The application of physical theory to celestial systems such as stars, planets, galaxies, supernovae, and black holes. Astrophysics proper is concerned with explaining phenomena more so than making observations, the latter falling under the purview of astronomy.

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How can a black hole produce sound?

I was reading this article from NASA -- it's NASA -- and literally found myself perplexed. The article describes the discovery that black holes emit a "note" that has physical ramifications on the ...
36
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2answers
1k views

Neutrinos vs. Photons: Who wins the race across the galaxy?

Inspired by the wording of this answer, a thought occurred to me. If a photon and a neutrino were to race along a significant stretch of our actual galaxy, which would win the race? Now, neutrinos ...
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3answers
2k views

Why does a supernova explode

This is really bugging me. When you look up some educational text about stars life, this is what you find out: Gravity creates the temperature and pressure to start fusion reactions. The fusion ...
26
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3answers
950 views

The Pioneer anomaly finally explained?

Pioneer 10 & 11 are robotic space probes launched by the NASA in the early 1970's. After leaving our solar system, an unusual deceleration of both spacecrafts has been measured to be approximately ...
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6answers
3k views

How fast a (relatively) small black hole will consume the Earth?

This question appeared quite a time ago and was inspired, of course, by all the fuss around "LHC will destroy the Earth". Consider a small black hole, that is somehow got inside the Earth. Under ...
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3answers
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What nonlinear deformations will a fast rotating planet exhibit?

It is common knowledge among the educated that the Earth is not exactly spherical, and some of this comes from tidal forces and inhomogeneities but some of it comes from the rotation of the planet ...
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3answers
932 views

Are neutrino stars theoretically possible?

Since neutrinos have a small mass and are affected by gravity, wouldn't it be theoretically possible to have such a large quantity of them so close to each other, that they would form a kind of a ...
20
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8answers
3k views

Why are L4 and L5 lagrangian points stable?

This diagram from wikipedia shows the gravitational potential energy of the sun-earth two body system, and demonstrates clearly the semi-stability of the L1, L2, and L3 lagrangian points. The blue ...
18
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2answers
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How does one measure the mass of a galaxy? And other such large quantities

Trained as a pure mathematician, I see claims about the mass of a galaxy and other such huge measurements that are arrived at experimentally, and I just have to scratch my head. I know this is a bit ...
18
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380 views

Experimental observation of matter/antimatter in the universe

Ordinary matter and antimatter have the same physical properties when it comes to, for example, spectroscopy. Hydrogen and antihydrogen atoms produce the same spectroscopy when excited, and adsorb the ...
17
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2answers
7k views

Is Jupiter a failed star?

In my physics lessons, my teachers have always been keen to tell my class that Jupiter is considered a 'failed star' by scientists. Is this true? In my own effort I wondered if maybe this could just ...
17
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2answers
217 views

Why don't stars in globular clusters all orbit in the same plane?

Globular clusters like Omega Centauri certainly don't seem to be very coplanar at all. In other words, why doesn't the explanation at Why are our planets in the solar system all on the same ...
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6answers
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Why isn't dark matter just matter?

There's more gravitational force in our galaxy (and others) than can be explained by counting stars. So why not lots of dark planetery systems (ie without stars) ? Why must we assume some undiscovered ...
16
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2answers
197 views

Recommend good book(s) about the “scientific method” as it relates to astronomy/astrophysics?

I am interested in astronomy/astrophysics, but I am not science major (I am a computer science graduate). Facts and results of the field are presented to the public without showing how these ...
16
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1answer
351 views

Why the galaxies forms 2D plane (or spiral-like) instead of 3D ball (or spherical-like)?

Question: As we know (1) the macroscopic spatial dimension of our universe is 3 dimension, and (2) Gravity attracts massive objects together and the gravitational force is isotropic without ...
16
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1answer
357 views

Causes of hexagonal shape of Saturn's jet stream

NASA has just shown a more detailed picture of the hexagonal vortex/storm on Saturn: http://www.ibtimes.com/nasa-releases-images-saturns-hexagon-mega-storm-may-have-been-swirling-centuries-1496218 ...
16
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4answers
2k views

How do you calculate the anomalous precession of Mercury?

