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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

"Life Not as We Know It" Possible on Saturn's Moon Titan
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/3/2015 5:39 PM
Liquid water is a requirement for life on Earth. But in other, much colder worlds where water is a solid, life might exist beyond the bounds of water-based chemistry. Cornell University chemical engineers and astronomers have offered a template for life that could thrive in a harsh, cold world like Titan - the giant moon of Saturn. A planetary body awash with seas not of water, but of liquid methane at temperatures of 292 degrees below zero, could harbor methane-based, oxygen-free cells that metabolize, reproduce, and do everything life on Earth does -- except it would be "Life Not as We Know It."
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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trans-Neptunian Objects -- More Planets in Our Solar System?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/26/2015 7:41 PM
There could be at least two unknown planets hidden well beyond Pluto, whose gravitational influence determines the orbits and strange distribution of objects observed beyond Neptune. This has been revealed by numerical calculations made by researchers at the Complutense University of Madrid and the University of Cambridge. If confirmed, this hypothesis would revolutionize solar system models.
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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A close call of 0.8 light years
Posted by Russ Carroll on 2/18/2015 11:11 AM
A group of astronomers from the US, Europe, Chile and South Africa have determined that 70,000 years ago a recently discovered dim star is likely to have passed through the solar system's distant cloud of comets, the Oort Cloud
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Friday, February 06, 2015

Charles Townes, Inventor of the Laser and Maser, Passes Away at 99
Posted by Guy Pirro on 2/6/2015 8:28 PM
Charles H. Townes, professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for invention of the laser and maser, and subsequently pioneered the use of lasers in astronomy, died on January 27, 2015 in Oakland, California. He was 99. Until last year, Townes visited the campus daily, working either in his office in the physics department or at the Space Sciences Laboratory.
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Friday, January 30, 2015

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Captures Best Ever View of Dwarf Planet Ceres
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/30/2015 11:04 AM
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has returned the sharpest images ever seen of the dwarf planet Ceres. The images were taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on January 25, 2015. Ceres, the largest body between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, has a diameter of about 590 miles (950 kilometers). The mysterious world was discovered in 1801 by astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi. Originally described as a planet, Ceres was later categorized as an asteroid and then reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. Some scientists believe the dwarf planet harbored a subsurface ocean in the past and liquid water may still be lurking under its icy mantle.
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Unique Quasar Has a Built-in Dimmer Switch
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/27/2015 9:39 AM
Quasars are enormously bright objects at the edge of our universe that emit massive amounts of energy. In an optical telescope, quasars appear point-like, similar to stars from which they derive their name (Quasar = Quasi-Stellar). Quasars draw their energy from super-massive black holes at their center that power the explosive energy output. Until now, scientists have been able to study both bright phase quasars and dim phases quasars, but they have never seen a quasar change from a bright to dim state. Now, Yale-led researchers have spotted a quasar that has dimmed by a factor of six or seven, compared with observations from only a few years ago. Catching one as it changes within a human lifetime is unprecedented and will hopefully help fill in many gaps in our understanding of the life cycle of a quasar.
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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Large Observable Asteroid to Scoot By Earth on January 26th
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/15/2015 7:47 AM
An asteroid designated 2004 BL86 will safely pass about three times the distance of Earth to the Moon on January 26, 2015. From its reflected brightness, astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about a third of a mile (0.5 kilometers) in size. The flyby of the asteroid will be the closest by any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027. At the time of its closest approach on January 26th, the asteroid will be approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth. It is expected to be observable to amateur astronomers with small telescopes and strong binoculars.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

NASA's Kepler Marks 1000th Verified Exoplanet Discovery
Posted by Guy Pirro on 1/7/2015 8:19 AM
How many stars like our Sun host planets like Earth? NASA's Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4000 candidate planets for further study -- the 1000th of which was recently verified.
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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

So long, 2014
Posted by Paul Walsh on 12/31/2014 2:38 AM
Have a Great 2015!
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Friday, December 19, 2014

