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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Hubble Finds Two Chaotically Tumbling Pluto Moons

June 3, 2015 1 comment

Artist's illustrations. Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter (SETI Institute), and G. Bacon (STScI)

Artist’s illustrations. Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Showalter (SETI Institute), and G. Bacon (STScI)

If you lived on one of Pluto’s moons Nix or Hydra, you’d have a hard time setting your alarm clock. That’s because you could not know for sure when, or even in which direction, the sun would rise.

A comprehensive analysis of all available Hubble Space Telescope data shows that two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra, are wobbling unpredictably. Scientists believe the other two small moons, Kerberos and Styx, are likely in a similar situation, pending further study.

“Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. “When the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July we’ll get a chance to see what these moons look like up close and personal.”

Why the chaos? Because the moons are embedded inside a dynamically shifting gravitational field caused by the system’s two central bodies, Pluto and Charon, whirling about each other. The variable gravitational field induces torques that send the smaller moons tumbling in unpredictable ways. This torque is strengthened by the fact the moons are football shaped rather than spherical.

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Sharp-Eyed Alma Spots A Flare On Famous Red Giant Star

Artist’s impression of a giant flare on the surface of red giant Mira A. Credit: Katja Lindblom, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Artist’s impression of a giant flare on the surface of red giant Mira A. Credit: Katja Lindblom, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Super-sharp observations with the telescope Alma have revealed what seems to be a gigantic flare on the surface of Mira, one of the closest and most famous red giant stars in the sky. Activity like this in red giants – similar to what we see in the Sun – comes as a surprise to astronomers. The discovery could help explain how winds from giant stars make their contribution to our galaxy’s ecosystem.

New observations with Alma have given astronomers their sharpest ever view of the famous double star Mira. The images clearly show the two stars in the system, Mira A and Mira B, but that’s not all. For the first time ever at millimetre wavelengths, they reveal details on the surface of Mira A.

“Alma’s vision is so sharp that we can begin to see details on the surface of the star. Part of the stellar surface is not just extremely bright, it also varies in brightness. This must be a giant flare, and we think it’s related to a flare which X-ray telescopes observed some years ago”, says Wouter Vlemmings, astronomer at Chalmers, who led the team.

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Circular Orbits Identified For Small Exoplanets

June 2, 2015 1 comment

Artist's conception.  Image courtesy of NASA

Artist’s conception. Image courtesy of NASA

Viewed from above, our solar system’s planetary orbits around the sun resemble rings around a bulls-eye. Each planet, including Earth, keeps to a roughly circular path, always maintaining the same distance from the sun.

For decades, astronomers have wondered whether the solar system’s circular orbits might be a rarity in our universe. Now a new analysis suggests that such orbital regularity is instead the norm, at least for systems with planets as small as Earth.

In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers from MIT and Aarhus University in Denmark report that 74 exoplanets, located hundreds of light-years away, orbit their respective stars in circular patterns, much like the planets of our solar system.

These 74 exoplanets, which orbit 28 stars, are about the size of Earth, and their circular trajectories stand in stark contrast to those of more massive exoplanets, some of which come extremely close to their stars before hurtling far out in highly eccentric, elongated orbits.

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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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