Earth--Day and Night Regions

Earth--Day and Night Regions

Planetary Positions

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Trio Of Planets To Be Visible Together


Check It Out: Planetary Triangle Forming in the Evening Sky

By Geoff Gaherty

Starry Night Education

posted: 28 July 2010

10:00 am ET

A trio of planets converging in the night sky this week and for several nights will give casual skywatchers the perfect chance to easily see and identify worlds they might not normally notice. The event, building up to a super celestial snuggle in early August, is also a chance to watch and grasp orbital mechanics in action.

Venus, Mars and Saturn will gradually, night after night, move into a tight triangular grouping in the early evening sky. (This graphic shows where to look to spot the planetary triangle on Aug. 5.)

Venus is so bright, you can't miss it, and that will allow you to locate the other two worlds with no trouble. You can start watching the spectacle tonight. [Venus photos from around the world.]

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wallpapers.smileycentral.comYour Zodiac HoroscopeInsert Your Birthdate & Get Answers about Past-Present and Future. Free ancients believed planetary alignments to be full of mystery portending dreadful events. Now we realize that, because the planets all move in a common plane called the ecliptic, they regularly line up with each other over time as seen from planet Earth.

The ecliptic is the same path across the sky followed by the sun, and so the three planets will appear to be following the sun into the Western horizon as darkness falls.

The ecliptic corresponds to the plane in space that Earth and the other planets travel in as the orbit the sun. Since the inner planets, like Venus, make their annual orbits faster than the outer worlds, like Mars, they're constantly trading places in our sky, converging and receding from one another as seen from our vantage point.

Planetary alignments are known to astronomers as conjunctions or appulses. The moon, which is also traveling close to the plane the planets orbit in, is in conjunction with each of the planets at some point every month. Conjunctions between pairs of planets, particularly the faster moving inner planets, occur several times a year.

Conjunctions of three or more planets are much rarer. This one has been building for several months, and will reach its culmination in the coming week.

What you'll see

Look in the western sky just after sunset any night this week. Your eyes will immediately be drawn to the brilliant planet Venus – it's brighter than any night sky object except the moon.

Look more closely as the sky gets darker, and you will see that Venus is accompanied by two lesser lights. These are the planets Mars and Saturn.

On Saturday night, July 31, Mars will be just below Saturn, less than two degrees away (your fist on an outstretched arm measures about 10 degrees of the sky). The following Saturday, Aug. 7, Venus will have moved westward so that it is less than three degrees below Saturn.

All three planets are moving eastward (left to right for viewers in the Northern Hemisphere) against the background stars of the constellation Virgo. The solar system's inner planets move across our sky (and around the sun) in much less time much than the outer planets, and so they rapidly move past distant Saturn.

On Thursday night, Aug. 5, the three planets will be closest together, forming a tight triangle that will easily fit in the field of binoculars.

Appearances are deceptive. Although close together in the sky, the three planets are actually at very different distances from the Earth.

Venus is closest at 0.796 astronomical units distance, Mars next at 2.022 astronomical units, and Saturn a distant 10.191 astronomical units. Because distances to other planets are, well, astronomical if measured in miles or kilometers, astronomers usually measure them in astronomical units: an astronomical unit is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Meteor Shower Viewing Season In Full Swing


Summer Meteor Shower Season in Full Swing

By Joe Rao Skywatching Columnist

posted: 23 July 2010

09:16 am ET

For skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere, late summer is usually regarded as the prime "meteor-viewing season," with one of the best displays of the year reaching its peak in mid-August. But some lesser-known summer meteor displays can still dazzle.

The summer meteor shower season hits its peak with the annual Perseid meteor shower, which is usually beloved by everyone from meteor enthusiasts to summer campers in August. This year will be an excellent one for the Perseids, as their peak will nearly coincide with a new moon, which should offer dark skies for prospective observers.

But the Perseids aren't the only meteor show in town. [Stunning meteor shower photos.]

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www.CoffeeFool.comMeteor shower basics

In general, the Earth encounters richer meteoric activity during the second half of every year. And skywatchers are more likely to see twice as many meteors per hour in the predawn hours as compared to the evening hours.

This is due to the fact that during the pre-midnight hours we are on the "trailing" side of the Earth, due to our orbital motion through space. So any meteoric particle generally must have an orbital velocity greater than that of the Earth to "catch" us.

However, after midnight when we are turned onto the Earth's "leading" side, any particle that lies along the Earth's orbital path will enter our atmosphere as a meteor. As such objects collide with our atmosphere at speeds of 7 to 45 miles per second, their energy of motion rapidly dissipates in the form of heat, light, and ionization, creating short-lived streaks of light popularly referred to as "shooting stars."

Summertime meteors, occasionally flitting across your line of sight are especially noticeable between mid-July and the third week of August. And between Aug. 3 and 15, there are no fewer than six different minor displays that are active. These six are listed in the accompanying table [see table in sidebar].

The only equipment you'll need is clear weather, your eyes and a modest amount of patience.

What you might see

The actual number of meteors a single observer can see in an hour depends strongly on sky conditions. The rates given in the table are based on a limited star magnitude of +6.5 (considered to be the faintest star visible to the naked eye without the use of binoculars or a telescope; a really good sky!), an experienced observer, and an assumption that the radiant is directly overhead.

The radiant is the place in the sky where the paths of shower members, if extended backward, would intersect when plotted on a star chart. Your clinched fist held at arm's length is equal to roughly 10 degrees on the sky.

So if the radiant is 30 degrees (about three fists in size) above the horizon, the hourly rate is halved. At 15 degrees it is one-third.

While the hourly rates from these other meteor streams provide but a fraction of the numbers produced by the Perseids, combined, overall they provide a wide variety of meteors of differing colors, speeds and trajectories.

Among these are the Southern Delta Aquarids, which can produce faint, medium-speed meteors; the Alpha Capricornids, described as "slow, bright, long-trailed yellowish meteors" and the Kappa Cygnids which are classified as "slow moving and sometimes producing brilliant flaring fireballs." As such, if you stay out and watch long enough, you may be nicely rewarded for your time spent.

Note that five of the six showers listed, come from the region around the constellations of Aquarius and Capricornus. These constellations are highest in the southern sky between roughly 1 and 3 a.m. local daylight time. The Kappa Cygnids appear to emanate from the constellation Cygnus, which will appear more or less overhead within an hour of local midnight.

Moon muscles in

Currently the one drawback in watching for meteors is the moon, which will reach full phase on July 25. Since it will be in the sky practically the entire night, the brilliant light of July's full moon will likely obscure all but the very brightest streaks.

But in the nights that follow, the moon will be rising progressively later in the night as well as waning in phase and brightness. After Aug. 3, the moon will have diminished to a crescent phase and will become significantly less of a hindrance to viewers.

Neptune Hit By Comet 200 Years Ago


Comet Smacked Neptune 200 Years Ago, Data Suggests

By Denise Chow Staff Writer

posted: 23 July 2010

02:48 pm ET

New measurements of Neptune's atmosphere by a European space telescope suggest that a comet may have crashed into the gas giant about 200 years ago.

