What’s that in the sky? An aurora. A large coronal mass ejection occurred on our Sun five days ago, throwing a cloud of fast moving electrons, protons, and ions toward the Earth. Although most of this cloud passed above the Earth, some of it impacted our Earth’s magnetosphere and resulted in spectacular auroras being seen at high northern latitudes. Pictured above is a particularly photogenic auroral corona captured last night above Grotfjord, Norway. To some, this shimmering green glow of recombining atmospheric oxygen might appear as a large eagle, but feel free to share what it looks like to you. This round of solar activity is not yet over — a new and even more powerful solar flare occurred yesterday that might provide more amazing aurora as soon as tonight.
A mere 12.5 million light-years from Earth, irregular dwarf galaxy NGC 4449 lies within the confines of Canes Venatici, the constellation of the Hunting Dogs. About the size of our Milky Way’s satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud, NGC 4449 is undergoing an intense episode of star formation, evidenced by its wealth of young blue star clusters, pinkish star forming regions, and obscuring dust clouds in this deep color portrait. It also holds the distinction of being the first dwarf galaxy with an identified tidal star stream, faintly seen at the lower right. Placing your cursor over the image reveals an inset of the stream resolved into red giant stars. The star stream represents the remains of a still smaller infalling satellite galaxy, disrupted by gravitational forces and destined to merge with NGC 4449. With relatively few stars, small galaxies are thought to possess extensive dark matter halos. But since dark matter interacts gravitationally, these observations offer a chance to examine the significant role of dark matter in galactic merger events. The interaction is likely responsible for NGC 4449’s burst of star formation and offers a tantalizing insight into how even small galaxies are assembled over time.
Which attracts your eye more — the sky or the ground? On the ground are rocky peaks in Teide National Park on Tenerife Island of the Spanish Canary Islands off the northwestern coast of Africa. The volcanic landscape features old island summits and is sometimes used as a testbed for instruments on future Martian rovers. The lights of a nearby hotel shine on the far left. Storm clouds are visible on the horizon, artificially strutted from multiple exposures. Dividing the sky, across the middle of the above deep image, is the vertical band of the Milky Way Galaxy. The red circle on the right is Barnard’s Loop, near the center of which are the famous belt stars of the constellation Orion. Soon after the above image was taken, during an evening earlier this year, storm clouds rolled across, and indoor locations began to attract eyes the most.
Fastest Rotating Star Found in Neighboring Galaxy
This artist’s concept pictures the fastest rotating star found to date. The massive, bright young star, called VFTS 102, rotates at a million miles per hour, or 100 times faster than our sun does. Centrifugal forces from this dizzying spin rate have flattened the star into an oblate shape and spun off a disk of hot plasma, seen edge on in this view from a hypothetical planet. The star may have “spun up” by accreting material from a binary companion star. The rapidly evolving companion later exploded as a supernova. The whirling star lies 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.
A ‘Blue Marble’ image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA’s most recently launched Earth-observing satellite - Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on January 4, 2012. The NPP satellite was renamed ‘Suomi NPP’ on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin.
Two planets orbiting a star 950 light-years from Earth are the smallest, most Earth-size alien worlds known, astronomers announced today (Dec. 20). One of the planets is actually smaller than Earth, scientists say.
These planets, while roughly the size of our planet Earth, are circling very close to their star, giving them fiery temperatures that are most likely too hot to support life, researchers said. The discovery, however, brings scientists one step closer to finding a true twin of Earth that may be habitable.
“We’ve crossed a threshold: For the first time, we’ve been able to detect planets smaller than the Earth around another star,” lead researcher François Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., told SPACE.com. “We proved that Earth-size planets exist around other stars like the sun, and most importantly, we proved that humanity is able to detect them. It’s the beginning of an era.”
NASA’s prolific planet-hunting spacecraft has hit the jackpot again, discovering 11 new planetary systems with 26 confirmed alien planets among them.
The findings nearly double the number of bona fide planets found outside our solar system by the Kepler space observatory.
“Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky,” Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits.”
The newly detected worlds vary in size from 1.5 times the radius of Earth to larger than Jupiter; 15 of the 26 planets fall between Earth and Neptune in size. While all of the planets tightly orbit their parent stars, more research will be required to determine which worlds are rocky like Earth, and which have thick, gaseous atmospheres like Neptune, the scientists said. Still, all of the 26 new planets orbit closer to their stars than Venus does to our sun. This means that their orbital periods — or the time it takes for them to complete one orbital lap around the star — range from six days to 143 days, according to the researchers. [Gallery: A World of Kepler Planets ]By studying these different planetary systems, scientists can glean valuable information about how planets form.