Nice Surprise -- Quantum Physics Just Got Less Complicated
Posted by Guy Pirro on 12/19/2014 8:36 AM
Here's a nice surprise: quantum physics is less complicated than we thought. An international team of researchers at the National University of Singapore has proved that two peculiar features of the quantum world previously considered distinct are actually different manifestations of the same thing. The researchers found that Wave-Particle Duality is simply the Quantum Uncertainty Principle in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one. Wave-Particle Duality is the idea that a quantum object can behave like a wave and a particle at the same time. The Quantum Uncertainty Principle is the idea that it's impossible to know the exact speed and exact position of a particle at the same time. These concepts have been known to physicists since the early 1900s. This discovery deepens our understanding of quantum physics and could prompt ideas for new applications of wave-particle duality.
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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Strange Galaxy Perplexes Astronomers
Posted by Guy Pirro on 12/13/2014 4:15 PM
With the help of citizen scientists participating in the Galaxy Zoo Project, a team of astronomers has found an important new example of a very rare type of galaxy. The galaxy, nearly 800 million light-years from Earth, is a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way. What is unique about this galaxy is that it has prominent jets of subatomic particles propelling outward from its core at nearly the speed of light... But the problem is that spiral galaxies like this are not supposed to have such large jets. So what is this?
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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Astronomers Identify Gas Spirals as a Nursery of Twin Stars through ALMA Observation
Posted by Russ Carroll on 12/9/2014 2:39 PM
With the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observation, astronomers led by Shigehisa Takakuwa, Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica (ASIAA), Taiwan, found spiral arms of molecular gas and dust around the "baby twin" stars, binary protostars. Gas motions to supply materials to the twin were also identified. These observational results unveil, for the first time, the mechanism of the birth and growth of binary stars, which are ubiquitous throughout the universe.
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Monday, December 08, 2014

New Exotic State of Matter May Be the Silicon of the Quantum Era
Posted by Guy Pirro on 12/8/2014 8:58 PM
An odd, iridescent material that has puzzled physicists for decades turns out to be an exotic state of matter that could open a new path to quantum transistors, computers, and other next-generation electronics. Physicists at the University of Michigan have discovered several properties of the compound Samarium Hexaboride that close the case of how to classify the material -- a mystery that has been investigated since the late 1960s. Samarium Hexaboride, abbreviated SmB6, is a topological insulator. Topological insulators are an exciting class of solids that conduct electricity like a metal across their surface, but block the flow of current (like rubber) through their interior. They behave in this two-faced way despite that their chemical composition is the same throughout. The unique properties of this material raise hopes for finding the new "Silicon of the Quantum Era."
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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

New Technique For Measuring Distances to Galaxies Achieves an Accuracy of 90 Percent
Posted by Guy Pirro on 12/3/2014 6:13 PM
A team of scientists has accurately measured the distance to galaxy NGC4151 using the W. M. Keck Observatory Interferometer. The team employed a new technique they developed, which allows them to measure precise distances to galaxies tens of millions of light years away. The new technique is similar to that used by land surveyors on earth, who measure both the physical and angular, or apparent, size of a distant object, to calculate its distance. The method, based on simple geometrical principles, is quite precise, achieving an accuracy of 90 percent.
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Monday, November 24, 2014

Why Are Quasars Mysteriously Aligned Across Billions of Light Years?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 11/24/2014 6:43 PM
Quasars are galaxies with very active supermassive black holes at their centers. These black holes are surrounded by spinning discs of extremely hot material that is often spewed out in long jets along their axes of rotation. Quasars can shine more brightly than all the stars in the rest of their host galaxies put together. New observations with ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have revealed alignments over the largest structures ever discovered in the Universe. A European research team has found that the rotation axes of the central supermassive black holes in a sample of quasars are parallel to each other over distances of billions of light-years. The team has also found that the rotation axes of these quasars tend to be aligned with the vast structures in the cosmic web in which they reside. The probability that these alignments are simply the result of chance is less than one percent.
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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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