Earth’s magnetic field is our great protector, shielding us from dangerous incoming solar radiation that would otherwise make life on Earth almost impossible. However, the strength of the field has changed through geological time, with the poles of the planet’s magnet switching dramatically at somewhat random intervals – roughly between 200,000 and 5 million years. Although the field strength has been dropping for the past two centuries, a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests it is not in danger of flipping any time soon.
Our planet’s magnetic field appears to be quite chaotic: It undergoes not only reversals, but also excursions wherein the poles “wander,” changing their coordinates on the surface of the planet rapidly with respect to geological time, before suddenly switching back to “normal.” Although the most recent reversal occurred 780,000 years ago, the poles temporarily flipped during an excursion in the middle of the last ice age 41,000 years ago.
Beakus were commissioned to create three animated films that explain key concepts about our universe, with humour helping to explain the ‘almost’ unexplainable! Director Amaël Isnard also designed the films.
In ‘What’s Inside A Black Hole?’ ROG astronomer Rad explains where black holes come from, how we know they’re there and the strange effects they have on surrounding matter. We also find out what would happen if ROG astronomer Liz approached one!
At roughly 13.8 billion years old, the Universe might seem like it’s been around for a long time, but a new study suggests that Earth is one of the first habitable planets to form – and we’re probably too early to the party to get a chance to meet future alien civilisations.
The research looked at data from the Hubble and Kepler space telescopes, and predicted that 92 percent of the Universe’s habitable planets have yet to be born. And most won’t form until after our Sun burns out in 6 billion years’ time.
VLT finds hottest and most massive touching double star
21 October 2015
Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, an international team of astronomers have found the hottest and most massive double star with components so close that they touch each other. The two stars in the extreme system VFTS 352 could be heading for a dramatic end, during which the two stars either coalesce to create a single giant star, or form a binary black hole.
The double star system VFTS 352 is located about 160 000 light-years away in the Tarantula Nebula . This remarkable region is the most active nursery of new stars in the nearby Universe and new observations from ESO’s VLT  have revealed that this pair of young stars is among the most extreme and strangest yet found.
VFTS 352 is composed of two very hot, bright and massive stars that orbit each other in little more than a day. The centres of the stars are separated by just 12 million kilometres . In fact, the stars are so close that their surfaces overlap and a bridge has formed between them. VFTS 352 is not only the most massive known in this tiny class of “overcontact binaries” — it has a combined mass of about 57 times that of the Sun — but it also contains the hottest components — with surface temperatures above 40 000 degrees Celsius.