The universe is a proverbial box of chocolates with no lemon creams. Every discovery furthers both science and imagination, but the most exciting are the outliers. And every initially nonsensical star, planet, or meteor reveals another line of the universal code.
New Type Of Storm . . . On A Star
NASA’s Spitzer and Kepler Space Telescopes are a potent tag team and have recently observed an unexpected occurrence on a small star: a storm.
Only 53 light-years away in the constellation Lyra, a Jupiter-sized L-dwarf named W1906+40 sports a weird mole-like growth likened to the Jovian red spot. Unlike its similarly sized brown dwarf brethren, W1906+40 is a bona fide star, capable of squishing atoms together to produce its own light. Though just barely that—this tiny stellar object is a relatively chilly 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,500 °F).
W1906+40 is so lukewarm that clouds form and swirl in its atmosphere. These clouds are whipped up by the star’s inner fury and have created a dark spot near the north pole, which astronomers mistook as the equivalent of a sunspot. And while it isn’t directly visible, researchers inferred its presence by a dip in light that occurs every nine hours as it whips around.
Cloudy conditions are observed on brown dwarfs, but these substellar wannabes are not mighty enough to sustain fusion. Even their storms pale in comparison, the longest enduring no longer than a day. In contrast, the storm on W1906+40 is still going strong after two years.
Mysterious New Type Of Globular Cluster
Globular clusters are like stellar popcorn balls—spherical aggregates of thousands of stars. Some are nearly as old as the universe and have traveled hither and thither for billions of years before settling on the outskirts of established galaxies.
Our Milky Way is decent but has only about 150 clusters to its name. More massive galaxies bling themselves out with many clusters, and the nearest galactic monster is Centaurus A (NGC 5128), an elliptical galaxy 12 million light-years away with 2,000 globular hangers-on.
But not all of Centaurus A’s clusters make sense. Normally, a cluster’s mass is commensurate with its brightness, and the most luminous sources are also the most massive. But in sampling 125 globules from Centaurus A, astronomers found that some smuggle much more mass than we can see, even with our full range of fancy imagers.
Researchers offer two equally impressive solutions: dark matter or black holes. Globular clusters don’t often contain dark matter, unlike galaxies, but maybe a few have acquired this most mysterious substance through some unknown mechanism. Black holes are also massive enough to produce the observed effect, painting a scary picture of Centaurus A as a cosmic mine field with a periphery of gluttonous black holes.