January 31, 2011
Top 5 Astronomical Events to See Before you Die!!
I think astronomy is so intriguing for me because I am totally in awe of how massive our universe is compared how miniscule we are as human beings. When I look out into the sky, I stare in awe over how miraculous our universe really is. It's beautiful and truly unbelievable. Yet it is there, and I would love to experience as much of it as possible before I die. I found this awesome site that shows 5 astronomical events that we should all witness before death. I have yet to see them all, but if I had to choose one, it would be the Aurora, or the Northern Lights. The sky looks so beautiful in all of the pictures I have seen, and one can witness the event once a year in Alaska. Halley's Comet also looks amazing, but according to the site, we may not be able to see it again until 2061! While the link contains information on a few astronomical events, I know that there are many more that would be just as amazing. So what other astronomical events would you like to witness before you die? I know I want to see it all!
Here's the link;
Humanity's Quest for other Earth-like Discoveries and Society's Imposed Limits on Astrobiology
As telescopes make strides in distinguishing objects, like multi-star systems from star-planet systems, and society's quest for discovering earth-like objects grows more intense, we find ourselves stuck in a battle that demands results, but the results are never promising. Especially as economies begin to struggle and funding has been a huge trouble, even for large agencies like NASA, astronomers are pressed to becoming marketers by essentially selling their observations/projections as promises. This has made the challenge of finding such objects even more difficult, but the Kepler has seemingly made some leeway amidst all the political drama. Kepler is scheduled to release a list of 400 of the "best bets so far for harbing planets" on Wednesday, all of which are in the "Goldilocks" Zone. Astrobiologists will surely be excited, but this list will be under alot of scrutiny. Since funding is limited, we only have a couple shots to choosing the best-candidates. Don't worry though, all the proposed planets are only 500-3000 light-years away, meaning we may have the chance to study them in our generation, but humankind won't see them up-close and personal for quite some time.
The full article can be found at:
January 30, 2011
What Happens in the Dark
I found this Wall Street Journal article about an upcoming book, The 4% Universe, which explores the dark side of the universe. I was surprised to learn that dark matter takes up 23% of our universe, and dark energy is a whopping 73%. The book takes an in-depth look at what the function of dark matter is, and explains how a study of a supernova revealed that the vacuum of empty space takes up 73% of the energy of the universe, whereas many believed the vacuum energy was zero. All that is really known about dark matter at this point is that it an be observed by its gravitational effects, which are shown in orbits. The book "gives a lively account of how astronomers have met the challenge, finding convincing evidence for a relatively simple, but still mystifying, 'Standard Model' of cosmology." The biggest interest factor for me from this article was just the fact that even though we know so much about our universe, that information only covers 4%, and there is so much more to discover.
First Sodium Laser "Constellation"
Astronomers at the Gemini South Observatory in Chile have created a mega-laser in order to obtain clearer images of "distant galaxies, newborn stars and other cosmic objects." The laser will allow astronomers to create a 3D image of the night sky and clear up images that are typically blurred. The laser will "undergo a series of commissioning tests before it begins science observations in 2012." The laser was switched on for the first time on Saturday, January 22, ten years after the start of a laser development program.
Full article can be viewed here: http://www.space.com/10709-telescope-laser-photos-adaptive-optics.html
We all know about the daily and weekly forecasting of weather on Earth. But, what about predicting space weather?
"The first large-scale, physics-based space weather prediction model is transitioning from research into operation."
Apparently, "The model will provide forecasters with a one-to-four day advance warning of high speed streams of solar plasma and Earth-directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs)."
This seems very helpful in preventing and predicting harsh "space-weather."
Read the article here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110127131133.htm
Students design new astronomy game
College students in Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku Island, have designed a new astronomy card game to help promote the subject.
The students believe that the new game could boost interest in space as well as providing hours of fun for players, Japan Times reported.
Called Messier Cards, named after French astronomer Charles Messier, the game has similar rules to Uno. Players have to match categories of cards and the winner is the first to use all of their original cards.
"After playing with the cards, please take a look at the stars in the sky. It will help lighten your mood, as well," said Daisuke Yamada, a 22-year-old student at the University of Tokushima's faculty of engineering.
The cards feature a wide range of space objects including photographs of the Andromeda Galaxy and the Pleiades star cluster.
Written by Susan Ballion.
Asteroid Deflection: What If a Huge Asteroid Was Going to Slam Into Earth?
