Archive

Archive for April, 2015

How A New Telescope Will Measure The Expansion Of The Universe


For the past several years, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) have been planning the construction of and developing technologies for a very special instrument that will create the most extensive three-dimensional map of the universe to date. Called DESI for Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, this project will trace the growth history of the universe rather like the way you might track your child’s height with pencil marks climbing up a doorframe. But DESI will start from the present and work back into the past.

DESI will make a full 3D map pinpointing galaxies’ locations across the universe. The map, unprecedented in its size and scope, will allow scientists to test theories of dark energy, the mysterious force that appears to cause the accelerating expansion and stretching of the universe first discovered in observations of supernovae by groups led by Saul Perlmutter at Berkeley Lab and by Brian Schmidt, now at Australian National University, and Adam Riess, now at Johns Hopkins University.

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NASA’s NuSTAR Captures Possible ‘Screams’ From Zombie Stars


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Peering into the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has spotted a mysterious glow of high-energy X-rays that, according to scientists, could be the “howls” of dead stars as they feed on stellar companions.

“We can see a completely new component of the center of our galaxy with NuSTAR’s images,” said Kerstin Perez of Columbia University in New York, lead author of a new report on the findings in the journal Nature. “We can’t definitively explain the X-ray signal yet — it’s a mystery. More work needs to be done.”

NuSTAR, launched into space in 2012, is the first telescope capable of capturing crisp images of this frenzied region in high-energy X-rays. The new images show a region around the supermassive black hole about 40 light-years across. Astronomers were surprised by the pictures, which reveal an unexpected haze of high-energy X-rays dominating the usual stellar activity.

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The Pillars Of Creation Revealed In 3D


Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have produced the first complete three-dimensional view of the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16. The new observations demonstrate how the different dusty pillars of this iconic object are distributed in space and reveal many new details — including a previously unseen jet from a young star. Intense radiation and stellar winds from the cluster’s brilliant stars have sculpted the dusty Pillars of Creation over time and should fully evaporate them in about three million years.

The original NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation was taken two decades ago and immediately became one of its most famous and evocative pictures. Since then, these billowing clouds, which extend over a few light-years, have awed scientists and the public alike.

The jutting structures, along with the nearby star cluster, NGC 6611, are parts of a star formation region called the Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier 16 or M16. The nebula and its associated objects are located about 7000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent).

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NJIT’s New Solar Telescope Unveils The Complex Dynamics Of Sunspots’ Dark Cores


NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory

NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory

Groundbreaking images of the Sun captured by scientists at NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) give a first-ever detailed view of the interior structure of umbrae – the dark patches in the center of sunspots – revealing dynamic magnetic fields responsible for the plumes of plasma that emerge as bright dots interrupting their darkness. Their research is being presented this week at the first Triennial Earth-Sun Summit meeting between the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division and the American Geophysical Union’s Space Physics and Aeronomy section in Indianapolis, Ind.

The high-resolution images, taken through the observatory’s New Solar Telescope (NST), show the atmosphere above the umbrae to be finely structured, consisting of hot plasma intermixed with cool plasma jets as wide as 100 kilometers.

“We would describe these plasma flows as oscillating cool jets piercing the hot atmosphere. Until now, we didn’t know they existed. While we have known for a long time that sunspots oscillate – moderate resolution telescopes show us dark shadows, or penumbral waves, moving across the umbra toward the edge of a sunspot – we can now begin to understand the underlying dynamics,” said Vasyl Yurchyshyn, a research professor of physics at NJIT and the lead author of two recent journal articles based on the NST observations.

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Astronomers Discover Three Super-Earths Orbiting Nearby Star


Artist’s impression. Art by Karen Teramura & BJ Fulton, UH IfA.

Artist’s impression. Art by Karen Teramura & BJ Fulton, UH IfA.

Astronomers have discovered a planetary system orbiting a star only 54 light-years away with the Automated Planet Finder (APF) at Lick Observatory and ground-based telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona.

The team discovered the planets by detecting a wobble of the star HD 7924, a result of the gravitational pull of the planets orbiting around it. All three planets orbit the star at a distance closer than Mercury orbits the sun, completing their orbits in just 5, 15, and 24 days.

The APF facility at Lick Observatory offers a way for astronomers to speed up the exoplanet search. The fully-robotic telescope searches for planets every clear night of the year, so planets and their orbits can be discovered and traced quickly.

“The APF is great for two reasons. One, it has the superb Levy spectrometer. Two, it is a modern computer controlled telescope so we can automate it. This combination means that we can observe stars night and night out to look for the wobble,” said Bradford Holden, an Associate Research Astronomer for UC Observatories (UCO) who helped to make the telescope robotic.

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Strange Supernova Is “Missing Link” In Gamma-Ray Burst Connection


CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array (VLA) have found a long-sought “missing link” between supernova explosions that generate gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and those that don’t. The scientists found that a stellar explosion seen in 2012 has many characteristics expected of one that generates a powerful burst of gamma rays, yet no such burst occurred.

“This is a striking result that provides a key insight about the mechanism underlying these explosions,” said Sayan Chakraborti, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “This object fills in a gap between GRBs and other supernovae of this type, showing us that a wide range of activity is possible in such blasts,” he added.

The object, called Supernova 2012ap (SN 2012ap) is what astronomers term a core-collapse supernova. This type of blast occurs when the nuclear fusion reactions at the core of a very massive star no longer can provide the energy needed to hold up the core against the weight of the outer parts of the star. The core then collapses catastrophically into a superdense neutron star or a black hole. The rest of the star’s material is blasted into space in a supernova explosion.

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Dawn Glimpses Ceres’ North Pole


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

After spending more than a month in orbit on the dark side of dwarf planet Ceres, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has captured several views of the sunlit north pole of this intriguing world. These images were taken on April 10 from a distance of 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers), and they represent the highest-resolution views of Ceres to date.

Subsequent images of Ceres will show surface features at increasingly better resolution.

Dawn arrived at Ceres on March 6, marking the first time a spacecraft has orbited a dwarf planet. Previously, the spacecraft explored giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 to 2012. Dawn has the distinction of being the only spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial targets.

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