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Dark Sky Discovery Is Ready For BBC Stargazing Live – Are You?

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The pioneering Dark Sky Discovery initiative is all set to help the UK go stargazing crazy when BBC Two’s ‘Stargazing LIVE’ returns to our screens at 8.30pm, Monday 16 January 2012. Led by STFC, and funded by the Big Lottery Fund through Natural England’s Access to Nature scheme,  Dark Sky Discovery partners will be running many of the events coinciding with ‘Stargazing LIVE’ to create a nationwide celebration of the wonders of astronomy.

Last January, up to 40,000 people took part in events and activities linked with the first series of ‘Stargazing LIVE’ – a figure that should be exceeded this year as an even bigger programme of events gives yet more people the chance to get a taste of ‘hands on’ astronomy.

Dark Sky Discovery is working closely with the BBC to inspire thousands of people of all ages and from all walks of life to look to and learn about the night sky at venues such as Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower, Oxford Island in Lough Neath and Deri village in South Wales (Tuesday 17 January) and Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens (Wednesday 18 January). The initiative is a partnership of astronomy and environmental organisations that has identified urban and rural locations where people can take part in stimulating stargazing sessions under expert guidance.

Full  Story: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/News%20and%20Events/38277.aspx

NASA’s Kepler Mission Finds Three Smallest Exoplanets

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler mission have discovered the three smallest planets yet detected orbiting a star beyond our sun. The planets orbit a single star, called KOI-961, and are 0.78, 0.73 and 0.57 times the radius of Earth. The smallest is about the size of Mars.

All three planets are thought to be rocky like Earth, but orbit close to their star. That makes them too hot to be in the habitable zone, which is the region where liquid water could exist. Of the more than 700 planets confirmed to orbit other stars — called exoplanets — only a handful are known to be rocky.

“Astronomers are just beginning to confirm thousands of planet candidates uncovered by Kepler so far,” said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Finding one as small as Mars is amazing, and hints that there may be a bounty of rocky planets all around us.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jan/HQ_12-013_Kepler_Smallest_Exoplanets.html

NASA Announces Launch Date and Milestones for SpaceX Flight

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA has announced the launch target for Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flight will be Feb. 7, 2012, pending completion of final safety reviews, testing and verification. NASA also has agreed to allow SpaceX to send its Dragon spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in a single flight.

“SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/dec/HQ_11-413_SpaceX_ISS_Flight.html

Saturn-like Ring System Eclipses Sun-like Star

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Credit: Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester

Credit: Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester

A team of astrophysicists from the University of Rochester and Europe has discovered a ring system in the constellation Centaurus that invites comparisons to Saturn.

The scientists, led by Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Eric Mamajek of Rochester and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, used data from the international SuperWASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) and All Sky Automated Survey (ASAS) project to study the light curves of young Sun-like stars in the Scorpius-Centaurus association—the nearest region of recent massive star formation to the Sun.

The basic concept of the research is straightforward. Imagine yourself sitting in a park on a sunny afternoon and a softball passes between you and the sun. The intensity of light from the sun would appear to weaken for just a moment. Then a bird flies by, causing the intensity of the sunlight to again weaken—more or less than it did for the softball, depending on the size of the bird and how long it took to pass. That’s the principle that allowed the researchers to discover a cosmic ring system.

Full Story: http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3983

Hubble Discovers Distant Type Ia Supernova

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has looked deep into the distant universe and detected the feeble glow of a star that exploded more than 9 billion years ago. The sighting is the first finding of an ambitious survey that will help astronomers place better constraints on the nature of dark energy, the mysterious repulsive force that is causing the universe to fly apart ever faster.

“For decades, astronomers have harnessed the power of Hubble to unravel the mysteries of the universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This new observation builds upon the revolutionary research using Hubble that won astronomers the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, while bringing us a step closer to understanding the nature of dark energy which drives the cosmic acceleration.” As an astronaut, Grunsfeld visited Hubble three times, performing a total of eight spacewalks to service and upgrade the observatory.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/exploding-star.html

Hubble Solves Mystery of Supernova Source

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, SAO, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Hughes (Rutgers University)

Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, SAO, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Hughes (Rutgers University)

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have solved a longstanding mystery on the type of star, or so-called progenitor, which caused a supernova seen in a nearby galaxy. The finding yields new observational data for pinpointing one of several scenarios that trigger such outbursts.

Based on previous observations from ground-based telescopes, astronomers knew the supernova class, called a Type Ia, created a remnant named SNR 0509-67.5, which lies 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy.

Theoretically, this kind of supernova explosion is caused by a star spilling material onto a white dwarf companion, the compact remnant of a normal star, until it sets off one of the most powerful explosions in the universe.

Astronomers failed to find any remnant of the companion star, however, and concluded that the common scenario did not apply in this case, although it is still a viable theory for other Type Ia supernovae.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/supernova-source.html

Planet Population Is Plentiful

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

An international team, including three astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), has used the technique of gravitational microlensing to measure how common planets are in the Milky Way. After a six-year search that surveyed millions of stars, the team concludes that planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception. The results will appear in the journal Nature on 12 January 2012.

Over the past 16 years, astronomers have detected more than 700 confirmed exoplanets and have started to probe the spectra (eso1002) and atmospheres (eso1047) of these worlds. While studying the properties of individual exoplanets is undeniably valuable, a much more basic question remains: how commonplace are planets in the Milky Way?

Most currently known exoplanets were found either by detecting the effect of the gravitational pull of the planet on its host star or by catching the planet as it passes in front of its star and slightly dims it. Both of these techniques are much more sensitive to planets that are either massive or close to their stars, or both, and many planets will be missed.

An international team of astronomers has searched for exoplanets using a totally different method — gravitational microlensing — that can detect planets over a wide range of mass and those that lie much further from their stars.

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1204/