This article discussed the possibility of a 25 million-ton chunk of rock slamming into the Earth in the future. It provided a quote from NASA stating that, "A collision with an object of this size traveling at an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 miles per hour would be catasrophic." The article then went on to suggest ways to prevent such an encounter from happening such as by either altering the path of the object or finding some way to destroy the object. Dr. Matloff is one of the leading researchers on the case and said that the best way to prevent the collision of Earth with a foreign object would be to divert the object's path. The asteroid that is thought to make a close pass with Earth in 2029 and 2036 is Apophis. However, Dr. Matloff stated that an impact with Apophis is very unlikely, so there is no need to worry about its impact.
The full article can be found at:
January 29, 2011
Exploding Star Sets Distance Record
After 13 billion years, astronomers were able to see light from and explosion of a mega-star which is currently the most distant object ever detected. The gamma-ray burst(GRB) from the star is now allowing scientists to see back into the infancy of the universe. GRBs are the most violent explosions known to exist and they are accompanied by the death of a massive star. It is believed that the source star of the GRB has collapsed on itself to form a black hole.
The discovery, made by the NASA's satellite swift, is a great break through because the explosion occurred during the so-called "cosmic dark ages", which occured about 400,000 years after the Big Bang set the universe in motion.
During this period, free electrons and protons combined to form neutral atoms with the same number of positive and negative charges, resulting in a "dark" universe. It took 800 to 900 million years after the Big Bang for atoms and molecules to "re-ionize" and make the universe we see today.
NASA's New Robotic Lander Prototype Skates Through Integration and Testing
NASA created a new smaller and versatile lander for airless bodies. They created a prototype that passed all of the testing. This new lander will be useful to explore the moon and asteroids that can have dangerous or high-risk areas for the landers to explore. The smaller frame will allow more exploration, which will allow astronomers to learn even more about the airless bodies in the universe. I think that it is great that technology is still developing to help us learn more about our universe. It will definitely be worth the money I believe. The astronomers hope to reach some more scientific goals through this new technology. It will be interesting to see what information these landers will bring us in the future.
Read the whole article at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110126172209.htm
Global Eruption Rocks the Sun: Scientists Re-Evaluate Ideas About Solar Storms
Astronomers found out that on August 1, 2010 a hemisphere of the sun erupted and filaments of magnetism exploded and hot gas was sent into space. They figured out that solar storms can affect our Earth through the magnetism. This would help people predict the weather on Earth, which could help forecasters. The astronomers and scientists really believe this is a breakthrough that they figured out the solar storms can affect our Earth's weather. They think that it will help many different people out like the airline companies, who can now predict the weather in a more accurate fashion. I think that this is very interesting and it would be so helpful to know the weather. I feel like they are always so wrong about the weather and it can ruin games, plans, etc. It would be excellent to have a more accurate forecast.
Read the entire article at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101213154631.htm
UCSC astronomers find earliest and most distant galaxy
This is a pretty cool article that goes very well with what we were learning about a few weeks ago. It is basically an update on what we know as the most distant galaxy we can see with a telescope. With NASA's hubble telescope, Santa Cruz astronomers estimate they found a galaxy from 13.2 billion years ago. This is the closest find as of today, and it is just 480 million years after the birth of the universe 13.7 billion years ago.
The full article can be read at:
January 28, 2011
Jupiter Scar From Titanic-size Asteroid
It has been published recently that a "titanic-sized" asteroid has struck Jupiter on July 19th, 2009.
"Both the fact that the impact itself happened at all and the implication that it may well have been an asteroid rather than a comet shows us that the outer solar system is a complex, violent and dynamic place, and that many surprises may be out there waiting for us," said Glen Orton, a NASA astronomer.
With this said, it is becoming more and more evident that our universe can be a dangerous, and somewhat unpredictable, place. Should we worry on Earth? If we were struck by such a large object, what would happen? What do you guys think?
Article found here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110126171852.htm
January 27, 2011
Jupiter's Moons to Perform Double Shadow Play on Monday
This past Monday, a remarkable series of events occurred involving two of Jupiter’s four moons. The moons orbited around Jupiter and together became engulfed within its shadow, resulting in eclipses. Although Jupiter can be seen with the naked eye and its moons with binoculars, this event required a powerful telescope. The eclipse could be viewed across the country (at least in part) and lasted for approximately five hours. More information and an illustration can be found at:
NASA honors astronauts who fell in the line of duty
As new discoveries are made almost daily in the field of astronomy, it is important to look back at some of the people who made past discoveries possible- the astronauts. Nasa took today to honor astronauts who have died while on duty. NASA's Day of Remembrance falls on the last Thursday in January of every year, but this year it has even more significance as tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the shuttle Challenger launch. After nine successful missions, the Challenger took off for the tenth time on January 28, 1986 and broke up mid flight at the 73rd second after takeoff. It broke up due to the failure of an O-ring on the solid-fuel rocket booster. This tragedy is just one of multiple that have occurred. We should all honor the astronauts who risk their lives trying to advance the field of astronomy.
