Astronomical Wonderment

There’ve been a couple of fascinating astronomical discoveries over the past couple of days, both of which have warranted special extra editions of the New Scientist newsletter.

Today it was announced that the first dark matter galaxy has been discovered. I was confused by the news at first, as the discovery was made at the UK’s Jodrell Bank observatory. Jodrell Bank is a radio observatory, and dark matter by its very nature doesn’t emit any kind of electromagnetic radiation – it’s only detectable by its gravitational influence. It turns out that Jodrell Bank found large amounts of hydrogen (which does emit radiation) rotating too fast to be explained by the detectable matter in the area. Very interesting. The discovery of a dark matter galaxy helps vindicate existing theories of galaxy formation, which suggest that dark matter was the first to ‘clump’ after the big bang. We’ve still no idea what it is, but we’re beginning to get a grip on what it does.

Secondly, examination of images from Mars Express have shown the existence of a large underground sea around Mars’ equator. It’s not very far below the surface at all. Mars Express will deploy its much-delayed Marsis (Mars Advance Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding) probe, specifically designed to look for such deposits, which should provide much more information on the discovery. After the craft was launched, the probe’s designers came to the ESA and said that they were concerned that the probe may rebound on deployment, striking the craft. A year of studies has decided that it’s worth the risk – the probe may well strike the craft but it’s not thought anything will be damaged – so it’ll be deployed this May (I think, must check this). Anyway, I’m wondering whether the discovery of this much water at Mars’ equator has just given mankind a brighter future? There’s still the matter of terraforming the planet etc., but Mars is looking increasingly viable as an inhabitable planet. If we can get people there before we all kill ourselves, we may just make it 😉

Isn’t the universe fascinating!