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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Does Dark Matter Really Exist? Or is It a Figment of Our Imagination?
Posted by Guy Pirro on 5/14/2015 6:03 PM
One of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century was that the spectacular spiral galaxies, such as our own Milky Way, rotate much faster than expected, powered by an extra invisible gravitational force. For lack of a better term (coupled with a lack of better understanding), this mysterious force was dubbed "Dark Matter." However, dark matter models do not come out naturally and require some disturbing fine-tuning to explain the observations. For this reason, some scientists suggest that rather than being due to dark matter, the faster than expected rotation of galaxies may be due to Newton's law of gravity becoming progressively less accurate at large distances. Remarkably, decades after this alternative theory (a universe without dark matter) was proposed, it still cannot be conclusively ruled out.
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Friday, May 08, 2015

Hubble Finds Giant Halo Around Andromeda Galaxy
Posted by Guy Pirro on 5/8/2015 6:25 AM
Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that the immense halo of gas enveloping the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest massive galactic neighbor, is about six times larger and 1,000 times more massive than previously measured. The dark, nearly invisible halo stretches about a million light-years from its host galaxy, halfway to our own Milky Way galaxy. If the Milky Way has a similarly huge halo, then the two galaxies' halos may be nearly touching already and quiescently merging long before the two massive galaxies collide.
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Sunday, May 03, 2015

NASA's MESSENGER Mercury Mission Ends With a Bang
Posted by Guy Pirro on 5/3/2015 1:17 PM
NASA's MESSENGER mission to the planet Mercury came to a planned, but nonetheless dramatic, end on April 30, 2015 when it slammed into the planet's surface at about 8,750 mph, creating a new crater. MESSENGER was launched on Aug. 3, 2004, and began orbiting Mercury on March 17, 2011. Although it completed its primary science objectives by March 2012, the spacecraft's mission was extended two times, allowing it to capture images and information about the planet in unprecedented detail. Among its many accomplishments, the MESSENGER mission determined Mercury's surface composition, revealed its geological history, discovered that its internal magnetic field is offset from the planet's center, and verified that its polar deposits are dominantly water ice.
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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cornerstone of the LSST is Set and Construction Begins
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/26/2015 8:35 PM
A traditional Chilean stone laying ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) was held on April 14, 2015 on a mountain peak in northern Chile. This marked the start of construction of the LSST, an 8 meter wide-field survey telescope that will image the entire visible sky a few times each week and provide an unprecedented amount of immediate information to the scientific community on a daily basis. The LSST is expected to see first light in 2019 and begin full operation in 2022.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hubble Reaches the Big Quarter Century Milestone
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/22/2015 10:24 PM
NASA/ESA's Hubble Space Telescope celebrates its 25th year of service on April 24, 2015. During its 25 year long mission the Hubble Space Telescope has changed our view of the Universe significantly. Some of the most ground breaking discoveries made in astronomy in the 20th century were made by Hubble. There are a lot interesting facts that the average Hubble fan may not know about this famous telescope. For example, NASA named the world's first space-based optical telescope after American astronomer Edwin P. Hubble (1889 - 1953). Dr. Hubble confirmed an "expanding" universe, which provided the foundation for the Big Bang theory. Another interesting fact -- In order to take images of distant objects, Hubble must be extremely steady and accurate. The telescope is able to lock onto a target without deviating more than 7/1000th of an arc second, or about the width of a human hair seen at a distance of 1 mile.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Accelerating Expanding Universe? Not So Fast...
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/15/2015 6:14 PM
A University of Arizona-led team of astronomers has discovered that Type Ia Supernovae, which have been considered so uniform that cosmologists have used them as cosmic "beacons" to measure the depths of the universe, are not so constant after all. This discovery casts new light on the currently accepted view that the universe is expanding at a faster and faster rate, pulled apart by a poorly understood force called Dark Energy. The results have implications for big cosmological questions, including the possibility that the acceleration of the expanding universe may not be quite as fast as today's textbooks say.
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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Mars Has Belts of Frozen Water Glaciers
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/8/2015 4:54 PM
Mars has distinct polar ice caps, but Mars also has belts of glaciers at its central latitudes in both the southern and northern hemispheres. A thick layer of dust covers the glaciers, so they appear as surface of the ground. But radar measurements show that underneath the dust there are glaciers composed of frozen water. New studies have now calculated the size of the glaciers and thus the amount of water in the glaciers. It is the equivalent of all of Mars being covered by more than one meter of ice.
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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Astronomers Without Borders Sets April as "Global Astronomy Month 2015"
Posted by Guy Pirro on 4/2/2015 10:55 AM
Global Astronomy Month, organized each April by Astronomers Without Borders, is the world's largest annual global celebration of astronomy. Astronomers Without Borders connects people worldwide through innovative programs that are accessible to everyone regardless of geography and culture. Combining local events with online technology and a global community, Astronomers Without Borders is a leader in promoting understanding and peaceful international relations, while also supporting outreach and education in astronomy. Astronomers Without Borders' motto is "One People, One Sky."
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