Full article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41298090/ns/technology_and_science-space/
January 26, 2011
Reconnecting with Mar's Exploration Rover
On March 20th of 2010, Earth had its last communication with Spirit, an explorations rover sent to Mars. Spirit and it's twin rover, Opportunity, both assisted in finding evidence for wet environments on Mars in the past. Although Earth still has a communication connection with Opportunity, they have none with Spirit. NASA knows that Spirit lost two of it's six wheels, and so it is assumed that this effected its ability to tilt its solar panels to get solar energy. Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager, John Callas, comments in the article, saying that everyday there is an increased amount of solar energy, so these next few months are going to be vital in possibly reconnecting with Spirit. They are hoping to reconnect with Spirit before mid-March, which is when spring ends in this area of Mars, and the possibilities for Spirit to gain solar energy drop.
NASA's Hubble Finds Most Distant Galaxy Candidate
So NASA has focused upon the Hubble Ultra Deep Field and found this faint red spot that could be one of the oldest objects observed in the universe thus far. It makes me wonder about our ability to focus in on objects even farther in the universe to attempt to further gauge the age of the universe. This object is presumed to be a compact galaxy, and I can't wait to see whether or not the James Webb Space Telescope or a retrofit of the Hubble Telescope further reveals what this object is and other details therein.
Top Ten Hubble Space Telescope Images Voted By Viewers
When studying astronomy, you understand how far stars and universes are from Earth. So upon looking for interesting space news, i came across 10 images that the HST took which interested people upon first sight. The picture are not only amazing, but it also comes to show how technological advanced our society has come. Take the time to look at these pictures and read the captions under them. It will give you a good break from all that astro study, and you will learn some interesting facts in the process.
Here is the link:
January 25, 2011
Scientists Plan Uranus Probe
British space scientists are leading plans to send a probe to explore giant ice planet Uranus. They have put forward a detailed proposal to the European Space Agency to launch a joint mission with NASA to the distant world, 1.8 billion miles from the sun. It would give scientists their first close-up views of Uranus since NASA’s Voyager 2 flew past and captured fleeting pictures 25 years ago. The £400million mission is designed to go in orbit to study the rings around Uranus and answer questions such as why it gives off so little heat.
To view full article along with pictures visit: http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/Cool-Astronomy/2011/0107/Scientists-plan-Uranus-probe
January 24, 2011
NASA's First Solar Sail NanoSail-D Deploys in Low-Earth Orbit
It was confirmed on Friday January 21, 2011 that NASA successfully deployed its first solar sail, called NanoSail-D, into low-Earth orbit and the system is operating properly. Solar sail technology is currently being investigated by NASA as an alternative form of propulsion that can be used for needed improvements in de-orbit technologies. NanoSail-D was specifically designed to demonstrate the legitimacy of compact solar sail boom technology that could prove vital for future missions in space. NanoSail-D launch also demonstrated a spacecraft's ability to launch a nano-satellite into orbit and avoiding re-contact with the primary satellite, which is something that Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, or FASTSAT, is currently working on. NanoSail-D will remain in low-Earth orbit for 70-120 days, depending on weather conditions, and will be sending back beacon signals during this time period in order to track its progression through its orbit.
Astronomers Identify Rocky Planet Inside Another Star's Solar System
NASA's Kepler Space telescope team have announced the first indisputable detection of a rocky planet outside our solar system. The planet was named "Kepler-10b" and orbits only two million miles from its star. Although Kepler-10b is too hot to possibly sustain life, its discovery is a step toward finding other rocky planets that could possibly be similar to Earth and have the conditions to sustain life.The article goes on to define the conditions that would have to be met to sustain life.
