Scientists are fascinated by new discoveries
1. “Prominence” on the Sun
Solar prominences are loops of plasma, which is a form of electrically charged gas, that frequently erupt from the surface of the sun. Recently, a remarkable and unique phenomenon was caught by NASA. Solar flares (solar prominence) broke off the sun’s surface and made a swirl around its North Pole that looked like a tornado. Scientists are particularly concerned about recent developments because they can disrupt communications on Earth.
Talk about Polar Vortex! Material from a northern prominence just broke away from the main filament & is now circulating in a massive polar vortex around the north pole of our Star. Implications for understanding the Sun's atmospheric dynamics above 55° here cannot be overstated! pic.twitter.com/1SKhunaXvP— Dr. Tamitha Skov (@TamithaSkov) February 2, 2023
There have been many similar events in the past, but this one is unusual because the filament then moved around the sun’s poles. It has been seen that a prominence like this happens every 11 years at the same 55º latitude.
2. A potentially habitable planet
Astronomers have recently discovered Wolf 1069 b, an exoplanet that could potentially be habitable. Any planet outside of our solar system is called an exoplanet. From Earth, it is 31 light-years away.
Wolf 1069b orbits a red dwarf star called Wolf 1069, which is about a fifth the size of our sun. It gets around 65% of Earth’s solar radiation.
It is in the “habitable zone” of its solar system, which means it is neither too hot nor too cold. This means that there could be liquid water and an atmosphere on its surface. It is locked to its star, so one side is always in the light and the other side is always in the dark. It is the sixth-closest possible world like Earth that has been found so far.
3. Ring around dwarf planet Quaoar
Another puzzling discovery made by astronomers is of a ring around Quaoar, a dwarf planet about half the size of Pluto, sitting in the Kuiper belt in the outer reaches of the solar system. Researchers say they have found a ring around Quaoar that is similar to the one around Saturn. But the one around Quaoar goes against what we know about how these rings can form. The ring is in a place where simple calculations of gravity say there shouldn’t be anything.
The ring system is twice as far away as the Roche limit, which is the theoretical limit for how far away a ring system can be. Inside the Roche limit, tidal forces prevent material from coming together to form a moon. But scientists thought that material outside that limit would be a moon, not a ring.
In other words, the ring is far enough away from Quaoar that scientists believe particles should readily come together to form a moon rather than remain as separate pieces in a disc of ring material. The discovery means that scientists may need to change what they know about how moons and rings form and how gravity affects them.
Astronomers didn’t find it directly. Instead, they found out about it when distant stars happened to pass behind Quaoar, blocking the starlight. It caused a roughly 5%–10% dip in light from a background star, both before and after the main body of Quaoar passed in front of the star. In a Nature paper, astronomers came to the conclusion that this showed that a ring was blocking some of the light. This kind of thing is called an occultation.
The Kuiper belt is a flat ring of small icy objects that orbit the sun outside of Neptune’s orbit. It is a place where things from the early days of the solar system are still around.