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The rantings of a postgrad astrochemist. Life, lunacy, academia and the science of all things very big and very small...

Invader Xan
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  • August 8, 2012
  • 10:57 AM

Life’s first drink – Cold soup or warm soda?

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

It’s safe to say that we all know the phrase “primordial soup.” An idea originally put forward by J.B.S. Haldane in 1929, writers have been waxing lyrical about this proverbial soup from which life arose, for decades now. The phrase … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • August 7, 2012
  • 03:38 PM

New planets for old stars

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

Conventional wisdom says that planets form with stars. Following the formation of a star, a collection of gravitationally bound material in orbit around that star will form a protoplanetary disk, which will coalesce into planets. So deeply ingrained in our … Continue reading →... Read more »

Jura, M., & Turner, J. (1998) A mysterious dust clump in a disk around an evolved binary star system. Nature, 395(6698), 144-145. info:/10.1038/25938

  • July 19, 2012
  • 01:59 PM

The Soot Line: Between fire and ice

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

The question of precisely what happens as stars and planets condense from vast clouds of gas is still very much an unanswered one. We have some good ideas of how things work, but really it’s difficult to be certain. Newly … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • July 17, 2012
  • 05:42 PM

Black hole nucleosynthesis

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

If I had to pick a handful of favourite things in all of physics, black holes and nuclear fusion would be among them. Hands down. This interesting little paper which I stumbled across earlier (via a link to the APS … Continue reading →... Read more »

Fabio Iocco, & Miguel Pato. (2012) Lithium Synthesis in Microquasar Accretion. Phys. Rev. Lett., 109(2), 21102. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.109.021102  

  • June 17, 2012
  • 06:31 PM

Totally Tropical Titan

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

Our solar system is full of mysteries, and it seems the more we look, the more we find, and the less we can explain. Most recently, the puzzles of the martian methane and the beautifully lethal venusian clouds have been … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • June 6, 2012
  • 10:35 AM

Interstellar Sleuths

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

“Of course, this identification is simply wrong.” That one remark caused a subdued but audible commotion in the audience, and a handful of shocked responses to be posted on twitter. The remark in question had been made by Jacek Krełowski, … Continue reading →... Read more »

Harvey Liszt, Paule Sonnentrucker, Martin Cordiner, & Maryvonne Gerin. (2012) The abundance of C3H2 and other small hydrocarbons in the diffuse interstellar medium. ApJL. arXiv: 1206.0342v1

  • June 2, 2012
  • 01:51 PM

Dynamics of Cats

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

On caturday here at Supernova Condensate, I like to endeavour to bring you the very best combination I can of cats and science. Or at least, the very best combination I can find with a few minutes using Google… Continue reading →... Read more »

Kane, T., & Scher, M. (1969) A dynamical explanation of the falling cat phenomenon. International Journal of Solids and Structures, 5(7), 663-666. DOI: 10.1016/0020-7683(69)90086-9  

  • May 13, 2012
  • 07:16 PM

Blogging about science about blogging about science…

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

So… I’m writing a blog post for about a paper about blog posts written for And that means that if ever anyone else writes a paper about blog posts for it will be a paper about blog posts for including at least one blog post about a paper about blog posts for Yes.... Read more »

  • April 19, 2012
  • 01:25 AM

Explosions in the dark...?

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

Picture the scene. You’re drifting in intergalactic space. There are no stars punctuating the darkness, like there are here on Earth. Instead of stars, the points of light you can see are fuzzier looking. Far fewer points of light than you’d see from home here in the Milky Way, those lights you’re seeing are whole galaxies. Indescribably distant. You’re all alone, lost in the inky blackness of intergalactic space. There’s nothing out here but silent drifting clouds ........ Read more »

P. -C. Zinn, M. Stritzinger, J. Braithwaite, A. Gallazzi, P. Grunden, D. J. Bomans, N. I. Morrell, & U. Bach. (2011) Supernovae without host galaxies? The low surface brightness host of SN 2009Z. Astronomy . arXiv: 1111.1833v1

  • August 17, 2010
  • 06:31 PM


by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

Causing quite a big stir in the astrochemical world recently is the astronomical detection of C60, more popularly known as fullerene. This is kind of a big deal. Fullerenes have been known about since the 1980s when Harry Kroto et al first created them by vapourising graphite with electrical discharges. Since then, it’s been found that C60 molecules are very stable and readily formed molecules. Lots of people have hypothesised them existing in space, but up until now there’s been no ........ Read more »

  • March 1, 2010
  • 10:53 AM

Stars Born as Planets

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

Planets are resilient things. They can survive a lot of punishment from their host stars, with some planets having survived being broiled and others even having survived being engulfed as their parent star swells into a red giant. Amazingly, the means by which planets form is no less hardy, for instance being formed in the debris left after a supernova as pulsar planets. So if the method for planet formation is so rugged, what would happen if you started out with an extremely massive star? Could........ Read more »

  • November 23, 2009
  • 06:13 PM

Looking for planets? It’s all about the lithium!

