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Posts tagged "astrophysics"


LIGO Lasers Could Help Reveal Aftermath of Black Hole Crashes

A powerful scientific tool set to come online in 2015 could help scientists spot gravitational waves: ripples in space-time born from violent cosmic crashes light-years from Earth.

Image: A still frame from a computer animation shows two binary neutron stars coalescing into a black hole. Taken from the video, “LIGO, A Passion for Understanding,” Credit: Kai Staats

The instrument, called LIGO (short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories), uses lasers to hunt for the gravitational aftermath created by two massive objects — like a neutron star and a black hole — colliding. Scientists theorize that, like a rock dropping into a pool of water, the fabric of space and time can ripple, sending out these gravitational waves across the universe at the speed of light. Understanding those waves could help scientists learn more about black holes.

The $205 million LIGO can potentially detect these gravitational waves from Earth. The interconnected LIGO observatories in Washington State and Louisiana make use of two 2.5-mile (4 kilometers) arms. A laser beam is split down the arms that are equipped with specifically placed mirrors. In theory, if a gravitational wave comes into contact with the instrument, it would change the length of one beam in relation to the other.


Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured this eye-catching image of planetary nebula PN A66 33 — usually known as Abell 33.

Created when an aging star blew off its outer layers, this beautiful blue bubble is, by chance, aligned with a foreground star, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a diamond engagement ring. This cosmic gem is unusually symmetric, appearing to be almost circular on the sky.

A Cosmic Engagement Ring


First ‘Exomoon’ Around Alien Planet Possibly Found

For the first time ever, astronomers may have spotted a moon circling an alien planet — though they’ll probably never know for sure exactly what they’ve found.

A team of scientists detected a pair of faraway objects that could be a giant Jupiter-like alien planet and a rocky exomoon flying freely through space, or a small dim star hosting a planet about 18 times more massive than Earth.

The astronomers used a technique called gravitational microlensing, watching what happens a big foreground object passes in front of a star from our perspective on Earth. The nearby body’s gravitational field bends and magnifies the light from the distant star, acting like a lens.

Analyzing lensing events can reveal a great deal about the foreground object — for example, in the case of a star, whether it hosts a planet and, if so, how massive that world is compared to the star.

In the new study, the team observed one intriguing lensing event using telescopes in New Zealand and the Australian state of Tasmania. They determined that the foreground object has an orbiting companion about 0.05 percent as massive as itself.

"One possibility is for the lensing system to be a planet and its moon, which if true, would be a spectacular discovery of a totally new type of system," Wes Traub, chief scientist for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement.

"The researchers’ models point to the moon solution, but if you simply look at what scenario is more likely in nature, the star solution wins," added Traub, who was not involved in the study.


vdB 152, Barnard 175

This image was obtained with the wide-field view of the Mosaic camera on the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Also known as Barnard 175, vdB 152 is a reflection nebula atop of a dark Bok globule.

Embedded in the top right side of the nebula is the Herbig Haro object HH 450, a jet emitted from a newly forming star. The thin, red filaments in the upper-right corner of the image are the remnants of a supernova explosion.

It is not yet clear whether or not the supernova remnant will collide with vdB 152. The image was generated with observations in the B (blue), V (green), I (yellow) and Hydrogen-Alpha (red) filters.


The Brown Ghoul: vdB 141

vdB 141 is a reflection nebula located in the constellation Cepheus.

Sometimes referred to as the ghost nebula, its awkward name is its catalog number in Sidney van den Bergh’s catalog of reflection nebulae, published in 1966.

Several stars are embedded in the nebula. Their light gives it a ghoulish brown color.


Planetary Nebula: Abell 39

Abell 39, the 39th entry in a catalog of large nebulae discovered by George Abell in 1966, is a beautiful example of a planetary nebula.

It was chosen for study by George Jacoby (WIYN Observatory), Gary Ferland (University of Kentucky), and Kirk Korista (Western Michigan University) because of its beautiful and rare spherical symmetry.

