Sometimes I complain about the earthly weather, but mostly I like to post about astronomy and space events. Hope you enjoy the articles.
By: Susie77, 4:57 PM GMT on July 29, 2011
Gemini Observatory image of Kronberger 61, showing the ionized shell of expelled gas resembling a soccer ball
Gemini Observatory Legacy Image
The universe is capable of some pretty spectacular displays, but few things approach the cosmic grandeur of a planetary nebula. The
"planetary" part has to do with the formation's shape, which is roughly
spherical, like a planet. But these objects are a lot bigger than any
planet, or even any star. They're enormous clouds of gas — like smoke
rings, but bubble-shaped — puffed out by Sun-like stars undergoing their
death throes. In five or so billion years, our own Sun may well emit a
gorgeous belch of its own, perhaps to be noted by alien astronomers
somewhere out in the Milky Way.
Planetary nebulae themselves are old hat to scientists; the 18th-century musician-turned-astronomer William Herschel
gave them their name way back in 1785, and some 3,000 have been
identified since then. But this new one, named Kronberger 61, is special
in a couple of ways.
(See photos of Cosmic Pyrotechnics: New Planetary Nebula Dazzles Astronomers.)
First, it was discovered as the result of a partnership between
amateur and professional astronomers. The amateur (of sorts, though he's
hardly a dabbler) is Matthias Kronberger, who works at the CERN
particle physics lab in Europe. He's a member of a group that calls
itself the Deep Sky Hunters; among other things, they search through sky
images looking for intriguing objects. Because he found the new nebula,
it now carries his name. The pros, including astronomers at the Giant
Magellan Telescope in Chile and others working with Kepler space probe,
were in charge of followup.
The second thing that makes Kronberger 61 special is that it
happens to lie in the patch of sky being studied by the Kepler probe.
Kepler's main mission is to find planets orbiting distant stars by
watching the starlight dim as a planet passes in front of them. Kepler has already found more than 1,200 possibilities.
But it can also find binary, or double, stars — and that could
help scientists figure out the details of how planetary nebulae form,
and why they come in such different shapes. One theory suggests that
double stars are more prone to produce the glowing nebulae than singles.
The Milky Way is positively teeming with double-star systems, and if
Kepler can find evidence of a binary lurking inside Kronberger 61, and
in the one or two other planetary nebulae known to sit in the probe's
field of view, that could help cement the theory.
(See pictures that give perspective of objects in sapce.)
And if not — then the Sun still has an excellent chance of going out with an extraordinary light show of its own.
By: Susie77, 2:56 PM GMT on July 27, 2011
NASA's Chandra Observatory Images Gas Flowing Toward Black Hole07.27.11
By: Susie77, 1:56 PM GMT on July 23, 2011
See, they should promote it back to planet status!
NASA'S HUBBLE DISCOVERS ANOTHER MOON AROUND PLUTO
WASHINGTON -- Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered
a fourth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. The tiny, new
satellite, temporarily designated P4, was uncovered in a Hubble
survey searching for rings around the dwarf planet.
The new moon is the smallest discovered around Pluto. It has an
estimated diameter of 8 to 21 miles (13 to 34 km). By comparison,
Charon, Pluto's largest moon, is 648 miles (1,043 km) across, and the
other moons, Nix and Hydra, are in the range of 20 to 70 miles in
diameter (32 to 113 km).
"I find it remarkable that Hubble's cameras enabled us to see such a
tiny object so clearly from a distance of more than 3 billion miles
(5 billion km)," said Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in
Mountain View, Calif., who led this observing program with Hubble.
The finding is a result of ongoing work to support NASA's New Horizons
mission, scheduled to fly through the Pluto system in 2015. The
mission is designed to provide new insights about worlds at the edge
of our solar system. Hubble's mapping of Pluto's surface and
discovery of its satellites have been invaluable to planning for New
Horizons' close encounter.
"This is a fantastic discovery," said New Horizons' principal
investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in
Boulder, Colo. "Now that we know there's another moon in the Pluto
system, we can plan close-up observations of it during our flyby."
The new moon is located between the orbits of Nix and Hydra, which
Hubble discovered in 2005. Charon was discovered in 1978 at the U.S.
Naval Observatory and first resolved using Hubble in 1990 as a
separate body from Pluto.
The dwarf planet's entire moon system is believed to have formed by a
collision between Pluto and another planet-sized body early in the
history of the solar system. The smashup flung material that
coalesced into the family of satellites observed around Pluto.
Lunar rocks returned to Earth from the Apollo missions led to the
theory that our moon was the result of a similar collision between
Earth and a Mars-sized body 4.4 billion years ago. Scientists believe
material blasted off Pluto's moons by micrometeoroid impacts may form
rings around the dwarf planet, but the Hubble photographs have not
detected any so far.
