Archive

Archive for June 12, 2013

Moon Radiation Findings May Reduce Health Risks To Astronauts


Space scientists from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) report that data gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show lighter materials like plastics provide effective shielding against the radiation hazards faced by astronauts during extended space travel. The finding could help reduce health risks to humans on future missions into deep space.

Aluminum has always been the primary material in spacecraft construction, but it provides relatively little protection against high-energy cosmic rays and can add so much mass to spacecraft that they become cost-prohibitive to launch.

Says Cary Zeitlin (lead author), “This is the first study using observations from space to confirm what has been thought for some time – that plastics and other lightweight materials are pound-for-pound more effective for shielding against cosmic radiation than aluminum. Shielding can’t entirely solve the radiation exposure problem in deep space, but there are clear differences in effectiveness of different materials.”

Full Story: http://www.eos.unh.edu/news/indiv_news.shtml?NEWS_ID=1391

Black Hole Naps Amidst Stellar Chaos


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHU

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHU

Nearly a decade ago, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory caught signs of what appeared to be a black hole snacking on gas at the middle of the nearby Sculptor galaxy. Now, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which sees higher-energy X-ray light, has taken a peek and found the black hole asleep.

“Our results imply that the black hole went dormant in the past 10 years,” said Bret Lehmer of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “Periodic observations with both Chandra and NuSTAR should tell us unambiguously if the black hole wakes up again. If this happens in the next few years, we hope to be watching.” Lehmer is lead author of a new study detailing the findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

The slumbering black hole is about 5 million times the mass of our sun. It lies at the center of the Sculptor galaxy, also known as NGC 253, a so-called starburst galaxy actively giving birth to new stars. At 13 million light-years away, this is one of the closest starbursts to our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-198

Shining A Light On Cool Pools Of Gas In The Galaxy


Newly formed stars shine brightly, practically crying out, “Hey, look at me!” But not everything in our Milky Way galaxy is easy to see. The bulk of material between the stars in the galaxy — the cool hydrogen gas from which stars spring — is nearly impossible to find.

A new study from the Hershel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA participation, is shining a light on these hidden pools of gas, revealing their whereabouts and quantities. In the same way that dyes are used to visualize swirling motions of transparent fluids, the Herschel team has used a new tracer to map the invisible hydrogen gas.

The discovery reveals that the reservoir of raw material for making stars had been underestimated before — almost by one third — and extends farther out from our galaxy’s center than known before.

“There is an enormous additional reservoir of material available to form new stars that we couldn’t identify before,” said Jorge Pineda of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead author of a new paper on the findings published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-199

A Video Map Of Motions In The Nearby Universe


An international team of researchers, including University of Hawaii at Manoa astronomer Brent Tully, has mapped the motions of structures of the nearby universe in greater detail than ever before. The maps are presented as a video, which provides a dynamic three-dimensional representation of the universe through the use of rotation, panning, and zooming. The video was announced last week at the conference “Cosmic Flows: Observations and Simulations” in Marseille, France, that honored the career and 70th birthday of Tully.

The Cosmic Flows project has mapped visible and dark matter densities around our Milky Way galaxy up to a distance of 300 million light-years.

The large-scale structure of the universe is a complex web of clusters, filaments, and voids. Large voids—relatively empty spaces—are bounded by filaments that form superclusters of galaxies, the largest structures in the universe. Our Milky Way galaxy lies in a supercluster of 100,000 galaxies.

The video captures with precision not only the distribution of visible matter concentrated in galaxies, but also the invisible components, the voids and the dark matter. Dark matter constitutes 80 percent of the total matter of our universe and is the main cause of the motions of galaxies with respect to each other. This precision 3-D cartography of all matter (luminous and dark) is a substantial advance.

Full Story and Video Link: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/press-releases/flows/