Archive for September 11, 2012

Vesta In Dawn’s Rear View Mirror

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA /JPL – Caltech /UCAL /MPS /DLR /IDA

NASA’s Dawn mission is releasing two parting views of the giant asteroid Vesta, using images that were among the last taken by the spacecraft as it departed its companion for the last year.

The first set of images is a color-coded relief map of Vesta’s northern hemisphere, from the pole to the equator. It incorporates images taken just as Dawn began to creep over the high northern latitudes, which were dark when Dawn arrived in July 2011. The other image is a black-and-white mosaic that shows a full view of the giant asteroid, created by synthesizing some of Dawn’s best images.

“Dawn has peeled back the veil on some of the mysteries surrounding Vesta, but we’re still working hard on more analysis,” said Christopher Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator at UCLA. “So while Vesta is now out of sight, it will not be out of mind.”

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Planets Can Form In The Galactic Center

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Artist’s Conception. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

At first glance, the center of the Milky Way seems like a very inhospitable place to try to form a planet. Stars crowd each other as they whiz through space like cars on a rush-hour freeway. Supernova explosions blast out shock waves and bathe the region in intense radiation. Powerful gravitational forces from a supermassive black hole twist and warp the fabric of space itself.

Yet new research by astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows that planets still can form in this cosmic maelstrom. For proof, they point to the recent discovery of a cloud of hydrogen and helium plunging toward the galactic center. They argue that this cloud represents the shredded remains of a planet-forming disk orbiting an unseen star.

“This unfortunate star got tossed toward the central black hole. Now it’s on the ride of its life, and while it will survive the encounter, its protoplanetary disk won’t be so lucky,” said lead author Ruth Murray-Clay of the CfA. The results are appearing in the journal Nature.

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Astronomers Measure Largest-Ever Magnetic Field Around Massive Star, Time Its Slow Rotation As It Drags Around Giant Cloak Of Trapped Particles

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

A group of astronomers led by Gregg Wade of the Royal Military College of Canada have used the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory and the Canada-France Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea to measure the most magnetic massive star yet. Their work is published in today’s issue of the research journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The star’s magnetic field is 20,000 times stronger than the Sun’s, and almost 10 times stronger than that detected around any other high-mass star. At about 35 times the Sun’s mass, the O-type star NGC 1624-2 lies in the open star cluster NGC 1624, about 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Perseus.

This star is an extreme case study to help astronomers better understand all massive stars, which play an important role in the evolution of galaxies.

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Dialling Down The Heat On ESA’s Billion-Star Surveyor

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ESA’s Gaia mission to survey a billion stars has passed a gruelling test to prove it can withstand the extreme temperatures it will experience in space when it is launched next year.

After arrival at its working position some 1.5 million km from Earth, Gaia will operate at a temperature of –110°C, shielded from the heat of the Sun by a giant shade attached to the spacecraft to keep its instruments in permanent shadow.

The focus of the most recent test was Gaia’s service module, which houses electronic units to run the science instruments, as well as the units that provide the spacecraft resources, such as thermal control, propulsion, communication, and attitude and orbit control.

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NOAO: One Degree Imager debuts At WIYN Telescope At Kitt Peak National Observatory

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The days when professional astronomers peered through telescopes are long gone. Today, the camera or other instrument that is attached to the telescope is as important as the telescope itself. Over the life of a telescope, new instruments are added that greatly enhance its capabilities. So the new camera known as the One Degree Imager, or ODI, that is being commissioned at the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope on Kitt Peak is of great excitement to astronomers. When fully operational, the ODI camera will be able to image an area of the sky five times that of the full moon – far larger than any previous camera at the WIYN telescope. Sensitive to visible light, the camera will be able to resolve objects as small as 0.3 arc seconds – about the equivalent of seeing a baseball at a distance of 30 miles away.

ODI Principal Investigator Dr. Todd Boroson said of some of the first images, “It has been very exciting to examine the first ODI images. I see distant galaxies everywhere, but they don’t look like faint smudges. They have spiral arms and bright knots of star formation and distinct nuclei. It’s almost like looking at Hubble Space Telescope images.”

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Public Maps Out An A To Z Of galaxies

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Volunteers participating in the Galaxy Zoo project have been helping scientists gain new insights by classifying galaxies seen in hundreds of thousands of telescope images as spiral or elliptical. Along the way they’ve also stumbled across odd-looking galaxies which resemble each letter of the alphabet.

More than 250,000 people have taken part in the Galaxy Zoo project since its launch in 2007, sorting through over 1 million images

A penguin-shaped galaxy identified by Galaxy Zoo volunteers.

The international team behind Galaxy Zoo, including astronomers from Oxford University, are inviting people to be involved in more discoveries as they launch a new incarnation of the site at

Among the spiral and elliptical galaxies that the volunteers have characterised and classified, they have found an entire alphabet of galaxies. Galaxy Zoo team member Dr Steven Bamford of the University of Nottingham has created a website at where anyone can write their name in the stars.

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