Scientists analyzed the composition of Neptune's atmosphere using data from the Herschel space observatory. They found a peculiar distribution of carbon monoxide in the gas giant's atmosphere, which could be an indication of an earlier comet impact.

The research is detailed in the July 16 online issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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Other similar collisions between comets (or asteroids) and planets helped the astronomers detect the telltale signs of cometary impacts. [Photos: Jupiter Hit By Asteroid or Comet]

When pieces of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into Jupiter in 1994, scientists were able to examine the trajectory and debris to better understand planetary impacts. Instruments aboard the space probes Voyager 2, Galileo and Ulysses also documented every detail of the rare incident.

The data now helps scientists detect the telltale signs of cometary impacts that happened many years ago. Comets, which are sometimes described as "dusty snowballs," leave their mark in the atmospheres of gas giants like Jupiter and Neptune in the form of water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocyanic acid and carbon sulfide. Trace molecules of these compounds can be detected in the radiation emitted by the planets into space.

In February, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) presented strong evidence for a comet impact on Saturn about 230 years ago. That study was published in the February 2010 issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Neptune as well?

New measurements performed by the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) instrument aboard Herschel allowed astronomers to analyze the long-wave infrared radiation of Neptune. These observations indicate that Neptune may have experienced a similar cosmic collision.

The scientists examined the atmosphere of Neptune, which mainly consists of hydrogen and helium with traces of water, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. They detected an unusual distribution of carbon monoxide in Neptune's atmosphere, with much higher concentrations in the upper layer, called the stratosphere, compared to the troposphere layer beneath.

"The higher concentration of carbon monoxide in the stratosphere can only be explained by an external origin," said Paul Hartogh, a scientist at MPS and principle investigator of the Herschel science program that examines water and related chemistry in the solar system. "Normally, the concentrations of carbon monoxide in troposphere and stratosphere should be the same or decrease with increasing height."

A cometary impact would explain such curious results. The collision forces the comet to fall apart, while the carbon monoxide trapped in the comet's ice is released and distributed throughout the stratosphere over the years.

"From the distribution of carbon monoxide we can therefore derive the approximate time, when the impact took place," said Thibault Cavalie, also from MPS. This would help scientists confirm that a comet hit Neptune around 200 years ago, the researchers added.

The new study also appears to disprove a previous theory that tried to explain the strange distribution of carbon monoxide in Neptune's atmosphere. The older theory suggested that a constant flux of tiny dust particles from space introduces carbon monoxide into the gas giant's atmosphere.

But, in Neptune's stratosphere, the scientists also found a higher concentration of methane than expected.

What's methane got to do with it?

On Neptune, methane operates in similar ways to water vapor on Earth: the temperature of the tropopause – a barrier of colder air that separates the troposphere and stratosphere – determines how much water vapor can rise into the stratosphere.

If this barrier becomes warmer, more gas is able to pass through. On Earth, the temperature of the tropopause never falls beneath minus 176 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 degrees Celsius). On Neptune, however, the tropopause's mean temperature is minus 426 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 219 degrees Celsius).

This means that a gap in the barrier of the tropopause is the likely culprit for the elevated concentration of methane on Neptune.

At minus 415 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 213 degrees Celsius), the atmosphere at Neptune's southern pole is six degrees warmer than everywhere else, which allows gas to pass more easily from troposphere to stratosphere. The methane, which scientists think originates from the planet itself, can therefore spread throughout the stratosphere.

The European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Herschel infrared space telescope in May 2009. The observatory is the largest, most powerful infrared telescope in orbit today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Small Step For Man, 41 Years Later

From Michelle Malkin:

One Small Step For Man, 41 Years Later

By Doug Powers • July 20, 2010 09:00 PM **Written by Doug Powers

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969. It’s also my oldest son’s 15th birthday, but I digress…

We hear a lot about “progress” these days, but it usually involves bailouts, freebies, nanny-state nonsense, deficit spending and perverting the name of “science” to justify unprecedented wealth transfer.

Gene Kratz, retired NASA director of operations, wrote about what fuels actual progress in a 2005 editorial:

All progress involves risk. Risk is essential to fuel the economic engine of our nation. And risk is essential to renew American’s fundamental spirit of discovery so we remain competitive with the rest of the world.

Are we even allowed to say the word “risk” anymore?

Here’s the CBS coverage of the Apollo 11 landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, while command module pilot Michael Collins orbited, complete with cheeseball graphics of the day, and I still love every second of it:

**Written by Doug Powers

Twitter @ThePowersThatBe

Moon Of Saturn Triggers Giant Snowballs In Planet's F Ring


Saturn's Moon Triggers Giant Snowballs in Planet's Ring

By Denise Chow Staff Writer

posted: 20 July 2010

01:00 pm ET

A NASA spacecraft that orbits Saturn has captured new images that show icy particles in the planet's outermost discrete ring that are clumping into giant snowballs, created by the gravitational pull of a nearby moon.

The Cassini spacecraft, which has monitored collisions and disturbances in the gas giant's rings for the last six years, spotted the icy clumping process as the moon Prometheus makes multiple swings by Saturn's F ring – a thin ring orbiting about 87,000 miles (140,000 km) out from the planet. [ Photo of the fan-like structures].

The moon's gravitational pull creates disturbances in the ring material, making wake channels that trigger the formation of objects as large as 12 miles (20 kilometers) in diameter, when smaller masses stick together through their mutual gravitational attraction.

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www.CoffeeFool.comThe natural processes that occur within Saturn's rings can give scientists a glimpse into the mechanisms at work in our early solar system, as planets and moons coalesced out of disks of debris.

"Scientists have never seen objects actually form before," said Carl Murray, a Cassini imaging team member based at Queen Mary, University of London. "We now have direct evidence of that process and the rowdy dance between the moons and bits of space debris."

Murray presented the study July 20 at the Committee on Space Research meeting in Bremen, Germany. The findings were also published July 14 in the online edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Saturn's F ring

Saturn's relatively thin F ring was discovered by NASA's Pioneer 11 spacecraft in 1979. Prometheus and Pandora, the small moons found on either flank of the F ring, were discovered a year later by NASA's Voyager 1 robotic space probe.

In the years since its discovery, the F ring has undergone constant changes in appearance, and scientists have closely monitored the behavior of the two mischievous moons for answers.

Prometheus, which is larger and closer to Saturn, appears to be the main source of the disturbances in the F ring. At its longest point, the potato-shaped moon is 92 miles (148 km) across.

This moon swerves around Saturn at a speed slightly greater than the speed of the much smaller particles in the planet's F ring. As a result of this discrepancy, and the slightly offset orientation of Prometheus' orbit, the moon laps the F ring particles, stirring them up approximately every 68 days.

"Some of these objects will get ripped apart the next time Prometheus whips around," Murray said. "But some escape. Every time they survive an encounter, they can grow and become more and more stable."