Full Article: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/vergano/2011-01-23-exoplanet_N.htm
January 23, 2011
NASA to launch newest Earth-observing research mission
NASA is preparing to launch its newest Earth-observing research mission called the Glory. The mission, originally confirmed in 2005, was developed by a team of engineers and scientists at several government, industry, and academic institutions across the country. The glory is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California February 23 at 5:09 a.m. EST where it will join a fleet of satellites called the Afternoon Constellation (A-train) in space. The mission is intended to improve our understanding of how the Sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate. The two primary instruments intended to help with this are the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS) and the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM). After its launch, mission operators will conduct verification tests for 30 days and then begin to collect data for at least 3 years (NASA 2011).
Full article at http://www.astronomy.com/en/News-Observing/News/2011/01/NASA%20prepares%20to%20launch%20next%20Earth-observing%20satellite%20mission.aspx
NASA Spacecraft Prepares for Valentine's Day Comet Rendezvous
On February 14th, 2010 the NASA spacecraft Stardust-NExT will have an encounter with the comet Temple 1, a Jupiter-family comet. Back in 2005 another NASA spacecraft, Deep Impact delivered an impactor to the comet. This encounter will allow scientists to examine the changes on the comet that occurred since then during which time the comet orbited the sun. Stardust-NExT will take 72 high resolution images in an attempt to examine the dust emitted into the comet’s coma- the material surrounding its nucleus. Hopefully the information collected will give insight into how the comet and others like it formed and evolved.
The full article can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/stardust/news/stardust20110119.html
January 19, 2011
New Mars Rover
NASA is developing a new Mars rover called Sample Analysis at Mars, or "SAM." SAM's main objective is to collect samples with hopes of discovering carbon-containing compounds called organic molecules. The hope is that these molecules will be the same as those here on Earth. SAM will be roving around, Curiosity, Mars (the name of the landing site). Carbon and hydrogen are able to exist without life, but the reverse is not possible. Discovery of these elements will only aid in the discovering of life on Mars, should it exist.
NASA plans on launching the Curiosity rover somewhere between November 25th and December 18th of this year. It is scheduled to land on the Martian surface in August of 2012 and will be in operation for two years. SAM and nine other instruments will be utilized to discover whether or not the environment around Curiosity ever played host to favorable life-sustaining conditions and if the conditions currently allow for the preservation of life, should it ever have existed.
The article can be read here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110119095406.htm
Earth-sized Planet Outside the Solar System
A planet 560 light years from Earth was recently found orbiting a star similar to our Sun just beyond the solar system. The planet is named Kepler-10b due to the findings of NASA'a Kepler space telescope. The planet is said to be slightly larger than Earth; however nearly 4.6 times more massive, and most likely to be made of molten rock due to its blistering surface temperature of about 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Kepler 10-b completes its orbit every 20 hours and is located 20 times closer to its parent star than Mercury is to the Sun (Clark,2011).
The full article can be found at:
January 18, 2011
Cassini Rocks Rhea Rendezvous
Cassini, a NASA spacecraft, has just completed its closest flyby around Rhea, one of Saturn's moon. With such a close distance to its surface, Cassini was able to capture multiple images of the moon's surface, allowing scientists to examine more closely its atmosphere.
The full article can be read here:
New Insight on the Effect of Tides between Stars and Planets
Researchers in Spain have just discovered a huge planet orbiting a pulsating star in the constellation of Andromeda. The star (WASP-33) is about 1.5 times the mass of the sun, and it is special because it pulsates radially and non-radially. These researchers also discovered a huge planet (WASP-33b) orbiting this star. The planet has over four times the mass of Jupiter, but it orbits the star almost twenty times closer than Mercury orbits the Sun. Scientists think that this huge body orbiting so close to the star could be the cause of the star's unique pulsating, a relationship which has never before been observed. Scientists say that this discovery "represents a landmark in the world of exoplanets since it may provide vital information on pulsations modes that occur in stars, the effects of tides between stars and planets, and the dynamical evolution of planetary systems". (Herrero et al, 2011)
More information can be found at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110118122548.htm
E. Herrero, J. C. Morales, I. Ribas, R. Naves. WASP-33: the first δ Scuti exoplanet host star. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 2011; 526: L10
January 17, 2011
"Standard Candle" Actually Quite Dynamic
Standard Candles or Cepheids illuminate the size of the universe. However, unlike previously thought, Cepheids shrink in mass. Using the Spitzer Telescope, astronomers, with this new knowledge, will be able to "make more precise measurements of the size, age, and expansion rate of our universe."
Cepheids are the foundation for measuring the distances to galaxies. Understanding that Cepheids are not of a constant size can significantly affect the measurements of these distances. In fact, like actual candles, Cepheids deteriorate as they burn.
