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Archive for March 13, 2014

The Dusty Heart Of An Active Galaxy


Credit: NASA HST, News Release STScI-2000-37

Credit: NASA HST, News Release STScI-2000-37

An international research team led by Konrad Tristram from the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, obtained the most detailed view so far of the warm dust in the environment of a supermassive black hole in an active galaxy. The observations of the Circinus galaxy show, for the first time, that the dust directly illuminated by the central engine of the active galaxy is located in two distinct components: an inner warped disk and a surrounding larger distribution of dust. Most likely, the larger component is responsible for most of the obscuration of the inner regions close to the supermassive black hole. Such a configuration is significantly more complex than the simple dusty doughnut, which has been favoured for the last few decades.

In active galactic nuclei, enormous amounts of energy are released due to the feeding of the supermassive black hole in the centre of the galaxy. Such black holes have masses of a million or billion times the mass of the sun. The matter spiralling in onto the black hole becomes so hot and luminous that it outshines its entire galaxy with billions of stars. The huge amounts of energy released also affect the surrounding galaxy. Active galactic nuclei are therefore thought to play an important role in the formation and evolution of galaxies and hence in the formation of the universe as presently seen.

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Asteroid To Black Out A Bright Star


Credit: IOTA / Stellarium / Sky & Telescope

Credit: IOTA / Stellarium / Sky & Telescope

Millions of people around New York City and points north can plan to watch a faint asteroid dramatically black out a bright naked-eye star very late next Wednesday night (the night of March 19–20).

And if you’re anywhere from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia to Winnipeg, a citizen-science project is asking you to keep watch too!

Get ready for the best and brightest “asteroid occultation” ever predicted for North America. Late on the night of March 19–20, the faint asteroid Erigone (eh-RIG-uh-nee) will briefly eclipse the bright naked-eye star Regulus for more than 20 million people in the New York metropolitan area and parts of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, upstate New York, and Ontario. The star will vanish from sight for up to 14 seconds around 2:06 a.m. EDT on the morning of the 20th for New Yorkers, and a minute or two later farther north.

If the sky is clear, Regulus will be a cinch for anyone to spot — no astronomy experience required! Around 2 a.m. or a bit before, go out and face the Moon. Extend your arms straight out to your sides. Regulus will be straight above your right hand, roughly as high as the Moon is. It’s the brightest star in that area.

“Regulus shines right through moonlight and light pollution that’s in the sky — even the light pollution over a city like New York,” says Alan MacRobert, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine. “Just be sure to shield your eyes against any glary lights, and Regulus should be easy to find.”

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Press Release: Cosmoquest’s “Moonmappers” Shows Everyday People Can MAP The Moon


CQmoonX_smA team of scientists working with the CosmoQuest virtual research facility (CosmoQuest.org) has demonstrated that it is possible for everyday people to map the Moon with the same quality as a group of experienced professionals. These crowd-sourced results are being published in the journal Icarus and highlight the ability of citizen scientists to advance planetary research. CosmoQuest is a second-generation citizen science site run out of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) by Dr Pamela L. Gay.

While “crowdsourcing science” may sound like they are handing out lab sets and white coats, CosmoQuest has actually done something much more impactful.

They handed over the moon.

CosmoQuest’s MoonMappers research portal invites the public to learn about the lunar surface and aid professional researchers in mapping craters and other features on the Moon. MoonMappers is led by researchers Stuart Robbins (University of Colorado – Boulder) and Irene Antonenko (the Planetary Institute of Toronto). CosmoQuest community members are the first citizen scientists to demonstrate volunteers’ ability to accurately identify planetary surface features.

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