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Spiral Arms Point to Possible Planets in a Star’s Dusty Disk

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: NAOJ/Subaru

Credit: NAOJ/Subaru

A new image of the disk of gas and dust around a sun-like star is the first to show spiral-arm-like structures. These features may provide clues to the presence of embedded but as-yet-unseen planets.

“Detailed computer simulations have shown us that the gravitational pull of a planet inside a circumstellar disk can perturb gas and dust, creating spiral arms. Now, for the first time, we’re seeing these dynamical features,” said Carol Grady, an astronomer with Eureka Scientific, Inc., who is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She revealed the image today at the Signposts of Planets meeting hosted this week at the center.

Grady’s research is part of the Strategic Exploration of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS), a five-year-long near-infrared study of young stars and their surrounding dust disks using the Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The international consortium of researchers now includes more than 100 scientists at 25 institutions.

“What we’re finding is that once these systems reach ages of a few million years, their disks begin to show a wealth of structure — rings, divots, gaps and now spiral features,” said John Wisniewski, a collaborator at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Many of these structures could be caused by planets within the disks.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/possible-planets.html

Model Shows Fallout of Giant Meteorite Strike

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Seeking to better understand the level of death and destruction that would result from a large meteorite striking the Earth, Princeton University researchers have developed a new model that can not only more accurately simulate the seismic fallout of such an impact, but also help reveal new information about the surface and interior of planets based on past collisions.

Princeton researchers created the first model to take into account Earth’s elliptical shape, surface features and ocean depths in simulations of how seismic waves generated by a meteorite collision would spread across and within the planet. Current projections rely on models of a featureless spherical world with nothing to disrupt the meteorite’s impact, the researchers report in the October issue of Geophysical Journal International.

The researchers — based in the laboratory of Jeroen Tromp, the Blair Professor of Geology in Princeton’s Department of Geosciences – simulated the meteorite strike that caused the Chicxulub crater in Mexico, an impact 2 million times more powerful than a hydrogen bomb that many scientists believe triggered the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The team’s rendering of the planet showed that the impact’s seismic waves would be scattered and unfocused, resulting in less severe ground displacement, tsunamis, and seismic and volcanic activity than previously theorized.

Full Story: http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S31/90/32S94/

Researchers Explain the Formation of Scheila’s Unusual Triple Dust Tails

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

A research team of planetary scientists and astronomers, primarily from Seoul National University, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), and Kobe University, has explained the formation of peculiar triple dust tails from the asteroid Scheila (asteroid #596). The researchers concluded that another asteroid about 20-50 meters in size impacted Scheila from behind on December 3, 2010 and accounted for its unusual brightness and form.

On December 11.4, 2010, Steve Larson of the Catalina Sky Survey noticed an odd brightness from Scheila, an asteroid on the outer region of the main belt of asteroids that orbit in an area between Mars and Jupiter. Three streams of dust appeared to trail from the asteroid. Data from NASA’s Swift Satellite and the Hubble Space Telescope suggested that a smaller asteroid’s impact was the likely trigger for the appearance of comet-like tails from Scheila. However, questions remained about the date when the dust emission occurred and how the triple dust tails formed. The current research team sought answers to these queries.

Full Story: http://www.subarutelescope.org/Pressrelease/2011/10/19/index.html

Photo Reveals Planet-Size Object as Cool as Earth

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy

The photo of a nearby star and its orbiting companion — whose temperature is like a hot summer day in Arizona — will be presented by Penn State Associate Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kevin Luhman during the Signposts of Planets conference at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on 20 October 2011. A paper describing the discovery will be published in theAstrophysical Journal.

“This planet-like companion is the coldest object ever directly photographed outside our solar system,” said Luhman, who led the discovery team. “Its mass is about the same as many of the known extra-solar planets — about six to nine times the mass of Jupiter — but in other ways it is more like a star. Essentially, what we have found is a very small star with an atmospheric temperature about cool as the Earth’s.”

Luhman classifies this object as a “brown dwarf,” an object that formed just like a star out of a massive cloud of dust and gas. But the mass that a brown dwarf accumulates is not enough to ignite thermonuclear reactions in its core, resulting in a failed star that is very cool. In the case of the new brown dwarf, the scientists have gauged the temperature of its surface to be between 80 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit — possibly as cool as a human.

Full Story: http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2011-news/Luhman10-2011

NASA’s Spitzer Detects Comet Storm in Nearby Solar System

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has detected signs of icy bodies raining down in an alien solar system. The downpour resembles our own solar system several billion years ago during a period known as the “Late Heavy Bombardment,” which may have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth.

During this epoch, comets and other frosty objects that were flung from the outer solar system pummeled the inner planets. The barrage scarred our moon and produced large amounts of dust.

Now Spitzer has spotted a band of dust around a nearby bright star in the northern sky called Eta Corvi that strongly matches the contents of an obliterated giant comet. This dust is located close enough to Eta Corvi that Earth-like worlds could exist, suggesting a collision took place between a planet and one or more comets. The Eta Corvi system is approximately one billion years old, which researchers think is about the right age for such a hailstorm.

“We believe we have direct evidence for an ongoing Late Heavy Bombardment in the nearby star system Eta Corvi, occurring about the same time as in our solar system,” said Carey Lisse, senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and lead author of a paper detailing the findings. The findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal. Lisse presented the results at the Signposts of Planets meeting at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., today, Oct. 19.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-322

Youngest Planet Seen as It’s Forming

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: Karen L. Teramura, UH IfA

Credit: Karen L. Teramura, UH IfA

The first direct image of a planet in the process of forming around its star has been captured by astronomers who combined the power of the 10-meter Keck telescopes with a bit of optical sleight of hand.

What astronomers are calling LkCa 15 b, looks like a hot “protoplanet” surrounded by a swath of cooler dust and gas, which is falling into the still-forming planet. Images have revealed that the forming planet sits inside a wide gap between the young parent star and an outer disk of dust.

“LkCa 15 b is the youngest planet ever found, about 5 times younger than the previous record holder,” said astronomer Adam Kraus of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy. “This young gas giant is being built out of the dust and gas. In the past, you couldn’t measure this kind of phenomenon because it’s happening so close to the star. But, for the first time, we’ve been able to directly measure the planet itself as well as the dusty matter around it.”

Full Story: http://keckobservatory.org/news/first_close-up_view_of_a_planet_being_formed/

VISTA Finds New Globular Star Clusters

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: ESO/D. Minniti/VVV Team

Credit: ESO/D. Minniti/VVV Team

Two newly discovered globular clusters have been added to the total of just 158 known globular clusters in our Milky Way. They were found in new images from ESO’s VISTA survey telescope as part of the Via Lactea (VVV) survey. This survey has also turned up the first star cluster that is far beyond the centre of the Milky Way and whose light has had to travel right through the dust and gas in the heart of our galaxy to get to us.

The dazzling globular cluster called UKS 1 dominates the right-hand side of the first of the new infrared images from ESO’s VISTA survey telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. But if you can drag your gaze away, there is a surprise lurking in this very rich star field — a fainter globular cluster that was discovered in the data from one of VISTA’s surveys. You will have to look closely to see the other star cluster, which is called VVV CL001: it is a small collection of stars in the left half of the image.

But VVV CL001 is just the first of VISTA’s globular discoveries. The same team has found a second object, dubbed VVV CL002, which appears in image b [1]. This small and faint grouping may also be the globular cluster that is the closest known to the centre of the Milky Way. The discovery of a new globular cluster in our Milky Way is very rare. The last one was discovered in 2010, and only 158 globular clusters were known in our galaxy before the new discoveries.

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1141/

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