14
Jan 11

ATV Johannes Kepler gears up for space journey

Source: ESA


ATV-2 Johannes Kepler
Credits: 2010 ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Photo Optique Vidéo du CSG

ATV-2 is almost ready for launch on 15 February from Europe's Spaceport. It will be the heaviest load ever lofted into space by the Ariane 5 rocket, making the 200th flight of the European launcher even more spectacular.(read more)

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14
Jan 11

WISE Beholds a Pair of Dancing Galaxies

Credit: NASA/WISE


M81 and M82 seen by WISE.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer has captured a new view of two companion galaxies - a somewhat tranquil spiral beauty and its rambunctious partner blazing with smoky star formation.

The unlikely pair, named Messier 81 and Messier 82, got to know each other a lot better during an encounter that occurred a few hundred million years ago. As they swept by each other, gravitational interactions triggered new bursts of star formation. In the case of Messier 82, also known as the Cigar galaxy, the encounter has likely triggered a tremendous wave of new star birth at its core. Intense radiation from newborn massive stars is blowing copious amounts of gas and smoky dust out of the galaxy, as seen in the WISE image in yellow hues.(read more)

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14
Jan 11

WISE Catches the Lagoon Nebula in Center of Action

Credit: NASA/WISE


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

WISE mission has released a new fanatstic image of Lagoon Nebula. Also known as Messier 8, or simply M8, the Lgoon Nebula is seen looking toward the center of the Milky Way. Our solar system is located on one of the spiral arms, about halfway out from the center of the disk-shaped Milky Way galaxy. When we view the Milky Way from Earth, we are looking into the disk of the galaxy where stars are so numerous that they appear to us as a cloudy band of light stretching across the sky. The center of the Milky Way is located in the constellation Sagittarius, which is where the Lagoon nebula can be found. M8 is a favorite target for amateur astronomers because it can be easily seen with binoculars or a small telescope.(read more)

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13
Jan 11

Sundiving Comet Storm

Credit: NASA Science News


SOHO's 2000th comet, spotted by a Polish amateur astronomer on December 26, 2010.
Credit: SOHO/Karl Battams

The sun has just experienced a storm—not of explosive flares and hot plasma, but of icy comets.

Sundiving comets—a.k.a. "sungrazers"—are nothing new. SOHO typically sees one every few days, plunging inward and disintegrating as solar heat sublimes its volatile ices. But now an  amount 25 comets has hit the Sun in only ten days. (read more)

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13
Jan 11

NASA Telescopes Help Find Most Distant Galaxy Cluster

Source: NASA/Spitzer


COSMOS-AzTEC3, is the most distant known massive "proto-cluster"
of galaxies, lying about 12.6 billion light-years away from Earth.
Image credit: Subaru/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers have uncovered a burgeoning galactic metropolis, the most distant known in the early universe. This ancient collection of galaxies presumably grew into a modern galaxy cluster similar to the massive ones seen today.

The developing cluster, named COSMOS-AzTEC3, was discovered and characterized by multi-wavelength telescopes, including NASA's Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble space telescopes, and the ground-based W.M. Keck Observatory and Japan's Subaru Telescope.(read more)

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12
Jan 11

ESO’s Hidden Treasures Brought to Light

Credit: ESO Organisation Release eso1102


Mosaic composed of some of the winning entries for ESO’s
Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition.
Image credit: ESO/ESO's Hidden Treasures 2010 winners

ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition attracted nearly 100 entries, and ESO is delighted to announce the winners. Hidden Treasures gave amateur astronomers the opportunity to search ESO’s vast archives of astronomical data for a well-hidden cosmic gem. Astronomy enthusiast Igor Chekalin from Russia won the first prize in this difficult but rewarding challenge — the trip of a lifetime to ESO’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile. (read more)

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12
Jan 11

Fermi discovers thunderstorms make Antimatter

Source: NASA Science News


An artist's concept of antimatter spraying above a thunderhead.
Image credit:NASA

At any given moment, about 1800 thunderstorms are in progress somewhere around the globe. New observations by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope show that many of these thunderstorms may be making antimatter.(read more)