Cassini scientists previously used the spacecraft's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph to detect thickened blobs of material near the F ring, after noticing starlight was partially blocked in that area. These objects may be related to the snowball-like clumps that were discovered by Murray and his colleagues.

Density and life span

The newly-found objects in the F ring also appear dense enough to possess what scientists call "self-gravity." This means that they can attract more particles and accumulate in size as ring particles bounce around in Prometheus' wake, Murray said.

As a result, the giant clumps could be almost as dense as Prometheus itself, but only about one-fourteenth as dense as Earth in comparison.

These snowballs in the F ring also have a higher chance of survival due to their serendipitous location in the Saturn system. The F ring is located at a point that is balanced between the tidal force of Saturn trying to break objects apart, and the self-gravity that pulls objects together.

Still, these giant snowballs have short life spans, likely forming and breaking apart within a few months.

The new study could also help scientists explain the origin of a mysterious object discovered by Cassini scientists in 2004. The object, which has been provisionally named S/2004 S 6 is about 3 to 6 miles (5 to 10 km) in diameter, and occasionally bumps into Saturn's F ring, producing jets of debris in the process.

"The new analysis fills in some blanks in our solar system's history, giving us clues about how it transformed from floating bits of dust to dense bodies," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The F ring peels back some of the mystery and continues to surprise us."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Scorched Extra-Solar Planet Has Comet-like Tail


Scorched Alien Planet Has a Comet Tail

By Clara Moskowitz Senior Writer

posted: 15 July 2010

10:36 am ET

A scorched alien planet is flying so close to its parent star that its atmosphere is being swept off it in a glowing tail like some sort of giant comet, NASA announced Thursday.

The existence of the planet and its strange tail, which was suggested in previous studies, was confirmed recently by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. These new observations of the gas giant planet, called HD 209458b, suggest strong winds from its nearby star are blowing the atmosphere off the scorched world and shaping it into a comet-like tail.

"Since 2003 scientists have theorized the lost mass is being pushed back into a tail, and they have even calculated what it looks like," said astronomer Jeffrey Linsky of the University of Colorado in Boulder, leader of the study. "We think we have the best observational evidence to support that theory. We have measured gas coming off the planet at specific speeds, some coming toward Earth. The most likely interpretation is that we have measured the velocity of material in a tail."

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RealAge.comThis planet orbits its star from a distance of about 4 million miles (7 million km) – 100 times closer than Jupiter circles the sun – yet the mass of HD 209458b is only slightly less than Jupiter. HD 209458b zips around its star in a short 3.5 days. In contrast, our solar system's fastest planet, Mercury, orbits the sun in 88 days. [Gallery: Strangest Alien Planets]

At such close quarters with its star, HD 209458b's atmosphere is a scorching 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 Celsius). Past studies have suggested that it is losing about 10,000 tons of gas every second as material is blown off by its parent star. Eventually, it might be stripped entirely of its gas envelope, leaving behind a liquid core of lava. Even so, it will be a long while before the planet is completely destroyed.

"It will take about a trillion years for the planet to evaporate," Linsky said.

The planet is located 153 light-years from Earth. This world was the first of the few known extrasolar planets that seen to be passing in front of, or transiting, their stars.

The existence of HD 209458b was first suggested in 1999. Subsequent studies found indications of oxygen and carbon in its atmosphere. More recently, it became the first alien world outside our solar system found to have water.

To date, astronomers have found more than 400 extrasolar planets using the transiting method and by studying the wobble induced on stars by planets that orbit them.

Linsky and his team used Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph to analyze the planet's atmosphere during transiting events. This allows the astronomers to study the structure and chemical makeup of a planet's atmosphere by sampling the starlight that passes through it. The dip in starlight because of the planet's passage, excluding the atmosphere, is very small, only about 1.5 percent. When the atmosphere is added, the dip jumps to 8 percent, indicating a bloated atmosphere.

The data also showed the atmosphere escaping the planet was not all traveling at the same speed.

"We found gas escaping at high velocities, with a large amount of this gas flowing toward us at 22,000 miles per hour," Linsky said. "This large gas flow is likely gas swept up by the stellar wind to form the comet-like tail trailing the planet."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Great Globular Cluster On View


Night Sky's Great Globular Cluster Visible In Telescopes

By Joe Rao Skywatching Columnist

posted: 16 July 2010

08:00 am ET

A fascinating deep sky object called the Great Globular Cluster can currently be found in telescopes looking nearly overhead on clear summer nights, and there's good story behind how it and other objects are classified.

How often in looking through books on astronomy have you noticed star clusters and nebulae designated by the letter M, followed by some number? For example: the famous Andromeda Galaxy is known as M31 and the Great Orion Nebula is M42.

The Great Globular Cluster is known as M13 and sits the constellation Hercules. The 'M' stands for the initial of the famed 18th century comet observer, Charles Messier (1730-1817).

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www.Telescopes.comMessier was deeply interested in discovering comets but he was plagued by the same trouble that besets all comet hunters. He kept finding "comets" that were not comets at all but only star clusters and nebulae. His hopes were dashed so often that for his own convenience he kept a list of these deceiving objects, which he published in a catalogue. [Photos: Messier Objects in space]

We will come back to Messier in a moment. First, a few words about the M-object number 13 (or Messier 13 as the Great Globular Cluster is known) in his catalogue.

Celestial Chrysanthemum

To locate Messier 13, look toward the four stars, known as the "Keystone" which supposedly forms the body of Hercules.

A keystone is the stone atop an arch, and has this shape, narrower at one end. It's between the two western stars of the keystone that we can find the Great Globular Cluster of Hercules. It's about a third of the way along a line drawn from the stars Eta to Zeta.

Actually, it was not Messier, but Edmund Halley (of comet fame), who first mentioned it in 1715, having discovered it the previous year: "This is but a little Patch," he wrote, "but it shows itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent."

Located at a distance of about 25,000 light-years, the Hercules Cluster has been estimated to be a ball of tens of thousands of stars roughly 160 light-years in diameter.

Messier first saw the cluster in June 1764 and described it as a "round and brilliant nebula with a brighter center, which I am sure contains no stars."

Today, if you use good binoculars and look toward that spot in the sky where M13 is you likely will see a similar view: a roundish glow or patch of light. Moving up to a telescope, the view dramatically improves.

With a 4 to 6-inch telescope, the "patch" starts to become resolved into hundreds of tiny pinpoints of light. In larger instruments, Messier 13 is transformed into a spectacular celestial chrysanthemum.

In his Celestial Handbook, the late Robert Burnham described the view of the cluster in a 12-inch or larger telescope as "... an incredibly wonderful sight; the vast swarm of thousands of glittering stars, when seen for the first time or the hundredth, is an absolutely amazing spectacle."

He Couldn't Care Less

Many of the objects listed in Messier's catalogue have turned out to be beautiful star clusters like that in Hercules. Others are great clouds of nebulosity, while still others are galaxies similar to our own.

Yet, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Messier had the slightest interest in these objects. They were all merely a nuisance to him. The 13 comets that Messier discovered and of which he was so proud of are long gone and forgotten now.

