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Ask Dr. Universe: How did people figure out how much a whole planet weighs? They could not have just put it on a scale! How did they do it?

About 300 years ago during another pandemic, there was a person named Sir Isaac Newton who spent a lot of time at home thinking about the universe.

Guy Worthey

That’s what I found out from my friend Guy Worthey, an astronomer at Washington State University. Gravity plays a big part in the answer to your question, and we’ll explore that in just a moment.

“I remember when I was a kid, the textbooks said that Pluto was twice the mass of Earth,” Worthey said.

It turns out some planets, such as Venus and Mercury, do not have an orbiting object like a moon. It wasn’t until humans were able to send satellites to these planets that we were finally able to gather precise information about gravity and learn about mass.

You know, gravity is an important force. It’s what makes things fall. It’s what keeps planets in orbit. It’s what keeps us on the ground. While we may not have a scale to weigh planets, we can use what we know about gravity and mass to make all sorts of calculations and investigate questions about our universe.

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Ask Dr. Universe

Hidden lakes on Mars, asteroid worth global economy, reverse ageing | Top scientific discoveries in 2020

Our universe is just like a mystery novel with a thriller “whodunnit” plot. It’s waiting to get demystified as scientists across the world continue to brainstorm the very existence and sustainability of life on Earth and even the presence of extraterrestrial matter floating in space. Is life possible beyond Earth? Is Big Bang the beginning of the universe? — The year 2020 has seen some breakthrough discoveries and exciting revelations by scientists and researchers.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch.

A study led by Washington State University scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch revealed that two dozen planets, identified by researchers, may have conditions more suitable for life than Earth.

As per a report in Astrobiology Web, these more “liveable” planets are older, a little larger, slightly warmer and possibly wetter than Earth. Some of these orbit stars that may be better than even our sun. Life could also more easily thrive on planets that circle more slowly changing stars with longer lifespans than our sun.

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India Today
The Wall Street Journal

Ask Dr. Universe: How many black holes are in the galaxy and the universe?

While we can’t see black holes with our eyes, astronomers have figured out how to spot these objects in our universe.

Sukanta Bose.

One astronomer who is really curious about understanding black holes is my friend Sukanta Bose, a researcher at Washington State University.

“Of course, we cannot see every galaxy,” Bose said. “We see many galaxies that are closer because they are brighter.”

The Sun is a star, but it is far too small to become a black hole. Only heavier stars make black holes. When it comes to stellar mass black holes, astronomers estimate there are ten million to a billion right here in the Milky Way galaxy.

Bose and fellow researchers have been able to spot black holes because of a new way to detect something called gravitational waves. When two black holes collide, they can create a kind of wave that brings information to Earth about its source and helps us learn more about the universe.

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Ask Dr. Universe

A view of space from space

WSU professor shows Hubble Space Telescope’s greatest images, details history

About 50 people tilted their heads back, gazed up at the Washington State University Planetarium dome and took in images from space Sunday at Sloan Hall on the WSU campus in Pullman.

Long before Sunday’s sunset, viewers sat in the dark room looking up at sharply-focused images of planets, stars and galaxies. One image showed a detailed shot of a purple ring at the top and bottom of Jupiter.

Guy Worthey
Guy Worthey

Guy Worthey, WSU associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, displayed the images taken from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Worthey discussed the history of the telescope, named after the late American astronomer Edwin Hubble, and how it revolutionized astronomy.

He said American physicist Lyman Spitzer developed the idea in 1946 of a telescope beyond the atmosphere rather than on the ground, as turbulence and air currents make telescope views from the ground blurry.

“If you were to go above the atmosphere, you could defeat that completely,” Worthey said.

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Moscow-Pullman Daily News

WSU scientists help detect gravitational waves for third time

Sukanta Bose

Three billion years ago in a distant galaxy, two massive black holes slammed together, merged into one and sent space–time vibrations, known as gravitational waves, shooting out into the universe.

The waves passed through Earth and were detected early this year by an international team of scientists, including WSU physicists Sukanta Bose, Bernard Hall and Nairwita Mazumder.

The newfound black hole, first reported in the journal Physical Review Letters in June, has a mass about 49 times that of the sun. The collision that produced it released more power in an instant than is radiated by all the stars and galaxies in the universe at any moment.

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WSU News