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Monday, November 17, 2014

Time to Wake Up - New Horizons Approaches Pluto
Posted by Guy Pirro on 11/17/2014 8:07 AM
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft comes out of hibernation for the last time on December 6th. Between now and then, while the Pluto-bound probe enjoys three more weeks of electronic slumber, work on Earth is well under way to prepare the spacecraft for a six-month encounter with Pluto that begins in January. Since launching in January 2006, New Horizons has spent 1,873 days in hibernation -- about two thirds of its flight time -- spread over 18 separate hibernation periods from mid-2007 to late 2014 ranging from 36 days to 202 days long. Sometime during this flight, Pluto went through an amazing and unprecedented transformation. When New Horizons was launched, Pluto was the ninth planet in our Solar System. Now it has evolved into a dwarf planet that is so small it cannot clear other objects out of its path.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

ESA's Rosetta Spacecraft Set to Drop Anchor on Comet Today
Posted by Guy Pirro on 11/11/2014 9:48 PM
Today the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft will deploy its comet lander Philae, which will touch down on the surface of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will be the first time in history that a spacecraft has attempted a soft landing on a comet. Rosetta was launched on March 2, 2004 by an Ariane-5 G+ from ESA's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana and has traveled for over ten years to reach its destination. To rendezvous with Comet 67P, Rosetta performed four gravity assist manoeuvres -- three around Earth (March 2005, November 2007, and November 2009) and one around Mars (February 2007). It has been a long and remarkable trip.
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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Birth of Planets Revealed in Astonishing Detail in ALMA’s ‘Best Image Ever’
Posted by Russ Carroll on 11/8/2014 9:28 AM
Astronomers have captured the best image ever of planet formation around an infant star as part of the testing and verification process for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array's (ALMA) new high-resolution capabilities.
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Friday, October 24, 2014

When a Lucky Star Meets a Black Hole
Posted by Guy Pirro on 10/24/2014 1:04 PM
Astronomers have gotten the closest look yet at what happens when a black hole takes a bite out of a star -- and the star lives to tell the tale. We may think of black holes as swallowing entire stars that wander too close to their immense gravity. But sometimes, a star that is almost captured by a black hole gets away with only a portion of its mass torn off. This particular lucky star first flared to brightness on January 25, 2014. It appeared near the back left foot of Ursa Major, between the stars Alula Borealis and Praecipua. Based on the amount of energy released during the event, the researchers calculated that a relatively small amount of stellar material -- an amount approximately equal to the mass of the planet Jupiter -- had been sucked into the black hole.
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Friday, October 17, 2014

Has the Hypothetical Axion Dark Matter Particle Been Found?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 10/17/2014 9:09 PM
Dark matter, a kind of invisible mass of unknown origin, cannot be seen directly with telescopes, but is instead inferred from its gravitational effects on ordinary matter and on light. Although dark matter is believed to make up 85 percent of the matter of the Universe, to date, elusive dark matter particles like the theoretical Axion have not been detected. Space scientists at the University of Leicester in the UK have discovered a curious signal in the X-ray sky that appears to be a signature of the Axion. If confirmed, it will be the first direct detection and identification of an elusive dark matter particle and will have a fundamental impact on our theories of the Universe.
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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Fundamentals of Time Dilation and Quantum Electrodynamics Confirmed
Posted by Guy Pirro on 10/7/2014 8:34 PM
Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity, together with Quantum Electrodynamics, which was formulated by Richard Feynman among others, are two important fundamentals of modern physics. A research group at the Technische Universitat Darmstadt in Germany in cooperation with several international universities and institutes, re-examined these theories in experiments at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research. Even though these two theories have been observed and experimentally verified many times in the past (and both have passed all the tests so far), the scientists wanted to explore any possible limits of the two theories. The results confirm the time dilation predicted for high velocities in the theory of relativity and the concept of Quantum Electrodynamics with an accuracy that has never before been achieved.
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Yes Virginia, Pluto is a Planet
Posted by Guy Pirro on 9/28/2014 9:16 AM
What is a planet? For generations the answer was easy -- A big ball of rock or gas that orbited the Sun. And there were nine of them in our Solar System. But then astronomers started finding more Pluto-sized objects orbiting beyond Neptune. Then they found Jupiter-sized objects circling distant stars. First by the handful and then by the hundreds. Suddenly the answer wasn't so easy. Were all these newly found things planets? The International Astronomical Union (IAU), who is in charge of naming newly discovered worlds, tackled the question at their 2006 meeting. They tried to come up with a definition of a planet that everyone could agree on. But the astronomers couldn't agree, so they voted and picked a definition that they thought would work. The results have been mixed. In the end, the IAU did accomplish one thing -- They figured out a way to turn something simple into something complex.
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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Spacecraft Flyby Anomalies Continue to Confound Scientists
Posted by Guy Pirro on 9/21/2014 9:24 AM
When space probes, such as Rosetta and Cassini, fly over certain planets and moons in order to gain momentum and travel long distances, their speed changes slightly for an unknown reason. A Spanish researcher has now analyzed whether or not a hypothetical Gravito-Magnetic field could have an influence. However, other factors such as solar radiation, tides, or even relativistic effects or dark matter could be behind this mystery. The observed difference in speeds could have serious implications on our understanding of gravity.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Newest Catalogue of the Visible Milky Way Details 219 Million Stars
Posted by Guy Pirro on 9/16/2014 12:32 PM
From dark sky sites on Earth, the Milky Way appears as a glowing band stretching across the sky. To astronomers, it is a disk stretching across 100,000 light years seen edge on from our vantage point. A new catalogue of the visible part of the northern part of the Milky Way galaxy has been assembled and it includes no fewer than 219 million stars. Geert Barentsen of the University of Hertfordshire in the UK led the team who assembled the catalogue in a ten year program using the Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands.
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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Do We Live In a 3-D World... or a 2-D Hologram?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 9/4/2014 6:22 PM
Much like characters on a television screen would not know that their seemingly 3-D world exists only on a 2-D screen, we could be clueless that our 3-D space is just an illusion. The information about everything in our universe could actually be encoded in tiny packets in two dimensions. A unique experiment at the US Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago, Illinois, has started collecting data using a holographic interferometer that will help answer this mind bending question about our universe -- Do we live in a 2-D hologram?
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Friday, August 29, 2014

