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Like something out of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ahuna Mons rises oddly from the surface of the asteroid Ceres. First spotted as an oddly shiny spot in the floor of a great basin, this 4000m tall mountain is like nothing else in our Solar System.
Most striking are these weird, sheer sides that are covered in shiny deposits that appear to be salts. These deposits indicate what we’re looking at is an ice volcano that had erupted salt water ice.
The question is: How does a giant asteroid – the OG Former Planet – have ice or cryo volcanoes?
New research coming out from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR in German), thinks it has the explanation.
Using the orbiting Dawn spacecraft as a test particle in the gravity field of Ceres, they mapped out the differences in gravitational pull from point to point around Ceres. These differences map out places there are more or less material between the spacecraft and Ceres’ center of mass. In this image Ahuna Mons is shown in white and the red and yellow around it is a gravitational anomaly where there is excess material above the green average.
The team in Germany theorizes, and here we quote from the press release “A bubble made of a mixture of salt water, mud and rock rose from within the dwarf planet. The bubble pushed the ice-rich crust upwards, and at a structural weak point the muddy substance, comprising salts and hydrogenated silicates, was pushed to the surface, solidified in the cold of space, in the absence of any atmosphere, and piled up to form a mountain. Ahuna Mons is an enormous mud volcano.”
Um, so we were wrong when we called it an Icy or Cryo Volcano. Sure, there is salt water in its eruptions: That is what makes the dirt into mud.
Ceres is proving itself once again, far more complex than we ever imagined an asteroid could be. Like Pluto, this former planet – that was demoted more than 70 years before Pluto was even found! – is giving us the kind of science that argues that calling it a Dwarf Planet maybe isn’t enough.
Sticking with the solar systen theme, our next story comes to us from the Sun.
Or rather the story comes to us from the University of Colorado Boulder, and it is about the sun.
Human beings haven’t been able to observe our nearest star in scientific detail for all that many 1000s of years, or even just decades. This means, we don’t really know what it is capable of throwing at us. To get a better understanding of our nearest star, it helps to look at other stars in our Galaxy and beyond.
And these other stars give us reason to be afraid. New research shows that super-flares, giant outbursts of energy and particles, can happen on stars that are older and quieter like our Sun. While they are rare, the frequency with which they happen around other stars leads us to believe they can occur every few thousand years.
Remember how I said we’ve only been making observations for a few 1000 years? While we haven’t been able to make details observations for more than a few decades, various people’s around the earth have supernovae, comet, and meteor storm observations recorded in their histories, art, and religion. What we don’t have in that record, at least not that anyone has recognized so far, is a record of a planet encompassing aurora triggered by this kind of a massive outburst. There may be hints in the geologic record of mass die offs that could have been tied to supernovae or this kind of super-flare, but there’s nothing definitive.
As they say in the press release, this needs to be a wake-up call for our world. While we are quite rightly panicking about climate change and plastic pollution, some part of our “oh God, we’re all going to die” energy needs to also go into thinking about how we can protect ourselves and our digital infrastructure from this kind of event.
Who are we kidding, the digital infrastructure will likely fry… we need to at least think about ourselves and plan to break out the cameras to observe the aurora.
Ok, that is enough heavy stuff for today.
Here is a story that’s just for fun.
Some of you may have played musical instruments or blown over the mouths of soda or water bottles to make them make noise. The tone you heard was a function of how hard you blew and the shape of the bottle or instrument, and the notes you hear are actually made up of a variety of harmonics we perceive as one rich note.
It turns out, the atmospheres of stars can resonate in the same way that a bottle’s can resonate with sound. No one needs to blow on the sun – the reactions going on inside of it are enough to drive sound waves in its atmosphere. Now, a team from the Sonification of Solar Harmonics project has made it possible for you – yes you – to hear a version of what the sun would sound like if human ears could hear something that big rumbling in the sky.
The cool thing is, the Sun can actually have all sorts of different sound waves moving through it at once, so it can effectively play cords, with the different notes pulsing on and off over shorter and longer periods of time.
LINK TO SOUNDS http://solar-center.stanford.edu/SoSH/#sounds
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