This picture was taken at the WIYN Observatory’s 3.5-m (138-inch) telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, AZ, in 1997 through a blue-green filter that isolates the light emitted by oxygen atoms in the nebula at a wavelength of 500.7 nanometers.

The nebula has a diameter of about five light-years, and the thickness of the spherical shell is about a third of a light-year. The nebula itself is roughly 7,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Hercules.


Open Cluster Messier 45: Pleiades Closeup

This image was obtained with the wide-field view of the Mosaic camera on the WIYN 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona.

Image Credit: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Richard Cool (University of Arizona) and WIYN

The Pleiades are an open cluster easily visible to the naked eye. The cluster is dominated by several hot, luminous and massive stars.

The blue nebulosity surrounding the brightest stars are due to blue light from the stars scattering off of dust grains in the interstellar gas between us and the stars. The cluster is also known as the ‘Seven Sisters’. And in Japan it is called Subaru.

The image was generated with observations in the B (blue), V (green), and I (red) filters. In this image, North is right, East is up.


Sh2-239 by T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage) and H. Schweiker (WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF)

The cosmic brush of star formation composed this alluring mix of dust and dark nebulae. Cataloged as Sh2-239 and LDN 1551, the region lies near the southern end of the Taurus molecular cloud complex some 450 light-years distant. [**]


Science At NASA: The Opposition of Mars

Opposition date: April, 8th, 2014

By the time you finish reading this story, you’ll be about 1,000 km closer to the planet Mars.

Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter. As March gives way to April, the distance between the two planets is shrinking by about 300 km every minute. When the convergence ends in mid-April, the gulf between Earth and Mars will have narrowed to only 92 million km—a small number on the vast scale of the solar system.

Astronomers call this event an “opposition of Mars” because Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky. Mars rises in the east at sunset, and soars almost overhead at midnight, shining burnt-orange almost 10 times brighter than a 1st magnitude star.

Oppositions of Mars happen every 26 months. Of a similar encounter in the 19th century, astronomer Percival Lowell wrote that “[Mars] blazes forth against the dark background of space with a splendor that outshines Sirius and rivals the giant Jupiter himself.”

In other words, it’s really easy to see.

There are two dates of special significance:

April 8th is the date of opposition, when Mars, Earth, and the sun are arranged in a nearly-straight line.

If the orbits of Mars and Earth were perfectly circular, April 8th would also be the date of closest approach. However, planetary orbits are elliptical—that is, slightly egg-shaped—so the actual date of closest approach doesn’t come until almost a week later.

On April 14th, Earth and Mars are at their minimum distance: 92 million km, a 6+ month flight for NASA’s speediest rockets. You won’t have any trouble finding Mars on this night. The full Moon will be gliding by the Red Planet in the constellation Virgo, providing a can’t-miss “landmark” in the midnight sky.

Remarkably, on the same night that Mars is closest to Earth, there will be a total lunar eclipse. The full Moon of April 14-15 will turn as red as the Red Planet itself.

Although these dates are special, any clear night in April is a good time to look at Mars. It will be easy to see with the unaided eye even from brightly-lit cities. With a modest backyard telescope, you can view the rusty disk of Mars as well as the planet’s evaporating north polar cap, which has been tipped toward the sun since Martian summer began in February.

Experienced astro-photographers using state-of-the-art digital cameras can tease out even more—for example, dust storms, orographic clouds over Martian volcanoes, and icy fogs in the great Hellas impact basin. The view has been described by some observers as “Hubblesque.”

Update: You’re now 1000 km closer to Mars.

Will we not discover that our man-made instruments seem barely to be moving in comparison to the movement of the God-created solar system?

