Archive for April 2, 2012

Playing Catch-Up

I’m behind with the news stories again, I’m afraid… there was a big astronomical convention in England last week and I’ve been travelling on business, so it’s been hard to keep up.

I’ve published 9 stories tonight and cleared all the convention news and that leaves about 14 stories in the back log, 2 of which are embargoed for another couple of days. (Sshhhh… spoilers!)

If I don’t get flooded with new stories and can post about 9 or 10 more tomorrow and Wednesday night then hopefully I’ll catch up.

Thanks for your support 🙂

Categories: Site News

Titanium Paternity Test Fingers Earth as Moon’s Sole Parent

A new chemical analysis of lunar material collected by Apollo astronauts in the 1970s conflicts with the widely held theory that a giant collision between Earth and a Mars-sized object gave birth to the moon 4.5 billion years ago.

In the giant-collision scenario, computer simulations suggest that the moon had two parents: Earth and a hypothetical planetary body that scientists call “Theia.” But a comparative analysis of titanium from the moon, Earth and meteorites, published by Junjun Zhang, graduate student in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, and four co-authors indicates the moon’s material came from Earth alone.

If two objects had given rise to the moon, “Just like in humans, the moon would have inherited some of the material from the Earth and some of the material from the impactor, approximately half and half,” said Nicolas Dauphas, associate professor in geophysical sciences at UChicago, and co-author of the study, which appears in the March 25 edition of Nature Geoscience.

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Dusty, Acidic Glaciers Could Explain Layered Deposits on Mars

Researchers from the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) and NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) have proposed a new hypothesis to explain a class of enigmatic geologic features on Mars that have puzzled scientists for decades. The new results, published recently in the journal Geology, suggest that large sedimentary deposits in the Valles Marineris termed Interior Layered Deposits (ILDs) may have formed in a cold, dry ancient Martian climate as the remnants of massive dust-rich glaciers that may have once filled this canyon system.

“Icy weathering might be a major part of the geologic story on Mars,” said PSI Research Scientist Joseph Michalski,  “The planet has been in a cold, frozen state for a long time. In the distant past, it was also cold, but volcanoes were much more active, periodically pumping huge amounts of sulfur into the atmosphere, which could have ultimately ended up trapped within ice alongside plentiful dust.”

An atmospheric origin of Martian Interior Layered Deposits (ILDs): Links to Climate Change and the global sulfur cycle was written by Michalski and co-author Paul Niles of NASA’s JSC and was published online in Geology at March 26.

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A Star Explodes & Turns Inside Out

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/GSFC/U. Hwang & J. Laming

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/GSFC/U. Hwang & J. Laming

A new X-ray study of the remains of an exploded star indicates that the supernova that disrupted the massive star may have turned it inside out in the process. Using very long observations of Cassiopeia A (or Cas A), a team of scientists has mapped the distribution of elements in the supernova remnant in unprecedented detail. This information shows where the different layers of the pre-supernova star are located three hundred years after the explosion, and provides insight into the nature of the supernova.


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When Dark Energy Turned On

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III) today announced the most accurate measurements yet of the distances to galaxies in the faraway universe, giving an unprecedented look at the time when the universe first began to expand at an ever-increasing rate. Scientists from the University of Portsmouth and the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics will present the new results in a press conference at 1000 BST on Friday 30 March at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester.

The results are available in six related papers posted to the arXiv preprint server and are the culmination of more than two years of work by the team of scientists and engineers behind the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), one of the SDSS-III’s four component surveys.

“There’s been a lot of talk about using galaxy maps to find out what’s causing accelerating expansion,” says David Schlegel of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the principal investigator of BOSS. “We’ve been making a map, and now we’re using it – starting to push our knowledge out to the distances when dark energy turned on.”

