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Rings And Loops In The Stars: Planck’s Stunning New Images


Credit: M. Peel / JCBA / Planck / ESA

Credit: M. Peel / JCBA / Planck / ESA

A ring of dust 200 light years across and a loop covering a third of the sky: two of the results in a new map from the Planck satellite. Dr Mike Peel and Dr Paddy Leahy of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics (JCBA) presented the images today at the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2015) at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, Wales.

The European Space Agency (ESA) Planck satellite, launched in 2009 to study the ancient light of the Big Bang, has also given us maps of our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, in microwaves (radiation at cm- to mm-wavelengths). Microwaves are generated by electrons spiralling in the Galaxy’s magnetic field at nearly the speed of light (the synchrotron process); by collisions in interstellar plasma, by thermal vibration of interstellar dust grains, and by “anomalous” microwave emission (AME), which may be from spinning dust grains.

The relative strength of these processes changes with wavelength, and are separated using multi-wavelength measurements from Planck, from NASA’s WMAP satellite, and from ground-based radio telescopes, giving maps of each component.

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Hubble Video Shows Shock Collision Inside Black Hole Jet


Credit: NASA, ESA, and E. Meyer (STScI)

Credit: NASA, ESA, and E. Meyer (STScI)

When you’re blasting though space at more than 98 percent of the speed of light, you may need driver’s insurance. Astronomers have discovered for the first time a rear-end collision between two high-speed knots of ejected matter from a super-massive black hole. This discovery was made while piecing together a time-lapse movie of a plasma jet blasted from a supermassive black hole inside a galaxy located 260 million light-years from Earth.

he finding offers new insights into the behavior of “light-saber-like” jets that are so energized that they appear to zoom out of black holes at speeds several times the speed of light. This “superluminal” motion is an optical illusion due to the very fast real speed of the plasma, which is close to the universal maximum of the speed of light.

Such extragalactic jets are not well understood. They appear to transport energetic plasma in a confined beam from the central black hole of the host galaxy. The new analysis suggests that shocks produced by collisions within the jet further accelerate particles and brighten the regions of colliding material.

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Dawn Spirals Closer To Ceres, Returns A New View


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

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

A new view of Ceres, taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on May 23, shows finer detail is becoming visible on the dwarf planet. The spacecraft snapped the image at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers) with a resolution of 1,600 feet (480 meters) per pixel. The image is part of a sequence taken for navigational purposes.

After transmitting these images to Earth on May 23, Dawn resumed ion-thrusting toward its second mapping orbit. On June 3, Dawn will enter this orbit and spend the rest of the month observing Ceres from 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above the surface. Each orbit during this time will be about three days, allowing the spacecraft to conduct an intensive study of Ceres.

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Cassini Sends Final Close Views Of Odd Moon Hyperion


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has returned images from its final close approach to Saturn’s oddball moon Hyperion, upholding the moon’s reputation as one of the most bizarre objects in the solar system. The views show Hyperion’s deeply impact-scarred surface, with many craters displaying dark material on their floors.

During this flyby, Cassini passed Hyperion at a distance of about 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) at closest approach. Cassini’s closest-ever Hyperion flyby took place on Sept. 26, 2005, at a distance of 314 miles (505 kilometers).

Hyperion is the largest of Saturn’s irregular, or potato-shaped, moons and may be the remnant of a violent collision that shattered a larger object into pieces. Cassini scientists attribute Hyperion’s peculiar, sponge-like appearance to the fact that it has an unusually low density for such a large object — about half that of water. Its low density indicates Hyperion is quite porous, with weak surface gravity. These characteristics mean impactors tend to compress the surface, rather than excavating it, and most material that is blown off the surface never returns.

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NASA Instrument On Rosetta Makes Comet Atmosphere Discovery


Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Data collected by NASA’s Alice instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft reveal that electrons close to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — not photons from the sun, as had been believed — cause the rapid breakup of water and carbon dioxide molecules spewing from the comet’s surface.

“The discovery we’re reporting is quite unexpected,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for the Alice instrument at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “It shows us the value of going to comets to observe them up close, since this discovery simply could not have been made from Earth or Earth orbit with any existing or planned observatory. And, it is fundamentally transforming our knowledge of comets.