But his catalogue, the by-product of his main work, has turned out to be amazingly useful to astronomers. His catalogue numbers have been retained and are the principal reason Messier is still remembered today.

Messier's original list contained 45 such objects and was published in 1774. By 1781, the list had grown to 103.

Historians have since added seven more objects that were seen, but never catalogued by Messier. It has been written by many that Messier had consummate skill in making astronomical observations, even though by contemporary standards the telescopes he utilized were inefficient and crude (that fact is made obvious by his description of the Great Cluster in Hercules).

Nonetheless, he was highly ambitious and always sought recognition of his observing skills and comet discoveries.

One oft-repeated anecdote demonstrates this single-minded and zealous pursuit for finding comets. On the occasion that a rival, Jacques Leibax Montaigne (1716-1785?) discovered a brand new comet, Messier was holding watch at his wife's deathbed.

When a friend later offered condolences for his loss, Messier – thinking only of the comet – answered, "I had discovered twelve, alas, to be robbed of the thirteenth by that Montaigne!" His eyes filled with tears. Then, realizing his friend was commenting about his dead wife, Messier quickly added "Ah! The poor woman..."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Crescent Moon And Three Bright Planets Gather This Weekend


Crescent Moon and 3 Bright Planets Gather This Week

By Geoff Gaherty

Starry Night Education

posted: 14 July 2010

08:04 am ET

Three of the brightest planets, Venus, Mars, and Saturn, are gathering in the western sky just after sunset. This week, the slender crescent moon pays each planet a visit in turn.

On Wednesday night, July 14, the moon will be directly below the brilliant planet Venus. If you look at Venus through a telescope, you may be surprised to see that it looks like a fat gibbous moon, 65 percent illuminated, while the moon is a slender crescent just 15 percent illuminated. How can this be?

It is because Venus is on the far side of the sun, so that it is "front-lit" whereas the moon is between us and the sun, so is "back-lit." Think of the four objects forming a ragged line: Earth, moon, sun, Venus, with the sun somewhat off to the right.

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www.Bing.comYour Zodiac HoroscopeInsert Your Birthdate & Get Answers about Past-Present and Future. Free the moon's encounter with Venus is the just the beginning of its planetary tour this week. (This graphic shows how to see the moon as it visits Venus, Mars and Saturn).

By Thursday night, the moon will have moved in its orbit around the Earth so that it is directly below Mars, which should look distinctly orange-red to the naked eye. Mars, too, is on the far side of the sun, and very tiny in even the most powerful telescope.

Finally, on Friday night, the moon will have moved to the position shown in the image, to the lower left of Saturn. Saturn has been a disappointment this year to telescopic observers because its famous ring system has been almost edge on to our view, and so almost invisible.

Notice how the moon is significantly below the ecliptic, the path taken by the sun in its apparent travel through the sky, while all three planets are significantly above the ecliptic.

This is a powerful demonstration of how the moon and planets do not all travel in the same plane. Their orbits are all slightly tilted relative to one another.

The orbit of the moon is tilted more than those of the planets, which explains why it lies so low relative to the ecliptic, and why it so rarely passes directly in front of any of the planets.

Although you may not notice it over the next few nights, the three planets are themselves drawing closer together, heading towards a triple conjunction in the first week of August.

11 July 2010 Solar Eclipse


Doomed Star Sheds Gassy Skin Before Dying In Hubble Photograph


Doomed Star Sheds Gassy Skin Before Death

By Staff

posted: 14 July 2010

11:28 am ET

A doomed star has been caught in the act of shedding its gassy skin in a new photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The new Hubble photo of the dying star reveals an odd cloud of gas around the object that is actually the outer layers of the star's atmosphere, which are being blown out in jets to create vast lobes in space. While beautiful, the lobes are rare, short-lived formations around the star and are a telltale sign that death looms near, astronomers said.

"As stars similar to the sun age, they swell into red giant stars, and when this phase ends they start to shed their atmospheres," Hubble telescope scientists said in a statement.

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wallpapers.smileycentral.comThe sun is about 4.6 billion years old, and is expected to last another 5 billion years before puffing up into a red giant and dying.

The new Hubble photo, released Tuesday, shows the star IRAS 19475+3119, which sits about 15,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan). Two different lobe-like gas shells from the star's atmosphere — each positioned at a different angle — can be seen in the photo. [More Hubble telescope photos]

This star was first spotted in 1983 by the IRAS satellite, which detected the intense infrared emissions coming from the object. But the future is bleak for the star.

As the star continues to shed its atmosphere, its hotter core will eventually be revealed, Hubble scientists said. When that happens, the gas surrounding the star will begin glowing brilliantly to create a planetary nebula.

Despite their name, planetary nebulas have nothing to do with alien planets. They got their title because of their fuzzy planet-like appearance when viewed through small telescopes.

But the IRAS 19475+3119 isn't completely dead yet. Currently, it is what astronomers call a protoplanetary nebula.

Astronomers used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to take the dying star's portrait. The once-broken camera was fixed in May 2009 during NASA's final repair mission to Hubble by astronauts.

Giant Stars Form Just like Smaller Ones


Giant Stars Seem To Form Just Like Smaller Ones

By JR Minkel Contributor

posted: 14 July 2010

01:04 pm ET

Astronomers have found a disk of dust around a huge, massive star in its early stages of growth, indicating that stars big and small form by the same mechanism.

The big star is only about 60,000 years old – a cosmic baby when compared with our sun, which is 4.6 billion years old. But it has a mass about 20 times that of our sun and is surrounded by a disk of material similar to what is found around smaller, growing stars.

"Our observations show that accretion disks around stars as massive as about 20 solar masses can exist, suggesting that this is likely the dominant formation mode," said study leader Stefan Kraus of the University of Michigan.

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wallpapers.smileycentral.comAstronomers used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer of the European Southern Observatory in Chile to make infrared observations of a young stellar object (YSO) called IRAS 13481-6124. The star is about 10,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Centaurus. [Photo of the massive star.]

Kraus and his colleagues used recent enhancements in infrared interferometry techniques to scan the star at high resolution for signs of dust. They found the star to be surrounded by a so-called circumstellar disk measuring some 130 astronomical units (12 billion miles) across. One astronomical unit is the distance between the Earth and the sun, about 93 million miles (150 million km).

The research is detailed in the July 15 issue of the science journal Nature.

How big stars grow

For decades, astronomers have been confident that relatively low-mass stars such as our sun form by the gradual accretion, or buildup, of mass from a disk of gas and dust. They were less certain about stars with more than 10 times the sun's mass.

Early calculations suggested the solar wind and pressure of radiation emanating from such a large star might halt the infall of material from the disk, meaning the formation of massive stars would have to occur by some other mechanism, such as the merger of smaller stars.

More-recent work indicated massive stars could form by accretion after all, but researchers had not actually observed it.

"This is the first time we could image the inner regions of the disc around a massive young star," Kraus said in a statement. "Our observations show that formation works the same for all stars, regardless of mass."

