Although cold and gaseous rather than a desert world, the newfound planet Kepler-16b is still the closest astronomers have come to discovering Luke Skywalker’s home world of Tatooine. Like Tatooine, Kepler-16b enjoys a double sunset as it circles a pair of stars approximately 200 light-years from Earth. It’s not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy.
“Kepler-16b is the first confirmed, unambiguous example of a circumbinary planet — a planet orbiting not one, but two stars,” said Josh Carter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “Once again, we’re finding that our solar system is only one example of the variety of planetary systems Nature can create.”
Carter is second author on the study announcing the discovery, which appears in the Sept. 15th issue of the journal Science. He is presenting the finding today at the Extreme Solar Systems II conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Using the Hubble Space Telescope to probe the distant universe, astronomers have found supermassive black holes growing in surprisingly small galaxies. The findings suggest that central black holes formed at an early stage in galaxy evolution.
“It’s kind of a chicken or egg problem: Which came first, the supermassive black hole or the massive galaxy? This study shows that even low-mass galaxies have supermassive black holes,” said Jonathan Trump, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Trump is first author of the study, which has been accepted for publication in theAstrophysical Journal and is currently available online.
Full Story: http://news.ucsc.edu/2011/09/black-holes.html
Shortly after Labor Day 2011, the Mars rover Opportunity was poised on the rim of the 22,000 meter-wide Endeavour Crater, preparing to sample a novel rock type. Much older than the sedimentary samples the rover’s “tasted” so far, this new sample is flush with the promise of revealing clues to the planet’s environment when running rivers coursed the surface.
What was supposed to have been a 90- to 180-day exploration of two distinct regions of the red planet has turned into a saga that has become one of science’s most compelling and long-lasting adventures (now into its eighth year), enthralling the public and the science communities alike.
Full Story: http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/22660.aspx
Not all stars are loners. In our home galaxy, the Milky Way, about half of all stars have a companion and travel through space in a binary system. But explaining why some stars are in double or even triple systems while others are single has been something of a mystery. Now a team of astronomers from Bonn University and the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio astronomy (also in Bonn) think they have the answer – different stellar birth environments decide whether a star holds on to its companion. The scientists publish their results in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Stars generally do not form in isolation but are born together in groups within clouds of gas and dust or nebulae. These stellar labour rooms produce binary star systems, which means that virtually all newborn stars have a companion. Most of these groups of stars disperse quickly so that their members become part of the Galaxy. But why, then, are not all stars seen in the sky binaries, but only half of them?