I took the weekend off, so here is the astronomy update for last week: the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii will continue construction, the brightest galaxy in the universe is found, and what on Earth (or rather, Mars) is green rust?
There has been controversy surrounding the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope at Mauna Kea on the Big Island in Hawaii: this is a sacred site and dozens of locals have been arrested protesting the project. On Tuesday (26 May) Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced that construction would recommence, but did not indicate when this would happen. There are now more than a dozen telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea, and while the Governor agreed he supports the project, he also put forth a framework to limit the development on the mountain, suggesting that old telescopes must be decommissioned.
He commented that the University of Hawaii must work to be better stewards for the mountain, and as such must work with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to preserve the site, and return any land not used for astronomy to them.
In brighter news, NASA’s wise telescope has detected the most luminous galaxy known in the universe. Given the catchy name WISE J224607.57-052635.0, it is 12.5 million light years from Earth and shines with the light of 300 trillion suns. It is postulated that the bright light is powered by a supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy; as stars tumble into the abyss, they heat up to incredible temperatures, giving out massive amounts of electromagnetic radiation in the form of visible and UV light and x-ray radiation.
How did the black hole get so big? Good question. Scientists suggest that either it was “born” that big, or it got that way after a huge binge on astronomical food; a slow-rotating black hole wouldn’t blast away food sources and so could gorge to its hearts content, increasing in size slowly but steadily.
Scientists on the Curiosity Rover project are looking into processes that promote prebiotic chemistry (the chemistry that precedes and creates life). One of these theories involves green rust, or Fougèrite. This is a form of iron hydroxide that contains layers of differently charged iron ions: this means that via electron exchange, the material could function as a catalyst or proto-enzyme to encourage prebiotic chemistry to occur.
On Earth, due to the high oxygen content of the atmosphere, green rust rapidly turns into the red rust we all know and love, and that colours the surface of Mars. However, there is a much lower oxygen content in the Martian atmosphere, and from examples here on Earth showing that green rust can occur in low-oxygen conditions, it is entirely possible that this potential catalyst exists up on Mars. NASA’s InSight program will send a drill to Mars that will be able to see what’s under that red surface.