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12
Jan 11

A Hole in the Sun's Corona

Credits: NASA

NASA has released a video of the Solar Dynamics Observatory showing a solar corona hole observed on January 10th, 2011. Coronal holes are areas of the sun's surface that are the source of open magnetic field lines that head way out into space. They are also the source regions of the fast solar wind, which "blows" at a relatively steady clip of about 3 million km/h.(view at NASA)

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11
Jan 11

Planck's new view of the cosmic theatre

Source: ESA Press Release N°03-2011


This image shows the location of the first six fields used to detect and study the Cosmic Infrared Background.
Image credits: ESA/Planck Collaboration

The first scientific results from ESA's Planck mission were released at a press briefing today in Paris. The findings focus on the coldest objects in the Universe, from within our Galaxy to the distant reaches of space.

If William Shakespeare were an astronomer living today, he might write that"All the Universe is a stage, and all the galaxies merely players."Planck is bringing us new views of both the stage and players, revealing the drama of the evolution of our Universe.

Following the publication by ESA of the first full-sky Planck image in July last year, today sees the release of the first scientific results from the mission.(read more)

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11
Jan 11

Say Hello to Astronomy evening from Bray Ireland and a Partial Solar Eclipse from Greystones Beach by Deirdre Kelleghan

Tony Jackson and Sean Stanley from St Cronans School show their sketches of Orion and its wonderful nebula M42

January 3rd I held an almost impromptu star party for the new astronomy group attached to St Conan’s National School in Bray Co Wicklow. The group is so new it has not got a name yet so for the moment we will call it St Conan’s Young Astronomers. About 50 children and adults arrived at the green Sans Souci Wood, a very cold evening for stargazing.

On offer the sky had a very close conjunction of Jupiter and Uranus plus the Galilean moons in the same view.   Jupiter and Uranus will not be this close again till 2024 .The magnificent winter constellation Orion the hunter rising over Sans Souci House was impressive even in the slight haze.  The star forming cloud M42 in the sword of the Orion was a prime target.   Several other messier objects and constellations got a run out.

Parents and children lined up to see the largest planet in our solar system shine and show off in the sky over Bray.  As part of the experience I encouraged some of the children to draw Orion and its nebula after they had seen it in the large binoculars. Four of the boys did a great job on the sketches Sean Stanley, Kevin Morley, Sam Ferrie and Tony Jackson. We were joined by several enthusiastic neighbours and friends all braved the cold to learn a little appreciation for the night sky.

Partial Solar Eclipse South Beach Greystones Co Wicklow

January 4th a fantastic sunrise greeted the families and individuals who turned up at the beach at 08:30 hours. The solar disc was already partially eclipsed as it rose over the sea in-between thin gray cloud slivers.  Some of the St Cronan’s boys arrived with their parents to see this phenomenon.

Random dog walkers were delighted to be taken by surprise and handed special eclipse glasses
to view the event.  Smiles all around beamed from the golden sun splashed faces. The attendees sported trendy eclipse glasses provided to me by NASA Goddard. There were hollers and woops!!! of delight from both kids and adults (including me) as the moon appeared to slide over the left hand side of the rising sun.

The colours created by the sun seemed to warm the winter and bring joy with every passing minute to our motley gathering by the sea.

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11
Jan 11

NASA's Fermi Catches Thunderstorms Hurling Antimatter into Space

Source: NASA Fermi


When FERMI detected a bem of a terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF) some
particles reflected off of a magnetic "mirror" point and returned.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientists using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have detected beams of antimatter produced above thunderstorms on Earth, a phenomenon never seen before.

Scientists think the antimatter particles were formed in a terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF), a brief burst produced inside thunderstorms and shown to be associated with lightning. It is estimated that about 500 TGFs occur daily worldwide, but most go undetected. (read more)

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10
Jan 11

Hubble Zooms in on a Space Oddity

Source:ESA/HUBBLE Photo Release heic1102


Unusual ghostly green blob of gas appears to float near a normal-looking spiral galaxy.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, William Keel (University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa), and the Galaxy Zoo team.