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

I have a lot of respect for planet hunters. It’s not an easy job. Discovering and confirming the existence of a planet requires a lot of patience, and I’d imagine it must be frustrating at times. So I’m sure a few planet hunters are rejoicing at the news that knowing which stars to look at just became a lot easier. All you have to do is look for lithium.... Read more »

Israelian, G., Mena, E., Santos, N., Sousa, S., Mayor, M., Udry, S., Cerdeña, C., Rebolo, R., & Randich, S. (2009) Enhanced lithium depletion in Sun-like stars with orbiting planets. Nature, 462(7270), 189-191. DOI: 10.1038/nature08483  

  • November 12, 2009
  • 03:53 PM

Might as Well be Water on the Sun

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

Water is all the rage. It gets mentioned in every single high profile space mission of late. Searching for water on Mars, water inside Europa, water in the atmospheres of exoplanets. Going to the Moon? Don’t forget to check for water! All with good reason, of course. Being made of 72.8% water, it’s rather important that wherever we might go in the Universe, we have a ready supply of it. But water’s been found in some surprising places.... Read more »

Wallace L, Bernath P, Livingston W, Hinkle K, Busler J, Guo B, & Zhang K. (1995) Water on the sun. Science (New York, N.Y.), 268(5214), 1155-8. PMID: 7761830  

  • September 9, 2009
  • 06:45 PM

Looking for moons with Kepler's eyes...

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

The idea that moons around exoplanets could be host to life is certainly not a new one. Thanks to Star Wars (and Ewoks), the idea of habitable moons is quite deeply embedded into sci fi pop culture — and as with so many things in the wonderful world of astronomy, both serious science and science fiction have given a lot of thought to the idea ever since. Being as we have a distinct shortage of Millennium Falcons to use, however, the difficult part is actually finding these moons.... Read more »

David M. Kipping, Stephen J. Fossey, & Giammarco Campanella. (2009) On the detectability of habitable exomoons with Kepler-class photometry. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (accepted). arXiv: 0907.3909v2

  • August 7, 2009
  • 09:37 PM

Ia! Ia! Cthonian Ftagn!

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

Cthonian planets are an interesting little concept. I’m not talking about the planet Vhoorl, either, despite any similarities to the name of a certain “Great Old One”. Instead, cthonian planets (a name coined by the authors of this paper) bear their name in reference to ancient greek gods who came from the hot infernal underground, and the origins of these worlds are no less hellish. Former gas giants which ventured too close to their star, these are planets whose atmosphere ha........ Read more »

G. Hébrard, A. Lecavelier des Étangs, A. Vidal-Madjar, J. -M. Désert, & R. Ferlet. (2003) Evaporation rate of hot Jupiters and formation of Chthonian planets. Extrasolar Planets: Today and Tomorrow, ASP Conference Proceedings. arXiv: astro-ph/0312384v1

  • June 25, 2009
  • 08:55 PM

Life in the smoggy freezer?

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

The twin questions of how and where life could begin from prebiotic chemistry are pretty big ones. Indeed, despite the now famous Miller-Urey experiment creating amino acids by zapping simple chemicals with lightning bolts, we’re not much closer to a proper answer for that question. A good place to look for answers though, is Titan. Out on Titan, methane acts like water does on Earth, and the mountains are made from ice and not silicates. Despite these outlandish differences, many believe that........ Read more »

Pilling, S., Andrade, D., Neto, A., Rittner, R., & Naves de Brito, A. (2009) DNA Nucleobase Synthesis at Titan Atmosphere Analog by Soft X-rays . The Journal of Physical Chemistry A, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1021/jp902824v  

  • May 29, 2009
  • 10:04 PM

You are now leaving the Milky Way

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

It’s bad luck if a black hole crosses your path. Actually it’s very bad luck, particularly if you happen to be a star like SDSS J090745.0 024507. Known by some as “The Outcast Star”, it had the misfortune tens of millions of years ago to stray a little too close to Sagittarius A*, our galaxy’s resident supermassive black hole. Subsequently it was flung outwards at a blistering speed, and it’s been travelling ever since. In fact, it’s in the process of le........ Read more »

Brown, W., Geller, M., Kenyon, S., & Kurtz, M. (2005) Discovery of an Unbound Hypervelocity Star in the Milky Way Halo. The Astrophysical Journal, 622(1). DOI: 10.1086/429378  

Cesar I. Fuentes, K. Z. Stanek, B. Scott Gaudi, Brian A. McLeod, Slavko B. Bogdanov, Joel D. Hartman, Ryan C. Hickox, Matthew J. Holman. (2008) The Hypervelocity Star SDSS J090745.0 024507 is a Short-Period Variable. arXiv/astro-ph. DOI: 0507520  

  • April 14, 2009
  • 11:07 PM

How different could life be under a red dwarf sun?

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

I’ve been mulling over this paper for a few days now. Last week, NASA JPL put out a press release about cool stars having a different mix of life forming chemicals to sun-like stars. The release was immediately picked up by news sites and bloggers alike. With good reason too — the findings could have a lot of implications for future astrobiology searches. With my interest piqued, I thought I’d get hold of a copy of the paper and find out more…... Read more »

I. Pascucci, D. Apai, K. Luhman, Th. Hemming, J. Bouwman, M. R. Meyer, F. Lahuis, A. Natta. (2009) The Different Evolution of Gas and Dust in Disks around Sun-like and Cool Stars. Astrophysical Journal (submitted). DOI:  

  • April 9, 2009
  • 12:17 AM

The Thermodynamics of Life

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

Now I’m a big fan of alternative biochemistry theories in the search for extraterrestrial life. It seems logical to think that given the size of the universe and the number of possible environments out there, life might have found more than one way to organise itself. However, thanks to some clever thermodynamics, it looks quite likely that at least some alien life out there might not be so “alien” after all…... Read more »

  • February 28, 2009
  • 09:39 PM

α's always welcome at the helium party!

by Invader Xan in Supernova Condensate

I stumbled upon a fascinating paper on arXiv the other day. Anyone who works with lasers should be familiar with the concept of stimulated emission – the means by which photons excite electrons which, in turn, emit more photons (identical, in phase, energy and velocity, to the original photon). But could you elicit a similar effect with nuclear decay? Specifically, can you make α decay happen?... Read more »

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