An art enthusiast, Valerie Varnuska of Westbury, NY, appreciates dance, music, literature, and opera. Additionally, Valerie Varnuska maintains a keen interest in science, particularly astronomy.
While the total solar eclipse of 2017 is now part of astronomical history, 2018 will have its own remarkable astronomical events for stargazers to look forward to. Starting in March, each of the five planets that can be seen by the naked eye — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter — will be visible after sunset. First to appear will be Mercury the week of March 15, followed by Venus making itself visible from March 18 to October. Jupiter will begin to shine brightly on May 9 in the southeast sky, and, over a month later on June 27, Saturn will be visible for the entire summer.
A favorite for many starwatchers, Mars will make its appearance on July 27 at a distance of 35.8 million miles from Earth. This is the closest the planet has been to Earth since 2003.
Residing in Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska likes to volunteer and enjoy nature. A fan of astronomy, Valerie Varnuska takes great pleasure in stargazing.
In late 2017, astronomers detected a large, oblong object flying through space. Dubbed, ‘Oumuamua, it is notable as the first known interstellar asteroid to pass through our solar system.
‘Oumuamua is of particular interest to those studying both life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere in the universe. One theory for the origin of life on Earth, known as panspermia, surmises that it may have started elsewhere in the universe and hitched a ride on a meteorite, comet, or asteroid that eventually found its way to our planet.
While the idea may seem farfetched, we already know of some organisms that can survive the harsh, freezing vacuum of space. In 2007, scientists sent the hardy microorganisms known as tardigrades into low-Earth orbit, and found the creatures were able to survive with no protection against the outside environment.
Another notable feature of the ‘Oumuamua asteroid is its unusual cigar-like shape, something astronomers have never seen before in any asteroid inhabiting our own solar system. ‘Oumuamua’s contours initially led astronomers to question what the object was, as the shape would be ideal for a spacecraft designed for interstellar travel. However, scientists have not yet detected any radio signals of artificial origin, which would almost certainly be present in an interstellar spacecraft.
Whether or not the asteroid harbors life, intelligent or simple, the discovery is still monumental as the first of its kind. Now that astronomers know this type of asteroid exists, they can widen their search of the stars for similar objects.
Antarctica’s South Pole Telescope
Valerie Varnuska, a resident of Westbury, NY, divides her free time between being outdoors and learning about different subjects. Over the years, Valerie Varnuska has developed a strong interest in vintage trains, geology, and astronomy.
In December 2017, a study was published detailing astronomers’ discovery of two huge galaxies that were formed during the universe’s early history. The galaxies were spotted using Antarctica’s South Pole Telescope and their discovery was published in Nature, an international science journal.
The galaxies discovered existed within 800 million years of the Big Bang. Finding these galaxies was a challenge for astronomers because a different galaxy was situated in front of them, which altered the light coming from the duo and prevented them from seeing the galaxies in high resolution. As a result, further observations were made with Chile’s Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).
Additionally, astronomers noticed that the two galaxies were forming 2,900 solar masses each year, a rapid pace for a galaxy to form stars, and they concluded that the two galaxies must be merging. Astronomers also spotted a large, dark matter halo around the galaxies, suggesting that dark matter played a role in the construction of these massive galaxies.
A native of Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska enjoys exploring the many natural wonders near her hometown. In addition to walking the nature trails near Westbury, NY, Valerie Varnuska pursues a strong interest in astronomy and viewing the various celestial bodies in the night sky.
A recent discovery is fueling new discussions regarding the classification of astronomical objects. In June 2016, researchers working on the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment at the University of Warsaw discovered a celestial body that appears to straddle the line between a planet and a brown dwarf, a lesser variety of star. They discovered the body, labeled OGLE-2016-BLG-1190, using an indirect method of observation capable of detecting signs of the far-off world some 22,000 light years away. Researchers first detected the world due to an astronomical phenomenon known as a gravitational microlensing event, during which its gravitational pull temporarily intensified the light emitted from its parent star.
Using data from the microlensing event, researchers from the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute determined that OGLE-2016-BLG-1190 is approximately 13 times the mass of Jupiter, making it 4,000 times denser than Earth. At this size, the world rests on the boundary between a planet and a brown dwarf star. Much like a brown dwarf, the object also appears to emit a small amount of energy by fusing deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen.
The newly discovered celestial object primarily differs from other brown dwarfs in its location relative to its parent star. Brown dwarfs typically do not orbit at a distance closer than five times Earth’s orbital distance from the sun, most likely due to a dearth of gases capable of forming such an object. However, the newly discovered body orbits its star at just twice the distance of Earth, placing it in a region known as the brown dwarf desert. The discovery of this apparent anomaly has fueled further research into the formation of brown dwarf stars. Researchers will have another chance to observe the unique semi-planet in 2019, when its latest three-year orbit causes another microlensing event.