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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Observable Universe Contains Ten Times More Galaxies Than Previously Thought
Posted by Guy Pirro on 10/27/2016 6:35 AM
The universe suddenly looks a lot more crowded, thanks to a deep-sky census assembled from surveys taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories. One of the most fundamental questions in astronomy is: "How many galaxies does the universe contain." The landmark Hubble Deep Field, taken in the mid-1990s, gave the first real insight into the universe's galaxy population. Subsequent sensitive observations such as Hubble's Ultra Deep Field revealed a myriad of even more faint galaxies. This led to an estimate that the observable universe contained about 200 billion galaxies. The new research shows that this estimate is too low and comes to the staggering conclusion that at least 10 times more galaxies exist in the observable universe than astronomers thought.
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Friday, October 14, 2016

Is It Time to Discard the Whole Dark Matter Contrivance?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 10/14/2016 9:12 AM
In the late 1970s, astronomers Vera Rubin and Albert Bosma independently found that spiral galaxies rotate at a nearly constant speed. The velocity of the stars and gas inside a galaxy does not decrease with the radius, as one would expect from Newton's laws and the distribution of visible matter. Rather, it remains approximately constant. For lack of a better explanation, such "flat rotation curves" have generally been attributed to a mysterious, invisible, and still undetected dark matter surrounding these galaxies, which provides the additional gravitational attraction required to balance everything out. Now a team led by Case Western Reserve University researchers has found a significant new relationship in spiral and irregular galaxies -- The acceleration observed in rotation curves tightly correlates with the gravitational acceleration expected from the visible mass only. This new work challenges the current understanding (and possibly even the existence) of dark matter.
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Monday, October 03, 2016

Our Galaxy's Most Mysterious Star is Even Stranger Than We Thought
Posted by Guy Pirro on 10/3/2016 12:36 PM
A star known by the unassuming name of KIC 8462852 in the constellation Cygnus has been raising eyebrows in the scientific community for the past year. In 2015 a team of astronomers announced that the star underwent a series of very brief, non-periodic dimming events while it was being monitored by NASA's Kepler space telescope, and no one could quite figure out what was going on. A new study from the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Caltech has now deepened the mystery.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What Happened After the Lights Came On in the Universe?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 9/20/2016 5:44 PM
An experiment to explore the aftermath of the cosmic dawn, when stars and galaxies first lit up the universe, is underway at the University of California - Berkeley. According to Robert Sanders of UC - Berkeley, the HERA collaboration will explore the billion year period after hydrogen gas collapsed into the first stars (perhaps 100 million years after the Big Bang) igniting stars and galaxies throughout the universe. These first brilliant objects flooded the universe with ultraviolet light that split or ionized all the hydrogen atoms between galaxies into protons and electrons to create the universe that we see today. That's the theory, anyway. HERA hopes for the first time to observe this key cosmic milestone and then map the evolution of re-ionization to about 1 billion years after the Big Bang.
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Thursday, September 15, 2016

NASA's THEMIS Sees Auroras Move to the Rhythm of the Beat
Posted by Guy Pirro on 9/15/2016 5:51 PM
Majestic auroras have captivated humans for thousands of years. But their nature -- the fact that the lights are electromagnetic and respond to solar activity -- was only realized in the last 150 years. Thanks to coordinated multi-satellite observations and a worldwide network of magnetic sensors and cameras, close study of auroras has become possible over recent decades. Using data from NASA's five THEMIS spacecrafts, scientists have been able to observe and measure Earth's vibrating magnetic field in relation to the northern lights dancing in the night sky over Canada to what up to now has been an undetected rhythm.
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Friday, September 09, 2016

Closeby Brown Dwarfs are Hiding in Plain Sight
Posted by Guy Pirro on 9/9/2016 1:56 PM
Brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, are a hot topic in astronomy right now. Smaller than stars and bigger than giant planets, they hold promise for helping us understand both stellar evolution and planet formation. New work by a team of astronomers has discovered several ultra-cool brown dwarfs in our own solar neighborhood. In essence, they are hiding in plain sight.
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Friday, August 26, 2016

Earth-mass World Found in Habitable Zone of Alpha Centauri Star System
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/26/2016 9:38 AM
As we all learned in elementary school, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to the Solar System. At a distance of 4.37 light-years (25 trillion miles), it consists of three stars -- the pair Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B and a small and faint red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, which may or may not be gravitationally bound to the other two stars. Astronomers using ESO telescopes have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting this third star, Proxima Centauri. This long-sought world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us. It may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System.
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Saturday, August 20, 2016

