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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Didn't See This One Coming -- New Exotic Particle Found That Does Not Fit the Traditional Model
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/17/2014 7:37 AM
Quarks are hard, point-like objects found within the nucleus of an atom. When Quarks combine in threes, they form compound particles known as Baryons. Protons are probably the best-known of the Baryons. Sometimes, however, Quarks interact with corresponding anti-Quarks, which have the same mass but opposite charges. When this happens, they form Mesons. Mesons often turn up in cosmic rays. Mesons, Baryons, and other kinds of particles that take part in strong interactions are called Hadrons. This classification of particle physics has remained virtually unchallenged... Until now.
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mercury 7 Astronauts Introduced to the World 55 Years Ago
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/10/2014 6:15 AM
On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its first astronaut class, the Mercury 7: Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, John H. Glenn, Jr., M. Scott Carpenter; Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. The press and public soon adopted them as heroes, embodying the new spirit of space exploration. Project Mercury helped prove that human spaceflight was possible and paved the way for the Gemini and Apollo programs.
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Monday, April 07, 2014

The "El Gordo" Galaxy Cluster Truly is "The Fat One"
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/7/2014 9:14 AM
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has weighed the largest known galaxy cluster in the distant universe and found that it definitely lives up to its nickname -- El Gordo (Spanish for "The Fat One"). By measuring how much the cluster's gravity warps images of galaxies in the distant background, a team of astronomers has calculated the cluster's mass to be as much as 3 Million Billion times the mass of our sun.
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Dwarf Planet Discovered in the Outer Reaches of Our Solar System
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/27/2014 10:20 PM
The Solar System has a new most-distant member, bringing its outer frontier into better focus. Astronomers reported today the discovery of a distant dwarf planet called 2012 VP113. This is likely one of thousands of distant objects that are thought to form the so-called inner Oort cloud. What's more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, that is possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113 as well as other inner Oort cloud objects. Up to now, only one dwarf planet, Sedna, was known to exist in the Oort cloud. But the newly found 2012 VP113 has an orbit that stays even beyond Sedna, making it the furthest known in the Solar System.
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

NASA's Kepler Mission Discovers a Planet Bonanza -- 715 New Worlds
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/22/2014 7:47 PM
NASA's Kepler mission has announced the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple planet systems -- some like our own solar system.
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Monday, March 17, 2014

Astrophysicists Announce Direct Gravitational Wave-based Evidence of Cosmic Inflation After the Big Bang
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/17/2014 9:09 AM
Our universe burst into existence with the Big Bang 13.8 Billion years ago. Moments later, space itself ripped apart, expanding exponentially in an episode known as "Inflation." Astrophysicists announced today that they have acquired the first direct evidence that gravitational waves rippled through our infant universe during this explosive period of growth, providing the strongest confirmation yet for cosmic inflation theories, which say that the universe expanded by 100 Trillion-Trillion times in less than the blink of an eye.
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Thursday, March 13, 2014

ESO's VLT Spots the Largest Yellow Hypergiant Star to Date... And It's an Exotic Binary
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/13/2014 7:29 PM
ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer has revealed the largest yellow star -- and one of the ten largest stars found so far. This hypergiant has been found to measure more than 1300 times the diameter of the Sun and to be part of a double star system, with the second component so close that it is in contact with the main star. Observations spanning over sixty years, some from amateur observers, also indicate that this rare and remarkable object is changing very rapidly and has been caught during a very brief phase of its life.
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Saturday, March 08, 2014