In the new study, researchers observed a temperature gradient in the star's circumstellar disk. Closer to the star, the disk was hotter. The group also identified a dust-free region between it and the surrounding disk, indicating that the star's energy had evaporated the dust molecules closest to it, as researchers have observed in smaller stars.

Stars that fire jets

Additional measurements provided evidence of jets of gas shooting from both ends of the star perpendicular to the disk and striking the gas cloud around the star.

"Such jets are commonly observed around young low-mass stars and generally indicate the presence of a disk," Kraus said.

The data also confirmed that the size of the circumstellar disk is related to the star's brightness in the same way as with smaller stars, implying that the same physical processes are at work, he added.

The finding "is a significant achievement, both technically and scientifically," said astronomer Hans Zinnecker of the University of Stuttgart, who was not involved in the study.

"The only remaining doubt," he said, "is whether massive stars of much higher mass, say 50 or 100 [solar masses], will form by the same accretion process."

X-Ray Blast Blinds Space Telesope


Record-Breaking X-Ray Blast Blinds Space Observatory Briefly

By Clara Moskowitz Senior Writer

posted: 14 July 2010

05:16 pm ET

A violent cosmic explosion has unleashed the brightest blast of X-rays ever detected from distant space, a signal so bright it temporary blinded the NASA space telescope assigned to spot it.

The powerful explosion, called a gamma-ray burst, was detected by NASA's Swift observatory, scientists announced Wednesday. Gamma-ray bursts are narrow beams of intense radiation shot out when stars explode in supernovas. In addition to gamma-ray light, they also produce X-rays and other forms of radiation, including visible light.

This recent event, dubbed GRB 100621A, was particularly powerful.

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Unprecedented brightness

The onslaught of light in X-ray wavelengths, which are shorter than visible light wavelengths, quickly overwhelmed the detector when it impacted June 21.

"The burst was so bright when it first erupted that our data-analysis software shut down," said Phil Evans, a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom who wrote parts of Swift's X-ray-analysis software. "So many photons were bombarding the detector each second that it just couldn't count them quickly enough. It was like trying to use a rain gauge and a bucket to measure the flow rate of a tsunami."

Light from this explosion traveled through space for 5 billion years before slamming into Swift, overwhelming its X-ray camera. The observatory, launched in November 2004, was designed specifically to hunt for gamma-ray bursts, though scientists didn't count on a blast quite so strong.

"The intensity of these X-rays was unexpected and unprecedented," said Neil Gehrels, Swift's principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

GRB 100621A was the brightest blast of X-ray light since Swift's X-ray telescope began observing in 2005.

"Just when we were beginning to think that we had seen everything that gamma-ray bursts could throw at us, this burst came along to challenge our assumptions about how powerful their X-ray emissions can be," Gehrels said.

One for the record books

After the shutdown, Swift quickly got back online, and scientists were able to recover the data the observatory acquired during the onslaught. The observations allowed astronomers to learn more about these mysterious explosions, including just how bright they can be.

Swift's measurements showed that the burst emitted 143,000 X-ray photons per second during its short period of greatest brightness. That's more than 140 times brighter than the brightest continuous X-ray source in the sky – a neutron star that releases a steady 10,000 X-ray photons per second.

"When I first saw the strange data from this burst, I knew that I had discovered something extraordinary," Evans said. "It was an indescribable feeling when I realized, at that moment, that I was the only person in the whole universe who knew that this extraordinary event had occurred. Now, after our analysis of the data, we know that this burst is one for the record books."

Gamma-ray bursts focus most of their energy in the short-wavelength, high-frequency range of X-rays and gamma-rays. In fact, they don't stand out at all in optical and ultraviolet wavelengths, emitting only a middling amount of light compared to other objects in the sky.

When a very massive star runs out of fuel and reaches the end of its life, it will collapse into an extremely dense black hole. This event releases an explosion of energy, including some that gets channeled into beams of gamma-ray and X-ray light.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Star Nursery Photographed By Hubble Telescope


Star Nursery Photographed in Vivid Colors

By Staff

posted: 13 July 2010

02:24 pm ET

A roiling interstellar cloud and filled with newborn stars shines in vivid colors in a newly released snapshot from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The wispy pink and yellow cloud in the new Hubble photo, which scientists released Tuesday, is made of mostly hydrogen gas heated by fierce ultraviolet radiation from the new stars at its heart. The cloud, called NGC 2467, lies in the southern constellation of Puppis about 13,000 light-years from Earth.

The stars form when gas in the cloud condenses under its own gravity and becomes packed enough to ignite nuclear fusion. Bright blue dots represent hot young stars in the photo, which includes observations taken from 2004.

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wallpapers.smileycentral.comAstronomers think most of the radiation in this nebula comes from the single hot and brilliant massive star just above the center of the image. Its strong radiation has cleared the surrounding region, and some of the next generation of stars are forming in the denser regions around the edge.

The NASA/ESA Hubble telescope was launched in April 1990. Since then, it has observed more than 30,000 celestial targets taken more than a half-million pictures in its archive. The most recent astronaut servicing mission to the observatory in May 2009 made the telescope 100 times more powerful than when it was first launched.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mysterious Asteroid Lutetia Unmasked By Space Probe Fly-by


Mysterious Asteroid Unmasked By Space Probe Flyby

By Denise Chow Staff Writer

posted: 10 July 2010

02:53 pm ET

A European spacecraft zoomed by past a mysterious asteroid Saturday to take the first-ever close look at the space rock while flying more than 282 million miles from Earth.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta space probe flew past the asteroid Lutetia, an object discovered in 1852 that appeared only as a bright speck in the sky to astronomers until today.

The first new photos of the asteroid revealed Lutetia to be a lumpy rock with a potato-like appearance. Rosetta was about 1,900 miles (3,100 km) from the asteroid at its closest approach.

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www.CloseCombatTraining.comThe enigmatic space rock, which is about 62 miles (100 km) wide, is from the main asteroid belt that orbits between Mars and Jupiter. From Earth, Lutetia simply appears as little more than a single point of light to ground-based telescopes.

As a result, not much was known about Lutetia, including what it looks like. Data from Rosetta's encounter could provide more conclusive evidence about the asteroid's dimensions and composition. [More asteroid photos.]

"We know approximately its size and rotational period," Rosetta project scientist Rita Schulz said in a live webcast during the probe's flyby. "The rotational period is something like eight hours, and that will be confirmed after the flyby. We are now going to get the details. What is very important for us is the composition of the asteroid."

The asteroid flyby was actually a pit stop for Rosetta, which continued on toward its main target – comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The spacecraft launched in 2004 and is expected to arrive at the comet in 2014. Rosetta also visited a different space rock, the asteroid Steins, in 2008.

Asteroid blind date

Saturday's asteroid flyby was watched over by dedicated team of mission scientists at the ESA Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany. The rendezvous was webcast live on ESA's website.

At 1514 GMT (11:15 a.m. EDT), Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Andrea Accomazzo confirmed that the probe had entered autonomous tracking mode in preparation for the flyby. The navigation camera was used to keep the spacecraft pointed at Lutetia.