No Cure for the Summertime Blues -- Ten Trillionths of Your Suntan Comes From Beyond Our Galaxy
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/20/2016 10:09 AM
Lie on the beach this summer and your body will be bombarded by about one sextillion photons of light per second. Most of these photons originate from the Sun. But a very small fraction have traveled across the Universe for billions of years before ending up on your skin. Astronomers have now accurately measured the light hitting the Earth from outside our galaxy over a very broad wavelength range and it amounts to about only ten trillionths of your suntan.
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Friday, August 12, 2016

Crab Pulsar Sets New Record for High Energy Photons
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/12/2016 10:27 AM
The Crab Nebula is the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed on Earth in the year 1054. The pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula is extremely small, with a diameter of just around ten kilometers, and rotates around its own axis at approximately 30 times per second. Thus, it emits light pulses like a lighthouse and these pulses stretch across the entire electromagnetic spectrum -- from long radio waves, to visible light, to the short waves of energetic gamma rays. Recent observations show that the Crab Pulsar has now set a new record. It is sending out the most energetic light radiation, in the form of photons, that has ever been measured from a star. This could challenge our current understanding of pulsars.
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Friday, August 05, 2016

Do Black Holes Have a Back Door?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/5/2016 7:50 AM
One of the biggest problems when studying black holes is that the laws of physics as we know them cease to apply. The conventional wisdom is that in a black hole, large quantities of matter and energy concentrate in an infinitely small space (known as a gravitational singularity), space-time curves towards infinity, and all matter is destroyed... Or is it? New research at the Universitat de Valencia in Spain suggests that if the singularity is treated as an imperfection in the geometric structure of space-time, matter may indeed survive its foray into the black hole and come out the other side -- And by doing so, resolve the problem of the infinite, space deforming, gravitational pull.
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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Unlocking the Mysteries of Jupiter's Great Red Spot
Posted by Guy Pirro on 7/31/2016 10:51 AM
Jupiter's Red Spot is the greatest storm on the grandest planet in the Solar System -- a colossal hurricane with 400 mile per hour winds that makes Earth's worst gales look positively tranquil. Discovered within years of Galileo's introduction of telescopic astronomy in the 17th Century, its swirling pattern of colorful gases is often called a "perpetual hurricane." The Red Spot has varied in size and color over the centuries and spans a distance equal to three earth diameters. It has winds that take six days to complete one spin. Now, a team of astronomers from Boston University and the University of Leicester in the UK think they have found the solution to some of the mysteries surrounding Jupiter's iconic Great Red Spot.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hot Gas in the Milky Way Halo Appears to be Rotating Almost as Fast as the Disk
Posted by Guy Pirro on 7/26/2016 1:32 PM
Astronomers at the University of Michigan have discovered that the hot gas in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy is spinning in the same direction and at a comparable speed to the galaxy's spiral-shaped disk. Until now, people have assumed that the disk of the Milky Way spins at a high speed, while the enormous reservoir of hot gas in the halo is stationary. But that is wrong -- The hot gas in the halo appears to be rotating almost as fast as the disk.
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Friday, July 22, 2016

Hubble Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Star Trek by Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before
Posted by Guy Pirro on 7/22/2016 6:03 PM
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the TV series "Star Trek" captured the public's imagination with the signature phrase "To boldly go where no one has gone before." As we all know, the Hubble Space Telescope simply orbits Earth and doesn't "boldly go" anywhere. But it looks deeper into the universe than ever before to explore the fabric of time and space and find the farthest objects ever seen. This is epitomized in this Hubble image that is part of its Frontier Fields program to probe the far universe. This view of a massive cluster of galaxies unveils a very cluttered-looking universe filled with galaxies near and far. Some are distorted as in a funhouse mirror through gravitational lensing -- a warping of space phenomenon first predicted by Einstein a century ago.
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Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Curious Case of Earth's Leaking Atmosphere
Posted by Guy Pirro on 7/16/2016 5:59 PM
Earth's atmosphere is leaking. Every day, around 90 tons of material -- consisting primarily of oxygen, hydrogen, and helium ions -- escapes from our planet's upper atmosphere and streams out into space. Although missions such as ESA's fleet of four Cluster spacecraft flying in formation around Earth have long been investigating this leakage, there are still many open questions. How and why is Earth losing its atmosphere. How do the ions escape? Where do they originate? What processes are at play?
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Monday, May 09, 2016