The star in question is Delta Cephei. Interestingly, some stars pulse with a beat that is related to their brightness. The measurements of how bright the star appears in the sky compared to its intrinsic brightness allows for the distance calculations. But, given the finding that winds from a Cepheid blow off much gas and dust, the brightness of the Cepheid would be shrouded. To put it in perspective, astronomers estimated that the wind of Delta Cephei is up to one million times stronger than the wind blown by our Sun.
For further proof, astronomers followed up with observations of other Cepheids and found that around 25% of the Cepheids are also losing mass.
An article like this goes to show that knowledge of our universe is constantly expanding. With advances in technology, astronomers are able to make discoveries like this. And who knows, a finding in twenty years could disprove this one.
The full article and accompanying images can be found at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/news/spitzercepheids20110112.html
January 16, 2011
Biggest Color Image of the Sky!
Astronomers and enthusiasts alike now have the chance to see the biggest most complete rendering of the sky. Gone are the days when one would have to look through their own telescope to grasp the magnitude of the celestial sky. Thanks to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and decades of pictures, astronomers have now come up with an image composed of millions of 2.8 megapixel images.
Started in 1998 at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico the image was compiled by attaching a detector to a 2.5 meter telescope. The image is so revolutionary that Mike Blanton, a professor from New York, believes "This is one of the biggest bounties in the history of science." And while that is a pretty bold statement I think everyone should appreciate the amount of time and data that went into this project. To really appreciate how graphic it is, if you were to view the terapixel image you would need 500,000 high definition TV's to view it at full resolution!
The article can be found at:
January 15, 2011
Best Way to Measure Dark Energy Just Got Better
Dark energy is a mysterious force that pervades all space, acting as a "push" to accelerate the Universe's expansion. Despite being 70 percent of the Universe, dark energy was only discovered in 1998 by two teams observing Type Ia supernovae. A Type 1a supernova is a cataclysmic explosion of a white dwarf star.
These supernovae are currently the best way to measure dark energy because they are visible across intergalactic space. Also, they can function as "standard candles" in distant galaxies since the intrinsic brightness is known. Just as drivers estimate the distance to oncoming cars at night from the brightness of their headlights, measuring the apparent brightness of a supernova yields its distance (fainter is farther). Measuring distances tracks the effect of dark energy on the expansion of the Universe.
The best way of measuring dark energy just got better, thanks to a new study of Type Ia supernovae led by Ryan Foley of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He has found a way to correct for small variations in the appearance of these supernovae, so that they become even better standard candles. The key is to sort the supernovae based on their color.
The full article can be found at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110113145054.htm
NASA Research Team Reveals Moon Has Earth-Like Core
A team at NASA has discovered that the moon may indeed have a core very similar to earth's. By analyzing data from the 1960's and 70's, teams have uncovered many interesting findings. The moon possesses an iron rich core just like the earth. However, it differs in that the moon has a molten boundary layer around the core, measuring about 300 miles thick. Much of the evidence was gathered from seismic testing of things such as "moon quakes".
The full story can be found here:
January 13, 2011
Distant Galaxy Cluster Found
An international team of astronomers have found a set a galaxies that are in the early stages of becoming a galaxy cluster (a proto-galaxy). It has been named Cosmos-Aztec3 and it is located approximately 12.6 billion light-years away. As we have learned in class, due to this distance, these astronomers are watching this proto-galaxy form as it was 12.6 billion years ago. That's equivalent to watching a galaxy form only 1 billion years after the Big Bang!
Scientists can utilize this significant study to examine both how superclusters form in "real-time" and how galaxies interacted together in the early stages of our universe.
The full story can be found here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1346822/Distant-galaxy-cluster-COSMOS-AzTEC3-discovered-NASA-telesopes.html#
New Zodiac Signs!
New Zodiac Signs!
Scientific Role of the James Webb Space Telescope
James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) was the highest priority for large space
missions in the 2001 decadal survey2. An infrared-optimized telescope, Webb is a
successor to both the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Webb’s 6.5-m segmented mirror is more than twice the diameter of the Hubble mirror and seven
times that of Spitzer, making Webb the largest space telescope in construction. Webb is
due for launch in 2014, and will be operated for 5 years with enough fuel to allow an
extension to ten years.
In April 2007, all ten of Webb’s enabling technologies were ready for flight development.
