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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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Friday, March 25, 2016

Museum of Astronomical Telescopes, Japan
Posted by Barry Kawa on 3/25/2016 8:53 AM
The Asahi Shimbun's story on the newly opened Museum of Astronomical Telescopes in Sanuki, Kagawa Prefecture
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Friday, March 18, 2016

Hubble Breaks the Cosmic Distance Record with a Redshift of 11.1
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/18/2016 8:13 AM
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is an amazing time machine. By looking back through space, astronomers actually look back through time. Now, by pushing Hubble to its limits, a team of astronomers has shattered the cosmic distance record by viewing the farthest galaxy ever seen. Named GN-z11, this surprisingly bright, infant galaxy is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past. GN-z11 is located in the direction of the constellation of Ursa Major. The astronomers saw it as it existed just 400 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only three percent of its current age. At a spectroscopically confirmed redshift of 11.1, the galaxy is even farther away than originally thought. At a billion solar masses, it is producing stars surprisingly quickly for such an early time. This new record will most likely stand until the launch of Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will look even deeper into the universe for early galaxies.
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Friday, March 04, 2016

FRB Helps Reveal Missing Matter in the Universe
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/4/2016 7:24 AM
An international research team used a combination of radio and optical telescopes to identify the precise location of a Fast Radio Burst (FRB) in a distant galaxy, allowing them to conduct a unique census of missing matter in the Universe. FRBs are mysterious bright milliseconds-duration bursts of radio emissions originating billions of light years away. The bursts arrive first at high frequencies and then progressively sweep down to lower frequencies before disappearing completely and not recurring. FRBs are likely caused by extreme catastrophic events in the distant Universe, but their origin is still unknown. FRBs are similar in many ways to Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs), but their association (if any) has not yet been established. Whereas GRBs are associated with supernova explosions, FRBs may result from Magnetars (extreme Magnetic Stars). FRBs are very difficult to detect and before this discovery only 16 had been detected.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Five Dimensional Black Hole Could Break General Relativity
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/24/2016 7:36 AM
General relativity underpins our current understanding of gravity. In part, the theory tells us that matter warps its surrounding spacetime and what we call gravity is the effect of that warp. In the 100 years since it was published, general relativity has passed every test that has been thrown at it, but one of its limitations is the existence of singularities, as found at the center of black holes. Researchers in the UK have now shown that a bizarrely ring shaped black hole, first discovered by theoretical physicists in 2002, could cause Einstein's general theory of relativity to break down. However, such an object could only exist in a universe with five or more dimensions.
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Friday, February 12, 2016

Finally! Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein's Prediction
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/12/2016 7:48 AM
For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 General Theory of Relativity and opens an unprecedented new window to the cosmos. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second from the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. The gravitational wave-producing collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Radio Astronomers Reveal New Clues About the "Great Attractor"
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/10/2016 9:18 PM
The Milky Way is moving toward the constellation Centaurus at a velocity of two million kilometers per hour. The motion appears to be due to the gravitational pull of a large, but unobservable, concentration of matter dubbed the "Great Attractor," a supercluster (or group of galaxy clusters) estimated to contain mass equivalent to more than a Million Billion Suns. Until now, efforts to find the Great Attractor have been hampered by its location in an area behind the plane of the Milky Way where gas and dust within our galaxy block much of the visible light. Now, utilizing new techniques available to Radio Astronomers, a multitude of hidden galaxies have been studied for the first time, shedding light on this mysterious gravitational anomaly dubbed the Great Attractor.
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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Astronomers Create First Large Scale Map of Stellar Ages in the Milky Way
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/30/2016 10:25 AM
Using completely new ways of deducing the ages of red giant stars, astronomers have created the first large scale map that shows stellar ages in the Milky Way. Determining the ages of nearly 100,000 red giant stars, at distances of up to 50,000 light years from the galactic center, astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany were able to test key ideas about the growth of the Milky Way. Notably, the map confirms that our home galaxy has grown from the inside out -- Today, most old stars can be found in the middle and more recently formed ones in the outskirts.
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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Planet 9 From Outer Space
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/21/2016 9:25 AM
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system. The object, which the researchers have nicknamed "Planet Nine," has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun. The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, discovered the planet's existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly.
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Thursday, January 07, 2016

"Back in My Day, We Had Nine Planets" and Other Favorite Quotations
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/7/2016 1:56 PM
This week is a bit slow on news, so I'll post some of my favorite quotations. Some are deep. Others not so much...
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Saturday, January 02, 2016

US Postal Service Honors NASA Planetary Achievements With 2016 Stamps
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/2/2016 9:05 AM
The Postal Service has released a preview of its new 2016 stamps, which include eight new colorful Forever stamps of NASA images of solar system planets. Separately, Forever stamps of Pluto and the New Horizons spacecraft, Global Forever stamps dedicated to Earth's moon, and Forever stamps providing a tribute to 50 years of Star Trek will be issued.
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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cosmic Deja Vu -- Refsdal Supernova Reappears Exactly as Predicted
Posted by Guy Pirro on 12/27/2015 10:43 AM
Due to the effects of gravitational lensing, as predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity, a distant and massive cluster of galaxies is acting like a time machine, replaying for the second time in 13 months the explosion of a massive star 9.3 billion years ago located near the edge of the observable universe.
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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Have a Merry Christmas!
Posted by Paul Walsh on 12/26/2015 1:51 AM
And to all, a clear and cloudless night!
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