Archive

Archive for July, 2014

Voyager Spacecraft Might Not Have Reached Interstellar Space


In 2012, the Voyager mission team announced that the Voyager 1 spacecraft had passed into interstellar space, traveling further from Earth than any other manmade object.

But, in the nearly two years since that historic announcement, and despite subsequent observations backing it up, uncertainty about whether Voyager 1 really crossed the threshold continues. There are some scientists who say that the spacecraft is still within the heliosphere – the region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles – and has not yet reached the space between the stars.

Now, two Voyager team scientists have developed a test that they say could prove once and for all if Voyager 1 has crossed the boundary. The new test is outlined in a study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

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Australian Researchers Pioneer A ‘Google Street View’ Of Galaxies


A new home-grown instrument based on bundles of optical fibres is giving Australian astronomers the first ‘Google street view’ of the cosmos — incredibly detailed views of huge numbers of galaxies.

Developed by researchers at the University of Sydney and the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the optical-fibre bundles can sample the light from up to 60 parts of a galaxy, for a dozen galaxies at a time.

By analysing the light’s spectrum astronomers can learn how gas and stars move within each galaxy, where the young stars are forming and where the old stars live. This will allow them to better understand how galaxies change over time and what drives that change.

“It’s a giant step,” said Dr James Allen of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics(CAASTRO) at the University of Sydney.

“Before, we could study one galaxy at a time in detail, or lots of galaxies at once but in much less detail. Now we have both the numbers and the detail.”

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Hubble Traces The Halo Of A Galaxy More Accurately Than Ever Before


Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Digitized Sky Survey, MPG/ESO

Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Digitized Sky Survey, MPG/ESO

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have probed the extreme outskirts of the stunning elliptical galaxy Centaurus A. The galaxy’s halo of stars has been found to extend much further from the galaxy’s centre than expected and the stars within this halo seem to be surprisingly rich in heavy elements. This is the most remote portion of an elliptical galaxy ever to have been explored.

There is more to a galaxy than first meets the eye. Extending far beyond the bright glow of a galaxy’s centre, the swirling spiral arms, or the elliptical fuzz, is an extra component: a dim halo of stars sprawling into space.

These expansive haloes are important components of a galaxy. The halo of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, preserves signatures of both its formation and evolution. Yet, we know very little about the haloes of galaxies beyond our own as their faint and spread-out nature makes exploring them more difficult. Astronomers have so far managed to detect very few starry haloes around other galaxies.

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Lives And Deaths Of Sibling Stars


Credit: ESO/G. Beccari

Credit: ESO/G. Beccari

In this striking new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile young stars huddle together against a backdrop of clouds of glowing gas and lanes of dust. The star cluster, known as NGC 3293, would have been just a cloud of gas and dust itself about ten million years ago, but as stars began to form it became the bright group of stars we see here. Clusters like this are celestial laboratories that allow astronomers to learn more about how stars evolve.

This beautiful star cluster, NGC 3293, is found 8000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Carina (The Keel). This cluster was first spotted by the French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in 1751, during his stay in what is now South Africa, using a tiny telescope with an aperture of just 12 millimetres. It is one of the brightest clusters in the southern sky and can be easily seen with the naked eye on a dark clear night.

Star clusters like NGC 3293 contain stars that all formed at the same time, at the same distance from Earth and out of the same cloud of gas and dust, giving them the same chemical composition. As a result clusters like this are ideal objects for testing stellar evolution theory.

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2015 Astronomical Guide Now Available As Free Download


2015 An Astronomical Year - CoverTo commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, 2015 An Astronomical Year is now available as a free download between July 20th and July 24th.

This comprehensive, quick reference guide provides nearly 300 pages of night sky events for 2015, including many that are easily visible with just the naked eye.

To download your copy, go to:

(US) http://www.amazon.com/2015-Astronomical-Year-Reference-Astronomy-ebook/dp/B00LVEUJI2

(UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LVEUJI2

 

Fingerprinting The Formation Of Giant Planets


One of the main models to form giant planets is called “core accretion”. In this scenario, a rocky core forms first by aggregation of solid particles until it reaches a few Earth masses when it becomes massive enough to accrete a gaseous envelope. For the first time, astronomers have detected evidence of this rocky core, the first step in the formation of a giant planet like our own Jupiter.

The astronomers used the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) to analyze the starlight of the binary stars 16 Cygni A and 16 Cygni B. The system is a perfect laboratory to study the formation of giant planets because the stars were born together and are therefore very similar, and both resemble the Sun. However, observations during the last decades show that only one of the two stars, 16 Cygni B, hosts a giant planet which is about 2.4 times as massive as Jupiter. By decomposing the light from the two stars into their basic components and looking at the difference between the two stars, the astronomers were able to detect signatures left from the planet formation process on 16 Cygni B.

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Comet ISON’S Dramatic Final Hours


A new analysis of data from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft has revealed that comet 2012/S1 (ISON) stopped producing dust and gas shortly before it raced past the Sun and disintegrated.

When comet ISON was discovered in the autumn of 2012, astronomers hoped that it would eventually light up the night sky to become a “comet of the century”. Orbital analysis showed that the sungrazing intruder from the outer reaches of the Solar System would pass only 1.2 million kilometres above the Sun’s visible surface on 28 November 2013.

Based on its early brightness, the comet promised to be a unique research object and, should it survive its flyby of the Sun, a stunning celestial phenomenon in the weeks preceding Christmas. However, it soon became clear that these hopes and expectations would not be met.

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Silhouettes Of Early Galaxies Reveal Few Seeds For New Stars


An international team of astronomers has discovered that gas around young galaxies is almost barren, devoid of the seeds from which new stars are thought to form—molecules of hydrogen.

Without starlight to see them directly, the team, which includes Dr. Regina Jorgenson of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa—observed the young galaxies’ outskirts in silhouette.

They searched for telltale signs of hydrogen molecules absorbing the light from background objects called quasars—supermassive black holes sucking in surrounding material—that glow very brightly.

“Previous experiments led us to expect molecules in about 10 of the 90 young galaxies we observed, but we found just one case,” said Associate Professor Michael Murphy from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. He co-led the study with Jorgenson.

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Small, But Plentiful: How The Faintest Galaxies Illuminated The Early Universe


Astronomers investigating behaviour of the universe shortly after the Big Bang have made a surprising discovery: the properties of the early universe are determined by the smallest galaxies. The team report their findings in a paper published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Shortly after the Big Bang, the universe was ionised: ordinary matter consisted of hydrogen with its positively charged protons stripped of their negatively charged electrons. Eventually, the universe cooled enough for electrons and protons to combine and form neutral hydrogen. This cool gas will eventually form the first stars in the universe but for millions of years, there are no stars. Astronomers therefore aren’t able to see how the cosmos evolved during these ‘dark ages’ using conventional telescopes. The light returned when newly forming stars and galaxies re-ionised the universe during the ‘epoch of re-ionisation’.

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Martian Salts Must Touch Ice To Make Liquid Water, Study Shows


In chambers that mimic Mars’ conditions, University of Michigan researchers have shown how small amounts of liquid water could form on the planet despite its below-freezing temperatures.

Liquid water is an essential ingredient for life as we know it. Mars is one of the very few places in the solar system where scientists have seen promising signs of it – in gullies down crater rims, in instrument readings, and in Phoenix spacecraft self portraits that appeared to show wet beads on the lander’s leg several years ago.

No one has directly detected liquid water beyond Earth, though. The U-M experiments are among the first to test theories about how it could exist in a climate as cold as Mars’ climate.

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