Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-02-25

This week I recommend to follow @jeff_foust for interesting tweets about the space industry. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Scientists investigate the possibility of wormholes between stars
Wormholes are one of the stranger objects that arise in general relativity. Although no experimental evidence for wormholes exists, scientists predict that they would appear to serve as shortcuts between one point of spacetime and another. Scientists usually imagine wormholes connecting regions of empty space, but now a new study suggests that wormholes might exist between distant stars. Instead of being empty tunnels, these wormholes would contain a perfect fluid that flows back and forth between the two stars, possibly giving them a detectable signature.

Two Planets Discovered Sharing the Same Orbit
In a cosmic first, the Kepler telescope has discovered two planets sharing the same orbit. There is a theory that says our moon was created when a body sharing our orbit crashed into Earth, but up until now no one had found evidence of co-orbiting planets elsewhere in the universe. It is possible that such a phenomenon could occur when matter around a newborn star forms into planets. In a planet’s orbit around a star, there are two places where a third body can safely orbit. These spots, known as Lagrange points, are 120 degrees in front of and behind whichever body is smaller. The discovered co-orbiting planets, located in the four-planet system KOI-730, are always 120 degrees apart, permanent fixtures in each others’ night skies.

Astronomers May Have Spotted Distant Baby Planet’s Birth, A Cosmic First
Scientists think they have seen a baby planet swirling to life around a very young sun-like star, about 350 light years from Earth in the southern constellation Chameleon. If they can confirm their discovery, it would be the earliest picture yet of a natal planetary system, further illuminating how planets are born. Using the Very Large Telescope, astronomers were looking at a star called T Chamaeleontis, or T Cha, which is surrounded by a disc of dust and gas. They noticed a gap in the disc, and in two new studies, they say it could be a coalescing planet.

Can WISE Find the Hypothetical ‘Tyche’ Planet at Edge of Our Solar System?
In November 2010, the scientific journal Icarus published a paper by astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire, who proposed the existence of a binary companion to our sun, larger than Jupiter, in the long-hypothesized “Oort cloud” — a faraway repository of small icy bodies at the edge of our solar system. The researchers use the name “Tyche” for the hypothetical planet. Their paper argues that evidence for the planet would have been recorded by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

When the Sun sneezes
The advance of modern technology has helped address many of the ills of human society. At the same time, though, it has created new vulnerabilities as well, as we become susceptible to phenomena that previously might have been ignored or simply considered benign. A classic example is space weather: solar flares and other activity had once been little more than intellectual curiosities beyond their ability to create brilliant auroral displays. In a world increasingly dependent on electronics and communications, though, solar storms pose a growing hazard. When the Sun sneezes, civilization runs the risk of catching a cold.

Cassini to Sample Magnetic Environment Around Saturn’s Moon Titan
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is set to skim close to Saturn’s moon Titan on Friday, Feb. 18, to learn about the interaction between Titan and Saturn’s magnetosphere, the magnetic bubble around the planet. The closest approach will take place at 8:04 a.m. PST (4:04 p.m. UTC) and bring Cassini within about 3,650 kilometers (2,270 miles) of Titan’s surface.

Roots of the Solar System: Astronomers Observe Planets in the Making
Planets form in disks of dust and gas that surround young stars. A look at the birth places means a journey into the past of Earth and its siblings. Now, astronomers have been able to obtain detailed images of the protoplanetary disks of two stars using the Subaru telescope in Hawaii. This is the first time that disk structures comparable in size to our own solar system have been resolved this clearly, revealing features such as rings and gaps that are associated with the formation of giant planets.

Bizarre Friction-Free ‘Superfluid’ Found in Neutron Star’s Core
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has discovered the first direct evidence for a superfluid, a bizarre, friction-free state of matter, at the core of a neutron star. Superfluids created in laboratories on Earth exhibit remarkable properties, such as the ability to climb upward and escape airtight containers. The finding has important implications for understanding nuclear interactions in matter at the highest known densities. Neutron stars contain the densest known matter that is directly observable. One teaspoon of neutron star material weighs six billion tons. The pressure in the star’s core is so high that most of the charged particles, electrons and protons, merge resulting in a star composed mostly of uncharged particles called neutrons.

Continent-Wide Telescope Extends Cosmic ‘Yardstick’ Three Times Farther Into Universe
Using the super-sharp radio “vision” of astronomy’s most precise telescope, scientists have extended a directly-measured “yardstick” three times farther into the cosmos than ever before, an achievement with important implications for numerous areas of astrophysics, including determining the nature of Dark Energy, which constitutes 70 percent of the Universe. The continent-wide Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) also is redrawing the map of our home Galaxy and is poised to yield tantalizing new information about extrasolar planets, among many other cutting-edge research projects.

Space weather could wreak havoc in gadget-driven world
A geomagnetic space storm sparked by a solar eruption like the one that flared toward Earth last week is bound to strike again and could wreak havoc across the gadget-happy modern world, experts say. Contemporary society is increasingly vulnerable to space weather because of our dependence on satellite systems for synchronizing computers, airline navigation, telecommunications networks and other electronic devices.

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