One of the three classic tests of general relativity is the calculation of the precession of the perihelion of Mercury's orbit. This precession rate had been precisely measured using data collected ...
16
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4answers
761 views

How would we see a near-lightspeed object emitting light?

Consider an object travelling near the speed of light relative to us (let it be a spaceship or a star), which is emitting light (consider it monochromatic resulting from a two level electronic ...
16
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1answer
337 views

Where do high-energy neutrinos come from?

Last week the IceCube South Pole Neutrino Observatory published a press release reporting the possible discovery of two neutrinos with energies of over 1 PeV. Would anyone here be willing to help me ...
15
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3answers
2k views

Why does the moon face earth with the same side?

I know that the rotation period of the moon equals its revolution period. It's just so astonishing that these 2 values have such a small difference. I mean, what is the probability of these 2 values ...
14
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5answers
2k views

Why does a star collapse under its own gravity when the gravity at its centre is zero?

The gravity at the centre of a star is zero as in the case of any uniform solid sphere with some mass. When a massive star dies, why does it give rise to a black hole at it's centre? I know how to ...
14
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2answers
371 views

How do spiral arms form?

Why aren't all spinning galaxies shaped as discs as my young mind would expect? I understand how the innermost parts of a galaxy spin faster than the outer parts, and that could explain why some ...
14
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2answers
269 views

How can a spiral galaxy exist?

A spiral arm orbiting a central mass should be dispersed quite quickly as the outer elements would move more slowly than the inner ones. The Milky Way, is about 59 Galactic Years old, which, one would ...
13
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10answers
219 views

In astronomy what phenomena have theory predicted before observations?

As far as I know, astronomy is generally an observational science. We see something and then try to explain why it is happening. The one exception that I know of is black holes: first it was thought ...
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3answers
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Why does each celestial object spin on its own axis?

AFAIK all the celestial objects have a spin motion around its axis. What is the reason for this? If it must rotate by some theory, what decides it's direction and speed of rotation? Is there any ...
13
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1answer
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When will the Moon reach escape velocity?

From what I know, the Moon is accelerating away from the Earth. Do we know when it will reach escape velocity? How do we calculate this?
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3answers
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Is it possible that all neutron stars are actually pulsars?

I'm assuming that what I've been told is true: We can only detect pulsars if their beams of electromagnetic radiation is directed towards Earth. That pulsars are the same as neutron stars, only that ...
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2answers
4k views

How Earth communicates with Voyager I?

After taking a basic signals & systems class and learning about the frequency domain, I started wondering: How the heck do scientists still communicate with Voyagers I and II??   Do they ...
13
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3answers
190 views

Why and how will we be able to image extraterrestrial planets in the next two decades?

According to a recently published article, a well-established Cambridge astrophysicist stated that: the “origin of life, where it exists, and whether aliens exist, is going to be crucial over ...
12
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3answers
1k views

Why are most astronomy things spherical in the shape (like, the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, and other planets)?

What is the reason for all the astronomy things being spherical in the shape (like, the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, and other planets)?
12
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3answers
140 views

If neutrinos travel faster than light, how much lead time would we have over detecting supernovas?

In light of the recent story that neutrinos travel faster than photons, I realize the news about this is sensationalistic and many tests still remain, but let's ASSUME neutrinos are eventually proven ...
12
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2answers
217 views

Is there evidence of dark matter in our galaxy?

Is there evidence of dark matter in our galaxy? How can we measure this, say, how many percent of the center of our galaxy is dark matter? I did not find the answer in the question What's Dark ...
11
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6answers
2k views

Why is the mapped universe shaped like an hourglass?

