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Archive for January, 2014

NASA’s Opportunity At 10: New Findings From Old Rover

January 23, 2014 Leave a comment

New findings from rock samples collected and examined by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity have confirmed an ancient wet environment that was milder and older than the acidic and oxidizing conditions told by rocks the rover examined previously.

In the Jan. 24 edition of the journal Science, Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, writes in detail about the discoveries made by the rover and how these discoveries have shaped our knowledge of the planet. According to Arvidson and others on the team, the latest evidence from Opportunity is landmark.

“These rocks are older than any we examined earlier in the mission, and they reveal more favorable conditions for microbial life than any evidence previously examined by investigations with Opportunity,” said Arvidson.

While the Opportunity team celebrates the rover’s 10th anniversary on Mars, they also look forward to what discoveries lie ahead and how a better understanding of Mars will help advance plans for human missions to the planet in the 2030s.

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Herschel Telescope Detects Water On Dwarf Planet

January 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Scientists using the Herschel space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres.

Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up periodically from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. Ceres is classified as a dwarf planet, a solar system body bigger than an asteroid and smaller than a planet.

Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions.

“This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,” said Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.

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Supernova In Messier 82 Discovered By UCL Students

January 23, 2014 Leave a comment

The supernova in M 82. Credit: UCL/University of London Observatory/Steve Fossey/Ben Cooke/Guy Pollack/Matthew Wilde/Thomas Wright

The supernova in M 82.
Credit: UCL/University of London Observatory/Steve Fossey/Ben Cooke/Guy Pollack/Matthew Wilde/Thomas Wright

Students and staff at UCL’s teaching observatory, the University of London Observatory, have spotted one of the closest supernova to Earth in recent decades. At 19:20 GMT on 21 January, a team of students – Ben Cooke, Tom Wright, Matthew Wilde and Guy Pollack – assisted by Dr Steve Fossey, spotted the exploding star in nearby galaxy Messier 82 (the Cigar Galaxy).

The discovery was a fluke – a 10 minute telescope workshop for undergraduate students that led to a global scramble to acquire confirming images and spectra of a supernova in one of the most unusual and interesting of our near-neighbour galaxies.

“The weather was closing in, with increasing cloud,” Fossey says, “so instead of the planned practical astronomy class, I gave the students an introductory demonstration of how to use the CCD camera on one of the observatory’s automated 0.35–metre telescopes.”

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ALMA Discovers A Formation Site Of A Giant Planetary System

January 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Fukagawa et al.

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Fukagawa et al.

A team of Japanese astronomers has obtained a firm evidence of formation of a giant planetary system around a young star by the observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). This result has a transformative impact on the theories of planet formation and gives us a clue to the origin of a wide variety of planetary systems.

The research team, led by astronomers at Osaka University and Ibaraki University, observed a young star named HD142527 in the constellation Lupus (the Wolf) with ALMA. The ALMA image shows that cosmic dust, which is component material of planets, is circling around the star in a form of asymmetric ring. By measuring the density of dust in the densest part of the ring, the astronomers found that it is highly possible that planets are now being formed in that region. This region is far from the central star, about 5 times larger than the distance between the Sun and the Neptune. This is the first firm evidence of planet formation found so far from the central star in a protoplanetary disk. The research team plans further observations of HD142527 with ALMA for closer investigation, as well as other protoplanetary disks to have a comprehensive understanding of the planet formation in general.

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UCSC Scientists Capture First Cosmic Web Filaments At Keck Observator

January 21, 2014 Leave a comment

CREDIT: S. CANTALUPO (UCSC); JOEL PRIMACK (UCSC); ANATOLY KLYPIN (NMSU)

CREDIT: S. CANTALUPO (UCSC); JOEL PRIMACK (UCSC); ANATOLY KLYPIN (NMSU)

Astronomers have discovered a distant quasar illuminating a vast nebula of diffuse gas, revealing for the first time part of the network of filaments thought to connect galaxies in a cosmic web. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, led the study, published January 19 in the journal, Nature.

Using the 10-meter Keck I telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the researchers detected a very large, luminous nebula of gas extending about 2 million light-years across intergalactic space.

“This is a very exceptional object: it’s huge, at least twice as large as any nebula detected before, and it extends well beyond the galactic environment of the quasar,” said Sebastiano Cantalupo, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Cruz.

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Rare Brown Dwarf Discovery Provides Benchmark For Future Exoplanet Research

January 21, 2014 Leave a comment

CREDIT: CREPP ET AL. 2014, APJ

CREDIT: CREPP ET AL. 2014, APJ

A team of researchers led by Justin R. Crepp, the Freimann Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame, has directly imaged a very rare type of brown dwarf that can serve as a benchmark for studying objects with masses that lie between stars and planets. Their paper on the discovery was published recently in Astrophysical Journal.

Initial data came from the TRENDS (TaRgetting bENchmark-objects with Doppler Spectroscopy) high-contrast imaging survey that uses adaptive optics and related technologies to target older, faint objects orbiting nearby stars, and precise measurements were made at the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Brown dwarfs emit little light because they do not burn hydrogen and cool rapidly. Crepp said they could provide a link between our understanding of low-mass stars and smaller objects such as planets.

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Spanish Researchers Discover The First Black Hole Orbiting A ‘Spinning’ Star

January 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Spanish scientists have discovered the first binary system ever known to consist of a black hole and a ‘spinning’ star —or more accurately, a Be-type star. Although predicted by theory, none had previously been found. The observations that led to the discovery were performed with the Liverpool and Mercator telescopes at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (Canary Islands, Spain). The discovery is published today in Nature.

Be-type stars are quite common across the Universe. In our Galaxy alone more than 80 of them are known in binary systems together with neutron stars. “Their distinctive property is their strong centrifugal force: they rotate very fast, close to their break-up speed. It is like they were cosmic spinning tops” says Jorge Casares from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and La Laguna University (ULL). Casares is the lead author and an expert in stellar-mass black holes (he presented the first solid proof of their existence back in 1992).

The newly discovered black hole orbits the Be star known as MWC 656, located in the constellation Lacerta (the Lizard) —8,500 light years from Earth. The Be star rotates so fast that its surface speed exceeds 1 million kilometres per hour.

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