Put a Ring on It

Mar’s largest moon, Phobos, has an inward-moving orbit that is sending it on a path toward Mars’ gravitational grasp. This could cause the moon to break apart and disintegrate into a planetary ring some 20 million to 40 million years from now, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Researchers used a combination of simulations and models to analyze how Phobos’ orbit may evolve. They took a close look at the physical stresses Mars exerts on Phobos as the moon’s orbit causes it to gradually veer inward.

Phobos is a delicate moon with lots of pores and rubble on its surface which could contribute to it eventually crumbling to pieces under the red planet’s powerful gravitational pull. These fragmented pieces would then orbit Mars, forming a planetary ring.

Saturn’s rings are thought to have formed in a similar way, and some scientists speculate that Neptune’s moon Triton might be falling apart causing it to reach the same doomed fate.

The destruction of a planet’s moon or another passing object, such as an asteroid or comet, is one of the most common ways in which planetary ring systems form.

Go The Distance

A couple of weeks ago, astronomers spotted what they believe is the most distant object in the solar system  a dwarf planet some 9.5 billion miles from the sun. Dubbed V774104, the object is between 310 miles and 620 miles across about half Pluto’s size and about three times farther from the sun.

V774104 is about 103 times farther from the sun than Earth, and scientists’ early guess is that it is part of a rare group of ‘sednoids,’ objects whose orbital paths exist entirely outside the Kuiper Belt and extend into the Oort Cloud, the boundary of our solar system. Only two confirmed sednoids exist, Sedna and 2012 VP113 but scientists suspect there are more.

If V774104 proves to be one, it would provide astronomers with further support for the theory that an undiscovered Planet X is lurking in the outer fringes of our solar system. The gravitational pull from a Planet X would help explain the highly elliptical orbits of the sednoids.

Until astronomers spotted V774104, the dwarf planet Eris was considered the solar system’s most distant object. Eris is about 97 astronomical units from the sun, while V774104 is 103 AUs (the unit of length equal to the distance between Earth and the sun).

A Totally Metal Weather Forecast

Scientists have determined that the weather forecast on PSO J318.5-22, a mysterious object that does not orbit any star but floats freely, is pretty extreme.

Based on data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have determined that the orphan world’s climate consists of thick clouds of hot dust and droplets of molten iron rain. Their study was published Oct. 30 in The Astrophysical Journal

PSO J318.5-22, which is similar to a brown dwarf star and sits some 75 light-years from Earth, was discovered in 2013. The strange world is around the same size as Jupiter, but has roughly eight times the mass. The object is not massive enough to initiate nuclear fusion in its core like a star would so it glows feebly.

To observe the object, the researchers took hundreds of infrared images of PSO J318.55 over a period time.

The researchers analyzed different cloud patches, allowing them to determine weather patterns. They noted that this type of analysis would not have been possible had PSO J318.5-22 orbited a parent star, as most planets and similar objects do.

Scientists still aren’t sure why PSO J318.5-22 is isolated and free-floating in space, but there are two theories: PSO J318.5-22 may have formed as a planet around a star and got ejected from that system, or it formed in isolation, condensing out of a star-forming cloud, similar to how brown dwarfs form.

Watch a Star Get REKT

This might be one of the most violent acts in the universe… but it sure is fun to watch. A new animation from NASA shows what happens to a star when it gets too close to a black hole.

It doesn’t end well for the star.

The extreme gravity of the black hole causes intense tidal forces to tug at the star and tear it apart. Most of it gets sucked into the black hole, but some of it gets flung outward into space at high speeds. This results in an X-ray flare that can be seen for years.

The study was based on observations of a tidal disruption event called ASASSN-14li, which was first spotted in November 2014 and is taking place about 290 million light years away.

Over the summer, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said something sucked inside a black hole may not be gone forever after all, but instead may come out in an alternate universe. So you might have that to look forward to at least.

Dark Side of the Sun

Whelp, the sun has a giant hole in it.

A colossal dark hole was recently spotted on the sun’s surface, and it has been spewing solar wind our way. According to NASA, the high-speed wind triggered a light show of several auroras on Earth.

A photo of the “coronal hole” (below) was taken by a camera aboard the space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on Oct. 10:

The hole is located on the outermost layer of the sun, called the corona (thus the name), in the sun’s northern hemisphere. It is about the size of 50 Earths and is releasing wind at up to 500 miles per second.

When solar winds reach Earth, it can disturb the magnetosphere and cause geomagnetic storms. While such storms create beautiful auroras and can also affect satellite and radio communication systems.

NASA scientists haven’t indicated whether the recently spotted hole will stick around for Halloween, but coronal holes can last for months.