The project passed its Preliminary Design Review in March 2008; in April 2010, Webb
passed its Critical Design Review (CDR), indicating approval to proceed with
construction. Many of the most critical observatory components have advanced well
beyond CDR status. For example, all the science instruments will be delivered in the
summer of 2011, and the telescope optics are on a similar schedule. All of the components
meet their performance requirements and will enable the revolutionary observations
envisioned in NWNH.
“Astronomers are on the threshold of finding the root of our cosmic origins by revealing
the very first objects to form in the history of the universe. This step will conclude a quest
that is akin to that of an anthropologist in search of our most ancient human ancestors.”
NWNH, Page 7-5.
Webb plays a critical role for this science theme, often termed ‘first light.’ The “first stars”
themselves are too faint to observe individually, but they should form protogalaxies - the
collapsing clumps of gas that are the small building blocks of future galaxies like our
Milky Way. Webb will provide unparalleled sensitivity to light emitted by the first
galaxies and pinpoint the formation sites of the first stars (NWNH Page 7-5). Webb will
also obtain spectra to determine the state of these early stellar populations and the relative
abundances of the elements in them, both of which are key measurements to understand
their formation and evolution. After Webb, the proposed next generation of giant groundbased
optical/infrared telescopes would investigate these primitive objects in more detail
(i.e., measure their masses, more detailed chemical compositions, and ages).
Webb will be a crucial tool in tracing the trail from cosmic dawn to the light of today: how
and why stellar birth rates grew, peaked when the universe was a few billion years old, and
subsequently declined. Simulations suggest that the first galaxies were likely relatively
small and that the giant galaxies observed today grew by successive mergers. Webb “will
provide observations on the assembly of galaxies over cosmic time” through this merger
sequence (NWNH Page 7-14). These observations will be complemented with ALMA: a
“powerful synergy between [Webb] and ALMA applies not only to [the] first objects in the
universe, but also to the generations of stars that followed them” (NWNH Page 7-5).
The “fossil record” of how our own Milky Way galaxy was assembled can be traced by
studying galactic stellar populations with Webb (NWNH Page 7-14), along with LSST and
adaptive optics capability on GSMT. Our understanding of star formation under a wide
variety of physical conditions will benefit from surveys of the giant molecular clouds
within which stars form. Complementary studies of the young stars spawned in these
molecular regions will require infrared surveys with high angular resolution both in our
galaxy and in the neighboring galaxies the Magellanic Clouds, using Webb in space and
GSMT equipped with adaptive optics on the ground (NWNH 7-14).
“Astronomers are now ready to embark on the next stage in the quest for life beyond the
solar system—to search for nearby, habitable, rocky or terrestrial planets with liquid
water and oxygen… The observational challenge is great, but armed with new
technologies and advances in understanding of the architectures of nearby planetary
systems, astronomers are poised to rise to it.” NWNH, Page 1-3
The search for life around other stars is a multi-stage process. Webb will “take the first
steps” along this path (NWNH Page 2-2), laying critical groundwork for the more complex
and specialized instrumentation of a longer-term program. Webb, “with its superb midinfrared
capability, will also use imaging and spectroscopy transit techniques to study the
atmospheres of exoplanets” (NWNH Page 7-9).
The currently operating Spitzer Space Telescope has already demonstrated the capability
of seeing objects roughly twice the size of Earth around small stars. Webb’s much larger
collecting area will take the science to an entirely new level. Webb will be “a premier tool
for studying planets orbiting stars that are smaller and cooler than the Sun” (NWNH Page
7-9). The goal is detecting water on an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone around
another star, and this goal is within the reach of Webb. “The era of study of … cousins of
the Earth … is underway” (NWNH 2-4).
Knowledge of young circumstellar disks—from which planets eventually form—enriches
and complements observations of mature exoplanets. Webb, along with ground-based
adaptive-optics infrared telescopes, will provide spatially resolved multi-wavelength
images and spectra of light scattered from these disks with spatial resolution comparable to
that of ALMA (NWNH 7-8). The study of these nascent planetary systems will benefit
greatly from the high spatial resolution of GSMT, fitted with high-contrast instrumentation
so that the faint disks do not get lost in the glare of their parent stars; this would
complement the wavelength coverage of Webb and ALMA (NWNH 7-15).
