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Archive for February, 2013

Comet Will Be Visible In Northern Hemisphere In March

February 23, 2013 1 comment

Credit: Terry Lovejoy/ Austrailia

Credit: Terry Lovejoy/ Austrailia

Comet Pan-STARRS C/2011 L4, discovered by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala in June 2011, is expected to become visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere in March. The comet is currently visible in the Southern Hemisphere.

From about March 7, it will appear above the horizon. To see it, you will need an unobstructed, cloudless view of the western horizon. It is best to pick a dark spot, away from streetlights. Look in the direction of the Sunset just after the Sun has gone down. The comet will be just above the horizon. The twilight sky will make the comet much harder to see than if it were high up in a dark sky, and moonlight will interfere with viewing the comet after March 13. To see the comet’s tails, you may need a pair of binoculars.

Although the brightness of comets is notoriously difficult to predict ahead of time, scientists expect this comet will have a brightness similar to that of the stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper or Orion’s belt (magnitude 2 to 3). March 13 may be the best time to take an interesting picture of the comet because on that evening, it will appear just below the thin crescent Moon.

Additional Info: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/press-releases/CometPANSTARRS/
Photo: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/press-releases/CometPANSTARRS/CometPANSTARRS_by_T.Lovejoy-Australia_HR.jpeg

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NASA Rover Confirms First Drilled Mars Rock Sample

February 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has relayed new images that confirm it has successfully obtained the first sample ever collected from the interior of a rock on another planet. No rover has ever drilled into a rock beyond Earth and collected a sample from its interior.

Transfer of the powdered-rock sample into an open scoop was visible for the first time in images received Wednesday at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“Seeing the powder from the drill in the scoop allows us to verify for the first time the drill collected a sample as it bore into the rock,” said JPL’s Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer for Curiosity. “Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying. For the sampling team, this is the equivalent of the landing team going crazy after the successful touchdown.”

The drill on Curiosity’s robotic arm took in the powder as it bored a 2.5-inch (6.4-centimeter) hole into a target on flat Martian bedrock on Feb. 8. The rover team plans to have Curiosity sieve the sample and deliver portions of it to analytical instruments inside the rover.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-067

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Tiny Planet System

February 21, 2013 Leave a comment

NASA’s Kepler mission scientists have discovered a new planetary system that is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star similar to our sun.

The planets are located in a system called Kepler-37, about 210 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. The smallest planet, Kepler-37b, is slightly larger than our moon, measuring about one-third the size of Earth. It is smaller than Mercury, which made its detection a challenge.

The moon-size planet and its two companion planets were found by scientists with NASA’s Kepler mission to find Earth-sized planets in or near the “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. However, while the star in Kepler-37 may be similar to our sun, the system appears quite unlike the solar system in which we live.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/kepler-37b.html
Also: http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2013/02/20/kepler37b

A Cool Discovery About The Sun’s Next-Door Twin

February 21, 2013 Leave a comment

ESA’s Herschel space observatory has detected a cool layer in the atmosphere of Alpha Centauri A, the first time this has been seen in a star beyond our own Sun. The finding is not only important for understanding the Sun’s activity, but could also help in the quest to discover proto-planetary systems around other stars.

Alpha Centauri B has recently been in the news after the discovery of an Earth-mass planet in orbit around it. But Alpha Centauri A is also very important to astronomers: almost a twin to the Sun in mass, temperature, chemical composition and age, it provides an ideal natural laboratory to compare other characteristics of the two stars.

One of the great curiosities in solar science is that the Sun’s wispy outer atmosphere – the corona – is heated to millions of degrees while the visible surface of the Sun is ‘only’ about 6000ºC. Even stranger, there is a temperature minimum of about 4000ºC between the two layers, just a few hundred kilometres above the visible surface in the part of Sun’s atmosphere called the chromosphere.

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/A_cool_discovery_about_the_Sun_s_next-door_twin

Cassini Sheds Light On Cosmic Particle Accelerators

February 21, 2013 Leave a comment

During a chance encounter with an unusually strong blast of solar wind arriving at Saturn, the international Cassini spacecraft detected particles being accelerated to ultra-high energies, similar to the acceleration that takes place around supernova explosions.

Shock waves are commonplace in the Universe, for example in the aftermath of a stellar explosion as debris accelerates outwards in a supernova remnant, or when the flow of particles from the Sun – the solar wind – impinges on the magnetic field of a planet to form a bow shock.

Under certain magnetic field orientations and depending on the strength of the shock, particles can be accelerated to close to the speed of light at these boundaries. Indeed, very strong shocks at young supernova remnants are known to boost electrons to ultra-relativistic energies, and may be the dominant source of cosmic rays, high-energy particles that pervade our Galaxy.

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Cassini_sheds_light_on_cosmic_particle_accelerators

Sweeping The Dust From A Cosmic Lobster

February 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: ESO/VVV Survey/D. Minniti. Acknowledgement: Ignacio Toledo

Credit: ESO/VVV Survey/D. Minniti. Acknowledgement: Ignacio Toledo

A new image from ESO’s VISTA telescope captures a celestial landscape of glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. This infrared view reveals the stellar nursery known as NGC 6357 in a surprising new light. It was taken as part of a VISTA survey that is currently scanning the Milky Way in a bid to map our galaxy’s structure and explain how it formed.

Located around 8000 light-years away in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion), NGC 6357 — sometimes nicknamed the Lobster Nebula due to its appearance in visible-light images — is a region filled with vast clouds of gas and tendrils of dark dust. These clouds are forming stars, including massive hot stars which glow a brilliant blue-white in visible light.

This image uses infrared data from ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. It is just a small part of a huge survey called VISTA Variables in the Vía Láctea (VVV) that is imaging the central parts of the Galaxy. The new picture presents a drastically different view to that seen in visible-light images.

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1309/

3-D Observations Of The Outflow From An Active Galactic Nucleus

February 20, 2013 Leave a comment

An artist's rendition of the central region of the quasar. Credit: Shinshu University and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

An artist’s rendition of the central region of the quasar. Credit: Shinshu University and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

A Japanese team of astronomers, led by Toru Misawa (Shinshu University), has used the Subaru Telescope to observe a distant gravitationally-lensed quasar and probed an active galactic nucleus in its central region. Looking through multiple sight lines, the astronomers obtained a 3-D view of the quasar and discovered complex small structures inside outflows from the galactic nucleus. These outflows will spread widely and eventually affect the evolution of the host galaxy.

Quasars are bright central regions of some distant galaxies. Their luminosities are often hundreds of times greater than those of their host galaxies (Note 2). Scientists believe that their light source is a very bright gaseous disk surrounding a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. Gas streams called “outflows” move outward from the disk (Figure 1) and have a substantial influence on surrounding interstellar/intergalactic regions. However, because quasars at large distances look like mere stars, their internal structures are not easy to investigate.

The current team used the large light-gathering power of the 8.2 m Subaru Telescope mounted with its high-resolution spectrograph HDS (High Dispersion Spectrograph) to observe the quasar SDSS J1029+2623 and examine its structure. This quasar is ~10 billion light years distant from Earth toward the constellation Leo, and a massive cluster of galaxies, ~5 billion light years away, lies between the quasar and Earth. Because astronomical objects are usually very distant, they are difficult to study from different angles. Nevertheless, gravitational lensing opens up this possibility.

Full Story: http://naoj.org/Pressrelease/2013/02/18/index.html