A New Spin on Saturn's Peculiar Rotation
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/29/2015 9:11 AM
Tracking the rotation speed of solid planets, like the Earth and Mars, is a relatively simple task -- Just measure the time it takes for a surface feature to roll into view again. But giant gas planets Jupiter and Saturn are more problematic for planetary scientists, as they both lack measurable solid surfaces and are covered by thick layers of clouds, foiling direct visual measurements by space probes. Saturn has presented an even greater challenge to scientists, as different parts of this sweltering ball of hydrogen and helium are known to rotate at different speeds, whereas its rotation axis and magnetic pole are aligned. A new method devised by researchers at Tel Aviv University proposes a new determination of Saturn's rotation period and offers insight into the internal structure of the planet. The researchers also measured the rotation of Jupiter and hope to apply their method to other gaseous planets in the solar system such as Uranus and Neptune.
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Monday, March 23, 2015

Nova Vul of 1670 Was Not a Nova, But Rather Two Colliding Stars
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/23/2015 3:15 PM
Some of the greatest astronomers of the 1600s, including Hevelius - the father of lunar cartography - and Cassini, carefully documented the appearance of a new star in the skies in 1670. Astronomers know it today by the name Nova Vul 1670. Now, new discoveries made by a team from the Max Planck Institut fur Radioastronomie in Bonn, Germany, reveal that this "new" star that astronomers saw in the sky in 1670 was not a nova, but rather a much rarer stellar collision. Using modern sub-millimeter telescopes, the team was able to finally unravel the mystery more than 340 years later by analyzing a fascinating variety of molecules in the stellar emissions that provided the required tell-tale evidence.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

NASA's Chandra Watches the GK Persei Nova Expand Into Space
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/17/2015 9:40 AM
The GK Persei Nova became a sensation in the astronomical world in 1901 when it suddenly appeared as one of the brightest stars in the sky for a few days, before gradually fading away in brightness. Today, astronomers cite GK Persei as an example of a Classical Nova -- an outburst produced by a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf star. Chandra first observed GK Persei in February 2000 and then again in November 2013. This 13-year baseline has provided astronomers with enough time to notice important differences in the X-ray emission and its properties. These new observations are helping astronomers develop a better understanding of the births, lives, and deaths of stars and how they interact with their surroundings.
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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy "Pi" Day
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/14/2015 9:13 AM
Saturday is "Pi" Day. It is March 14 of the year 2015, or 3-14-15 -- the first five digits of the constant "Pi." At 9:26 AM and 53 seconds, "Pi" will be represented to 10 digits -- 3.141592653. The Greek letter "Pi" is the symbol used in mathematics to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is approximately 3.141592653... Pi has been calculated to over 12 trillion digits beyond its decimal point. As an irrational and transcendental number, it continues infinitely without repetition or discernible pattern. So, to all of our AstroMart friends around the world, Happy "Pi" Day.
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jupiter Moon Ganymede Has a Saltwater Ocean
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/12/2015 9:48 PM
Nearly 500 million miles from the Sun lies a moon orbiting Jupiter that is slightly larger than the planet Mercury and may contain more water than all of Earth's oceans. Temperatures are so cold, though, that water on the surface of Ganymede freezes as hard as rock and the ocean lies roughly 100 miles below the crust. Nevertheless, where there is water there could be life as we know it. Though the presence of an ocean on Ganymede has been long predicted based on theoretical models, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has now found the best evidence for it to date.
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Saturday, March 07, 2015

A Thermonuclear Supernova Ejected Our Galaxy's Fastest Star
Posted by Guy Pirro on 3/7/2015 7:26 AM
Scientists using the W. M. Keck Observatory and Pan-STARRS1 telescopes on Hawaii have discovered a star that breaks the galactic speed record -- traveling with a velocity of about 1200 kilometers per second or 2.7 million miles per hour. This velocity is so high that the star will escape the gravity of our galaxy. The team showed that this compact star was ejected from an extremely tight binary by a thermonuclear supernova explosion.
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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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