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Interstellar Beacons Could Help Future Astronauts Find Their Way

The use of stars, planets and stellar constellations for navigation was of fundamental importance for mankind for thousands of years. Now a group of scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany have developed a new technique using a special population of stars to navigate not on Earth, but in voyages across the universe. Team member Prof. Werner Becker will present their work at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester on Friday 30 March.

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How Comets Fizzle Out or Survive a Flight Through the Sun’s Atmosphere

Since the 1980s astronomers have seen thousands of comets falling towards the Sun, most of them too small to survive a close approach, let alone to re-emerge. Until recently no such objects had been seen very close to the Sun as the glare of sunlight made them impossible to observe. Now a team of scientists led by Professor Emeritus John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland and former Regius Professor of Astronomy at Glasgow University, have worked out which comets make it through this fiery journey, which fizzle out high up and which explode just above the surface. Prof. Brown will present this new work in a paper at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester on Friday 30 March.

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Solar Eruptions Cause Sunquakes

April 2, 2012 1 comment

A study led by UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory has shown for the first time that sunquakes can be produced during eruptions of magnetic field and charged particles, as the immense magnetic structure blasts off into the Solar System. The results will be presented by Dr Sergei Zharkov at the National Astronomy Meeting 2012 in Manchester on Friday 30th March 2012.

The first observation of a sunquake was reported by Kosovichev & Zharkova in the late 1990s. During the last decade it has become well established that explosions in the Sun’s atmosphere, known as solar flares, can create sunquakes through the impact of powerful beams of particles which travel into the Sun. This new study shows that eruptions of material known as coronal mass ejections are also able to produce sunquakes.

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Huge Tornadoes Discovered on the Sun

Solar tornadoes several times as wide as the Earth can be generated in the solar atmosphere, say researchers in the UK. A solar tornado was discovered using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) telescope on board the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) satellite. A movie of the tornado will be presented at the National Astronomy Meeting 2012 in Manchester on Thursday 29th March.

“This is perhaps the first time that such a huge solar tornado is filmed by an imager. Previously much smaller solar tornadoes were found my SOHO satellite. But they were not filmed,” says Dr. Xing Li, of Aberystwyth University.

Dr. Huw Morgan, co-discover of the solar tornado, adds, “This unique and spectacular tornado must play a role in triggering global solar storms.”

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Live Feed of Venus-Pleiades Conjunction, Apr. 3

Slooh Space Camera will broadcast a free, real-time feed of the most famous star cluster in the heavens, the Pleiades, meeting up with our nearest and brightest planetary neighbor, Venus. Slooh’s coverage will begin on Tuesday, April 3rd starting at 1:30 PM PDT / 4:30 PM EDT / 20:30 UT. Slooh will provide an observatory feed from our world class observatory site in Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The broadcast can be accessed at Slooh’s homepage or by visiting Slooh’s G+ page, where you will be able to see the panel interact live via G+ Hangouts On Air.

The Pleiades, otherwise known as the Seven Sisters, is a beautiful bright blue open star cluster 440 light years from Earth. The relative tightness of the cluster is indicative of its young age as the member stars were formed some 100 million years ago and will probably travel together through space as a bound cluster for another 250 million years before the gravity of the Milky Way breaks up the cluster into individual field stars. The central core radius of the cluster is only about 4.5 light years but the remote outer regions of the cluster may extend out as far as 52 light years from the center. The brighter members of the cluster, which make up the Seven Sisters, are blue stars with surface temperatures of about 20,000 degrees which is four times hotter than our own Sun.

Venus is sometimes called the Earth’s sister planet because they are so close in size. However, Venus is very different in many ways, with an atmosphere almost 100 times thicker than Earth’s composed of sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide. Even though it is only slightly closer to the Sun, the surface of Venus averages 900 degrees making it the hottest place in the solar system outside the Sun itself.

While Venus and Pleiades are hundreds of light years apart, they will appear together as neighbors in the same field of view. Venus will pass just below the bright blue star cluster. This incredible event happens only once every eight years.

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