An unreal Mars skyline

Pretty, isn’t it? You can find endless copies of it online; just search on the term “mars skyline”. It’s been picked up on tons of Tumblrs and other social media.But yeah, there’s just one problem: it’s not real.” (Bad Astronomy via abby)


Watching the Leonid Meteor Shower

A meteor during the peak of the 2009 Leonid Me...
Image via Wikipedia

“The Leonid meteor shower rolls through the sky once a year, peaking in mid-November. It’s caused by a trail of debris that travels along the orbit of the comet Tempel-Tuttle.The 2010 Leonid meteor shower runs from Wednesday, Nov. 10, through Sunday, Nov. 21. The peak will be the nights between the 17th and the 19th.The Leonids are famous for being spectacular storms — since the orbit of the Temple-Tuttle comet intersects with that of Earth, the debris cloud our planet passes through each year is dense and full of particles and meteoroids. In optimal viewing conditions on a good year, you can see between 15 and 30 meteors per hour streaking across the sky during the peak.” (via Wired How-To Wiki)



Hubble Finds Star Eating a Planet

Hubble Finds a Star Eating a Planet

‘”The Star That Ate My Planet” may sound like a B-grade science fiction movie title, but this is really happening 600 light-years away. Like a moth in a candle flame, a doomed Jupiter-sized planet has moved so close to its sunlike parent star that it is spilling its atmosphere onto the star. This happens because the planet gets so hot that its atmosphere puffs up to the point where the star’s gravity pulls it in. The planet will likely be completely devoured in 10 million years. Observations by Hubble’s new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph measured a variety of elements in the planet’s bloated atmosphere as the planet passed in front of its star. The planet, called WASP-12b, is the hottest known world ever discovered, with an atmosphere seething at 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.’ (HubbleSite)


Jupiter loses a stripe

Original Caption Released with Image: This pro...



Jupiter has lost one of its prominent stripes, leaving its southern half looking unusually blank. Scientists are not sure what triggered the disappearance of the band.

Jupiter’s appearance is usually dominated by two dark bands in its atmosphere – one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern hemisphere.

But recent images taken by amateur astronomers show that the southern band – called the south equatorial belt – has disappeared.

The band was present at the end of 2009, right before Jupiter moved too close to the sun in the sky to be observed from Earth. When the planet emerged from the sun’s glare again in early April, its south equatorial belt was nowhere to be seen.’ (New Scientist)


Elusive Supermassive-Black-Hole Mergers Finally Found

“Observations have shown that nearly every galaxy has a supermassive black hole — a black hole with a mass of one million to one billion times that of the sun — at its center and that galaxies often collide and merge to create larger galaxies. Astronomers have expected to find many mid-merge galaxies by focusing on the two supermassive black holes, which should be orbiting each other in the middle.”

Now, innovative observational techniques have identified 33 of the ‘waltzing’ black hole pairs. (Wired News)


Centuries-Old Star Mystery Coming to a Close

This is an artistic rendering of the epsilon A...

Artistic rendering of e-Aurigae system.

The bright star Epsilon Aurigae, visible to the naked eye in the northern hemisphere, has long puzzled scientists because of a 27-year cycle of dimming and brightening. This suggested that it was an eclipsing binary system. However, the spectral signature of the bright component, suggesting that it was a supermassive giant star, made it difficult to build a model that would account for what might be eclipsing it. Now, the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope may have put the mystery to rest with some ingenious observation techniques.

[Does anyone, apart from my friend abby, whom I have to thank for sending me many such links, enjoy these arcane astronomical items?]


Blue Moon on New Year’s Eve

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For the first time in almost twenty years, there's going to be a Blue Moon on New Year's Eve.

…Don't expect the Moon to actually turn blue, though. “The 'Blue Moon' is a creature of folklore,” explains [professor Philip Hiscock of the Dept. of Folklore at the Memorial University of Newfoundland]. “It's the second full Moon in a calendar month.” (NASA).


Deepest View of Universe

Location of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field on the...

“NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has made the deepest image of the universe ever taken in near-infrared light. The faintest and reddest objects in the image are galaxies that formed 600 million years after the Big Bang. No galaxies have been seen before at such early times. The new deep view, taken in late August 2009, also provides insights into how galaxies grew in their formative years early in the universe’s history. The image was taken in the same region as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), which was taken in 2004 and is the deepest visible-light image of the universe. Hubble’s newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) collects light from near-infrared wavelengths and therefore looks even deeper into the universe, because the light from very distant galaxies is stretched out of the ultraviolet and visible regions of the spectrum into near-infrared wavelengths by the expansion of the universe.” (HubbleSite)


Is time out of joint?

