Outer Space Discoveries of 2017

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Humanity has made some really interesting and exciting discoveries in outer space during 2017. From the discovery of many new exoplanets, to our first observed interstellar visitor, let’s take a look back at some of these fascinating discoveries. I’ll also share some resources at the Thunder Bay Public Library that you can borrow if you want to find out more information about these findings.

So let’s start with deep space. 2017 saw the discovery of many new exoplanets. Exoplanets are planets that are outside of our solar system; they orbit other stars. In February, exoplanets were discovered in the habitable zone of the star TRAPPIST-1. This was particularly exciting because being in the habitable zone means that water on these planets should be liquid; liquid water makes it possible for these planets to harbour life. Later in the year, the Kepler Space Telescope team found a possible new 219 exoplanets, several of which are also in the habitable zones of their stars.

If you want to learn more about exoplanets, be sure to check out Hoopla. You’ll be able to stream the dvd The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know by Professor Joshua N. Winn, or the audiobook Five Billion Years of Solitude: the Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings.

Another interesting phenomena from deep space was the observed intermittent dimming of Tabby’s Star. There were several theories put forth as to why the star was dimming. My favourite was that an alien race was constructing a dyson sphere or dyson swarm around the star. A dyson sphere is a megastructure theorized to be constructed around a star to better harness its energy. The concept was popularized by Freeman Dyson in the 1960’s. Sadly, rather than a megastructure, scientists now believe that an uneven ring of dust surrounds it, which causes the intermittent dimming visible here on Earth.

While the library doesn’t have much on dyson spheres or megastructures, you’ll be able to read Dyson Freeman’s autobiography Maker of Patterns: an Autobiography Through Letters. We’ve ordered a copy, which is due out at the end of March.

A little closer to home, we’ve also found new evidence of organic compounds on some of the moons and planets in our own solar system, such as on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, and on Ceres, the dwarf-planet that is located in the asteroid belt. The Curiosity rover also found evidence of an ancient lake on Mars, meaning Mars may have once harbored life. If you want to read more about humanity’s search for extraterrestrial life, check out Are We Alone? Scientists Search for Life in Space by Gloria Skurzynski.

I also want to mention that NASA announced the first ever interstellar object has been discovered in our solar system. The object, known as both “A/2017 UI” and “Oumuamua,” has a very different shape from objects found in our own solar system (it is really long and wide, but super narrow), and is travelling far faster than anything we’ve ever encountered before. Scientists have theorized that these objects exist, but Oumuamua is the first one we’ve ever seen. I’m very excited to see what other interstellar visitors we will encounter in the years to come, and what they can teach us. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t have any resources on Oumuamua or interstellar asteroids yet because this is such a new area of astronomy. But if you need some help looking up reputable sources of information, don’t hesitate to stop by or give us a call.

If you would like to learn more about these and the many other discoveries in science, both astronomy and other disciplines, be sure to stop by your nearest library; we’re always happy to help!

Shauna Kosoris – www.tbpl.ca. If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below!

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