NASA-funded Sounding Rocket Launches Straight Through an Aurora Over Alaska
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/8/2014 10:23 AM
On the early morning of March 3, 2014, a NASA-funded sounding rocket launched straight into an aurora over Venetie, Alaska. The Ground-to-Rocket Electrodynamics - Electron Correlative Experiment, or "GREECE" sounding rocket mission, which launched from the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska, was used to study classic curls of the aurora in the night sky. The mission seeks to understand what events that set up these auroral curls in the charged, heated gas - or plasma - where aurorae form. This piece of information will help paint a picture of the Sun-Earth connection and how energy and particles from the Sun interact with Earth's magnetic system, the Magnetosphere.
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spanish Researchers Discover the First Black Hole Orbiting a Fast-spinning Star
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/26/2014 10:10 AM
Spanish scientists have discovered the first binary system consisting of a black hole and a fast-spinning star known as a Be-type star. Although predicted by theory, none had previously been found. The observations that led to the discovery were performed with the Liverpool and Mercator telescopes at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos in the Canary Islands. The newly discovered black hole orbits a Be-type star located in the constellation Lacerta (the Lizard), 8,500 light years from Earth. The distinctive property of Be-type stars is their strong centrifugal force. They rotate very fast - close to their break-up speed - often exceeding 1 million kilometers per hour.
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Astronomers Spot Record-Breaking Lunar Impact
Posted by Russ Carroll on 2/24/2014 8:59 AM
A meteorite with the mass of a small car crashed into the Moon last September, according to Spanish astronomers. The impact, the biggest seen to date, produced a bright flash and would have been easy to spot from the Earth. The scientists publish their description of the event in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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Despite Ten-fold Increase in Sensitivity, LUX Fails to Detect Dark Matter
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/24/2014 8:40 AM
Dark matter is thought to account for about 80 percent of the mass of the universe. Though it has not yet been detected directly, its existence is a near certainty among physicists. Without the gravitational influence of dark matter, galaxies and galaxy clusters would simply fly apart into the vastness of space. It's not clear exactly what dark matter is, but the leading idea is that it consists of subatomic particles called WIMPs, short for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. WIMPs are thought to be practically ubiquitous in the universe, but because they interact so rarely with other forms of matter, they generally pass right through the Earth and everything in it without anyone knowing it. A new calibration of the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) Dark Matter Detector brought a ten-fold increase in calibration accuracy, yet failed to detect dark matter. If low-mass WIMP particles had passed through the detector, LUX would have found them.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jean Texereau (1920-2014)
Posted by Russ Carroll on 2/11/2014 8:46 AM
Jean Texereau, Master Optician
One of the giants of telescope making has died. He shared his years of professional experience with amateurs around the world.