Physics of the Universe
“We can now say that there is a ubiquitous and ethereal substance called “dark energy”
that is expanding the fabric of space between the galaxies at ever faster speeds and
accounts for 75 percent of the mass-energy of the universe today. The effects are so tiny
on the scale of an experiment on Earth that the only way forward is to use the universe at
large as a giant laboratory.” NWNH Page 7-10
One of the most remarkable advances in astrophysics throughout the past decade has been
confirmation of cosmic acceleration, and the concomitant theory of dark energy as its
explanation. Some doubt lingers, however, about whether there is something missing in
our fundamental understanding of physics. “Comparing the expansion history of the
universe with the history of the growth of structure will in principle enable us to test
whether dark energy or modifications of general relativity are responsible for cosmic
acceleration” (NWNH Page 2-27). Webb will excel in exploring the evolutionary pathway
from “first light” to the galaxies of today (NWNH Pages 7-5 and 7-6), and thus may break
the degeneracy between dark energy and fundamental physics. In particular, Webb’s large
aperture has the potential to vastly improve the calibration of the distance scale for the
earliest supernovae that are the signposts of acceleration. In doing so, Webb will help
refine our understanding of dark energy.
Another frequent focus of fundamental
physics is the study of black holes, due
to their extreme nature. Two of the
major goals of the coming decade for
these exciting and enigmatic objects are:
first, to understand the cosmic evolution
of black hole “ecosystems” (i.e., the
intense interplay between the black
holes and their environments); and
second, to figure out how these
extremely powerful “engines” function.
Black hole masses will be measured by
Webb and ground-based optical and
radio telescopes (NWNH 2-18).
Are the supermassive black holes we can now detect only the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ i.e., the
most noticeable members of a vast but undetected population? Deep imaging surveys in
the near-infrared and X-ray regimes, with follow-up spectroscopy by Webb and groundbased
extremely-large telescopes, will detect and study the growth of the less massive
objects through the capture of gas and accompanying emission of electromagnetic
radiation (NWNH 2-14).
Space Studies Board, National Research Council, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2010.
2. Space Studies Board, National Research Council, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001.
To see pictures, please visit http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/publicpublications.html
and click "Scientific Role of the James Webb Space Telescope in 'New Worlds, New Horizons' "
I was very excited to see this article because I learned about the JWST this past summer but didn't realize all that it was going to be used for.
January 12, 2011
Astronomers discover close-knit pairs of massive black holes
Astronomers recently discovered 16 black holes that are unusually close together. Astronomers are getting closer to figuring out what happens when black holes merge together. It is thought that when these black holes merge, that they produce large gravitational waves, but these waves have yet to be detected. "These close pairs are a missing link between the wide binary systems seen previously and the merging black-hole pairs at even smaller separations that we believe must be there." says S. George Djorgovsk. For the entire article go to:
Images of some of the merging systems are available at http://www.astro.caltech.edu/~george/bbh.
The new cosmic microwave background
Every 10 years or so, astronomers get a new view of the sky from space, measured in the microwave light frequencies. To get the best view of these wavelengths, we need to observe from space.
In the 1990s, NASA launched the COBE space telescope which took our first image of the whole sky in the microwave. Cosmologists were very excited to see that the sky "glowed" at a blackbody temperature of 2.7Kelvin. This glow is the remnant of the Big Bang.
In the 2000s, NASA's WMAP telescope also mapped the sky in the microwave wavelengths, but at a higher spatial resolution. WMAP showed that there were hot spots and cold spots in this background radiation. These fluctuations told us about the amount of matter (both normal and dark) in the Universe. However, WMAP still lacked the resolution to see real astrophysical objects in the sky.
Now it is Europe's turn. ESA (the European Space Agency) launched Planck a few years back and the first data and science was shown yesterday at the AAS meeting here in Seattle. Planck can actually see the radiation generated by the hot gas in galaxy clusters. And since Planck also has good frequency as well as spatial resolution, it can separate the clumps of gas in clusters from the hot and cold clumps seen in the WMAP data (those were not associated with real objects).
In this image below, you can see how the galaxy cluster first looks like a cold (blue) spot on the sky. But then, as we look at higher frequencies, the cluster looks hotter (red). This is how Planck is finding galaxy clusters.
Because Planck is an all sky survey, it is likely that the telescope will find the most massive galaxy clusters in the Universe.
January 11, 2011
Hubble Telescope Zeroes In On Green Blob In Space
In 2007 a Dutch school teacher discovered Hanny's Voorwerp, a large "green blob" in space. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has recently taken pictures, displaying its star generating power. The new photo was released at the AAS meeting in Seattle.
