Binary black holes and a potential Earth-like planet

Contributed by
Aug 31, 2011
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Two stories just came out that I would love to spend time writing up in full, but I'm trying to get a million things done before I leave for Dragon*Con in the morning, so I'll be brief:

1) Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory have discovered a binary black hole: two ginormous beasts orbiting each other about 500 light years apart in the center of the gorgeous spiral galaxy NGC 3393. Each has a mass of at least one million times that of the Sun. While binary black holes in the centers of galaxies have been spotted before, this is the closest one found: a "mere" 160 million light years away!

2) A newly-discovered planet (PDF) orbiting a star just 36 light years away appears to be at just the right distance to potentially have liquid water on its surface. The planet, HD85512b, orbits a star somewhat smaller and cooler than the Sun, but close enough to it that it actually gets more heat on average than Earth does. The planet is hefty, 3.6 times the mass of the Earth, but the size is not known (you get that from transit data, which we don't have, and it would give us an idea of the surface gravity). So we don't know anything about it, really, but if conditions are just so, it has the best potential we know yet for a planet with liquid water. Nat Geo has a great writeup of all this.

Now, if the Universe would kindly oblige not doing anything interesting for a few more hours, I can finish packing!