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Sweet Result From ALMA – Building Blocks Of Life Found Around Young Star

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

A team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) has spotted sugar molecules in the gas surrounding a young Sun-like star. This is the first time sugar been found in space around such a star, and the discovery shows that the building blocks of life are in the right place, at the right time, to be included in planets forming around the star.

The astronomers found molecules of glycolaldehyde — a simple form
of sugar [1] — in the gas surrounding a young binary star, with
similar mass to the Sun, called IRAS 16293-2422. Glycolaldehyde has been seen in interstellar space before [2], but this is the first time it
has been found so near to a Sun-like star, at distances comparable to
the distance of Uranus from the Sun in the Solar System. This
discovery shows that some of the chemical compounds needed for life existed in this system at the time of planet formation [3].

“In the disc of gas and dust surrounding this newly formed star, we
found glycolaldehyde, which is a simple form of sugar, not much
different to the sugar we put in coffee,” explains Jes Jørgensen
(Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark), the lead author of the paper. “This
molecule is one of the ingredients in the formation of RNA, which –
like DNA, to which it is related — is one of the building blocks of
life.”

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1234/

A “Blue Moon” Heralds the Harvest

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Heralding the change in season, a full Moon will rise in the eastern twilight sky on August 31st for the second time this month (the first time came on August 1st). Many people use the expression “once in a blue Moon” to mean something that occurs rarely, and you might be tempted to call August 31st’s big, bright orb a “Blue Moon” too. While the former meaning can be traced back centuries, the latter definition is much newer — and it’s wrong! At least if you’re a stickler about these things.

“In modern usage, the second full Moon in a month has come to be called a ‘Blue Moon.’ But it’s not!” says Kelly Beatty, Senior Contributing Editor for Sky & Telescope magazine. “This colorful term is actually a calendrical goof that worked its way into the pages of Sky & Telescope back in March 1946, and it spread to the world from there.”

Sky & Telescope admitted to its “Blue Moon blooper” in its May 1999 issue. Canadian folklorist Philip Hiscock and Texas astronomer Donald W. Olson had helped the magazine’s editors figure out how the mistake was made, and how the two-full-Moons-in-a-month meaning spread into the English language.

Full Story: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/about/pressreleases/A-Blue-Moon-Heralds-the-Harvest-167184095.html

Astronomers Test Einstein in a New Regime Using Pair of Burnt-Out Stars

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

A team of astronomers led by researchers from The University of Texas at Austin has confirmed the emission of gravitational waves from the second-strongest known source in our galaxy by studying the shrinking orbital period of a unique pair of burnt-out stars. Their observations tested Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity in a new regime. The results will be published soon in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Last year, the same team discovered that the two white dwarf stars are so close together that they make a complete orbit in less than 13 minutes, and they should be gradually slipping closer. The system, called SDSS J065133.338+284423.37 (J0651 for short), contains two white dwarf stars, which are the remnant cores of stars like our sun.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts that moving objects create subtle ripples in the fabric of space-time, called gravitational waves. Though not yet directly observed, gravitational waves should carry away energy, causing the stars to inch closer together and orbit each other faster and faster.

Full Story: http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/news/releases/2012/0828

Space-Warping White Dwarfs Produce Gravitational Waves

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Gravitational waves, much like the recently discovered Higgs boson, are
notoriously difficult to observe. Scientists first detected these ripples in the fabric of space-time indirectly, using radio signals from a pulsar-neutron star binary system. The find, which required exquisitely accurate timing of the radio signals, garnered its discoverers a Nobel Prize. Now a team of astronomers has detected the same effect at optical wavelengths, in light from a pair of eclipsing white dwarf stars.

“This result marks one of the cleanest and strongest detections of the effect of gravitational waves,” said team member Warren Brown of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO).

The team discovered the white dwarf pair last year. (White dwarfs are the remnant cores of stars like our Sun.) The system, called SDSS J065133.338+284423.37 (J0651 for short), contains two white dwarf stars so close together — one-third of the Earth-moon distance — that they make a complete orbit in less than 13 minutes.

Full Story: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2012/pr201225.html

USNO Releases Final Version of CCD Astrograph Star Catalog

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

The United States Naval Observatory (USNO) has released the Fourth Edition of its USNO CCD Astrograph Catalog (UCAC4), the most precise and comprehensive star catalog ever produced by ground-based instrumentation.  The catalog contains data on about 113 million stars and is complete for all stars from the brightest, Sirius, to about 16th magnitude.  Stars brighter than about 8th magnitude are supplemented from other sources, mainly the FK6, Hipparcos and Tycho Catalogs, and were not directly observed by the astrograph.

In addition to the sheer number of stars that the UCAC4 entails, it is the
precision and accuracy of the stars’ positions that set this catalog apart from all of its predecessors.

Astronomers measure the sky in terms of angular degrees, minutes, and seconds of arc.  The apparent size of the disc of the Full Moon is approximately 30 arcminutes, or one-half of a degree.  The apparent size of the disc of Mars at its most favorable oppositions is just over 25 arcseconds, slightly less than one-half of an arcminute.  One arcsecond is the apparent size that a U.S. penny coin would appear if it were viewed from a distance of about 2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers).