The blob is about the size of the Milky Way Galaxy and is nearly 650 million light years away.
NASA Finds First Rocky World Outside Our Solar System
NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.
The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.
"All of Kepler's best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler's deputy science team lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and primary author of a paper on the discovery accepted by the Astrophysical Journal. "The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it's beginning to pay off."
Kepler's ultra-precise photometer measures the tiny decrease in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness. The distance between the planet and the star is calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star.
Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. However, since it orbits once every 0.84 days, Kepler-10b is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.
Kepler-10 was the first star identified that could potentially harbor a small transiting planet, placing it at the top of the list for ground-based observations with the W.M. Keck Observatory 10-meter telescope in Hawaii.
Scientists waiting for a signal to confirm Kepler-10b as a planet were not disappointed. Keck was able to measure tiny changes in the star's spectrum, called Doppler shifts, caused by the telltale tug exerted by the orbiting planet on the star.
The rest of the article is on http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/rocky_planet.html
So, even though the planet is hotter than flowing lava.. 2500˚ F, NASA was still happy.
The program scientist says, "The discovery of Kepler-10b, a bona fide rocky world, is a significant milestone in the search for planets similar to our own.”
January 10, 2011
New, Tiny Earth-Like Planet Is Discovered
A new discovery, an exoplanet called Kepler-10b, has proven that there are worlds similar to Earth in other solar systems. The planet is currently too hot for life as we know it, but it is believed to have sustained life in the past. This mysterious little planet is located about 560 light-years from Earth, and is circling a star much like our sun, although twice as old. The planet was discovered using the Kepler Space Telescope, and shares some similar rocky surfaces of our Earth.
Some are even going as far as to say this discovery is comparable to the creation of penicillin, or perhaps the discovery of DNA. More than 500 planets have been previously discovered outside our solar system, but most of them are gaseous planets similar to Jupiter or Saturn. Scientists are constantly striving to find planets with greater likenesses to that of Earth.
The planet is thought to have previously been located farther away from its star (it is now circling 20 times closer to its star than Mercury orbits the Sun). The surface temperature is approximately 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, and the planet seems unable to hold an atmosphere. Its present conditions certainly don't make it habitable, but the discovery of the planet itself is enough to solidify scientists belief that Earth-like planets do exist outside our solar system.
Discover News>Space News>Tiny, Earth-Like Planet Discovered
Powerful Gamma-Ray Flares from the Crab Nebula
Scientists Rolf Buehler and Stefan Funk discovered two short duration but powerful gamma-ray flares in the Crab Nebula. These flares only lasted a few days but they were shockingly energetic and occurred extremely rapidly. According to the report, "the pulses were fueled by the most energetic particles ever traced to a discrete astronomical object." These flares are single-handedly challenging current theories about the way cosmic particles are accelerated and will hopefully lead to new discoveries. Read this article for more information.
January 09, 2011
Amateur Astronomer Takes Stunning Photo of Andromeda Galaxy
A 44-year old British network engineer and amateur astronomer, Steve Loughran, captured a stunning photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy last week, comparable to the ones snapped by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The telescope kit used by Loughran is controlled by software running on his computer and cost only around £10,000, a little cheaper than the $4.5–6 billion Hubble. The photograph is a result of Loughran's dedicated interest in astronomy, but it could also lead to questions regarding NASA's resourcefulness.
Astronomers gather under the clouds
The American Astronomical Society (www.aas.org) is meeting in Seattle, Washington this week. There will be ~2500 astronomers (are there really that many?) gathered in downtown Seattle to talk about the latest discoveries in astronomy. There will also undoubtedly be political discussions about how our precious money is spent (NASA's new space telescope? people on Mars?)
AAS press officer Rick Fienberg reminds us that astronomers get easily distracted by dark clear skies, and so the clouds will help the meeting progress on schedule.
See the Space.com article for an interesting insight on Astronomy's "movable Mecca".
Also, keep an eye out for press releases. This is the time of year where astronomers like to announce their amazing discoveries.
January 07, 2011
10-Year-Old Girl Discovers Supernova
A 10-year-old girl in Canada became the youngest person ever to discover a supernova the past weekend. A family friend who is an amateur astronomer gave the girl and her father, who is also an amateur astronomer, new and old slides of a section of the night sky including the galaxy called UGC 3378. By comparing the old and new images, she was able to spot the supernova. She was determined to beat the previous record for the youngest person to ever discover a supernova (14-years-old). The supernova was called Supernova 2010lt.