The “Blue Marble” was one of the most iconic pictures of the Apollo era. Taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17 on their return trip from the moon, the first fully illuminated image of the Earth taken by a person captured how the world looked on December 7th, 1972, just over 50 years ago. Now, a team from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology has recreated that iconic image using a climate model.Continue reading “A Supercomputer Climate Model is so Accurate it Predicted the Weather Patterns Seen in the Famous 1972 “Blue Marble” Image of Earth”
Zeta Ophiuchi has had an interesting life. It began as a typical large star about twenty times more massive than the Sun. It spent its days happily orbiting a large companion star until its companion exploded as a supernova about a million years ago. The explosion ejected Zeta Ophiuchi, so now it is speeding away through interstellar space. Of course, the supernova also expelled the outer layers of the companion star, so rather than empty space, our plucky star is speeding through the remnant gas as well. As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. And that’s great news for astronomers, as a recent study shows.Continue reading “A Fast-Moving Star is Colliding With Interstellar gas, Creating a Spectacular bow Shock”
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There is a cloud of debris surrounding our solar system. It’s known as the Oort cloud, and it is the source of most of the comets in our solar system. It was first proposed by Jan Oort, as a way to explain why there were so many long-period comets, and why they can appear from almost any direction. It’s estimated that there are about 100 billion small icy bodies in the Oort cloud, spread throughout a sphere about 50,000 AU from the Sun. Through our studies of comets we’ve learned a great deal about the Oort cloud, but we still don’t fully understand how it came to be.Continue reading “Researchers Simulate the Formation of the Oort Cloud”
One of the strangest predictions of general relativity is that gravity can deflect the path of light. The effect was first observed by Arthur Eddington in 1919. While the bending effect of the Sun is small, near a black hole light deflection can be significant. So significant that you need a powerful supercomputer to calculate how light will behave.Continue reading “You Thought Black Hole Event Horizons Looked Strange. Check out Binary Black Hole Event Horizons”
General relativity is a profoundly complex mathematical theory, but its description of black holes is amazingly simple. A stable black hole can be described by just three properties: its mass, its electric charge, and its rotation or spin. Since black holes aren’t likely to have much charge, it really takes just two properties. If you know a black hole’s mass and spin, you know all there is to know about the black hole.Continue reading “Black Holes Gain new Powers When They Spin Fast Enough”
It’s often said that we haven’t yet detected dark matter particles. That isn’t quite true. We haven’t detected the particles that comprise cold dark matter, but we have detected neutrinos. Neutrinos have mass and don’t interact strongly with light, so they are a form of dark matter. While they don’t solve the mystery of dark matter, they do play a role in the shape and evolution of our universe.Continue reading “Neutrinos Have Played a Huge Role in the Evolution of the Universe”
How do you study something invisible? This is a challenge that faces astronomers who study dark matter. Although dark matter comprises 85% of all matter in the universe, it doesn’t interact with light. It can only be seen through the gravitational influence it has on light and other matter. To make matters worse, efforts to directly detect dark matter on Earth have been unsuccessful so far.Continue reading “New Simulation Shows Exactly What Dark Matter Would Look Like If We Could See It”
The answers to many questions in astronomy are hidden behind the veil of deep time. One of those questions is around the role that supernovae played in the early Universe. It was the job of early supernovae to forge the heavier elements that were not forged in the Big Bang. How did that process play out? How did those early stellar explosions play out?
A trio of researchers turned to a supercomputer simulation to find some answers.Continue reading “Supercomputer Simulation Shows a Supernova 300 Days After it Explodes”
Where do they come from, those beguiling singularities that flummox astrophysicists—and the rest of us. Sure, we understand the processes behind stellar mass black holes, and how they form from the gravitational collapse of a star.
But what about the staggering behemoths at the center of galaxies, those supermassive black holes (SMBH) that can grow to be billions of times more massive than our Sun?
How do they get so big?Continue reading “Supermassive Black Holes Grew by Consuming Gas and Entire Stars”
It’s one of the scariest scenarios that could face Earth. Can you imagine an asteroid impact? Even if it were a small event, it could have some far-reaching implications for life of all types here on terra firma. Knowing where and what we might be facing has been of constant concern, but one of the biggest problems is that there isn’t enough “eyes on the skies” to go around. There’s always a possibility that a flying space rock could slip through the proverbial cracks and devastate our planet. But, no worries… We’ve got a student to put to the test!
While most asteroids belong to the Jupiter-orbit class and pose absolutely no danger to Earth, there are exceptions to every rule. Known as Near Earth Objects (NEO), these orbiting stones also share our orbit – and our paths could cross. However, the juxtaposition is that we need to uncover as many of these stragglers as we can, document and track them for the most accurate information possible. Why? We need precise orbital information… A “somewhere in the neighborhood” just won’t do. By knowing exactly what’s out there, we stand a true chance of being able to deflect a problem before it arises. Right now a program headed by Mark Trueblood with Robert Crawford (Rincon Ranch Observatory) and Larry Lebofsky (Planetary Science Institute) is being executed at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory to help catalog NEOs – and it’s being assisted by a Beloit College student, Morgan Rehnberg, who developed a computer program called PhAst (for Photometry and Astrometry) that’s available over the Internet.
Because asteroids have a speedy window of observing opportunity, there can be no delays in reporting and tracking data. Time is of the element. While most astronomy targets are of long term imaging, asteroids require multiple digital images which are viewed via the “blink” method – similar to an old nickelodeon movie. At the same time, the coordinates for the NEO must be perfected and then computed. Right ascension and declination must be absolutely spot on. While there are computer programs currently able to do just that, none of them did exactly what’s required to stake the life of planet Earth on. Even though a better software program was required, there simply wasn’t enough time for the group to write it – but Trueblood saw it as the perfect opportunity for a summer student.
Many of us are familiar with the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, supported by the National Science Foundation and part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). Not only has the REU made some fine imaging contributions, but they’ve learned what having a career in astronomy is really like and gone on to become professionals themselves. Enter Morgan Rehnberg, who just happened to have the right computer skills needed to tweak the current image viewer program (ATV, written in the code IDL) . Now you have a recipe for checking out as many images as needed in any order, and perform the astrometric (positional) as well as photometric (brightness) analyses.
While Morgan initially put his new software to use on existing image data, the first test happened this October during an observing session using the 2.1m telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. It was definitely a yellow alert when the group happened across a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) designated as NEO2008 QT3. This wasn’t just a close rock… this was a rock that was going to pass within 50,000 km of Earth! Thanks to Morgan’s software upgrades, the team was able to correctly compute the brightness and distance of the PHA with 50% of the error margin gone. The resulting positional information was then submitted to the Minor Planet Center and accepted.
It’s a good thing they did it… PhAst!
Original Story Source: NOAO News. The computer program PhAST is available at http://www.noao.edu/news/2011/pr1107.php. In addition to the multi-object support, it contains the ability to calibrate images, perform astrometry (using the existing open source packages SExtractor, SCAMP, and missFITS), and construct the reports for the Minor Planet Center.