The closest encounter occurred at approximately 1610 GMT (12:10 p.m. EDT), with Rosetta traveling at a relative speed of 32,400 mph (52,142 kph).

ESA scientists were able to track Rosetta up to five minutes to closest approach, after which the radio signal with the probe was lost as the spacecraft turns its antenna away from Earth and faces the asteroid instead.

After approximately 40 minutes, a series of maneuvers restored the antenna's Earth lock, and the probe began successfully transmitting data and telemetry back to its ground controllers once again.

ESA scientists hope the observations from the Lutetia flyby will contribute to the relatively small body of knowledge about asteroids.

Unmasking asteroid Lutetia

The close pass allowed Rosetta about two hours of observation time to scrutinize the asteroid Lutetia.

Rosetta will continue beaming this data to Earth, and the first close-up pictures from the quick visit are expected to be released later tonight. Preliminary images from ESA were released in the lead up to the encounter, showing Lutetia looming larger and larger as Rosetta approached within about 49,700 miles (80,000 km).

The data collected from Rosetta's visit will provide valuable observations for asteroid science, and will at least give scientists preliminary information that can then be corroborated through ground-based observations. And, the findings will not only apply for Lutetia, but for other asteroids as well.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Obama's Fly Me To The Crescent Moon Strategy Is About To Melt-Down

From The American Thinker:

July 10, 2010

Obama's "Fly Me to the Crescent Moon" Policy

By Ken Blackwell

Maybe it's the Dog Days of Summer. Perhaps it's the heat -- 102 degrees in Washington -- that's getting to people's heads. But President Obama's latest policy, announced by his NASA administrator, astronaut Charles Bolden, is about to melt down.

Speaking on the Arabic language network Al Jazeera, Bolden said Mr. Obama had given him his marching orders for NASA: Get American kids re-inspired to do better in math and science. Work on international cooperation. And perhaps most important: Find ways to "reach out" to the Muslim world to affirm their strong contributions to science and engineering.

First, we have to consider that President Obama is gutting NASA's budget. He has scrapped the Constellation Program that would take Americans back to the moon. There are possible resources there that could help all of us on earth with our energy needs. Former Sen. Harrison Schmitt, who walked on the moon, says we could mine the helium-3 that is abundant beneath the lunar surface and use it for nuclear fusion. Perhaps, perhaps not, but we are unlikely to know if we're not going back there.

Second, why should American kids be excited about math and science when Administrator Bolden confesses that the U.S. can no longer even put astronauts in low-earth orbit without help from other nations? President Kennedy led this nation to the moon, but President Obama is teaching us to look inward. Under this administration, NASA has been grounded.

Third, this "outreach" to Muslims by NASA is, well, lunacy. Telling Muslims that they once led the world in science and technology is wonderful. They did. But that was before murderous mullahs took over control of Muslim societies and threatened with death anyone who didn't toe the line of theocratic control.

I have a simple way for Muslim-majority nations to excel in science and technology: Have everyone read a list of Jewish scientists who have won the Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry, or Medicine in the past century. Then, perhaps, their leaders could stop their Israel-bashing and Jew-baiting.

They might also read George Gilder's latest book, The Israel Test. Gilder, who is not Jewish, says Israel is a wonderful test for everyone. Do we envy and resent this people?

Do we covet what they have produced? Do we want to emulate their productivity and creative genius, or do we darkly ascribe their feats to a "Zionist" protocol? Gilder holds up a mirror to anti-Semites everywhere. What do you see?

The U.N. is filled with anti-Israel, anti-Semitic delegates who cheer Ahmadinejad from Iran and Khaddafi from Libya. These murderous despots have stayed in power by fanning the flames of resentment against the Jews. Khaddafi says he has given up his nuclear ambitions. I'd prefer Ronald Reagan's words: Trust, but verify. Ahmadinejad is racing to complete Iran's first nuclear weapon. He is thought to have enough fissile material for two nuclear bombs.

The U.N. has dragged its feet and resisted imposing sanctions on Iran. It succeeded only belatedly in approving very lax sanctions. These are far from the "sanctions that bite" and "crippling sanctions" the Obama administration have been promising for the year and a half they squandered in meaningless "outreach" to Tehran.

Charles Krauthammer, the distinguished columnist, has denounced the new NASA mission as "adolescent diplomacy." It's certainly that. But NASA Administrator Charles Bolden can hardly be blamed for loyally carrying out the policies put into effect by President Obama.

We can find something else interesting in this loony story: Where are the atheizers and arch-separationists on this one? Do they support "separation of church and state" but go suddenly silent when the issue is "separation of mosque and state"?

What would they say if President Obama had appointed a religious-freedom-centered, roving ambassador, whose duty it would be to travel the world taking up the cause of Christians who are being persecuted in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, and yes, Iraq and Afghanistan? We'd hear them scream like stuck pigs. Why are they so silent now?

This latest furor should not cover up the fact that President Obama's policy for NASA is to go nowhere and do nothing. No wonder young kids in the U.S. -- and throughout the world -- are not interested. It was no small part of President Kennedy's appeal that he pledged "to get America moving again." And he did.

Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council. He serves on the board of directors of the Club for Growth, National Taxpayers Union, and National Rifle Association and is co-author of The Blueprint: Obama's Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency.

Five Celestial Lights Brighten July Nights


5 Celestial Lights to Brighten July's Nights

By Denise Chow Staff Writer

posted: 09 July 2010

02:07 pm ET

Five of the sky's brightest and most dazzling lights will make appearances in the western sky on several nights this month in a promising celestial show for skywatchers with clear skies.

Venus, the dazzling evening star, is currently creeping past Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, the lion. At the beginning of July, Venus was well to the lower right of Regulus, but now the planet stands side by side with the bright star.

Being the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon, Venus is impossible to miss. People often mistake it for an airplane or UFO, and calls to local police and sheriff departments are not uncommon when Venus graces the evening sky.

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Lucky skywatchers can catch Venus and Regulus tonight, Friday July 9, as they swing closest together, separated only by about one degree – less than the width of a finger held at arm's length.

The slim crescent moon will dance close to this bright duo on July 14, making an equilateral triangle with the moon at left, Venus on top, and Regulus on the right.

The orange-hued planet Mars and the golden gas giant Saturn will be a little higher to the group's upper left. (Use this graphic to spot Saturn and Mars together with the moon, Venus and Regulus on July 14.)

The display of these five bright cosmic objects provides a good look at the ecliptic – the path that the sun traces across the sky.

In ancient times, the ecliptic was thought to hold special significance. In fact, the first major constellations ever drawn were those of the zodiac – the 12 constellations that lie along the ecliptic.

Yet, celestial events are not solely confined to July nights. On Sunday, the sun will cast a dark shadow over a slice of the Earth's surface in a total eclipse spectacle.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Giant Propellers Found In Saturn's Rings


Giant Propellers Discovered In Saturn's Rings

By Denise Chow Staff Writer

posted: 08 July 2010

03:43 pm ET

Giant propeller-shaped structures have been discovered in the rings of Saturn and appear to be created by a new class of hidden moons, NASA announced Thursday.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft spotted the distinctive structures inside some of Saturn's rings, marking the first time scientists have managed to track the orbits of individual objects from within a debris disk like the one that makes up Saturn's complicated ring system.