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Rethinking relativity: Everything from the concept of the black hole to GPS timing owes a debt to the theory of general relativity, which describes how gravity arises from the geometry of space and time. The sun's gravitational field, for instance, bends starlight passing nearby because its mass is warping the surrounding space-time. This theory has held up to precision tests in the solar system and beyond, and has explained everything from the odd orbit of Mercury to the way pairs of neutron stars perform their pas de deux.

Yet it is still not clear how well general relativity holds up over cosmic scales, at distances much larger than the span of single galaxies. Now the first, tentative hint of a deviation from general relativity has been found. While the evidence is far from watertight, if confirmed by bigger surveys, it may indicate either that Einstein's theory is incomplete, or else that dark energy, the stuff thought to be accelerating the expansion of the universe, is much weirder than we thought”. (New Scientist)


Physicist makes high-res Milky Way photo

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‘A U.S. physics professor says he has put together 3,000 individual photographs to produce a high-resolution panoramic view of the Milky Way galaxy.

Axel Mellinger of Central Michigan University said he spent 22 months and traveled more than 26,000 miles to take digital photographs at dark sky locations in South Africa, Texas and Michigan to produce the panoramic view.

“This panorama image shows stars 1,000 times fainter than the human eye can see, as well as hundreds of galaxies, star clusters and nebulae,” Mellinger said.

…An interactive version of the panorama image can viewed at http://home.arcor.de/axel.mellinger/.’ (UPI)


Supermassive Black Holes Collide

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“New X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory added to an image previously captured by the Hubble Space Telescope created this amazing composite image of two black holes on the verge of colliding.

The two supermassive black holes, which show up as two points of light in the center of the galaxy NGC 6240, are only 3,000 light-years apart. Astronomers think the two will eventually combine into a single, larger black hole.” (Wired)


Let there be night

‘The public's “right to starlight” is steadily being eroded by urban illumination that is the bane of astronomers everywhere, says the International Astronomical Union.

The body, which wrapped up an 11-day general assembly in Rio de Janeiro that attracted galaxy-gazers from around the world, argues that authorities should use more unobtrusive lighting in cities and towns.

Such moves would not only free up the night skies to make for easier viewing, but also promote environmental protection, energy savings and tourism, it said in a resolution.’ (ABC Science).


The 2009 Perseid Meteor Shower

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Looking northeast around midnight on August 12th

‘Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, the source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Although the shower won't peak until August 11th and 12th, the show is already getting underway.

…Don't get too excited, cautions Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. “We're just in the outskirts of the debris stream now. If you go out at night and stare at the sky, you'll probably only see a few Perseids per hour.”

This will change, however, as August unfolds. “Earth passes through the densest part of the debris stream sometime on August 12th. Then, you could see dozens of meteors per hour.”

For sky watchers in North America, the watch begins after nightfall on August 11th and continues until sunrise on the 12th. Veteran observers suggest the following strategy: Unfold a blanket on a flat patch of ground. (Note: The middle of your street is not a good choice.) Lie down and look up. Perseids can appear in any part of the sky, their tails all pointing back to the shower's radiant in the constellation Perseus. Get away from city lights if you can.’ NASA.


Longest Solar Eclipse of the 21st Century

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A totally eclipsed sunset in Antarctica.

The event begins at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, July 22nd, in the Gulf of Khambhat just east of India. Morning fishermen will experience a sunrise like nothing they've ever seen before. Rising out of the waves in place of the usual sun will be an inky-black hole surrounded by pale streamers splayed across the sky. Sea birds will stop squawking, unsure if the day is beginning or not, as a strange shadow pushes back the dawn and stirs up a breeze of unaccustomed chill.

Most solar eclipses produce this sort of surreal experience for a few minutes at most. The eclipse of July 22, 2009, however, will last as long as 6 minutes and 39 seconds in some places, not far short of the 7 and a half minute theoretical maximum. It won't be surpassed in duration until the eclipse of June 13, 2132.” (NASA).


Coming soon: First pictures of a black hole

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The region of the Sagittarius A supermassive black hole, as seen by Chandra.

Black holes are perhaps the most outrageous prediction of science, and even though we can paint fine theoretical pictures of them and point to evidence for many objects that seem to be black hole-ish, nobody has ever actually seen one.

All that could change in the next few months. Astronomers are working to tie together a network of microwave telescopes across the planet to make a single instrument with the most acute vision yet. They will turn this giant eye towards what they believe is a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, code name Sagittarius A. (New Scientist)


Particles Larger Than Galaxies Fill the Universe?

