Graphic of the instrument on the Rosetta spacecraft that measured the comet's temperature in mid-July 2014. Credit: European Space Agency

Graphic of the instrument on the Rosetta spacecraft that measured the comet’s temperature in mid-July 2014. Credit: European Space Agency

Anyone eager for a comet countdown? It’s just a few days now until the Rosetta spacecraft arrives near Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on August 6, and with each passing day more detail becomes visible.

The “rubber duckie”-shaped comet has an average surface temperature of –70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), which is far warmer than scientists expect. At 20 to 30 degrees Celsius (68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than predicted, the scientists say that the comet is too hot to be covered in ice. It must instead of a dark crust.

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Hubble Spots Farthest Lensing Galaxy Yet

by Shannon Hall on July 31, 2014

Credit: NASA, ESA, K.-V. Tran (Texas A&M University), and K. Wong (Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics)

These Hubble Space Telescope images reveal the most distant cosmic lens yet found, a massive elliptical galaxy whose powerful gravity is magnifying the light from a faraway galaxy behind it. In the enlarged view, the lighter-colored blobs at the upper right and lower left are the distorted and magnified shapes of a more distant spiral galaxy behind the foreground elliptical. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, K.-V. Tran (Texas A&M University), and K. Wong (Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics)

Sometimes there’s a chance alignment — faraway in the universe, where objects are separated by unimaginable distances measured in billions of light-years — when a galaxy cluster in the foreground intersects light from an even more distant object. The conjunction plays visual tricks, where the galaxy cluster acts like a lens, appearing to magnify and bend the distant light.

The rare cosmic alignment can bring the distant universe into view. Now, astronomers have stumbled upon a surprise: they’ve detected the most distant cosmic magnifying glass yet.

Seen above as it looked 9.6 billion years ago, this monster elliptical galaxy breaks the previous record holder by 200 million light-years. It’s bending, distorting and magnifying the distant spiral galaxy, whose light has taken 10.7 billion years to reach Earth.

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Surprise! Classical Novae Produce Gamma Rays

by Shannon Hall on July 31, 2014

These images show Fermi data centered on each of the four gamma-ray novae observed by the LAT. Colors indicate the number of detected gamma rays with energies greater than 100 million electron volts (blue indicates lowest, yellow highest). Image Credit:  NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

These images show Fermi data centered on each of the four gamma-ray novae. Colors indicate the number of detected gamma rays with energies greater than 100 million electron volts (blue indicates lowest, yellow highest). Image Credit: NASA / DOE / Fermi LAT Collaboration

In a classical nova, a white dwarf siphons material off a companion star, building up a layer on its surface until the temperature and pressure are so high (a process which can take tens of thousands of years) that its hydrogen begins to undergo nuclear fusion, triggering a runaway reaction that detonates the accumulated gas.

The bright outburst, which releases up to 100,000 times the annual energy output of our Sun, can blaze for months. All the while, the white dwarf remains intact, with the potential of going nova again.

It’s a relatively straightforward picture — as far as complex astrophysics goes. But new observations with NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope unexpectedly show that three classical novae — V959 Monocerotis 2012, V1324 Scorpii 2012, and V339 Delphini 2013 — and one rare nova, also produce gamma rays, the most energetic form of light.

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An artist concept image of where seven carefully-selected instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The instruments will conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet as never before.  Image Credit: NASA

An artist concept image of where seven carefully-selected instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The instruments will conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet as never before. Image Credit: NASA

NASA announced the winners of the high stakes science instrument competition to fly aboard the Mars 2020 rover at a briefing held today, Thursday, July 31, at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The 2020 rover’s instruments goals are to search for signs of organic molecules and past life and help pave the way for future human explorers.

Seven carefully-selected payloads were chosen from [click to continue…]

Numerous Jets Spied with New Sky Survey

by Shannon Hall on July 31, 2014

Caption: The area shown here was part of the very first image taken for the UWISH2 survey. It shows on the top a region of massive star formation (called G35.2N) with two spectacular jets. On the bottom an intermediate mass young stellar cluster (Mercer14) can be seen. Several jets are visible in its vicinity, as well as a region of photo-ionized material surrounding a young massive star. Credit: University of Kent

The area shown here was part of the very first image taken for the UWISH2 survey. Near the top is a region of massive star formation (called G35.2N) with two spectacular jets. Near the bottom is an intermediate mass young stellar cluster (Mercer14). Several jets are visible in its vicinity, as well as a region of photo-ionized material surrounding a young massive star. Image Credit: University of Kent

Jets — narrow beams of matter spat out at a high speed — typically accompany the most enigmatic astronomical objects. We see them wherever gas accretes onto compact objects, such as newborn stars or black holes. But never before have astronomers detected so many at once.

This remarkable discovery is expected to prompt significant changes in our understanding of the planetary nebulae population in the Galaxy, as well as properties of jets ejected from young forming stars.

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