Day 2 at the #AAS230: Warm Jupiters, Human Spaceflight, and Other Stories

Image result for planet nine
Artist’s rendition of the mysterious Planet Nine.

The second day of the AAS Conference has concluded with still more fascinating tales from the world of astronomy. We begin with the tale of the Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which concluded last year, from Bonnie Buratti of JPL. There were a lot of interesting results here, including that the water on Earth probably did not come from comets, as was previously thought, but from asteroids. But the biggest results are coming out on Thursday, so I’ll come back to that later.

One of the panel discussions tried to put together the pieces of the puzzle that lead to warm, Jupiter-sized planets with elliptical orbits. That’s a long and fascinating tale in itself involving the interaction of close in planets with more distant ones, and I’ll probably do a follow-up on that later.

Chris Impey of the University of Arizona spoke about our future in space. The upshot: despite funding difficulties in the U.S. at the federal level, thanks to commercial space enterprises, the future is bright.

Konstantin Batygin of Caltech is the “partner in crime” of astronomer Mike Brown, the discoverer of Eris and “killer” of Pluto. He described the long and fascinating process of predicting the existence of the as-yet-undiscovered Planet Nine. With new lines of evidence including the bizarre object “Niku” and a model for the axial tilt of the Sun, the evidence is stronger than ever.

Finally, Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts talked about the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, Sagittarius A*. Of particular interest are the X-ray flares seen around the black hole. The origin of these flares is uncertain, but it could involve magnetic effects in the surrounding gas or even asteroids being torn apart by the black hole’s massive gravity!

Other highlights:

*This is not a footnote. The name of the object is Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius-A-Star).

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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