What’s happening at the center of spiral galaxy M83? Just about everything, from the looks of it. M83 is one of the closest spiral galaxies to our own Milky Way Galaxy and from a distance of 15 million light-years, appears to be relatively normal. Zooming in on M83’s nucleus with the latest telescopes, however, shows the center to be an energetic and busy place. Visible in the above image — from the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 pointing through the recently refurbished Hubble Space Telescope — are bright newly formed stars and giant lanes of dark dust. An image with similar perspective from the Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the region is also rich in very hot gas and small bright sources. The remnants of about 60 supernova blasts can be found in the above image.
Five billion years from now, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. This will mark a moment of both destruction and creation. The galaxies will lose their separate identities as they merge into one. At the same time, cosmic clouds of gas and dust will smash together, triggering the birth of new stars.
To understand our past and imagine our future, we must understand what happens when galaxies collide. But since galaxy collisions take place over millions to billions of years, we can’t watch a single collision from start to finish. Instead, we must study a variety of colliding galaxies at different stages. By combining recent data from two space telescopes, astronomers are gaining fresh insights into the collision process.
“We’ve assembled an atlas of galactic ‘train wrecks’ from start to finish. This atlas is the first step in reading the story of how galaxies form, grow, and evolve,” said lead author Lauranne Lanz of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
Lanz presented her findings May 25 at the 218th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
The new images combine observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which observes infrared light, and NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) spacecraft, which observes ultraviolet light. By analyzing information from different parts of the light spectrum, scientists can learn much more than from a single wavelength alone, because different components of a galaxy are highlighted.
GALEX’s ultraviolet data captures the emission from hot young stars. Spitzer sees the infrared emission from warm dust heated by those stars, as well as from stellar surfaces. Therefore, GALEX’s ultraviolet data and Spitzer’s infrared data highlight areas where stars are forming most rapidly, and together permit a more complete census of the new stars.
In general, galaxy collisions spark star formation. However, some interacting galaxies produce fewer new stars than others. Lanz and her colleagues want to figure out what differences in physical processes cause these varying outcomes. Their findings will also help guide computer simulations of galaxy collisions.
“We’re working with the theorists to give our understanding a reality check,” said Lanz. “Our understanding will really be tested in five billion years, when the Milky Way experiences its own collision.”
Lanz’s co-authors are Nicola Brassington (Univ. of Hertfordshire, UK); Andreas Zezas (Univ. of Crete, Greece, and CfA); Howard Smith and Matt Ashby (CfA); Christopher Klein (UC Berkeley); and Patrik Jonsson, Lars Hernquist, and Giovanni Fazio (CfA).
How ‘Hot Jupiters’ Got So Close to Their Stars: Extrasolar Planet Research Sheds Light on Our Solar System
More than 500 extrasolar planets — planets that orbit stars other than the sun — have been discovered since 1995. But only in the last few years have astronomers observed that in some of these systems the star is spinning one way and the planet, a “hot Jupiter,” is orbiting the star in the opposite direction.“That’s really weird, and it’s even weirder because the planet is so close to the star,” said Frederic A. Rasio, a theoretical astrophysicist at Northwestern University. “How can one be spinning one way and the other orbiting exactly the other way? It’s crazy. It so obviously violates our most basic picture of planet and star formation.”
Figuring out how these huge planets got so close to their stars led Rasio and his research team to also explain their flipped orbits. Using large-scale computer simulations, they are the first to model how a hot Jupiter’s orbit can flip and go in the direction opposite to the star’s spin. Gravitational perturbations by a much more distant planet result in the hot Jupiter having both a “wrong way” and a very close orbit. (A hot Jupiter is a huge Jupiter-like planet in very close proximity to the central star.) “Once you get more than one planet, the planets perturb each other gravitationally,” Rasio said. “This becomes interesting because that means whatever orbit they were formed on isn’t necessarily the orbit they will stay on forever. These mutual perturbations can change the orbits, as we see in these extrasolar systems.” see more
Figuring out how these huge planets got so close to their stars led Rasio and his research team to also explain their flipped orbits. Using large-scale computer simulations, they are the first to model how a hot Jupiter’s orbit can flip and go in the direction opposite to the star’s spin. Gravitational perturbations by a much more distant planet result in the hot Jupiter having both a “wrong way” and a very close orbit. (A hot Jupiter is a huge Jupiter-like planet in very close proximity to the central star.)
“Once you get more than one planet, the planets perturb each other gravitationally,” Rasio said. “This becomes interesting because that means whatever orbit they were formed on isn’t necessarily the orbit they will stay on forever. These mutual perturbations can change the orbits, as we see in these extrasolar systems.” see more