Messier 82 – the Cigar Galaxy

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the Cigar Galaxy – also known as Messier 82!

During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noticed the presence of several “nebulous objects”  while surveying the night sky. Originally mistaking these objects for comets, he began to catalog them so that others would not make the same mistake. Today, the resulting list (known as the Messier Catalog) includes over 100 objects and is one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Space Objects.

One of these objects is the starbust galaxy known as Messier 82, which is also called the “Cigar Galaxy” because of its distinctive shape. Located about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major, this galaxy’s starburst action is thought to have been triggered by interactions with the neighboring galaxy M81 (aka. Bode’s Galaxy).

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Pulsar Seen Speeding Away From the Supernova That Created it

When a star exhausts its nuclear fuel towards the end of its lifespan, it undergoes gravitational collapse and sheds its outer layers. This results in a magnificent explosion known as a supernova, which can lead to the creation of a black hole, a pulsar or a white dwarf. And despite decades of observation and research, there is still much scientists don’t know about this phenomena.

Luckily, ongoing observations and improved instruments are leading to all kinds of discoveries that offer chances for new insights. For instance, a team of astronomers with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and NASA recently observed a “cannonball” pulsar speeding away from the supernova that is believed to have created it. This find is already providing insights into how pulsars can pick up speed from a supernova.

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LIGO Just Got a Big Upgrade, Will Begin Searching for Gravitational Waves Again on April 1st

In February of 2016, scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) made history by announcing the first-ever detection of gravitational waves (GWs). These ripples in the very fabric of the Universe, which are caused by black hole mergers or white dwarfs colliding, were first predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity roughly a century ago.

About a year ago, LIGO’s two facilities were taken offline so its detectors could undergo a series of hardware upgrades. With these upgrades now complete, LIGO recently announced that the observatory will be going back online on April 1st. At that point, its scientists are expecting that its increased sensitivity will allow for “almost daily” detections to take place.

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Almost 13,000 Years Ago, a Comet Impact Set Everything on Fire

Roughly 12,800 years ago, planet Earth went through a brief cold snap that was unrelated to any ice age. For years, there have been geologists that have argued that this period was caused by an airburst or meteor fragments (known as the Younger Dryas Impact Theory). This event is beleived to have caused widespread destruction and the demise of the Clovis culture in North American.

This theory has remained controversial since it was first proposed. However, an international team of scientists recently discovered geological evidence in South America that could settle the debate. As the latest indication of an impact that took place during the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) period, this crater indicates that the effects of this event may have been more widespread than previously thought.

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Spot Failed Soviet Venus Probe Kosmos 482 in Earth Orbit

Venera-8

A ghost from the old Soviet space program may return to Earth in the coming years. Mimicking a campy episode of the 70s series The Six Million Dollar Man, a Soviet Venus lander stranded in Earth orbit will eventually reenter the atmosphere, perhaps as early as late 2019. Fortunately, this isn’t the “Venus Death Probe” that the Bionic Man Steve Austin had to defeat, but Kosmos 482 is part of a fascinating forgotten era of the Space Age and one you can track down in the night sky, with a little skill and patience.

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Messier 81 – the Bode Galaxy

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the Bode’s Galaxy – also known as Messier 81!

During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noticed the presence of several “nebulous objects”  while surveying the night sky. Originally mistaking these objects for comets, he began to catalog them so that others would not make the same mistake. Today, the resulting list (known as the Messier Catalog) includes over 100 objects and is one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Space Objects.

One of these objects is the galaxy known as Messier 81 (aka. Bode’s Galaxy), a spiral galaxy located about 12 million light-years from our Solar System. Measuring about 90,000 light-years in diameter (half the size of the Milky Way), this galaxy’s proximity, large size, and active galactic nuclear (AGN) makes its a favorite among professional and amateur astronomers alike.

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Which Habitable Zones are the Best to Actually Search for Life?

Looking to the future, NASA and other space agencies have high hopes for the field of extra-solar planet research. In the past decade, the number of known exoplanets has reached just shy of 4000, and many more are expected to be found once next-generations telescopes are put into service. And with so many exoplanets to study, research goals have slowly shifted away from the process of discovery and towards characterization.

Unfortunately, scientists are still plagued by the fact that what we consider to be a “habitable zone” is subject to a lot of assumptions. Addressing this, an international team of researchers recently published a paper in which they indicated how future exoplanet surveys could look beyond Earth-analog examples as indications of habitability and adopt a more comprehensive approach.

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Do You See the “Cosmic Bat” in NGC 1788?

The Cosmic Bat in NGC 1788. Image Credit: ESO

2,000 light years away, in the Orion constellation, lurks an eerie looking creature, made of glowing gas lit up by young stars: the Cosmic Bat.

Its real name is NGC 1788. It’s a reflection nebula, meaning the light of nearby stars is strong enough to light it up, but not strong enough to ionize the gas, like in an emission nebula. Even though the stars are young and bright, the Cosmic Bat is still hidden. It took the powerful Very Large Telescope (VLT) to capture this image.

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This Star has been Kicked Out of the Milky Way. It Knows What It Did.

Researchers from the University of Michigan confirm that a runaway star was ejected from the Milky Way's disk rather than the galactic core. Image Credit: Kohei Hattori

Every once in a while, the Milky Way ejects a star. The evicted star is typically ejected from the chaotic area at the center of the galaxy, where our Super Massive Black Hole (SMBH) lives. But at least one of them was ejected from the comparatively calm galactic disk, a discovery that has astronomers rethinking this whole star ejection phenomenon.

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The Iridium Flare Era is About to End

iridium flare

You never forget your first one. I remember reading about a curious new set of flaring satellites, known as Iridiums. This was waaaaay back in the late 1990s, when we still occasionally read things in something called magazines, which involved pressing ink into plant-flesh to convey information.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the age of the predictable Iridium flare may be coming to an end. Already, scrolling through Heavens-Above reveals very few Iridium flares for the coming months, and these familiar nighttime flashes may become a thing of the past come the end of the decade in 2020.

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