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John L. Dobson 1915-2014
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/11/2014 7:57 AM
John Dobson, the self-taught stargazer who designed the powerful, inexpensive Dobsonian telescope, died January 15, 2014 at a hospital in Burbank, California. He was 98. His death was confirmed by the Burbank chapter of Sidewalk Astronomers, an international organization that John Dobson helped found in 1968. John Dobson was arguably the most influential person in amateur astronomy in the last 30 years. He almost single-handedly revolutionized amateur astronomy by making deep space accessible to millions. Through his free star parties and slide shows, he encouraged both young and old to think about the Universe and observe its beauty with their own eyes.
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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Water Detected on the Dwarf Planet Ceres
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/6/2014 8:52 AM
Scientists using the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres. Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up periodically from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. Ceres is classified as a dwarf planet, a solar system body bigger than an asteroid and smaller than a planet.
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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Solving a 30-Year-Old Problem in Massive Star Formation
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/1/2014 8:35 PM
An international group of astrophysicists has found evidence strongly supporting a solution to a long-standing puzzle about the birth of some of the most massive stars in the universe. Young massive stars, which have more than 10 times the mass of the Sun, shine brightly in the ultraviolet, heating the gas around them. It has long been a mystery why the hot gas doesn't explode outwards. Now, observations made by a team of researchers using the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), a radio astronomy observatory in New Mexico, have confirmed a predication that as the gas cloud collapses, it forms dense filamentary structures that absorb the star's ultraviolet radiation when it passes through them. As a result, the surrounding heated nebula flickers like a candle.
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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Green Bank Telescope Reveals Rivers of Hydrogen Flowing through Space
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/29/2014 9:42 AM
Using the National Science Foundation's Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomer D.J. Pisano from West Virginia University has discovered what could be a never-before-seen river of hydrogen flowing through space. This very faint, very tenuous filament of gas is streaming into the nearby galaxy NGC 6946 and may help explain how certain spiral galaxies keep up their steady pace of star formation with no readily identifiable source of fuel. Rivers of hydrogen - known as cold flows - may be ferrying hydrogen through intergalactic space, clandestinely fueling star formation in galaxies. But this tenuous hydrogen has been simply too diffuse to detect -- until now.
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Extreme Power of a Black Hole is Revealed
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/24/2014 9:03 PM
Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and a suite of other telescopes to reveal one of the most powerful black holes known, in a galaxy cluster located about 3.9 billion light years from Earth. The black hole has created enormous structures in the hot gas surrounding it and has prevented trillions of stars from forming. It is believed that this black hole may be "ultramassive" in size rather than simply supermassive, with a mass more than 10 billion times that of the sun.
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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Distant Quasar Illuminates a Filament of the Cosmic Web
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/21/2014 6:52 AM
Astronomers have discovered a distant quasar illuminating a vast nebula of diffuse gas, revealing for the first time part of the network of filaments thought to connect galaxies in a cosmic web. Cosmologists generally believe that matter in intergalactic space is distributed in a vast network of interconnected filamentary structures of gas known as the cosmic web. The vast majority of atoms in the Universe reside in this web as primordial hydrogen -- vestigial matter left over from the Big Bang. Researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have now captured an image of these filamentary structures for the first time. To achieve this, they exploited the intense radiation generated by a supermassive black hole in a quasar.
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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Surprising New Class of Hyper-velocity Stars Discovered Escaping the Galaxy
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/15/2014 1:20 PM
An team of astronomers at Vanderbilt University has discovered a surprising new class of Hyper-velocity Stars -- solitary stars moving fast enough to escape the gravitational grasp of the Milky Way galaxy. The most commonly accepted mechanism for kicking a star out of the galaxy involves an interaction with the supermassive black hole at the galactic core. None of these Hyper-velocity stars come from the center, which implies that these may belong to a new class of Hyper-velocity Stars that use a different ejection mechanism.
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Friday, January 10, 2014

Orbital Successfully Launches Its First Resupply Mission to the ISS
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/10/2014 8:57 PM
Orbital Sciences Corporation, a leading space technology company, has successfully launched its Antares medium-class rocket carrying the first of eight regularly scheduled Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft missions to the International Space Station (ISS). This first mission will culminate in rendezvous and berthing with the ISS on Sunday, January 12, 2014. Cygnus will deliver approximately 2780 lbs. (1260 kg.) of cargo to the Expedition 38 astronauts and remain attached to the space station until February 18th before departing with approximately 2800 lbs. (1300 kg.) of disposable cargo for a safe, destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean.
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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Gemini Planet Imager First Light!
Posted by Russ Carroll on 1/7/2014 8:39 AM
After nearly a decade of development, construction, and testing, the world’s most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets around other stars is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds.
The instrument, called the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), was designed, built, and optimized for imaging faint planets next to bright stars and probing their atmospheres. It will also be a powerful tool for studying dusty, planet-forming disks around young stars. It is the most advanced such instrument to be deployed on one of the world’s biggest telescopes – the 8-meter Gemini South telescope in Chile.

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Reverse Shock Waves Light-up Supernova Remnants
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/4/2014 8:49 PM
When a star explodes as a supernova, it shines brightly for a few weeks or months before fading away. Yet the material blasted outward from the explosion still glows hundreds or thousands of years later. What powers such long-lived brilliance? In the case of Tycho's supernova (initially observed by astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1572), astronomers have discovered that a reverse shock wave races inward at Mach 1000 (1000 times the speed of sound) and heats the remnant, causing it to emit X-ray light. Without these reverse shock waves, we wouldn't be able to study ancient supernova remnants today.
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