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Archive for October, 2013

Sun Emits Third Solar Flare In 2 Days

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/SDO/GSFC

Image Credit: NASA/SDO/GSFC

The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 4:01 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.

This flare is classified as an X1.7 class flare. “X-class” denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. In the past, X-class flares of this intensity have caused degradation or blackouts of radio communications for about an hour.

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Chandra Archive Collection: Preserving The Legacy Of The X-ray Universe

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Every year, October is designated as American Archive Month. While many people may think “archive” means only dusty books and letters, there are, in fact, many other types of important archives. This includes the use of archives for major telescopes and observatories like NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The Chandra Data Archive (CDA) plays a central role in the mission by enabling the astronomical community – as well as the general public – access to data collected by the observatory. The primary role of the CDA is to store and distribute data, which the CDA does with the help of powerful search engines. The CDA is one of the legacies of the Chandra mission that will serve both the scientific community and the public for decades to come.

To celebrate and support American Archive Month, we have selected images from a group of eight objects in the CDA to be released to the public for the first time. These images represent the observations of thousands of objects that are permanently available to the world thanks to Chandra’s archive.

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Eastern U.S. To See Partial Solar Eclipse Nov. 3

October 31, 2013 1 comment

For people in the eastern United States, the sun will rise half covered by the moon on Sunday morning, November 3, and the partial eclipse will last about 3/4 of an hour. Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College and chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Eclipses, advises that people able to see very low on the eastern horizon and having suitable filters in hand would enjoy the event.

A total solar eclipse will sweep across Africa about two hours later on that Sunday, when it will be afternoon, six hours later, in west Africa. After starting in the Atlantic, the shadow of the moon will reach Gabon, where Pasachoff and colleagues will observe totality, with the support of a research grant from the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society.

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Watch Live On October 28: The Making Of Dark Universe With Neil Tyson

October 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Tyson, the narrator of Dark Universe, will discuss what goes into the Space Show with astrophysicist Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, who curated the Space Show; Carter Emmart, who oversees astrovisualization at the Museum and served as the Space Show’s director; Vivian Trakinski, who produced Dark Universe; Timothy Ferris, author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way and other acclaimed books, who wrote the Dark Universe script; and composer Robert Miller, whose previous collaborations with the Museum included the score for the Space Show Journey to the Stars.

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A Rare Snapshot Of A Planetary Construction Site

October 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: Á. Kóspál (ESA) and A. Moór (Konkoly Observatory)

Credit: Á. Kóspál (ESA) and A. Moór (Konkoly Observatory)

When a star similar to our Sun is born, it is surrounded by a disk of dust and gas. Within that disk, the star’s planetary system begins to form: The dust grains stick together to build larger, solid, kilometer-sized bodies known as planetesimals. Those either survive in the form of asteroids and comets, or clump together further to form solid planets like our Earth, or the cores of giant gas planets.

Current models of planet formation predict that, as a star reaches the planetesimal stage, the original gas should quickly be depleted. Some of the gas falls into the star, some is caught up by what will later become giant gas planets like Jupiter, and the rest is dispersed into space, driven by the young star’s intense radiation. After 10 million years or so, all the original gas should be gone.

But now a team of astronomers from the Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, and the US has found what appears to be a rare hybrid disk, which contains plenty of original gas, but also dust produced much later in the collision of planetesimals. As such, it qualifies as a link between an early and a late phase of disk evolution: the primordial disk and a later debris phase.

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Last Command Sent To ESA’s Planck Space Telescope

October 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration - D. Ducros

Credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration – D. Ducros

ESA’s Planck space telescope has been turned off after nearly 4.5 years soaking up the relic radiation from the Big Bang and studying the evolution of stars and galaxies throughout the Universe’s history.

Project scientist Jan Tauber sent the final command to the Planck satellite this afternoon at 12:10:27 UT, marking the end of operations for ESA’s ‘time machine’.

Launched in 2009, Planck was designed to tease out the faintest relic radiation from the Big Bang – the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The CMB preserves a picture of the Universe as it was about 380 000 years after the Big Bang, and provides details of the initial conditions that led to the Universe we live in today.

“Planck has provided us with more insight into the evolution of the Universe than any mission has before,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

“Planck’s picture of the CMB is the most accurate ‘baby photo’ of the Universe yet, but the wealth of data still being scrutinised by our cosmologists will provide us with even more details.”

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NASA’s Great Observatories Begin Deepest Ever Probe Of The Universe

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team

NASA’s Great Observatories are teaming up to look deeper into the universe than ever before. With a boost from natural “zoom lenses” found in space, they should be able to uncover galaxies that are as much as 100 times fainter than what the Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra space telescopes can typically see. This ambitious collaborative program is called The Frontier Fields. Astronomers will spend the next three years peering at six massive clusters of galaxies. Researchers are interested not only as to what’s inside the clusters, but also what’s behind them. The gravitational fields of the clusters brighten and magnify distant background galaxies that are so faint they would otherwise be unobservable.

Despite several deep field surveys, astronomers realized that a lot is still to be learned about the distant universe. And, such knowledge will help in planning the observing strategy for the next-generation space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope.

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Sagittarius A*: A Glimpse Of The Violent Past Of Milky Way’s Giant Black Hole

October 24, 2013 1 comment

Researchers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence that the normally dim region very close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy flared up with at least two luminous outbursts in the past few hundred years.

This discovery comes from a new study of rapid variations in the X-ray emission from gas clouds surrounding the supermassive black hole, a.k.a. Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short. The scientists show that the most probable interpretation of these variations is that they are caused by light echoes.

The echoes from Sgr A* were likely produced when large clumps of material, possibly from a disrupted star or planet, fell into the black hole. Some of the X-rays produced by these episodes then bounced off gas clouds about thirty to a hundred light years away from the black hole, similar to how the sound from a person’s voice can bounce off canyon walls. Just as echoes of sound reverberate long after the original noise was created, so too do light echoes in space replay the original event.

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ALMA Reveals Ghostly Shape Of ‘Coldest Place In The Universe’

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: Bill Saxton; NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA/Hubble; Raghvendra Sahai

Credit: Bill Saxton; NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA/Hubble; Raghvendra Sahai

At a cosmologically crisp one degree Kelvin (minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit), the Boomerang Nebula is the coldest known object in the Universe – colder, in fact, than the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which is the natural background temperature of space.

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have taken a new look at this intriguing object to learn more about its frigid properties and to determine its true shape, which has an eerily ghost-like appearance.

As originally observed with ground-based telescopes, this nebula appeared lopsided, which is how it got its name. Later observations with the Hubble Space Telescope revealed a bow-tie-like structure. The new ALMA data, however, reveal that the Hubble image tells only part of the story, and the twin lobes seen in that image may actually be a trick of the light as seen at visible wavelengths.

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Unique Chemical Composition Surrounding Supermassive Black Hole – A Step Toward Development Of New Black Hole Exploration Method

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) successfully captured a detailed image of high density molecular gas around an active galactic nucleus harboring a supermassive black hole. The observations at the highest ever achieved reveal a unique chemical composition characterized by enhancement of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) around the black hole. An research team thought a high temperature affected by the black hole caused this peculiar chemical properties. The team expect that this unique chemical properties can be used to find black holes hidden behind dust.

The research findings are presented in the article “Submillimeter ALMA Observation of the Dense Gas in the Low-Luminosity Type-1 Active Nucleus of NGC 1097” published in the Publication of the Astronomical Society of Japan, Vol. 65, of October 25, 2013.

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