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Archive for December, 2013

The Gaia Mission App, Ready Before The Launch

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Gaia, a satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA), is launched tomorrow, 19 December. It will take a census of a billion stars to create the most complete 3D map of the Milky Way ever done. Launch is planned to occur at 10.12 a.m. (local time in mainland Spain) from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou (French Guiana). Scientists and engineers from the University of Barcelona (UB) have remarkably collaborated in the mission.

A group of researchers from UB, the Barcelona Team, has developed the Gaia Mission App, which allows discovering scientific and technical details of the mission and keeps users updated on satellite’s operations from 19 December. App is available in English, Spanish and Catalan.

Gaia is considered ESA’s cornerstone mission not only for its ability to revolution future astrophysics —thanks to the unprecedented accuracy of its astrometric observations—, but also for the technological challenge it means. In addition, the project constitutes the maximum exponent of a technology that places Europe in a leading position in the field of astrometry.

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Powerful Ancient Explosions Explain New Class Of Supernovae

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

From the Supernova Legacy Survey

From the Supernova Legacy Survey

Astronomers affiliated with the Supernova Legacy Survey (SNLS) have discovered two of the brightest and most distant supernovae ever recorded, 10 billion light-years away and a hundred times more luminous than a normal supernova. Their findings appear in the Dec. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

These newly discovered supernovae are especially puzzling because the mechanism that powers most of them — the collapse of a giant star to a black hole or normal neutron star — cannot explain their extreme luminosity. Discovered in 2006 and 2007, the supernovae were so unusual that astronomers initially could not figure out what they were or even determine their distances from Earth.

“At first, we had no idea what these things were, even whether they were supernovae or whether they were in our galaxy or a distant one,” said lead author D. Andrew Howell, a staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT) and adjunct faculty at UC Santa Barbara. “I showed the observations at a conference, and everyone was baffled. Nobody guessed they were distant supernovae because it would have made the energies mind-bogglingly large. We thought it was impossible.”

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Hubble Watches Super Star Create Holiday Light Show

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-Hubble/Europe Collab

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-Hubble/Europe Collab

This festive NASA Hubble Space Telescope image resembles a holiday wreath made of sparkling lights. The bright southern hemisphere star RS Puppis, at the center of the image, is swaddled in a gossamer cocoon of reflective dust illuminated by the glittering star. The super star is ten times more massive than our sun and 200 times larger.

RS Puppis rhythmically brightens and dims over a six-week cycle. It is one of the most luminous in the class of so-called Cepheid variable stars. Its average intrinsic brightness is 15,000 times greater than our sun’s luminosity.

The nebula flickers in brightness as pulses of light from the Cepheid propagate outwards. Hubble took a series of photos of light flashes rippling across the nebula in a phenomenon known as a “light echo.” Even though light travels through space fast enough to span the gap between Earth and the moon in a little over a second, the nebula is so large that reflected light can actually be photographed traversing the nebula.

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Find Black Holes While You’re On The Bus

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

‘Radio Galaxy Zoo’, launching today, is a new ‘citizen science’ project that lets anyone become a cosmic explorer.

By matching galaxy images with radio images from CSIRO’s Australia Telescope, you can work out if a galaxy has a supermassive black hole.

“It takes about a minute to learn what to do,” said CSIRO’s Dr Julie Banfield, an Australian coordinator of the international project. “Then to actually work with the images takes only a few seconds each — perhaps a couple of minutes for the really tough ones. You just need match up a couple of pictures and look for what you think is the galaxy at their centre.”

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Fast Radio Bursts Might Come From Nearby Stars

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

First discovered in 2007, “fast radio bursts” continue to defy explanation. These cosmic chirps last for only a thousandth of a second. The characteristics of the radio pulses suggested that they came from galaxies billions of light-years away. However, new work points to a much closer origin – flaring stars within our own galaxy.

“We propose that fast radio bursts aren’t as exotic as astronomers first thought,” says lead author Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Fast radio bursts are both brief and bright, packing a lot of energy into a short time. Only six have been discovered to date, all of them in archival data. Each was detected only once, making follow-up studies difficult.

A detailed analysis of the bursts showed that the pulses passed through a large column of electrons on their way to Earth. If those electrons were spread out across intergalactic space, then the pulses must have crossed billions of light-years. As a result, they would have to come from extremely energetic events. Gamma-ray bursts don’t produce the right radio frequencies, so astronomers looked to other extreme events like the collapse of a neutron star into a black hole.

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Reveals Clues About Saturn Moon

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is providing scientists with key clues about Saturn’s moon Titan, and in particular, its hydrocarbon lakes and seas.

Titan is one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system, and the only place other than our planet that has stable liquid on its surface.

Cassini’s recent close flybys are bringing into sharper focus a region in Titan’s northern hemisphere that sparkles with almost all of the moon’s seas and lakes. Scientists working with the spacecraft’s radar instrument have put together the most detailed multi-image mosaic of that region to date. The image includes all the seas and most of the major lakes. Some of the flybys tracked over areas that previously were seen at a different angle, so researchers have been able to create a flyover of the area around Titan’s largest and second largest seas, known as Kraken Mare and Ligeia Mare, respectively, and some of the nearby lakes.

“Learning about surface features like lakes and seas helps us to understand how Titan’s liquids, solids and gases interact to make it so Earth-like,” said Steve Wall, acting radar team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “While these two worlds aren’t exactly the same, it shows us more and more Earth-like processes as we get new views.”

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Hubble Discovers Water Vapour Venting From Jupiter’s Moon Europa

December 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Water vapour plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa (artist's impression). Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute, USA/University of Cologne, Germany) and M. Kornmesser

Water vapour plumes on Jupiter’s moon Europa (artist’s impression). Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute, USA/University of Cologne, Germany) and M. Kornmesser

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has discovered water vapour erupting from the frigid surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, in one or more localised plumes near its south pole.

Europa is already thought to harbour a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust, making the moon one of the main targets in the search for habitable worlds away from Earth. This new finding is the first observational evidence of water vapour being ejected off the moon’s surface.

“The discovery that water vapour is ejected near the south pole strengthens Europa’s position as the top candidate for potential habitability,” said lead author Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “However, we do not know yet if these plumes are connected to subsurface liquid water or not.” The Hubble findings will be published in the 12 December online issue of Science Express, and are being reported today at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California, USA.

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