A strange, glowing green cloud of gas that has mystified astronomers since its discovery in 2007 has been studied by Hubble. The cloud of gas is lit up by the bright light of a nearby quasar, and shows signs of ongoing star formation.(read more)

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10
Jan 11

NASA's KEPLER mission discovers its first rocky planet

Source: NASA News Release 11-007
by Trent J. Perrotto and Rachel Hoover

Artist concept of Kepler 10b. Credit: NASA.

NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

"All of Kepler's best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler's deputy science team lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and primary author of a paper on the discovery accepted by the Astrophysical Journal. "The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it's beginning to pay off."

Kepler's ultra-precise photometer measures the tiny decrease in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness. The distance between the planet and the star is calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star.

Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. However, since it orbits once every 0.84 days, Kepler-10b is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.

Kepler-10 was the first star identified that could potentially harbor a small transiting planet, placing it at the top of the list for ground-based  observations with the W.M. Keck Observatory 10-meter telescope in Hawaii.

Scientists waiting for a signal to confirm Kepler-10b as a planet were not disappointed. Keck was able to measure tiny changes in the star's spectrum, called Doppler shifts, caused by the telltale tug exerted by the orbiting planet on the star.

The discovery of Kepler 10-b is a significant milestone in the search for planets similar to our own," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Although this planet is not in the habitable zone, the exciting find showcases the kinds of discoveries made possible by the mission and the promise of many more to come," he said.

Knowledge of the planet is only as good as the knowledge of the star it orbits. Because Kepler-10 is one of the brighter stars being targeted by Kepler, scientists were able to detect high frequency variations in the star's brightness generated by stellar oscillations, or starquakes.

This analysis allowed scientists to pin down Kepler-10b's properties.

There is a clear signal in the data arising from light waves that travel within the interior of the star. Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium scientists use the information to better understand the star, just as earthquakes are used to learn about Earth's interior structure. As a result of this analysis, Kepler-10 is one of the most well characterized planet-hosting stars in the universe.

That's good news for the team studying Kepler-10b. Accurate stellar properties yield accurate planet properties. In the case of Kepler-10b, the picture that emerges is of a rocky planet with a mass 4.6 times that of Earth and with an average density of 8.8 grams per cubic centimeter -- similar to that of an iron dumbbell.

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10
Jan 11

ESA releases first Planck data

Source: ESA


Artist's impression on Planck. Image credits: ESA - C. Carreau.

Scientists from ESA and several European astronomy institutes presented today the first data and results from ESA’s Planck mission. The Early Release Compact Source Catalogue contains thousands of sources detected by Planck, from radio to far-infrared wavelengths, ranging from dense, cold clouds embedded in nearby star-forming regions to distant, supermassive clusters of galaxies. (view release)

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8
Jan 11

Crab Nebula Supernova reveals its secrets

Source: SLAC Presse Release


The Crabe Nebula.
Image credits: NASA/ESA

The Crab Nebula, one of our best-known and most stable neighbors in the winter sky, is shocking scientists with its propensity for fireworks—gamma-ray flares set off by the most energetic particles ever traced to a specific astronomical object. The discovery, reported today by scientists working with two orbiting telescopes, is leading researchers to rethink their ideas of how cosmic particles are accelerated.

"We were dumbfounded," said Roger Blandford, who directs the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, jointly located at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. "It's an emblematic object," he said. The Crab Nebula, also known as M1, was the first astronomical object catalogued in 1771 by Charles Messier. "It's a big deal historically," Blandford continued, "and we're making an amazing discovery about it."

Blandford was part of a KIPAC team led by scientists Rolf Buehler and Stefan Funk that used observations from the Large Area Telescope, one of two primary instruments aboard NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, to confirm one flare and discover another. Their report was posted online today in Science Express alongside a report from the Italian orbiting telescope Astro-rivelatore Gamma a Immagini LEggero, or AGILE, which also detected gamma-ray flares in the Crab Nebula.