"This surprising observation is a powerful reminder of Hubble's
ability as a general purpose astronomical observatory to make
astounding, unintended discoveries," said Jon Morse, astrophysics
division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
P4 was first seen in a photo taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3
on June 28. It was confirmed in subsequent Hubble pictures taken on
July 3 and July 18. The moon was not seen in earlier Hubble images
because the exposure times were shorter. There is a chance it
appeared as a very faint smudge in 2006 images, but was overlooked
because it was obscured.
Hubble is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the
European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science
Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations.
STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for
Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington.
For images and more information about Hubble, visit:
By: Susie77, 1:23 PM GMT on July 21, 2011
NASA'S PROUD SPACE SHUTTLE PROGRAM ENDS WITH ATLANTIS LANDING
Agency Ushers In Next Era OF Exploration
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Wrapping up 30 years of unmatched achievements
and blazing a trail for the next era of U.S. human spaceflight,
NASA's storied Space Shuttle Program came to a "wheels stop" on
Thursday at the conclusion of its 135th mission.
Shuttle Atlantis and its four-astronaut crew glided home for the final
time, ending a 13-day journey of more than five million miles with a
landing at 5:57 a.m. EDT at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It was the 25th night landing (19th night and 78th total landings at
Kennedy) and the 133rd landing in shuttle history.
"The brave astronauts of STS-135 are emblematic of the shuttle program
-- skilled professionals from diverse backgrounds who propelled
America to continued leadership in space with the shuttle's many
successes," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "This final
shuttle flight marks the end of an era, but today, we recommit
ourselves to continuing human spaceflight and taking the necessary-
and difficult - steps to ensure America's leadership in human
spaceflight for years to come."
Since STS-1 launched on April 12, 1981, 355 individuals from 16
countries flew 852 times aboard the shuttle. The five shuttles
traveled more than 542 million miles and hosted more than 2,000
experiments in the fields of Earth, astronomy, biological and
The shuttles docked with two space stations, the Russian Mir and the
International Space Station. Shuttles deployed 180 payloads,
including satellites, returned 52 from space and retrieved, repaired
and redeployed seven spacecraft.
The STS-135 crew consisted of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug
Hurley, Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim. They
delivered more than 9,400 pounds of spare parts, spare equipment and
other supplies in the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module -
including 2,677 pounds of food - that will sustain space station
operations for the next year. The 21-foot long, 15-foot diameter
Raffaello brought back nearly 5,700 pounds of unneeded materials from
A welcome home ceremony for the astronauts will be held Friday, July
22, in Houston. The public is invited to attend the 4 p.m. CDT event
at NASA's Hangar 990 at Ellington Field. Gates to Ellington Field
will open at 3:30 p.m. The ceremony will be broadcast live on NASA
Television. For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to
streaming video, visit:
STS-135 was the 135th and final shuttle flight, Atlantis' 33rd flight
and the 37th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and
For more information about the STS-135 mission, visit:
For information about the space station, visit:
For information on NASA's future exploration activities, visit:
By: Susie77, 12:38 PM GMT on July 12, 2011
Dark Fireworks on the Sun
July 11, 2011: On June 7, 2011,
Earth-orbiting satellites detected a flash of X-rays coming from the
western edge of the solar disk. Registering only "M" (for medium) on the
Richter scale of solar flares, the blast at first appeared to be a
run-of-the-mill eruption--that is, until researchers looked at the
"We'd never seen anything like it," says Alex Young, a solar
physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Half of the sun appeared
to be blowing itself to bits."
NASA has just released new high-resolution videos of the event
recorded by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The videos are large,
typically 50 MB to 100 MB, but worth the wait to download. Click on the
arrow to launch the first movie, then scroll down for commentary:
A close-up of the June 7th eruption shows dark blobs of plasma falling ballistically toward the surface of the sun. [99 MB Quicktime] [more]
"IN terms of raw power, this really was just a medium-sized
eruption," says Young, "but it had a uniquely dramatic appearance caused
by all the inky-dark material. We don't usually see that."
Solar physicist Angelos Vourlidas of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC calls it a case of "dark fireworks."
"The blast was triggered by an unstable magnetic filament near the
sun's surface," he explains. "That filament was loaded down with cool1 plasma, which exploded in a spray of dark blobs and streamers."
Plasma blobs are funneled toward sunspots by magnetic fields. [67 MB Quicktime] [more]
The plasma blobs were as big as planets, many larger than Earth.
They rose and fell ballistically, moving under the influence of the
sun's gravity like balls tossed in the air, exploding "like bombs" when
they hit the stellar surface.
Some blobs, however, were more like guided missiles. "In the
movies we can see material 'grabbed' by magnetic fields and funneled
toward sunspot groups hundreds of thousands of kilometers away," notes
SDO also detected a shadowy shock wave issuing from the blast
site. The 'solar tsunami' propagated more than halfway across the sun,
visibly shaking filaments and loops of magnetism en route. [91 MB Quicktime]
Long-range action has become a key theme of solar physics since
SDO was launched in 2010. The observatory frequently sees explosions in
one part of the sun affecting other parts. Sometimes one explosion will
trigger another ... and another ... with a domino sequence of flares
going off all around the star.