Interior of the Moon Has Not Yet Cooled and Hardened
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/29/2014 9:07 AM
An international research team, led by Dr. Yuji Harada of the China University of Geosciences has found that there is an extremely soft layer deep inside the Moon and that heat is effectively being generated by the gravity of the Earth. These results were derived by comparing the deformation of the Moon as precisely measured by JAXA's Kaguya and other space probes with theoretically calculated estimates. These findings suggest that the interior of the Moon has not yet cooled and hardened, and also that it is still being warmed by the tidal effect of the Earth on the Moon. This research provides a chance to reconsider how both the Earth and the Moon have been evolving since their births through mutual influence until now.
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wolf-Rayet 104 Has Us Locked in its Gunsights -- Are We in Danger of an Extinction Level GRB?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/16/2014 11:03 AM
Global warming and climatic changes caused by man's exploitation of our natural resources are child's play compared to what Wolf-Rayet 104 (WR 104) may have in store for us. WR 104 is now in the last known stable phase for a massive star of this type and is only about 8000 light years away. The problem is that its polar orientation appears to be "face-on" to Earth's line of sight. Essentially, we are staring down a gun barrel. If WR 104 collapses into a Supernova (as expected) and releases a Gamma Ray Burst (GRB), our Solar System could be in the direct path of a highly collimated jet of destruction. Such an event could end life as we know it. But will it happen in the next thousand years or in the next 500,000 years? Nobody knows... And nobody can do anything about it because the GRB and optical photons from the Supernova would arrive here simultaneously. Our only hope is that a few degrees one way or the other in the orientation of WR 104 could make all the difference in the world.
| Read full story | 9 Comments... |