"Observing the motions of these disk-embedded objects provides a rare opportunity to gauge how the planets grew from, and interacted with, the disk of material surrounding the early sun," said the study's co-author Carolyn Porco, one of the lead researchers on the Cassini imaging team based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "It allows us a glimpse into how the solar system ended up looking the way it does."

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wallpapers.smileycentral.comPhotos of the propellers taken by Cassini show them to be huge structures several thousands of miles long. By understanding how they form, astronomers hope to glean insight into the debris disks around other stars as well, researchers said.

The results of the study are detailed in the July 8 issue of the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Propellers at Saturn

Cassini scientists have seen double-armed propeller structures in Saturn's rings before, but on a smaller scale than the larger, newfound features. They were first spotted in 2006 in an area now known as the "propeller belt," which is located in the middle of Saturn's outermost dense ring – the A ring.

The propellers are actually gaps in the ring material were created by a new class of objects, called moonlets, that are smaller than known moons but larger than the particles making up Saturn's rings. It is estimated that these moonlets could number in the millions, according to Cassini scientists.

The moonlets clear the space immediately around them to generate the propeller-like features, but are not large enough to sweep clear their entire orbit around Saturn, as seen with the moons Pan and Daphnis. [Photos of Saturn rings and moons.]

But in the new study, researchers a new legion of larger and rarer moons in a separate part of the A ring, farther out from Saturn. These much larger moons create propellers that are hundreds of times larger than those previously described, and these objects have been tracked for about four years.

The study was led by Cassini imaging team associate Matthew Tiscareno at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

The propeller features for these larger moons are up to thousands of miles long and several miles wide. The moons embedded in Saturn's rings appear to kick up ring material as high as 1,600 feet (0.5 km) above and below the ring plane.

This is much greater than the typical ring thickness of about 30 feet (10 meters), researchers said.

Hidden Saturn moons

Still, the Cassini spacecraft is too far away to see the moons amid the swirling ring material that surrounds them. Yet, scientists estimate that the moons measure approximately half a mile (about one km) in diameter, based on the size of the propellers.

According to their research, Tiscareno and his colleagues estimate that there are dozens of these giant propellers. In fact, 11 of them were imaged multiple times between 2005 and 2009.

One such propeller, nicknamed Bleriot after the famous aviator Louis Bleriot, has shown up in more than 100 separate Cassini images and one ultraviolet imaging spectrograph observation during this time.

"Scientists have never tracked disk-embedded objects anywhere in the universe before now," said Tiscareno. "All the moons and planets we knew about before orbit in empty space. In the propeller belts, we saw a swarm in one image and then had no idea later on if we were seeing the same individual objects. With this new discovery, we can now track disk-embedded moons individually over many years."

Over their four years of observation, the researchers noticed shifts in the orbits of the giant propellers as they travel around Saturn, but the cause of these disturbances have not yet been determined.

The shifting orbits could be caused by collisions with other smaller ring particles, or could be responses to these particles' gravity, the researchers said. The orbital paths of these moonlets could also be altered due to the gravitational attraction of large moons outside of Saturn's rings.

Scientists will continue to monitor the moons to see if the disk itself is driving the chances, similar to the interactions that occur in young solar systems. If so, Tiscareno said, this would be the first time such a measurement has been made directly.

"Propellers give us unexpected insight into the larger objects in the rings," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Over the next seven years, Cassini will have the opportunity to watch the evolution of these objects and to figure out why their orbits are changing."

NASA launched the Cassini probe in 1997 and it arrived at Saturn in 2004, where it dropped the European Huygens probe on the cloudy surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Cassini was slated to be decommissioned in September of this year, but received a life extension that now runs through 2017.

Black Hole Seems To Recoil From Mysterious cosmic Sling-Shot


Black Hole Recoils From Mysterious Cosmic Slingshot

By Denise Chow Staff Writer

posted: 08 July 2010

04:35 pm ET

A black hole has been spotted recoiling from a mysterious slingshot effect, possibly from encounters with several other black holes, a new study has found.

The exact cause of the black hole's kickback is still unknown, but scientists have come up with two possible theories to explain its odd cosmic behavior.

One theory suggests the slingshot effect was produced by interactions within a triple black hole system. The other attributes the recoiling action to gravitational waves produced by two supermassive black holes as they merged together a few million years earlier.

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wallpapers.smileycentral.comBoth theories hinge on two objects near the black hole that were observed in the visible range of the light spectrum. But these optical sources represent different things in each theory.

Astronomers discovered the recoiling black hole, called CID-42, while conducting a large, multi-wavelength survey, called the Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS). It sits in a galaxy about 3.9 million light-years away, which astronomers were able to observe by combining observations from different space observatories and telescopes. [Photo of the recoiling black hole.]

In the black hole image, the X-ray source detected by Chandra is colored blue, while the Hubble observations are shown in gold. While the two optical sources are both visible in the Hubble data, they are too close for Chandra to resolve separately.

The COSMOS survey combines observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, the European XMM-Newton, as well as ground-based observatories. To date, it has identified about 2,600 X-ray sources in deep space, but only one – the CID-42 black hole – corresponds with two optical sources.

A "tail" of merging galaxies

One big clue for astronomers studying the CID-42 black hole is the long tail trailing its host galaxy.

"The galaxy's long tail suggests that a merger between galaxies has occurred relatively recently, only a few million years earlier," Cassini officials said in a statement.

In addition, observations from the Very Large Telescope and the Magellan telescope suggest that the difference in speed of the two optical sources is at least 3 million mph.

Astronomers also studied X-ray observations from Chandra and XMM-Newton to gather further information about CID-42. Absorption from iron-rich gas indicates that the gas is moving rapidly away.

This could be gas in the galaxy between our Milky Way galaxy and one of the black holes that is falling into another black hole, or it could be gas on the far side of the black hole that is blowing away, researchers said in a statement.

"Taken together, these pieces of information allow for two different scenarios for what is happening in this system and the nature of the two optical sources in the center of the image," Cassini officials said.

Astronomers Francesca Civano and Martin Elvis of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detailed their research on CID-42 in the July 1 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

Cosmic bullying?

In the first scenario, researchers think that a triple black hole encounter could have been produced through a two-step process.

First, a collision between two galaxies created a galaxy with a pair of black holes in a close orbit. But, before these black holes could merge, yet another galaxy collision occurred and a third supermassive black hole spiraled toward the existing pair.

The interaction between the three black holes in such a system could result in the lightest one being ejected – the recoiling black hole.

For this theory, the two optical sources spotted by the COSMOS survey would be active galactic nuclei, with one thriving off material pulled along by - and falling onto – the recoiling supermassive black hole. The second source would then be the result of the two other black holes merging into a single object.

As an added caveat theory, the fast absorption of X-ray emissions seen around CID-42 would be high-speed interstellar winds blowing between the active galactic nuclei.

