In this week's episode of Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion, we examine findings from the InSight lander, which has returned its first data from Mars. We will also learn about 2020 CD3, an asteroid that recently entered orbit around the Earth as a second moon, and we talk about the composition of exoplanet K2 18b and what that means for the possibility of life on that world. This week’s stories end with a bang as evidence for the largest explosion since the Big Bang is seen by astronomers.
PLUS - This week’s podcast features a full interview with Sofia Sheikh of Penn State University, a graduate student leading a new study searching for extraterrestrial civilizations who may have already found life on Earth.
Video version of this podcast (full interview in podcast only):
After almost 10 months since landing, the InSight lander on Mars sent its first findings to Earth. The spacecraft revealed that tremors are common on Mars, although they are not severe. The Martian laboratory has also found a greater degree of magnetization of the crust than was expected, and sent a report on wind conditions to researchers on Earth. The robotic laboratory was designed to study the interior of Mars, attempting to understand the history of that planet and other worlds in our solar system, including our home world.
An asteroid as large as a car has just been discovered orbiting the Earth. This object, dubbed 2020 CD3, was captured by the gravitational field of the Earth, and entered orbit around our world roughly three years ago. This second Moon is far to dim to see with the naked eye, however, and is located in an unstable orbit that will likely fling CD3 back into interplanetary space in April of this year.
In the fall of 2019, astronomers announced the discovery of water vapor in the atmosphere of the exoplanet K2 18b. This world is located in the habitable zone around its cool, dim star, where water could accumulate into ponds, lakes, and oceans. This new study shows K2 18b is likely either a water world covered in ice, or a gaseous planet like Neptune, where temperatures would be too hot for life as we know it to exist.
Astronomers have found evidence of the largest-known explosion since the Big Bang. Triggered by a supermassive black hole in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, this eruption produced a crater 15 times wider than the Milky Way Galaxy in a plasma cloud surrounding the cluster. This event took place at a safe distance of 390 million light years from Earth, and hundreds of millions of years in the past.
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