Archive for April 20, 2013

Discovery Of A Blue Supergiant Star Born In The Wild

A duo of astronomers, Dr. Youichi Ohyama (Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica or ASIAA, Taiwan) and Dr. Ananda Hota (UM-DAE Centre for Excellence in the Basic Sciences or CBS, India), has discovered a blue supergiant star located far beyond our Milky Way Galaxy in the constellation Virgo (Figure). Over fifty-five million years ago, the star emerged in an extremely wild environment: within the long trail of gas stripped from galaxy IC 3418 as it sped rapidly into the Virgo cluster and interacted with the hot plasma of the surrounding intra-cluster medium. Research using the Subaru Telescope, the Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope (CFHT) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) revealed unprecedented views of the star formation process in this particular intergalactic context and showed the promise of future investigations of a possibly new mode of star formation, unlike that within our Milky Way.

About one thousand galaxies reside in a cluster filled with million-degree hot plasma and dark matter. The Virgo cluster, the nearest cluster of galaxies located about 55 million light years from Earth in the constellation Virgo, is an ideal laboratory to study the fate of gas stripped from the main body of galaxies falling into the intra-cluster medium. Does star formation take place in the clouds of stripped gas? If so, how? Dr. Ohyama and Dr. Hota focused on the trail of IC 3418 to explore a potentially new mode of star formation. Dr. Hota has been collecting data from multiple telescopes since 2006 to understand this galaxy, which he first spotted in the GALEX data during his Ph.D. research.

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Ice Cloud Heralds Fall At Titan’s South Pole


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

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

An ice cloud taking shape over Titan’s south pole is the latest sign that the change of seasons is setting off a cascade of radical changes in the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon. Made from an unknown ice, this type of cloud has long hung over Titan’s north pole, where it is now fading, according to observations made by the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

“We associate this particular kind of ice cloud with winter weather on Titan, and this is the first time we have detected it anywhere but the north pole,” said the study’s lead author, Donald E. Jennings, a CIRS Co-Investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The southern ice cloud, which shows up in the far infrared part of the light spectrum, is evidence that an important pattern of global air circulation on Titan has reversed direction. When Cassini first observed the circulation pattern, warm air from the southern hemisphere was rising high in the atmosphere and got transported to the cold north pole. There, the air cooled and sank down to lower layers of the atmosphere, where it formed ice clouds. A similar pattern, called a Hadley cell, carries warm, moist air from Earth’s tropics to the cooler middle latitudes.

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The Mathematical Method For Simulating The Evolution Of The Solar System Has Been Improved By UPV/EHU Researchers

In order to improve a simulation designed to study the evolution of the solar system through time, numerical mathematical methods have been developed at the Computing Faculty of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). Specifically, the methods proposed enable the simulation calculations to be done faster and more accurately.

The methodology developed at the UPV/EHU’s Computing Faculty is a clear example of interdisciplinarity and collaboration. Indeed, mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists and astronomers have been working together on this task, and even though a large proportion of the work was done at the UPV/EHU, the Universities of Valencia and Castellon and the Paris Observatory were also involved.

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Has Kepler Found Ideal SETI-Target Planets?

NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered a new planetary system that is home to five small planets around a slightly smaller star than our Sun. Two of them are super-Earth planets, most likely made of rock or ice mixed with rock, which are located in the habitable zone of their host star. This discovery is providing a target for the SETI search, since if life has thrived on these worlds and reached a point where civilization has developed complex technology, it may be detectable.

When the NASA Kepler mission was launched on March 9, 2007, the Delta II rocket was carrying the hope of a large community of scientists who dedicate their work to studying extra-solar planets, planets in orbit around other stars. The Kepler mission’s main scientific objective is exploration of the structure and diversity of planetary systems. It accomplishes this goal by staring almost constantly at a large field composed of about 150,000 stars to detect small dips in brightness due to the transits of a planet.

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Can One Buy The Right To Name A Planet?

In the light of recent events, where the possibility of buying the rights to name exoplanets has been advertised, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) wishes to inform the public that such schemes have no bearing on the official naming process. The IAU wholeheartedly welcomes the public’s interest to be involved in recent discoveries, but would like to strongly stress the importance of having a unified naming procedure.

More than 800 planets outside the Solar System have been found to date, with thousands more waiting to be confirmed. Detection methods in this field are steadily and quickly increasing — meaning that many more exoplanets will undoubtedly be discovered in the months and years to come.

Recently, an organisation has invited the public to purchase both nomination proposals for exoplanets, and rights to vote for the suggested names. In return, the purchaser receives a certificate commemorating the validity and credibility of the nomination. Such certificates are misleading, as these campaigns have no bearing on the official naming process — they will not lead to an officially-recognised exoplanet name, despite the price paid or the number of votes accrued.

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