I've watched a video from the American National History Museum entitled The Known Universe. The video shows a continuous animation zooming out from earth to the entire known universe. It claims to ...
11
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3answers
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Age of the Earth and the star that preceded the Sun

One of the great unheralded advances made in the history of science was the ability to determine the age of Earth based on the decay of isotopic uranium. Based on the apparent abundance of uranium in ...
11
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1answer
515 views

Would a submarine float in the atmosphere of Jupiter?

Would a submarine float in the atmosphere of Jupiter, or would it get crushed?
11
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1answer
454 views

Thermodynamically possible to hide a Dyson sphere?

You build a Dyson sphere around a star to capture all its energy. The outer surface of the Dyson sphere still radiates heat at much higher temperature than the cold space background, so you're easy to ...
10
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5answers
783 views

How is it possible for astronomers to see something 13B light years away?

In a NPR News story from a few years back: "A gamma-ray burst from about 13 billion light years away has become the most distant object in the known universe." I'm a layman when it comes ...
10
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1answer
335 views

How many atoms per light year does light encounter when traversing interstellar space?

Interstellar space is pretty empty but there a small number of of atoms (mostly hydrogen?) floating around. How many atoms per light year would a photon encounter while traversing interstellar space?
10
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3answers
533 views

What stabilizes neutorns against beta decay in a neutron star?

Free neutrons are known to undergo beta decay with a half-life of slightly above 10 minutes. Binding with other nucleons stabilizes the neutrons in an atomic nucleus, but only if the fraction of ...
10
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2answers
403 views

Can $10^{23}$ stars be treated with methods of statistical mechanics?

Statistical mechanics is used to describe systems with large number of particles ~$10^{23}$. The observable universe contains between $10^{22}$ to $10^{24}$ stars. Can we treat those many stars as a ...
10
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1answer
219 views

What proportion of a star's hydrogen is consumed in its life?

I've heard in a lecture that a star like the sun would burn 3% of its Hydrogen before expiring. I would have thought it would be much more.
10
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3answers
8k views

What's the difference between gas and plasma?

A friend stated that stars are hot balls of gas, however we know that technically stars are plasma. Is his statement entirely incorrect? Can a plasma be considered a form of gas or should be referred ...
10
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2answers
310 views

How are the northern lights produced?

Although I've never seen it myself, I hear the northern lights are a sight to be seen! I know they're related to the Earth's magnetic field but I don't know much more about them. What is the physical ...
10
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1answer
1k views

What will happen if a gamma-ray burst hits the Earth?

Is there any probability that a gamma-ray burst (GRB) could affect the Earth?
10
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5answers
1k views

Anti-Matter Black Holes

Assuming for a second that there were a pocket of anti matter somewhere sufficiently large to form all the type of object we can see forming from normal matter - then one of these objects would be a ...
10
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1answer
523 views

With what probability does nuclear fusion occur at energies far below the Coulomb barrier?

Even at the core of the sun, the temperature of $\sim 10^7$ K only results in $kT\sim1$ keV, which is about a thousand times less than the electrical potential energy of $\sim1$ MeV needed in order to ...
10
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2answers
250 views

Stellar winds from neutron stars

It seems that this question has not really been explored in the literature. Do isolated neutron stars (which do not accrete material) emit stellar wind? If yes, what composition would it have? If yes, ...
10
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2answers
2k views

Are we living in a false vacuum? Is there any way to tell?

I was thinking of the noted 1980 paper by Sidney Coleman and Frank de Luccia--"Gravitational effects of and on vacuum decay"-- about metastable vacuum states that could tunnel to a lower energy "true ...
10
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1answer
134 views

How scientists could say that such meteorite comes from Mars

How could scientists affirm that a meteorite comes from Mars and not from another source ? This is a probability or an absolute certainty ? How much percent ?
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2answers
284 views

Does the Milky Way have dark matter satellite galaxies?

This recent paper by Weinberg et al. discusses that one potential problem with our current model of Cold Dark Matter (CDM) is that is predicts a greater number of satellite galaxies for the Milky Way ...