant worlds, like Jupiter and Saturn, orbiting close to their parent star. Basic laws of physics (as well as common intuition) would indicate that such a world should have a largely-circular orbits, due to the forces acting on the bodies.

Observations of large exoplanets near their stars, however, reveal just the opposite — that many of these worlds are tracing out highly-elliptical orbits as they race around the stellar companion.

Read more:

Oddball Planet Found By Amateur Astronomer, Thanks to Albert Einstein

Kojima-1Lb is a cool exoplanet, roughly 20 times more massive than the Earth. What’s remarkable is how this planet was discovered, and its connection to Albert Einstein.

A diagram showing the relative position of Kojima-1L compared to other systems discovered through gravitational lensing. The inset photo is an artists impression of the system. Image credit: University of Tokyo

Almost 1,650 light years from Earth lies Kojima-1L, a dwarf star roughly 60 percent as massive as the Sun. Around that star revolves a giant planet, slightly more massive than Neptune, or around 20 times more massive than our own world. The planet was discovered thanks, in part, to a natural phenomenon first predicted by famed physicist Albert Einstein.

In 1915, Einstein released the general theory of relativity, which stated (in part) that light bends around massive objects in space. This effect can result in gravitational lensing, in which light from distant bodies is bent by nearer bodies, as if the light were traveling through a lens. This process is known as gravitational lensing, and the phenomenon is frequently used to observe objects in the depths of space.

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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!

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Astronomy - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

- James