Earth Weather / Space Weather

Cosmic Pyrotechnics

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.

Read more:,8599,20 85456,00.html#ixzz1TVwD4YK7

CHANDRA observes gas flowing toward black hole

By: Susie77, 2:56 PM GMT on July 27, 2011


NASA's Chandra Observatory Images Gas Flowing Toward Black Hole07.27.11


Galaxy NGC 3115
Composite image of galaxy NGC 3115. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Alabama/K. Wong et al; Optical: ESO/VLT)

View large image

The flow of hot gas toward a black hole has been clearly imaged for the
first time in X-rays. The observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray
Observatory will help tackle two of the most fundamental problems in
modern astrophysics: understanding how black holes grow and how matter
behaves in their intense gravity.

The black hole is at the center of a large galaxy known as NGC 3115,
which is located about 32 million light years from Earth. A large amount
of previous data has shown material falling toward and onto black
holes, but none with this clear a signature of hot gas.

By imaging the hot gas at different distances from this supermassive
black hole, astronomers have observed a critical threshold where the
motion of gas first becomes dominated by the black hole's gravity and
falls inward. This distance from the black hole is known as the "Bondi

"It's exciting to find such clear evidence for gas in the grip of a
massive black hole," said Ka-Wah Wong of the University of Alabama, who
led the study that appears in the July 20th issue of The Astrophysical
Journal Letters. "Chandra's resolving power provides a unique
opportunity to understand more about how black holes capture material by
studying this nearby object."

As gas flows toward a black hole, it becomes squeezed, making it hotter
and brighter, a signature now confirmed by the X-ray observations. The
researchers found the rise in gas temperature begins about 700 light
years from the black hole, giving the location of the Bondi radius. This
suggests the black hole in the center of NGC 3115 has a mass about two
billion times that of the sun, making it the closest black hole of that
size to Earth.

The Chandra data also show the gas close to the black hole in the center
of the galaxy is denser than gas further out, as predicted. Using the
observed properties of the gas and theoretical assumptions, the team
then estimated that each year gas weighing about 2 percent the mass of
the sun is being pulled across the Bondi radius toward the black hole.

Making certain assumptions about how much of the gas's energy changes
into radiation, astronomers would expect to find a source that is more
than a million times brighter in X-rays than what is seen in NGC 3115.

"A leading mystery in astrophysics is how the area around massive black
holes can stay so dim, when there's so much fuel available to light up,"
said co-author Jimmy Irwin, also of the UA in Tuscaloosa. "This black
hole is a poster child for this problem."

There are at least two possible explanations for this discrepancy. The
first is that much less material actually falls onto the black hole than
flows inside the Bondi radius. Another possibility is that the
conversion of energy into radiation is much less efficient than is

Different models describing the flow of material onto the black hole
make different predictions for how quickly the density of the gas is
seen to rise as it approaches the black hole. A more precise
determination of the rise in density from future observations should
help astronomers rule out some of these models.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the
Chandra program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in
Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's
science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

More information, including images and other multimedia, can be found at:



By: Susie77, 1:56 PM GMT on July 23, 2011

See, they should promote it back to planet status!



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:

End of an Era.... will a new one begin?

By: Susie77, 1:23 PM GMT on July 21, 2011


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

materials sciences.

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

the station.

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:

Dark Fireworks on the Sun

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:
Dark Fireworks (splash, 558px)
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."
Dark Fireworks (guided, 200px)
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.
Dark Fireworks (circular wave, 558px)
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
actually happened.

If Young is right, more dark fireworks could be in the offing.  Stay tuned.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

Big Storms -- on Saturn

By: Susie77, 8:11 PM GMT on July 06, 2011

RELEASE: 11-220


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

experiencing spring.

"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

bright cloud.

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:

Why I Hate Summer

By: Susie77, 8:07 PM GMT on July 02, 2011

Chapter 3: Heat

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.