"The June 7th blast didn't seem to trigger any big secondary
explosions, but it was certainly felt far and wide," says Young.
This 13 MB extreme ultraviolet movie of the explosion shows a 'solar tsunami' wave billowing away from the blast site. [13 MB Quicktime] [more]
It's tempting to look at the movies and conclude that most of the
exploded material fell back--but that wouldn't be true, according to
Vourlidas. "The blast also propelled a significant coronal mass ejection
(CME) out of the sun's atmosphere."
He estimates that the cloud massed about 4.5 x1015
grams, placing it in the top 5% of all CMEs recorded in the Space Age.
For comparison, the most massive CME ever recorded was 1016 grams, only a factor of ~2 greater than the June 7th cloud.2
The amount of material that fell back to the sun on June 7th was
approximately equal to the amount that flew away, Vourlidas says.
As remarkable as the June 7th eruption seems to be, Young says it
might not be so rare. "In fact," he says, "it might be downright
Before SDO, space-based observatories observed the sun with
relatively slow cadences and/or limited fields of view. They could have
easily missed the majesty of such an explosion, catching only a single
off-center snapshot at the beginning or end of the blast to hint at what
If Young is right, more dark fireworks could be in the offing. Stay tuned.
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
By: Susie77, 8:11 PM GMT on July 06, 2011
CASSINI SPACECRAFT CAPTURES IMAGES AND SOUNDS OF BIG SATURN STORM
WASHINGTON -- Scientists analyzing data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft
now have the first-ever, up-close details of a Saturn storm that is
eight times the surface area of Earth.
On Dec. 5, 2010, Cassini first detected the storm that has been raging
ever since. It appears at approximately 35 degrees north latitude on
Saturn. Pictures from Cassini's imaging cameras show the storm
wrapping around the entire planet covering approximately 1.5 billion
square miles (4 billion square kilometers).
The storm is about 500 times larger than the biggest storm previously
seen by Cassini during several months from 2009 to 2010. Scientists
studied the sounds of the new storm's lightning strikes and analyzed
images taken between December 2010 and February 2011. Data from
Cassini's radio and plasma wave science instrument showed the
lightning flash rate as much as 10 times more frequent than during
other storms monitored since Cassini's arrival to Saturn in 2004. The
data appear in a paper published this week in the journal Nature.
"Cassini shows us that Saturn is bipolar," said Andrew Ingersoll, an
author of the study and a Cassini imaging team member at the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Saturn is not
like Earth and Jupiter, where storms are fairly frequent. Weather on
Saturn appears to hum along placidly for years and then erupt
violently. I'm excited we saw weather so spectacular on our watch."
At its most intense, the storm generated more than 10 lightning
flashes per second. Even with millisecond resolution, the
spacecraft's radio and plasma wave instrument had difficulty
separating individual signals during the most intense period.
Scientists created a sound file from data obtained on March 15 at a
slightly lower intensity period.
Cassini has detected 10 lightning storms on Saturn since the
spacecraft entered the planet's orbit and its southern hemisphere was
experiencing summer, with full solar illumination not shadowed by the
rings. Those storms rolled through an area in the southern hemisphere
dubbed "Storm Alley." But the sun's illumination on the hemispheres
flipped around August 2009, when the northern hemisphere began
"This storm is thrilling because it shows how shifting seasons and
solar illumination can dramatically stir up the weather on Saturn,"
said Georg Fischer, the paper's lead author and a radio and plasma
wave science team member at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz.
"We have been observing storms on Saturn for almost seven years, so
tracking a storm so different from the others has put us at the edge
of our seats."
The storm's results are the first activities of a new "Saturn Storm
Watch" campaign. During this effort, Cassini looks at likely storm
locations on Saturn in between its scheduled observations. On the
same day that the radio and plasma wave instrument detected the first
lightning, Cassini's cameras happened to be pointed at the right
location as part of the campaign and captured an image of a small
Because analysis on that image was not completed immediately, Fischer
sent out a notice to the worldwide amateur astronomy community to
collect more images. A flood of amateur images helped scientists
track the storm as it grew rapidly, wrapping around the planet by
late January 2011.
The new details about this storm complement atmospheric disturbances
described recently by scientists using Cassini's composite infrared
spectrometer and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large
Telescope. The storm is the biggest observed by spacecraft orbiting
or flying by Saturn. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured images in
1990 of an equally large storm.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the
European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages the mission for the
agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The radio and
plasma wave science team is based at the University of Iowa, Iowa
City, where the instrument was built. The imaging team is based at
the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
For images and an audio file of the storm, visit:
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.