A report of the findings has been accepted for publication by the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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NASA’s Europa Mission Begins With Selection Of Science Instruments


Bizarre features on Europa’s icy surface. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bizarre features on Europa’s icy surface. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has selected nine science instruments for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

NASA’s Galileo mission yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness. If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.

“Europa has tantalized us with its enigmatic icy surface and evidence of a vast ocean, following the amazing data from 11 flybys of the Galileo spacecraft over a decade ago and recent Hubble observations suggesting plumes of water shooting out from the moon,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We’re excited about the potential of this new mission and these instruments to unravel the mysteries of Europa in our quest to find evidence of life beyond Earth.”

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Hubble Observes One-of-a-Kind Star Nicknamed ‘Nasty’


Artist's Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Artist’s Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered surprising new clues about a hefty, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before in our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, the star is so weird that astronomers have nicknamed it “Nasty 1,” a play on its catalog name of NaSt1. The star may represent a brief transitory stage in the evolution of extremely massive stars.

First discovered several decades ago, Nasty 1 was identified as a Wolf-Rayet star, a rapidly evolving star that is much more massive than our sun. The star loses its hydrogen-filled outer layers quickly, exposing its super-hot and extremely bright helium-burning core.

But Nasty 1 doesn’t look like a typical Wolf-Rayet star. The astronomers using Hubble had expected to see twin lobes of gas flowing from opposite sides of the star, perhaps similar to those emanating from the massive star Eta Carinae, which is a Wolf-Rayet candidate. Instead, Hubble revealed a pancake-shaped disk of gas encircling the star. The vast disk is nearly 2 trillion miles wide, and may have formed from an unseen companion star that snacked on the outer envelope of the newly formed Wolf-Rayet. Based on current estimates, the nebula surrounding the stars is just a few thousand years old, and as close as 3,000 light-years from Earth.

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NASA’s WISE Spacecraft Discovers Most Luminous Galaxy In Universe

May 21, 2015 1 comment

Artist's concept. Image credit: N/A

Artist’s concept. Image credit: N/A

A remote galaxy shining with the light of more than 300 trillion suns has been discovered using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The galaxy is the most luminous galaxy found to date and belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE — extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs.

“We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution,” said Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of a new report appearing in the May 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. “This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt of the galaxy’s black hole.

The brilliant galaxy, known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, may have a behemoth black hole at its belly, gorging itself on gas. Supermassive black holes draw gas and matter into a disk around them, heating the disk to roaring temperatures of millions of degrees and blasting out high-energy, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light. The light is blocked by surrounding cocoons of dust. As the dust heats up, it radiates infrared light.

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SGR 1745-2900: Magnetar Near Supermassive Black Hole Delivers Surprises


Credit: NASA/CXC/INAF/F.Coti Zelati et al

Credit: NASA/CXC/INAF/F.Coti Zelati et al

In 2013, astronomers announced they had discovered a magnetar exceptionally close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way using a suite of space-borne telescopes including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Magnetars are dense, collapsed stars (called “neutron stars”) that possess enormously powerful magnetic fields. At a distance that could be as small as 0.3 light years (or about 2 trillion miles) from the 4-million-solar mass black hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy, the magnetar is by far the closest neutron star to a supermassive black hole ever discovered and is likely in its gravitational grip.

A new study uses long-term monitoring observations to reveal that the amount of X-rays from SGR 1745-2900 is dropping more slowly than other previously observed magnetars, and its surface is hotter than expected.

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Hubble Catches Stellar Exodus In Action


Credits: NASA, ESA, and H. Richer and J. Heyl (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Credits: NASA, ESA, and H. Richer and J. Heyl (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have captured for the first time snapshots of fledging white dwarf stars beginning their slow-paced, 40-million-year migration from the crowded center of an ancient star cluster to the less populated suburbs.

White dwarfs are the burned-out relics of stars that rapidly lose mass, cool down and shut off their nuclear furnaces. As these glowing carcasses age and shed weight, their orbits begin to expand outward from the star cluster’s packed downtown. This migration is caused by a gravitational tussle among stars inside the cluster. Globular star clusters sort out stars according to their mass, governed by a gravitational billiard ball game where lower mass stars rob momentum from more massive stars. The result is that heavier stars slow down and sink to the cluster’s core, while lighter stars pick up speed and move across the cluster to the edge. This process is known as “mass segregation.” Until these Hubble observations, astronomers had never definitively seen the dynamical conveyor belt in action.

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