it is for science

3

The infamous “alien megastructure” star is back, and astronomers are grabbing their telescopes

  • Scientists around the world were shocked when a mysterious “alien megastructure” star suddenly went dim on May 18.
  • Astronomers have had their eye on the star — also known as Tabby’s star — since 2009, when it was first discovered by Tabetha Boyajian at Louisiana State University. It’s special because its bright lights dim and flicker in a random, unidentifiable pattern, which is really strange, as far as star behavior goes.
  • “The weird thing about this star is the constant brightness for so long, then the unpredictable, relatively short periods of dimming,” Matt Muterspaugh, astronomer and professor at Tennessee State University, said.
  • “It’s been four years since scientists last noticed the star dim,” Muterspaugh said, and information about it only became available three months after the star had dimmed.
  • “This is exciting because it’s the first time we’re seeing it happen in real-time,” he said. Read more (5/22/17)
follow @the-future-now

Scanning the skies for galaxies, Canadian astronomer Paul Hickson and colleagues identified some 100 compact groups of galaxies, now appropriately called Hickson Compact Groups (HCGs). This sharp Hubble image shows one such galaxy group, HCG 90, in startling detail. Three galaxies, two visible here, are revealed to be strongly interacting: a dusty spiral galaxy stretched and distorted in the image center, and two large elliptical galaxies. The close encounter will trigger furious star formation. On a cosmic timescale, the gravitational tug of war will eventually result in the merger of the trio into a large single galaxy. The merger process is now understood to be a normal part of the evolution of galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

Image Credit: NASA; ESA, Hubble Legacy Archive; Processing: Oliver Czernetz

Your sea salt likely contains a little sea plastic

  • A recent study suggests that your salty caramel gelato or potato wedges have a little dash of “secret ingredient” in them — tiny bits of plastic, also known as microplastics.
  • Scientists tested 16 popular brands of sea salt farmed from a long list of countries, including New Zealand, Iran, France, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Portugal and South Africa. Every single sample had microplastics in them, likely because microplastics can float on the ocean’s surface and get picked up by salt skimmers.
  • Although the discovery is alarming, the microplastics weren’t detected in high concentrations. Read more (5/22/17)

follow @the-future-now

The turtle-jawed moa-nalo (Chelychelynechen quassus) was a large flightless goose-like duck from the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i. About 90cm tall (3′) and weighing around 7kg (15lbs), these birds and their relatives were descended from dabbling ducks and existed on most of the larger Hawaiian islands for the last 3 million years or so – before going extinct around 1000 years ago following the arrival of Polynesian settlers.

Chelychelynechen had an unusually-shaped bill, tall and broad with vertically-oriented nostrils, convergently similar to the beak of a turtle. It would have occupied the same sort of ecological niche as giant tortoises on other islands, filling the role of large herbivore in the absence of mammals.