Space


The Earth has a magnetic field that functions as an in-built force-field against galactic cosmic rays, particles from space which prompt a chain-reaction of events in thunderclouds that trigger lightning bolts. 

The only thing more powerful than our magnetic field is that of the Sun, and it may be playing a part in the generation of lightning strikes on Earth by temporarily 'bending' the Earth's magnetic field and allowing more energetic particles to enter the upper atmosphere. Over a five year period, the UK experienced around 50% more lightning strikes and researchers found that correlates to when the Earth's magnetic field was skewed by the Sun's own magnetic field.


There are cosmic alignments over the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe - the rotation axes of the central supermassive black holes in quasars billions of light years apart are parallel to each other. 

Quasars are galaxies with very active supermassive black holes at their centers. These black holes are surrounded by spinning discs of extremely hot material that is often spewed out in long jets along their axes of rotation. Quasars can shine more brightly than all the stars in the rest of their host galaxies put together.
The formation of stars of mass greater than 8 times that of the Sun occurs in distant and very obscured areas of the sky.  To form a massive star requires a massive and dense interstellar cloud.  To see what is going on there requires more than an optical telescope.  We rely on intense and compact sources of radio emission, masers. Inquiry into the formation of massive stars is a very active area of astronomy. Do they form based on a beefed up version of the disk-outflow model which works for less massive stars, or do they form by accretion and collision of smaller protostars?  There is evidence for both.

It is known that at some point Mars was warm enough to have liquid water flowing on its surface. The evidence of ancient rivers, streams, and lakes remains.

But it was not a long-term tropical vacation paradise. Instead, warmth and water flow on ancient Mars was probably episodic, related to brief periods of volcanic activity that spewed tons of greenhouse-inducing sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere, according to new climate models of early Mars which suggest that periods of temperatures warm enough for water to flow likely lasted for only tens or perhaps hundreds of years at a time.

Uranus is generally boring but it recently got interesting. It has become so stormy, with enormous cloud systems so bright, that for the first time ever amateur astronomers are able to see details in the planet's hazy blue-green atmosphere.


This one is definitely too juicy to ignore - I need to join the crowd of bystanders-in-awe. 
As you may have heard, ESA's ROSETTA spacecraft successfully landed yesterday on the solid nucleus of comet 67/P, Churyumov-Gerasimenko - a 2.5 mile long conglomerate of rock and ice. I refrain from giving detail of that enormous achievement for humankind, because I rather want to comment on this rather funny twist of the whole story. But still let's first enjoy at least one nice picture of the surface of that distant solar system body...