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Mysterious Molecules in Space
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/9/2014 11:52 AM
Over the vast, empty reaches of interstellar space, countless small molecules tumble quietly though the cold vacuum. Forged in the fusion furnaces of ancient stars and ejected into space when those stars exploded, these lonely molecules account for a significant amount of all the carbon, hydrogen, silicon, and other atoms in the universe. In fact, some 20 percent of all the carbon in the universe is thought to exist as some form of interstellar molecule. Astronomers have long known that interstellar molecules absorb light from stars and other luminous bodies and believe that these interstellar molecules may be the source of the hundreds of Diffuse Interstellar Bands that show up in spectrograms of space taken from Earth -- the hundreds of seemingly random dark absorption lines. Now researchers are pointing to an unusual set of molecules -- silicon-terminated carbon chain radicals -- as a possible source of these mysterious bands.
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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Binary Star Systems May Form Planets with Weird and Wild Orbits
Posted by Guy Pirro on 8/3/2014 9:04 AM
Unlike our Sun, most stars form in binary pairs -- two stars that orbit a common center of mass. Though remarkably plentiful, binaries pose a number of questions, including how and where planets form in such complex environments. While surveying a series of binary stars with the Atacama Large Millimeter/ submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers uncovered a striking pair of wildly misaligned planet forming disks in the young binary star system HK Tau. These results provide the clearest picture ever of protoplanetary disks around a double star and could reveal important details about the birth and eventual orbit of planets in a multiple star system.
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Is Our Universe Just a Bubble in a Sea of Bubbles?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 7/26/2014 8:12 PM
In the beginning there was a vacuum. The vacuum simmered with energy. Like water in a boiling pot, this energy began to evaporate and bubbles formed and expanded. Inevitably, some bubbles bumped into each other. Maybe the bubbles were rare and far apart. Maybe they were packed close together and resembled the foam that forms when an ocean wave breaks on the beach. But here's the thing -- each of these bubbles was a universe. In this story, our universe was just one bubble in a frothy sea of bubble universes. This is the model of the universe that researchers at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada are piecing together.
| Read full story | 6 Comments... |

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It Was 45 Years Ago Today -- Next Stop Mars
Posted by Guy Pirro on 7/20/2014 5:22 AM
It was 45 years ago that Neil Armstrong took the first small step onto the surface of the moon that changed the course of history. The years that followed saw an unprecedented age of scientific, technological, and human research. We stand now on a new horizon, poised to take the next giant leap deeper into the solar system. The Apollo missions blazed a path for human exploration to the moon and today we are extending that path to near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond. In our lifetimes, NASA and the world will take the next giant leap to explore the Red Planet. It gives us pause to consider that according to NASA, the first human to set foot on Mars is walking the Earth today.
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Most Distant Milky Way Star Detected... And It's One Third the Distance to the Andromeda Galaxy
Posted by Guy Pirro on 7/12/2014 7:11 PM
The distant outskirts of the Milky Way harbor valuable clues for understanding the formation and evolution of our galaxy. Yet, due to overwhelming distances and an extremely sparse population of stars, many objects have not been identified beyond 400,000 light years. A team of astronomers has now discovered two stars in the Milky Way's halo that are the most distant ever detected at distances of 775,000 and 900,000 light years, respectively -- five times more distant than the Large Magellanic Cloud and about one third of the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy.
| Read full story | 11 Comments... |

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Ultrahigh Energy Cosmic Rays Found Emanating From Hotspot Near Ursa Major
Posted by Guy Pirro on 7/8/2014 8:45 AM
Many astrophysicists believe that ultrahigh energy cosmic rays are generated by Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs) in which material is sucked into a Supermassive Black Hole at the center of galaxy, while other material is spewed away in a beam-like, highly collimated jet known as a Blazar. Another popular belief is that the highest energy cosmic rays come from supernovas that emit Gamma Rays Bursts (GRBs). An observatory operated by the University of Utah has found a hotspot near Ursa Major that is emitting a disproportionate number of the highest energy cosmic rays. This discovery moves us another step closer to identifying the mysterious sources of these most energetic particles in the universe.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mysterious X-ray Signal in Perseus May be the First Observed Sign of Dark Matter
Posted by Guy Pirro on 6/24/2014 9:49 AM
Astronomers think dark matter constitutes 85 percent of the matter in the Universe, but does not emit or absorb light like "normal" matter such as protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up the familiar elements observed in planets, stars, and galaxies. Because of this, scientists must use indirect methods to search for clues about dark matter. A mysterious X-ray signal has been found using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton and one intriguing possibility is that the X-rays are produced by the decay of sterile neutrinos, a type of particle that has been proposed as a candidate for dark matter.
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Thursday, June 19, 2014

A New Bizarre Class of Hybrid Star is Discovered -- The Thorne-Zytkow Object
Posted by Guy Pirro on 6/19/2014 12:18 PM
In a discovery decades in the making, scientists have detected a new theoretical class of stars first proposed in 1975 by physicist Kip Thorne and astronomer Anna Zytkow. Thorne-Zytkow Objects (TZOs) are hybrids of red supergiant and neutron stars that in many ways resemble normal red supergiants, such as Betelgeuse. They differ, however, in the distinct chemical signatures that result from unique activity in their stellar interiors. A TZO forms when a massive red supergiant essentially swallows a neutron star, which spirals into the core of the red supergiant. While normal red supergiants derive their energy from nuclear fusion, TZOs are powered by the unusual activity of the absorbed neutron star at the core.
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