The Crab Nebula, and the rapidly spinning neutron star that powers it, are the remnants of a supernova explosion documented by Chinese and Middle Eastern astronomers in 1054. After shedding much of its outer gases and dust, the dying star collapsed into a pulsar, a super-dense, rapidly spinning ball of neutrons. The Crab Nebula's pulsar emits a pulse of radiation every 33 milliseconds, like clockwork.

Though it's only 10 miles across, the amount of energy the pulsar releases is enormous, lighting up the Crab Nebula until it shines 75,000 times more brightly than the sun. Most of this energy is contained in a particle wind of energetic electrons and positrons traveling close to the speed of light. These electrons and positrons interact with magnetic fields and low-energy photons to produce the famous glowing tendrils of dust and gas Messier mistook for a comet over 200 years ago.

The particles are even forceful enough to produce the gamma rays the LAT normally observes during its regular surveys of the sky. But those particles did not cause the dramatic flares.

Each of the two flares the LAT observed lasted a few days before the Crab Nebula's gamma-ray output returned to more normal levels. According to Funk, the short duration of the flares points to synchrotron radiation, or radiation emitted by electrons accelerating in the magnetic field of the nebula, as the cause. And not just any accelerated electrons: the flares were caused by super-charged electrons of up to 1015 electron volts, or 10 quadrillion electron volts, approximately 1,000 times more energetic than the protons accelerated by the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, the world's most powerful man-made particle accelerator, and more than 15 orders of magnitude greater than photons of visible light.

"The strength of the gamma-ray flares shows us they were emitted by the highest-energy particles we can associate with any discrete astrophysical object," Funk said.

Not only are the electrons surprisingly energetic, added Buehler, but, "the fact that the intensity is varying so rapidly means the acceleration has to happen extremely fast." This challenges current theories about the way cosmic particles are accelerated. These theories cannot easily account for the extreme energies of the electrons or the speed with which they're accelerated.

The discovery of the Crab Nebula's gamma-ray flares raises one obvious question: how can the nebula do that? Obvious question, but no obvious answers. The KIPAC scientists all agree they need a closer look at higher resolutions and in a variety of wavelengths before they can make any definitive statements. The next time the Crab Nebula flares, the Fermi LAT team will not be the only team gathering data. They'll need all the help they can get to decipher the mysteries of the Crab Nebula

"We thought we knew the essential ingredients of the Crab Nebula," Funk said, "but that's no longer true. It's still surprising us."

The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope was constructed through an astrophysics and particle physics partnership developed by NASA in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the United States. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory managed construction of the LAT and now plays the central role in science operations, data processing and making scientific data available to collaborators for analysis.

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7
Jan 11

NASA research team reveals the Moon has Earth-like core

Source: NASA Press Releases


The Moon might have an Earth-like core.
Image credit: NASA/JPL

State-of-the-art seismological techniques applied to Apollo-era data suggest our moon has a core similar to Earth's.

Uncovering details about the lunar core is critical for developing accurate models of the moon's formation. The data sheds light on the evolution of a lunar dynamo -- a natural process by which our moon may have generated and maintained its own strong magnetic field.

An artist's rendering of the lunar core as identified in new findings by a NASA-led research team.
Image credits: NASA/MSFC/Renee Weber

The team's findings suggest the moon possesses a solid, iron-rich inner core with a radius of nearly 150 miles and a fluid, primarily liquid-iron outer core with a radius of roughly 205 miles. Where it differs from Earth is a partially molten boundary layer around the core estimated to have a radius of nearly 300 miles. The research indicates the core contains a small percentage of light elements such as sulfur, echoing new seismology research on Earth that suggests the presence of light elements -- such as sulfur and oxygen -- in a layer around our own core.

The researchers used extensive data gathered during the Apollo-era moon missions. The Apollo Passive Seismic Experiment consisted of four seismometers deployed between 1969 and 1972, which recorded continuous lunar seismic activity until late-1977.

"We applied tried and true methodologies from terrestrial seismology to this legacy data set to present the first-ever direct detection of the moon's core," said Renee Weber, lead researcher and space scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

In addition to Weber, the team consisted of scientists from Marshall; Arizona State University; the University of California at Santa Cruz; and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France. Their findings are published in the online edition of the journal Science.

