Archive for July, 2012

Giant Ice Avalanches On Iapetus Provide Clue To Extreme Slippage Elsewhere In The Solar System

“We see landslides everywhere in the solar system,” says Kelsi Singer, graduate student in earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, “but Saturn’s icy moon Iapetus has more giant landslides than any body other than Mars.”

The reason, says William McKinnon, PhD, professor of earth and planetary sciences, is Iapetus’ spectacular topography. “Not only is the moon out-of-round, but the giant impact basins are very deep, and there’s this great mountain ridge that’s 20 kilometers (12 miles) high, far higher than Mount Everest.

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NASA Announces Media Activities For Mars Curiosity Mission Landing

News briefings, photo opportunities, and other media events at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., are set for the upcoming landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission will deliver the 1-ton, car-size robotic roving laboratory to the surface of Mars at 1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6 (10:31 p.m. PDT Aug. 5). Curiosity’s landing will mark the start of a two-year prime mission to investigate whether one of the most intriguing places on Mars ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

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SN 1957D in M83: X-Rays Discovered From Young Supernova Remnant

Over fifty years ago, a supernova was discovered in M83, a spiral galaxy about 15 million light years from Earth. Astronomers have used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make the first detection of X-rays emitted by the debris from this explosion.

A relatively short observation — about 14 hours long — from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2000 and 2001 did not detect any X-rays from the remnant of SN 1957D. However, a much longer observation obtained in 2010 and 2011, totaling nearly 8 and 1/2 days of Chandra time, did reveal the presence of X-ray emission. The X-ray brightness in 2000 and 2001 was about the same as or lower than in this deep image.

The new X-ray data from the remnant of SN 1957D provide important information about the nature of this explosion that astronomers think happened when a massive star ran out of fuel and collapsed. The distribution of X-rays with energy suggests that SN 1957D contains a neutron star, a rapidly spinning, dense star formed when the core of pre-supernova star collapsed.

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AstroNews – Under New Management

July 27, 2012 2 comments

Hello folks,

Without trying to sound like Steve Jobs, I’ve realised the day has come when I just can’t keep AstroNews running any more. My work and personal commitments have left me with little or no time on a daily basis to keep up with the blog, and so, it’s with great regret that I’m “standing down.”

That being said, George Arnold had graciously agreed to step into my shoes; I don’t know if it will be something permanent for him, but he’s willing to see how things go.

I’m sure George will want to make some improvements and he’s free to make whatever changes he sees fit; I’m completely confident that he’ll do the right thing and give AstroNews the attention it deserves.

If you’d like to contribute in some way, I’m sure he’ll appreciate the help – you can either leave a comment below or email me at

It might take a few weeks for the transition to fully take place, so please bear with us during the change. Your best option would be to visit this blog to keep up with the latest news, as I know George will be posting stories here regularly.

Otherwise, i’d like to thank everyone for their support – I truly appreciate it – and I want to sincerely wish George the very best for the future.

Clear skies – and ad astra!


Categories: Site News

RIT Leads Development Of Next-generation Infrared Detectors

Cheaper, larger and better infrared detectors grown on silicon wafers could give more scientists access to infrared astronomy and further spur the hunt for exoplanets and the study of the universe’s acceleration. Closer to home, the same technology could also advance remote sensing and medical imaging.

The National Science Foundation has awarded Rochester Institute of Technology $1.2 million to develop, fabricate and test a new family of detectors grown on silicon wafer substrates by Raytheon Visions Systems.

“If this is successful, the astronomy community will have a ready supply of affordable detectors that could be deployed on a wider range of facilities,” says Don Figer, director of the Center for Detectors at RIT and lead scientist on the project. “Right now infrared detectors are so expensive that there are only a few on the world’s biggest telescopes—Keck, Gemini, the Very Large Telescope. Those are the only facilities that can afford them, and then they can only afford a few. They have big telescopes with big focal planes and tiny detectors in the middle.”

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Largest Ever Cherenkov Telescope Sees First Light

On 26 July 2012, the H.E.S.S. II telescope started operation in Namibia. Dedicated to observing the most violent and extreme phenomena of the Universe in very high energy gamma-rays, H.E.S.S. II is the largest Cherenkov telescope ever built, with its 28-meter-sized mirror. Together with the four smaller (12 meter) telescopes already in operation since 2004, the H.E.S.S. (“High Energy Stereoscopic System”) observatory will continue to define the forefront of ground-based gamma ray astronomy and will allow deeper understanding of known high-energy cosmic sources such as supermassive black holes, pulsars and supernovae, and the search for new classes of high-energy cosmic sources.

Gamma rays are believed to be produced by natural cosmic particle accelerators such as supermassive black holes, supernovae, pulsars, binary stars, and maybe even relics of the Big Bang. The universe is filled with these natural cosmic accelerators, impelling charged particles such as electrons and ions to energies far beyond what the particle accelerators built by mankind can reach. As high-energy gamma rays are secondary products of these cosmic acceleration processes, gamma ray telescopes allow us to study these high-energy sources. Today, well over one hundred cosmic sources of very high-energy gamma rays are known. With H.E.S.S. II, processes in these objects can be investigated in superior detail, also anticipating many new sources, as well as new classes of sources.

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Solar System Ice: Source Of Earth’s Water

July 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Scientists have long believed that comets and a type of very primitive meteorite called carbonaceous chondrites were the sources of early Earth’s volatile elements — which include hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon — and possibly organic material, too. Understanding where these volatiles came from is crucial for determining the origins of both water and life on the planet. New research led by Carnegie’s Conel Alexander focuses on frozen water that was distributed throughout much of the early solar system, but probably not in the materials that aggregated to initially form Earth.
The evidence for this ice is now preserved in objects like comets and water-bearing carbonaceous chondrites. The team’s findings contradict prevailing theories about the relationship between these two types of bodies and suggest that meteorites, and their parent asteroids, are the most-likely sources of the Earth’s water. Their work is published July 12 by Science Express.
Looking at the ratio of hydrogen to its heavy isotope deuterium in frozen water (H2O), scientists can get an idea of the relative distance from the Sun at which objects containing the water were formed. Objects that formed farther out should generally have higher deuterium content in their ice than objects that formed closer to the Sun, and objects that formed in the same regions should have similar hydrogen isotopic compositions. Therefore, by comparing the deuterium content of water in carbonaceous chondrites to the deuterium content of comets, it is possible to tell if they formed in similar reaches of the solar system.

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