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Archive for July 26, 2013

A New Baby Picture Of The Universe


THIS SPRING, HUMANITY WAS SHOWN ITS MOST DETAILED MAP of the early universe ever created. Generated by observations from the Planck spacecraft, the map shows fluctuations in temperature in the relic radiation left over from the Big Bang – the moment when space and time came into existence nearly 14 billion years ago. That relic radiation, a kind of afterglow from the Big Bang, is called the cosmic microwave background, or CMB. It streams toward Earth from everywhere in the sky, and it provides a snapshot of what the universe looked like when the CMB was generated 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

Recently, scientists on the Planck team found certain large-scale features on the CMB sky, which they called “anomalies,” that they cannot explain. One of them, for example, is a large cold spot, which corresponds to an anomalously large area of high density. What this means: the theory for how the universe began may need to be modified, amended or even fundamentally changed. In any of these cases, the result will be consequential to how we understand the evolution of existence.

Full Story: http://www.kavlifoundation.org/science-spotlights/kicc-planck-universe

Galaxies, Comets, And Stars! Oh My!


Comet ISON. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Comet ISON. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The sun-approaching Comet ISON floats against a seemingly infinite backdrop of numerous galaxies and a handful of foreground stars. The icy visitor, with its long gossamer tail, appears to be swimming like a tadpole through a deep pond of celestial wonders.

In reality, the comet is much, much closer. The nearest star to the Sun is over 60,000 times farther away, and the nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way is over thirty billion times more distant. These vast dimensions are lost in this deep space Hubble exposure that visually combines our view of the universe from the very nearby to the extraordinarily far away.

Full Story and Images: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2013/31/image/a/

NASA Mission Discovers Particle Accelerator In Heart Of Van Allen Radiation Belts


Using data from a NASA satellite, scientists have discovered a massive particle accelerator in the heart of one of the harshest regions of near-Earth space, a region of super-energetic, charged particles surrounding the globe and known as the Van Allen radiation belts.

New results from NASA’s Van Allen Probes show the acceleration energy is in the belts themselves. Local bumps of energy kick particles inside the belts to ever-faster speeds, much like a well-timed push on a moving swing. Knowing the location of the acceleration within the radiation belts will help scientists improve predictions of space weather, which can be hazardous to satellites near Earth. The results were published Thursday in the journal Science.

“Until the 1990s, we thought the Van Allen belts were pretty well-behaved and changed slowly,” says Geoff Reeves, lead author on the paper and a radiation belt scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. “With more and more measurements, however, we realized how quickly and unpredictably the radiation belts change. They are basically never in equilibrium, but in a constant state of change.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/press/2013/july/nasa-mission-discovers-particle-accelerator-in-heart-of-van-allen-radiation-belts/#.UfFsW2Q4XB4

WIYN/NOAO: M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy, Seen With New ODI Camera On WIYN Telescope


Image credit: K. Rhode, M. Young and WIYN / NOAO / AURA / NSF

Image credit: K. Rhode, M. Young and WIYN / NOAO / AURA / NSF

The Whirlpool Galaxy (Messier 51) has been a popular night sky target for astronomers for centuries. Charles Messier first identified it in 1773 and listed it as number 51 in his catalog. To him, it looked like a faint, fuzzy object that might be a comet. William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, used his 72-inch telescope “Leviathan” to observe the Whirlpool in 1845. Since then, Messier 51 has likely been targeted by virtually every telescope in the northern hemisphere. It is found in the constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs) and is a classic example of a spiral galaxy.

Now, a new camera on the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory has imaged the Whirlpool Galaxy anew. The wide field of the One Degree Imager (ODI) camera makes it possible to capture the entire galaxy and its companion in one pointing, something that even the Hubble Space Telescope cannot do.

“The WIYN telescope is an ideal telescope for the survey because of its wide field and because it produces some of the sharpest, highest-quality images possible with a ground-based telescope”, explained Indiana University (IU) astronomy professor Katherine Rhode. “WIYN’s 3.5-meter mirror is also very efficient at gathering light from astronomical objects, so it allows us to image faint objects, like individual star clusters within the galaxies.”

Full Story: http://www.noao.edu/news/2013/pr1309.php

CfA-Built Telescope On IRIS Sees First Light


Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) observatory has produced its first images and spectra of a little understood region of the Sun through which the energy that supports the Sun’s hot corona is transported. IRIS was launched on June 27, 2013, and the front cover of the IRIS telescope was opened on July 17.

“Already, we’re finding that IRIS has the capability to reveal a very dynamic and highly structured chromosphere and transition region,” says astrophysicist Hui Tian of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “Thin and elongated structures are clearly present in these first-light images, and they evolve quickly in time.”

Important goals of the IRIS mission are to understand how the Sun’s million degree corona is heated and to reveal the genesis of the solar wind.

Full Story: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2013/pr201321.html