Observation of a neutrino hitting a proton in ...

‘The oldest of the subatomic particles called neutrinos might each encompass a space larger than thousands of galaxies, new simulations suggest.

Neutrinos as we know them today are created by nuclear reactions or radioactive decay.

According to quantum mechanics, the “size” of a particle such as a neutrino is defined by a fuzzy range of possible locations. We can only detect these particles when they interact with something such as an atom, which collapses that range into a single point in space and time.

For neutrinos created recently, the ranges they can exist in are very, very small.

But over the roughly 13.7-billion-year lifetime of the cosmos, “relic” neutrinos have been stretched out by the expansion of the universe, enlarging the range in which each neutrino can exist.

“We’re talking maybe up to roughly ten billion light-years” for each neutrino, said study co-author George Fuller of the University of California, San Diego.

“That’s nearly on the order of the size of the observable universe.” ‘ (National Geographic)


Boom From Universe’s Early Days

It was snap, crackle and pop in the early days of the universe. You would not want to live there. Astronomers said Tuesday that they had smashed the long-distance record in astronomy when they recorded an explosion, probably a massive early star, that lived and died 13 billion years ago, only about 600 million years after the Big Bang. The explosion was detected on April 23 as a burst of gamma-rays by NASA’s Swift satellite, which has been patrolling the skies for these powerful explosions for the last five years.” (New York Times )


Quadruple Saturn Moon Transit

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Face of Saturn transited by four of its moons.

Fantastic Hubble image of the transit of four moons — Enceladus, Dione, the giant orange moon Titan, and Mimas — across Saturn’s face. Icy white Enceladus and Dione are on the left, casting their black shadows on the cloud surface of the planet. Mimas is on the right edge of Saturn’s disc, just above the rings. via HubbleSite.


Cosmic Coincidence

“On Tuesday morning, Feb. 24th, Saturn and Comet Lulin will converge in the constellation Leo only 2o apart. At the same time, Comet Lulin will be making its closest approach to Earth (38 million miles), while four of Saturn’s moons transit the disk of the ringed planet. Oh, and the Moon will be New, providing dark skies for anyone who wishes to see the show…

.Set your alarm for 1 am. That’s the best time to see Comet Lulin riding high in the southern sky pleasingly close to golden Saturn: sky map. To the unaided eye, Lulin looks like a faint patch of gas. Point your telescope at that patch and you will see a lovely green comet.” via SpaceWeather.com.


Northern Lights captured in 3D for the first time

November Aurora

Until I actually saw the Northern Lights in the flesh, I had always wondered about their 3-dimensional structure, sensing that 2-d photos do not do them justice. Now, a team has made a 3-d film (the kind you watch with those red and green goggles) of “the largest thing on earth you can visualize in 3-d”, filming at -40F with two cameras twenty miles distant in Lapland.

View a video on the expedition, with some footage from the film, here. (New Scientist)


Spicules: Jets on the Sun

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Imagine a pipe as wide as a state and as long as half the Earth. Now imagine that this pipe is filled with hot gas moving 50,000 kilometers per hour. Further imagine that this pipe is not made of metal but a transparent magnetic field. You are envisioning just one of thousands of young spicules on the active Sun. Pictured above is perhaps the highest resolution image yet of these enigmatic solar flux tubes… Time-sequenced images have recently shown that spicules last about five minutes, starting out as tall tubes of rapidly rising gas but eventually fading as the gas peaks and falls back down to the Sun. These images also indicate that the ultimate cause of spicules is sound-like waves that flow over the Sun’s surface but leak into the Sun’s atmosphere.” (APOD)

Aesthetics & Astronomy

“This survey will study your perception of multi-wavelength astronomical imagery and the effects of the scientific and artistic choices in processing astronomical data. The images come from a variety of space and ground-based observatories, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, the Very Large Array, the Hinode satellite, and many others. Evaluation of such valuable data will benefit astronomy across the electromagnetic spectrum of astronomical images, and may help visualization of data in other scientific disciplines.” (Astroart @ Harvard via abby)

Hubble Finds Unidentified Object in Space, Scientists Puzzled

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“This is exactly why we send astronauts to risk their life to service Hubble: in a paper published last week in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists detail the discovery of a new unidentified object in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know about you, but when a research paper conclusion says ‘We suggest that the transient may be one of a new class’ I get a chill of oooh-aaahness down my spine. Especially when after a hundred days of observation, it disappeared from the sky with no explanation. Get your tinfoil hats out, because it gets even weirder.” (Gizmodo)