The team also analyzed Apollo lunar seismograms using array processing, techniques that identify and distinguish signal sources of moonquakes and other seismic activity. The researchers identified how and where seismic waves passed through or were reflected by elements of the moon's interior, signifying the composition and state of layer interfaces at varying depths.

Although sophisticated satellite imaging missions to the moon made significant contributions to the study of its history and topography, the deep interior of Earth's sole natural satellite remained a subject of speculation and conjecture since the Apollo era. Researchers previously had inferred the existence of a core, based on indirect estimates of the moon's interior properties, but many disagreed about its radius, state and composition.

A primary limitation to past lunar seismic studies was the wash of "noise" caused by overlapping signals bouncing repeatedly off structures in the moon's fractionated crust. To mitigate this challenge, Weber and the team employed an approach called seismogram stacking, or the digital partitioning of signals. Stacking improved the signal-to-noise ratio and enabled the researchers to more clearly track the path and behavior of each unique signal as it passed through the lunar interior.

"We hope to continue working with the Apollo seismic data to further refine our estimates of core properties and characterize lunar signals as clearly as possible to aid in the interpretation of data returned from future missions," Weber said.

Future NASA missions will help gather more detailed data. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, is a NASA  Discovery-class mission set to launch this year. The mission consists of twin spacecraft that will enter tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure the gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon and provide scientists a better understanding of the satellite from crust to core, revealing subsurface structures and, indirectly, its thermal history.

NASA and other space agencies have been studying concepts to establish an International Lunar Network -- a robotic set of geophysical monitoring stations on the moon -- as part of efforts to coordinate international missions during the coming decade.

Release by Dwain Brown and Janet Anderson

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6
Jan 11

Sun, Moon and Earth line up for Proba-2

Source:  ESA

ESA’s Proba-2 microsatellite experienced a conjunction of the spheres on Tuesday, as the Sun, Moon and Earth all lined up in front of it.


Artist's impression of Proba witnessing the the Solar eclipse created by Earth and Moon.
Image credits: ESA/ S. Corvaja

As people on the ground observed the 4 January partial solar eclipse, Proba-2 provided a privileged top-of-atmosphere view – at least briefly. Shortly after the Moon partially blocked Proba-2’s view of the Sun, the Sun-watching satellite flew into Earth’s shadow. At that point the Sun, Moon, Earth and Proba-2 were all on the same line in space.  (read more)

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6
Jan 11

New light shed on cosmic dark ages

Source: Cambridge University

Timeline representation of the universe from Big Bang until today.
Image credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team.

Remnants of the first stars have helped astronomers get closer to unlocking the “dark ages” of the cosmos.

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and California Institute of Technology are using light emitted from massive black holes called quasars to "light up" gases released by the early stars, which exploded billions of years ago. As a result, they have found what they refer to as the missing link in the evolution of the chemical universe.(read more)

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5
Jan 11

January 4th Partial Solar Eclipse

Europe woke up on January 4th waiting for the announced total eclipse. Though some good images could be acquired by making pictures of the eclipse, in most of the places the Sun couldn't be seen due to clouds in the sky.

Here we present some images about the solar eclipse in different places around Europe.


The eclipse in Bucareste.
Image credit: Eugen Simion.

The eclipse in Slovakia.
Image credit: Eston.


the eclipse seen from Turku, Finland.
Image credit: Sakari Ekko.

The eclipse between clouds seen from the South of Portugal.
Image credit: Alexandre Costa and students.

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5
Jan 11

VISTA Stares Deeply into the Blue Lagoon

Source: ESO Photo Release


Messier 8, usually called the Lagoon Nebula, captured by the VISTA telescope.
Image credits: ESO/VVV. ESO's Acknowledgement: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

This new infrared image of the Lagoon Nebula was captured as part of a five-year study of the Milky Way using ESO’s VISTA telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. This is a small piece of a much larger image of the region surrounding the nebula, which is, in turn, only one part of a huge survey.(read more)

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