First-ever Evidence of an Exoplanet System was Discovered in 1917
Posted by Guy Pirro on 5/9/2016 12:43 PM
You can never predict what treasure might be hiding in your own basement. The Carnegie Institution for Science didn't know it, but it turns out that a 1917 image on an astronomical glass photographic plate from the Carnegie Observatory archives shows the first-ever evidence of a planetary system beyond our own Sun. This accidental (and highly unexpected) find was recognized by Jay Farihi of University College in London, while researching an article about planetary systems surrounding white dwarf stars.
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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Mercury Transit of the Sun to be Visible on Monday, May 9th
Posted by Guy Pirro on 5/5/2016 7:42 PM
Mercury passes between Earth and the Sun only about 13 times a century, with its last trek taking place in 2006. Due to its diminutive size, viewing this event safely requires a telescope or high-powered binoculars fitted with solar filters made of specially-coated glass or Mylar. Mercury will appear as a small black dot as it crosses the edge of the Sun and into view at 7:12 AM EDT. The planet will make a leisurely journey across the face of the Sun, reaching mid-point at approximately 10:47 AM EDT, and exiting the golden disk at 2:42 PM EDT. The entire 7.5 hour path across the Sun will be visible across the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Africa, and most of Asia.
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Friday, April 22, 2016

Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in the Universe -- At What Point Does Space-Time Become Discrete?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/22/2016 10:35 AM
Our senses experience space-time in a continuous way, without gaps or discontinuities, just as described by classical physics. In quantum physics however, the texture of space-time is granular at tiny scales (below the so-called Planck scale of 10^-33 cm), as if it were a variable mesh of discrete solids and voids. What happens at the classical physics to quantum physics boundary of space-time? Is there an abrupt change or is there a gradual transition? A recent theoretical study led by the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy, has developed a model to help find this transition boundary. What makes this model most unique, and no doubt highly precious, is that it is formulated in such a way as to make experimental testing possible. The team is already collaborating on developing an experiment, which will take place at the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy (LENS) in Florence, Italy.
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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Looking for a Hook-up -- Young, Unattached Jupiter-like Planet Found in the Solar System Neighborhood
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/14/2016 5:52 PM
A team of astronomers has discovered one of the youngest and brightest free-floating, planet-like objects in relatively close proximity to the Sun. Only 95 light years away and at an age of only 10 million years, which means it's practically a baby on a galactic time scale, the object is between four and eight times the mass of Jupiter, and hence falls in the mass range between a large planet and a small brown dwarf star. Free-floating exo-planet analogs such as this are much easier to scrutinize than planets orbiting around stars since they are drifting in space all alone and observations are not overwhelmed by the brightness of a host star sitting right next door.
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Friday, April 08, 2016

A Series of Supernova Explosions Showered Earth with Radioactive Debris 2 to 3 Million Years Ago
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/8/2016 1:14 PM
An international team of scientists has found evidence, in the form of radioactive iron-60 in sediment and crust samples taken from the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, which is indicative of a series of massive supernova explosions that showered the Earth with radioactive debris between 3.2 and 1.7 million years ago. The scientists believe the series of supernovae were less than 300 light years away -- Close enough to be visible during the day and comparable to the brightness of the Moon at night. Although Earth would have been exposed to an increased cosmic ray bombardment, the radiation would have been too weak to cause direct biological damage or trigger mass extinctions.
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Friday, April 01, 2016

It Came From a Black Hole... And No, This is Not an April Fool's Joke
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/1/2016 5:12 PM
The baffling and strange behavior of black holes has become somewhat less mysterious recently. As we know, super-massive black holes don't give off any light themselves, but are often encircled by disks of hot, glowing material. The gravity of a black hole pulls swirling gas into it, heating this material and causing it to shine brightly in multiple wavelengths. Another source of radiation near a black hole is the corona, which is made up of highly energetic particles that generate massive amounts of X-rays. In September 2014, NASA's Explorer missions Swift and NuSTAR caught Markarian 335, a super-massive black hole near the constellation Pegasus, in a huge flare. After careful scrutiny, the astronomers realized they were seeing the ejection, and eventual collapse, of the black hole's corona shooting away at about 20 percent the speed of light.
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