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Archive for the ‘Star & Solar System Formation’ Category

ALMA Discovers Proto Super Star Cluster — A Cosmic ‘Dinosaur Egg’ About To Hatch


Credit: K. Johnson, U.Va.; ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)

Credit: K. Johnson, U.Va.; ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)

Globular clusters – dazzling agglomerations of up to a million ancient stars – are among the oldest objects in the universe. Though plentiful in and around many galaxies, newborn examples are vanishingly rare and the conditions necessary to create new ones have never been detected, until now.

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered what may be the first known example of a globular cluster about to be born: an incredibly massive, extremely dense, yet star-free cloud of molecular gas.

“We may be witnessing one of the most ancient and extreme modes of star formation in the universe,” said Kelsey Johnson, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and lead author on a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “This remarkable object looks like it was plucked straight out of the very early universe. To discover something that has all the characteristics of a globular cluster, yet has not begun making stars, is like finding a dinosaur egg that’s about to hatch.”

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New Exoplanet Too Big For Its Stars


An artist's impression of HATS-6. Credit ANU

An artist’s impression of HATS-6. Credit ANU

The Australian discovery of a strange exoplanet orbiting a small cool star 500 light years away is challenging ideas about how planets form.

“We have found a small star, with a giant planet the size of Jupiter, orbiting very closely,” said researcher George Zhou from the Research School of Astrophysics and Astronomy.

“It must have formed further out and migrated in, but our theories can’t explain how this happened.”

In the past two decades more than 1,800 extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) have been discovered outside our solar system orbiting around other stars.

The host star of the latest exoplanet, HATS-6, is classed as an M-dwarf, which is one of the most numerous types of stars in galaxy. Although they are common, M-dwarf stars are not well understood. Because they are cool they are also dim, making them difficult to study.

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Evidence Of Forming Planet Discovered 335 Light Years From Earth

September 4, 2014 Leave a comment

Artist’s conception. Image Credit: P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF

Artist’s conception. Image Credit: P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF

An international team of scientists led by a Clemson University astrophysicist has discovered new evidence that planets are forming around a star about 335 light years from Earth.

The team found carbon monoxide emission that strongly suggests a planet is orbiting a relatively young star known as HD100546. The candidate planet is the second that astronomers have discovered orbiting the star.

Theories of how planets form are well-developed. But if the new study’s findings are confirmed, the activity around HD100546 would mark one of the first times astronomers have been able to directly observe planet formation happening.

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New Milky Way Maps Help Solve Stubborn Interstellar Material Mystery

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment

An international team of sky scholars, including a key researcher from Johns Hopkins, has produced new maps of the material located between the stars in the Milky Way. The results should move astronomers closer to cracking a stardust puzzle that has vexed them for nearly a century.

The maps and an accompanying journal article appear in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. The researchers say their work demonstrates a new way of uncovering the location and eventually the composition of the interstellar medium—the material found in the vast expanse between star systems within a galaxy.

This material includes dust and gas composed of atoms and molecules that are left behind when a star dies. The material also supplies the building blocks for new stars and planets.

“There’s an old saying that ‘We are all stardust,’ since all chemical elements heavier than helium are produced in stars,” said Rosemary Wyse, a Johns Hopkins professor of physics and astronomy who played a prominent role in the research and helped shape the Science paper. “But we still don’t know why stars form where they do. This study is giving us new clues about the interstellar medium out of which the stars form.”

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55-Year-Old Dark Side Of The Moon Mystery Solved


Image: NASA

Image: NASA

The “man in the moon” appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no “face” exists on farside of the moon and now, Penn State astrophysicists think they know why.

This mystery is called the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem and dates back to 1959, when the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 transmitted the first images of the dark side of the moon back to Earth. It was called the dark side because it was unknown, not because sunlight does not reach it. Researchers immediately noticed that fewer “seas” or maria existed on this portion of the moon that always faces away from Earth.

Wright, Steinn Sigurdsson, professor of astrophysics and Arpita Roy, graduate student in astronomy and astrophysics, and lead author of the study, realized that the absence of maria, which is due to a difference in crustal thickness between the side of the moon we see and the hidden side, is a consequence of how the moon originally formed. The researchers report their results in today’s (June 9) Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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Hidden Nurseries In The Milky Way


APEX, the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment, is a telescope of 12 m diameter at an exceptional site on Earth: the Chajnantor plateau is located 5100 m above sea level in the Atacama desert in Chile. It was used to map the whole inner part of the plane of our Milky Way, ranging from the Southern constellations of Vela and Carina all the way to the Northern constellations of Aquila and the great Cygnus rift. The APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL) mapped the Galactic Plane at a wavelength of 0.87 mm. Cold interstellar dust emits strongly in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum, called the sub-millimeter range, while it is blocking visible and infrared wavelengths. The survey has revealed an unprecedented number of cold dense clumps of gas and dust as the cradles of massive stars, thus providing a complete view of their birthplaces in the Milky Way. Based on this census, an international team of scientists led by Timea Csengeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn has estimated the time scale for these nurseries to grow stars. This has been found to be a very fast process: with only 75,000 years on average it is much shorter than the corresponding time scales typically found for nurseries of lower mass stars.

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Astronomical Forensics Uncover Planetary Disks In NASA’s Hubble Archive


Image Credit: NASA/ESA, R. Soummer, Ann Feild (STScI)

Image Credit: NASA/ESA, R. Soummer, Ann Feild (STScI)

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have applied a new image processing technique to obtain near-infrared scattered light photos of five disks observed around young stars in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes database. These disks are telltale evidence for newly formed planets.

If astronomers initially miss something in their review of data, they can make new discoveries by revisiting earlier data with new image processing techniques, thanks to the wealth of information stored in the Hubble data archive. This is what Rémi Soummer, of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., and his team recently did while on a hunt for hidden Hubble treasures.

The stars in question initially were targeted with Hubble’s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) based on unusual heat signatures obtained from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Infrared Astronomical Satellite that flew in 1983. The previous data provided interesting clues that dusty disks could exist around these stars. Small dust particles in the disks might scatter light and therefore make the disks visible. But when Hubble first viewed the stars between 1999 and 2006, no disks were detected in the NICMOS pictures.

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