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NASA Hosts DC Tweetup With Space Station Astronaut Ron Garan

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA invites its Twitter followers to a special Tweetup with astronaut Ron Garan at 1:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Feb. 14. The event will take place in the James E. Webb Memorial Auditorium at NASA Headquarters, 300 E St. SW in Washington.

Garan spent 164 days in space during the Expedition 27/28 mission to the International Space Station. He and his crewmates launched April 4, 2011, and returned to Earth on Sept. 15, 2011. Aboard the station, the crew worked on a variety of microgravity experiments and hosted two space shuttle missions, including the last shuttle to visit the station. Garan also participated in the last space-shuttle-based spacewalk during the STS-135 mission.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jan/HQ_12-022_Garan_Tweetup.html

Gas Ring Around Young Star Raises Questions

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers have detected a mysterious ring of carbon monoxide gas around the young star V1052 Cen, which is about 700 light years away in the southern constellation Centaurus. The ring is part of the star’s planet-forming disk, and it’s as far from V1052 Cen as Earth is from the sun. Discovered with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, its edges are uniquely crisp.

Carbon monoxide is often detected near young stars, but the gas is usually spread through the planet-forming disk. What’s different about this ring is that it is shaped more like a rope than a dinner plate, said Charles Cowley, professor emeritus in the University of Michigan who led the international research effort.

“It’s exciting because this is the most constrained ring we’ve ever seen, and it requires an explanation,” Cowley said. “At present time, we just don’t understand what makes it a rope rather than a dish.”  Perhaps magnetic fields hold it in place, the researchers say. Maybe “shepherding planets” are reining it in like several of Saturn’s moons control certain planetary rings.

Full Story: http://www.aip.de/en/news/press/gaseous-ring

Most Distant Dwarf Galaxy Detected

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Credit: D. Lagattuta / W. M. Keck Observatory

Scientists have long struggled to detect the dim dwarf galaxies that orbit our own galaxy. So it came as a surprise on Jan. 18 when a team of astronomers using Keck II telescope’s adaptive optics has announced the discovery of a dwarf galaxy halfway across the universe.

The new dwarf galaxy found by MIT’s Dr. Simona Vegetti and colleagues is a satellite of an elliptical galaxy almost 10 billion light-years away from Earth. The team detected it by studying how the massive elliptical galaxy, called JVAS B1938 + 666, serves as a gravitational lens for light from an even more distant galaxy directly behind it. Their discovery was published in the Jan. 18 online edition of the journal Nature.

Like all supermassive elliptical galaxies, JVAS B1938 + 666’s gravity can deflect light passing by it. Often the light from a background galaxy gets deformed into an arc around the lens galaxy, and sometimes what’s called an Einstein ring. In this case, the ring is formed mainly by two lensed images of the background galaxy. The size, shape and brightness of the Einstein ring depends on the distribution of mass throughout the foreground lensing galaxy.

Full Story: http://keckobservatory.org/news/most_distant_dwarf_galaxy_detected/

AAS Honors Distinguished Astronomers with 2012 Prizes

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

At its 219th semiannual meeting last week in Austin, Texas, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) named the recipients of its 2012 prizes for achievements in research, instrument development, education, and writing.

The Society’s prestigious Henry Norris Russell Lectureship goes to W. David Arnett (University of Arizona) “for a lifetime of seminal contributions to the fields of stellar explosions, nuclear astrophysics, and hydrodynamics.” Arnett has been a leader in developing our understanding of core-collapse processes and the fusion of new elements in massive stars. He has also done pioneering work on thermonuclear burning in white-dwarf stars and on the origin of Type Ia supernovae, which are at the center of contemporary observational cosmology.

The Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for outstanding achievement in observational research by an early-career astronomer goes to John A. Johnson (Caltech) “for major contributions to understanding fundamental relationships between extrasolar planets and their parent stars.” Johnson has found that planetary orbits can be tipped at a wide variety of angles with respect to their host stars’ spin axes. His work has also elucidated possible correlations between planet frequency and stellar mass and composition.

Full Story: http://aas.org/press/pr2012Jan18