Full Story: http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/tours-events/usno-releases-final-version-of-ccd-astrograph-star-catalog-ucac4-8-23-12

OAD Shoots for the Stars

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

The International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) programme is announcing a number of exciting new partnerships that will assist with the IAU’s decadal strategic plan, aimed at realising the societal benefits of astronomy. These landmark decisions involve establishing two new coordinating centres that use astronomy as a tool for development in the East and South East Asian regions, as well as launching an array of exciting programmes and events with different institutions across the world.

The first of these pioneering agreements, concerning a coordinating centre to be established in the East Asian region (in China), was signed on Tuesday 21 August 2012 by a consortium of institutes: the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (KIAA, Peking University), Beijing Planetarium and Yunnan Astronomical Observatory. The consortium is supported in their efforts by various important partners including the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), the East Asian Core Observatories
Association (EACOA), and Pyongyang Astronomical Observatory (PAO).

Full Story: http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/detail/iau1204/

Losing The Dark

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Attendees of the International Astronomical Union Congress in Beijing are being treated to a special “sneak preview” of a fulldome video on light pollution called  “Losing the Dark”. The five and a half minute public service announcement showing at the Beijing Planetarum on August 29th, 2012 is a joint collaboration between the International Dark-Sky Association and Loch Ness Productions, a U.S.-based fulldome video production company. Science and technical advisor for the production is Dr. Connie Walker, National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s Senior Science Education Specialist and chair of the IDA
Education Committee.

According to producer Carolyn Collins Petersen, CEO of Loch Ness Productions, the presentation is a public service announcement that
brings the important facts about light pollution to a wide audience.

“Our team designed the show to emphasize some of the most important problems and effects of light pollution,” she said. “Light pollution is ubiquitous; it affects our ability to see the night sky. In addition, it
turns out that light pollution has effects on human health, and we’ve known for a long time that it affects plant and animal life. On top of all that, it costs us money and wastes scarce fuel resources.”

Full Story: http://www.darksky.org/losingthedark

Evaporating ExoPlanet Stirs Up Dust

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Dutch astronomers have found clear evidence that a faraway exoplanet is falling apart. New analysis of data from NASA’s Kepler satellite shows that this exoplanet, which orbits its host star every 16 hours, has a massive dust tail originating from its surface, similar to a comet’s tail. The study will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The Kepler satellite is looking for planets around stars other than the Sun, known as exoplanets, since the spring of 2009. When an exoplanet moves in front of its host star, the starlight is dimmed by a small amount. By looking at over 145,000 stars simultaneously, Kepler can find these rare exoplanet transits and thereby detect thousands of exoplanets. Earlier this year scientists in the US found a
mysterious object among the stars observed by Kepler: instead of constant, periodic dimming due to a transiting exoplanet, KIC 12557548 shows periodic dimming that strongly vary in strength. This led to the speculation that the variable signal may be due to an exoplanet that is slowly falling apart. Now, a new, much more detailed analysis of Kepler data clearly shows that starlight is scattered by a large dust cloud that trails the planet. So far this is the only known exoplanet of its kind.

It is in Dutch, so you will need to translate the page…

Full Story: http://www.astronomie.nl/nieuws/2632/verdampende_exoplaneet_doet_veel_stof_opwaaien.html

New Exhibit Connects Science Fom Here, There and Everywhere

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

A new NASA exhibit, called “Here, There, and Everywhere,” illustrates how familiar phenomena on Earth and across the Universe are connected by basic physical laws.

The main feature behind this project, known by the acronym of HTE, is a series of spectacular visual comparisons that span from the human
scale on Earth to some of the largest structures in the cosmos.  The panels in each of the exhibit topics give examples, with explanatory text, of the same physical process occurring on vastly different scales.

“We want to help people explore how interconnected everything in science is,” said Kimberly Arcand of the Chandra X-ray Center who leads the HTE project.  “By studying the Universe, we are also often learning about important physics here on Earth — and vice versa.”

There are six subjects in the HTE exhibit.  The topics covered in the exhibit include shadows, wind, electric discharge, bow waves,
lensing, and the collisional excitation of atoms.

Full Story: http://hte.si.edu/

Sun Has “Eureka” Moment!

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

At the onset of a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) on August 20, 2012, this bulbous CME certainly resembled a light bulb. It has the thin outer edge and a bright, glowing core at its center. CMEs are often bulbous, but it has been years since we’ve seen one with the elements (pun intended) of a light bulb.

The frames were taken by Solar and Heliospheric Observatory’s (SOHO) Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) C2 instrument. LASCO is able to take images of the solar corona by blocking the light coming directly from the Sun with an occulter disk, creating an artificial eclipse within the instrument itself. The position of the solar disk is indicated in the images by the white circle. The C2 image shows the inner solar corona up to 8.4 million kilometers (5.25 million miles) away from the Sun.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News082412-lightbulb.html

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