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River Of Hydrogen Flowing Through Space Seen With Green Bank Telescope

January 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Credit: D.J. Pisano (WVU); B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); Palomar Observatory – Space Telescope Science Institute 2nd Digital Sky Survey (Caltech); Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope

Credit: D.J. Pisano (WVU); B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); Palomar Observatory – Space Telescope Science Institute 2nd Digital Sky Survey (Caltech); Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope

Using the National Science Foundation’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomer D.J. Pisano from West Virginia University has discovered what could be a never-before-seen river of hydrogen flowing through space. This very faint, very tenuous filament of gas is streaming into the nearby galaxy NGC 6946 and may help explain how certain spiral galaxies keep up their steady pace of star formation.

“We knew that the fuel for star formation had to come from somewhere. So far, however, we’ve detected only about 10 percent of what would be necessary to explain what we observe in many galaxies,” said Pisano. “A leading theory is that rivers of hydrogen – known as cold flows – may be ferrying hydrogen through intergalactic space, clandestinely fueling star formation. But this tenuous hydrogen has been simply too diffuse to detect, until now.”

Spiral galaxies, like our own Milky Way, typically maintain a rather tranquil but steady pace of star formation. Others, like NGC 6946, which is located approximately 22 million light-years from Earth on the border of the constellations Cepheus and Cygnus, are much more active, though less-so than more extreme starburst galaxies. This raises the question of what is fueling the sustained star formation in this and similar spiral galaxies.

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NASA Spacecraft Take Aim At Nearby Supernova

January 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/Swift/P. Brown, TAMU

Image Credit: NASA/Swift/P. Brown, TAMU

An exceptionally close stellar explosion discovered on Jan. 21 has become the focus of observatories around and above the globe, including several NASA spacecraft. The blast, designated SN 2014J, occurred in the galaxy M82 and lies only about 12 million light-years away. This makes it the nearest optical supernova in two decades and potentially the closest type Ia supernova to occur during the life of currently operating space missions.

To make the most of the event, astronomers have planned observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and Swift missions.

As befits its moniker, Swift was the first to take a look. On Jan. 22, just a day after the explosion was discovered, Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) captured the supernova and its host galaxy.

Remarkably, SN 2014J can be seen on images taken up to a week before anyone noticed its presence. It was only when Steve Fossey and his students at the University of London Observatory imaged the galaxy during a brief workshop that the supernova came to light.

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James Webb Space Telescope Passes A Mission Milestone

January 27, 2014 Leave a comment

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has passed its first significant mission milestone for 2014 — a Spacecraft Critical Design Review (SCDR) that examined the telescope’s power, communications and pointing control systems.

“This is the last major element-level critical design review of the program,” said Richard Lynch, NASA Spacecraft Bus Manager for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “What that means is all of the designs are complete for the Webb and there are no major designs left to do.”

During the SCDR, the details, designs, construction and testing plans, and the spacecraft’s operating procedures were subjected to rigorous review by an independent panel of experts. The week-long review involved extensive discussions on all aspects of the spacecraft to ensure the plans to finish construction would result in a vehicle that enables the powerful telescope and science instruments to deliver their unique and invaluable views of the universe.

“While the spacecraft that carries the science payload for Webb may not be as glamorous as the telescope, it’s the heart that enables the whole mission,” said Eric Smith, acting program director and program scientist for the Webb Telescope at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “By providing many services including telescope pointing and communication with Earth, the spacecraft is our high tech infrastructure empowering scientific discovery.”

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