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Archive for December, 2012

From Super To Ultra: Just How Big Can Black Holes Get?

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Stanford/Hlavacek-Larrondo, J. et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Stanford/Hlavacek-Larrondo, J. et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA

Some of the biggest black holes in the Universe may actually be even bigger than previously thought, according to a study using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Astronomers have long known about the class of the largest black holes, which they call “supermassive” black holes. Typically, these black holes, located at the centers of galaxies, have masses ranging between a few million and a few billion times that of our sun.

This new analysis has looked at the brightest galaxies in a sample of 18 galaxy clusters, to target the largest black holes. The work suggests that at least ten of the galaxies contain an ultramassive black hole, weighing between 10 and 40 billion times the mass of the sun. Astronomers refer to black holes of this size as “ultramassive” black holes and only know of a few confirmed examples.

The researchers estimated the masses of the black holes in the sample by using an established relationship between masses of black holes, and the amount of X-rays and radio waves they generate. This relationship, called the fundamental plane of black hole activity, fits the data on black holes with masses ranging from 10 solar masses to a billion solar masses.

Full Story: http://www.chandra.harvard.edu/press/12_releases/press_121812.html

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From Cassini For The Holidays: A Splendor Seldom Seen

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Just in time for the holidays, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn for more than eight years now, has delivered another glorious, backlit view of the planet Saturn and its rings.

On Oct. 17, 2012, during its 174th orbit around the gas giant, Cassini was deliberately positioned within Saturn’s shadow, a perfect location from which to look in the direction of the sun and take a backlit view of the rings and the dark side of the planet. Looking back towards the sun is a geometry referred to by planetary scientists as “high solar phase;” near the center of your target’s shadow is the highest phase possible. This is a very scientifically advantageous and coveted viewing position, as it can reveal details about both the rings and atmosphere that cannot be seen in lower solar phase.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-402
Also: http://www.ciclops.org/view/7418/A_Splendor_Seldom_Seen?js=1

WIYN/NOAO: A Panoramic Loop In Cygnus

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Credit: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage) and WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Credit: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage) and WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

As an end of the year finale, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and WIYN partners offer this new wide-field image of the Cygnus loop. Three degrees on a side, this image covers an area of the sky about 45 times that of the full moon. But it does so without sacrificing high resolution. The image is over 600 million pixels in size, making it one of the largest astronomical images ever made.

The Cygnus Loop is a large supernova remnant: the gaseous remains of a massive star that exploded long ago. It is located about 1,500 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Astronomers estimate the supernova explosion that produced the nebula occurred between 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. First noted in 1784 by William Herschel, it is so large that its many parts have been catalogued as separate objects, including NGC 6992, NGC 6995 and IC 1340 along the eastern (left) side of the image, NGC 6974 and NGC 6979 near the top-center, and the Veil Nebula (NGC 6960) and Pickering’s Triangle along the western (right) edge. The bright star near the western edge of the image, known as 52 Cygnus, is not associated with the supernova.

Fu;; Story: http://www.noao.edu/news/2012/pr1209.php
Image: http://www.noao.edu/image_gallery/html/im1138.html

The Solar Wind Is Swirly

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Using ESA’s Cluster quartet of satellites as a space plasma microscope, scientists have zoomed in on the solar wind to reveal the finest detail yet, finding tiny turbulent swirls that could play a big role in heating it. Turbulence is highly complex and all around us, evident in water flowing from a tap, around an aircraft wing, in experimental fusion reactors on Earth, and also in space.

In the stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun – the solar wind – turbulence is thought to play a key part in maintaining its heat as it streams away and races across the Solar System. As the solar wind expands, it cools down, but to a much smaller extent than would be expected if the flow were smooth.

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/The_solar_wind_is_swirly
Also: http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=8

A Swoosh In Space: Merry Christmas From Hubble

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope celebrates the holiday season with a striking image of the planetary nebula NGC 5189. The intricate structure of the stellar eruption looks like a giant and brightly coloured ribbon in space.

Planetary nebulae represent a final brief stage in the life of a star like the Sun. While consuming the last of the fuel in its core, the star expels a large portion of its outer regions, which then heats up and glows brightly, showing intricate structures that scientists are still trying to fully understand. The structure visible within NGC 5189 is particularly dramatic, and Hubble’s image of the nebula is by far the most detailed yet made of this object.

Full Story, Images, and Video: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1220/
Also: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2012/49/image/a/

New Neighbors? Closet Single Star Like Our Sun May Have Habitable Planet

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

At a distance of twelve light-years and visible with the naked eye in the evening sky, Tau Ceti is the closest single star that has the same spectral classification as our Sun. Its five planets are estimated to have masses between two and six times the mass of the Earth — making it the lowest-mass planetary system yet detected. One of the planets lies in the habitable zone of the star and has a mass around five times that of Earth, making it the smallest planet found to be orbiting in the habitable zone of any Sun-like star.

The international team of astronomers, from the UK, Chile, the USA, and Australia, combined more than six-thousand observations from three different instruments and intensively modeled the data. Using new techniques, the team has found a method to detect signals half the size previously thought possible. This greatly improves the sensitivity of searches for small planets and suggests that Tau Ceti is not a lone star but has a planetary system.

Full Information: http://star-www.herts.ac.uk/~hraj/tauceti/

Stars Reveal The Secrets Of Looking Young

December 22, 2012 1 comment

NGC 6388, a dynamically middle-aged globular cluster in the Milky Way. Credit: ESO, F. Ferraro (University of Bologna)

NGC 6388, a dynamically middle-aged globular cluster in the Milky Way. Credit: ESO, F. Ferraro (University of Bologna)

Some people are in great shape at the age of 90, while others are decrepit before they’re 50. We know that how fast people age is only loosely linked to how old they actually are — and may have more to do with their lifestyle. A new study using both the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals that the same is true of star clusters.

Globular clusters are spherical collections of stars, tightly bound to each other by their mutual gravity. Relics of the early years of the Universe, with ages of typically 12–13 billion years (the Big Bang took place 13.7 billion years ago), there are roughly 150 globular clusters in the Milky Way and they contain many of our galaxy’s oldest stars.

But while the stars are old and the clusters formed in the distant past, astronomers using the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have found that some of these clusters are still young at heart. The research is presented in the 20 December 2012 issue of the journal Nature.

“Although these clusters all formed billions of years ago,” says Francesco Ferraro (University of Bologna, Italy), the leader of the team that made the discovery, “we wondered whether some might be aging faster or slower than others. By studying the distribution of a type of blue star that exists in the clusters, we found that some clusters had indeed evolved much faster over their lifetimes, and we developed a way to measure the rate of aging.”

Full Story:http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1252/
Also: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1221/