Think about the fact, for instance, that the Earth is circling the sun so fast that the fastest jet would be left sixty-six thousand miles behind in the first hour of a space race. In the past seven minutes, we have been hurtled more than eight thousand miles through space. Or consider the sun which scientists tell us is the center of the solar system… . By this time tomorrow, we shall be 1,600,000 miles from where we are at this hundredth of a second.

The sun, which seems to be remarkably near, is 93,000,000 miles from the Earth. Six months from now, we shall be on the opposite side of the sun—93,000,000 miles beyond it—and in a year from now we shall have been swung completely around it and back to where we are right now. So when we behold the illimitable expanse of space, in which we are compelled to measure stellar distance in light-years and in which heavenly bodies travel at incredible speeds, we are forced to look beyond man and affirm anew that God is able.

Martin Luther King Jr. - A Knock at Midnight Sermon (via kenobi-wan-obi)


Globules in IC 2944 by Fred Vanderhaven

The above pictured emission nebula, cataloged as IC 2944, is called the Running Chicken Nebula for the shape of its greater appearance.

The image was taken recently from Siding Spring Observatory in Australia and presented in scientifically assigned colors. Seen near the center of the image are small, dark molecular clouds rich in obscuring cosmic dust.

Called Thackeray’s Globules for their discoverer, these “eggs” are potential sites for the gravitational condensation of new stars, although their fates are uncertain as they are also being rapidly eroded away by the intense radiation from nearby young stars.

Together with patchy glowing gas and complex regions of reflecting dust, these massive and energetic stars form the open cluster Collinder 249. This gorgeous skyscape spans about 70 light-years at the nebula’s estimated 6,000 light-year distance.


In the Heart of the Rosette Nebula by Don Goldman

In the heart of the Rosette Nebula lies a bright open cluster of stars that lights up the nebula.

The stars of NGC 2244 formed from the surrounding gas only a few million years ago.

The above image taken in January using multiple exposures and very specific colors of Sulfur (shaded red), Hydrogen (green), and Oxygen (blue), captures the central region in tremendous detail.


VLT Spots Largest Yellow Hypergiant Star

ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer has revealed the largest yellow star — and one of the ten largest stars found so far.

This hypergiant has been found to measure more than 1300 times the diameter of the Sun, and to be part of a double star system, with the second component so close that it is in contact with the main star.

Observations spanning over sixty years, some from amateur observers, also indicate that this rare and remarkable object is changing very rapidly and has been caught during a very brief phase of its life.


Herschel Completes Largest Survey of Cosmic Dust in Local Universe

The largest census of dust in local galaxies has been completed using data from ESA’s Herschel space observatory, providing a huge legacy to the scientific community.

Cosmic dust grains are a minor but fundamental ingredient in the recipe of gas and dust for creating stars and planets. But despite its importance, there is an incomplete picture of the dust properties in galaxies beyond our own Milky Way.

Key questions include how the dust varies with the type of galaxy, and how it might affect our understanding of how galaxies evolve.

Before concluding its observations in April 2013, Herschel provided the largest survey of cosmic dust, spanning a wide range of nearby galaxies located 50–80 million light-years from Earth.

The catalogue contains 323 galaxies with varying star formation activity and different chemical compositions, observed by Herschel’s instruments across far-infrared and submillimetre wavelengths.

A sample of these galaxies is displayed in a collage, arranged from dust-rich in the top left to dust-poor in the bottom right.

The dust-rich galaxies are typically spiral or irregular, whereas the dust-poor ones are usually elliptical. Blue and red colours represent cooler and warmer regions of dust, respectively.


The bottom part of this illustration shows the scale of the universe versus time.

Specific events are shown such as the formation of neutral Hydrogen at 380 000 years after the big bang. Prior to this time, the constant interaction between matter (electrons) and light (photons) made the universe opaque.

After this time, the photons we now call the CMB started streaming freely.

Credit: BICEP2 Collaboration

via Major Big Bang Discovery Brings ‘Theory of Everything’ a Bit Closer to Reality