What about gravity waves?

The scenario that could explain the recoiling black hole's appearance are gravitational waves, though it would require a huge cosmic collision to set them off, researchers said.

According to this theory, a merger between two supermassive black holes at the center of the galaxy would emit gravitational waves from the collision process. These waves, then, could cause the resulting black hole to be flung from the center of the galaxy.

In this case, the ejected black hole is the point source in the lower left, and a cluster of stars that are left behind in the center of the galaxy is in the upper right. The X-ray absorption that the researchers observed would be caused by gas that is falling onto the recoiling black hole.

This scenario was recently proposed by Peter Jonker from the Netherlands Institute for Space Research in Utecht as a possible explanation for a different source in a separate galaxy.

Jonker and his team of researchers discovered a Chandra X-ray source about ten thousand light-years (in projection) away from the center of a galaxy. The study presents three possible explanations for this object: it is an unusual type of supernova, it is an ultraluminous X-ray source with a very bright optical counterpart, or it is a recoiling supermassive black hole that resulted from a gravitational wave kick.

Further observations will likely help to eliminate or support one of the scenarios for CID-42, researchers said

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One Giant Leap Backward

From The American Enterprise Institute:

One Giant Leap (Backward) By Jonah Goldberg

National Review Online

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Waste anything but time." That was the motto of the teams behind NASA's Apollo missions. That spirit has long since evaporated. Today's NASA is pulled by a million missions, from improving education and spinning off more products like Tang to its latest call of duty: telling Muslims how good they are at math.

NASA chief Charles Bolden recently told Al-Jazeera TV that President Obama charged him with three crucial missions: (1) "help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math"; (2) "expand our international relationships"; and (3) "perhaps foremost," Bolden explained, Obama "wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world . . . to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science . . . and math and engineering."

We've gone from "waste anything but time" to "waste everything, especially time" in about a generation.

The dream of a nimble, focused, problem-solving government is undone by the reality of hyper-mission creep.Liberalism is caught in something of a Catch-22. Under Obama, liberals are determined to reinvigorate the reputation of government, to prove that only the state can get important things done. That is why the Gulf oil spill, for instance, is so vexatious for the White House and its liberal supporters. Why can't the government be more nimble and resourceful?

It was one thing when the feds failed after Hurricane Katrina, liberals reasoned, because Bush didn't like government. This was not only untrue, it overlooked the fact that the permanent government bureaucracy is on liberal autopilot. Regardless, Obama is different. He loves government; he sees it as the most noble of callings. That's why he wants to make student loans much cheaper for kids who go to work for the government, and it's why he wants government jobs to pay so much better than private-sector ones.

According to contemporary liberalism, the government is the control room of society, where problems get solved, where institutions get their marching orders, where the oceans are commanded to stop rising. Each institution must subscribe to the progressive vision: All oars must pull as one. We are all in it together. We can do it all, if we all work together. Yes, we can.

In my book, Liberal Fascism, I called this phenomenon the "liberal Gleichschaltung." Gleichschaltung is a German word (in case you couldn't have guessed) borrowed from electrical engineering. It means "coordination." The German National Socialists (Nazis) used the concept to get every institution to sing from the same hymnal. If a fraternity or business embraced Nazism, it could stay "independent." If it rejected Nazism, it was crushed or bent to the state's ideology. Meanwhile, every branch of government was charged with not merely doing its job but advancing the official state ideology.

Now, contemporary liberalism is not an evil ideology. Its intentions aren't evil or even fruitfully comparable to Hitlerism. But there is a liberal Gleichschaltung all the same. Every institution must be on the same page. Every agency must advance the liberal agenda.

And this is where the Catch-22 catches. The dream of a nimble, focused, problem-solving government is undone by the reality of hyper-mission creep. When every institution is yoked to an overarching philosophy or mission, its actual purpose can become an afterthought. In 2005, volunteer firefighters from all over the country offered to help with Katrina's aftermath. But FEMA sent many of them to Atlanta first to undergo diversity and sexual-harassment training (which most already had).

Such examples are everywhere. What is political correctness other than the gears of the liberal Gleichschaltung? The financial crisis was worsened because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became tools for liberal social engineering. Let's not even mention public schools.

The White House is determined to be a great friend (i.e., servant) to the unions, so everything from the stimulus to the automaker buyout to the Gulf spill must first pass union muster. Remember those vital, "shovel-ready" weatherization jobs the stimulus was supposed to pay for? The Labor Department delayed them for nearly a year while trying to figure out how to comply with pro-union "prevailing wage" rules for each of more than 3,000 counties.

Liberalism has become a cargo cult to the New Deal, but many of the achievements of the New Deal would be impossible now. Just try to get a Hoover Dam built today.

President Obama likes to say that "if we could put a man on the moon," we can do anything, from socializing medicine to abandoning fossil fuels. That's nonsense on stilts for a host of reasons. But it's also ironic, given that we can't even put a man on the moon anymore. Not when NASA's foremost priority is boosting the self-esteem of children and Muslims.

Jonah Goldberg is a visiting fellow at AEI.

Lawmakers Say Obama's NASA Plans Won't Help With Economic Recovery


Lawmaker Says NASA Plan Isn't Helping Economic Recovery

By Amy Klamper

Space News Staff Writer

posted: 07 July 2010

12:22 pm ET

WASHINGTON — As the White House embarks on a summer road tour to promote its economic recovery efforts, Republican lawmakers are criticizing President Barack Obama's plan to scrap the nation's moon program and the thousands of highly skilled jobs that could be lost as a result.

In a July 2 letter to U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package signed into law in February 2009 had done little to stem job losses in Texas and other states hit by the ailing economy.

At that time our nation's unemployment rate was over 8 percent and the administration projected that the stimulus, if enacted, would keep the unemployment rate under 8 percent," Olson wrote. "Yet, since the stimulus was enacted our unemployment has hovered closer to 10 percent and currently stands at 9.7 percent."

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www.Bloomberg.comIn June Biden and other White House officials hit the road as part of the administration's "Summer of Recovery," a six-week tour of states expected to see an increase in economic development projects and job growth as a result of stimulus spending.

The White House estimates that through March of this year, the stimulus package saved or created as many as 2.8 million jobs. But Olson asserts Obama's plan to scrap NASA's Constellation program, a 5-year-old effort to replace the retiring space shuttle with new rockets and spacecraft optimized for lunar missions, threatens as many as 30,000 jobs across the country, including Houston, home to NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Olson also took issue with the administration's moratorium on offshore drilling as it grapples with a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, calling it "a devastating blow" to that region. "So as you begin your 'Summer of Recovery' activities, I invite you to come to Houston and see the impact the administration's policies have already had, and the negative consequences they pose should these policies continue," Olsen wrote.

Olson and 27 members of the Texas congressional delegation urged Obama in an Oct. 5 letter to redirect $3 billion in unspent economic stimulus money to NASA, a cash infusion the group said was needed to support a robust human spaceflight program and save jobs in Texas and around the country.

"Last year, a Presidentially-appointed commission which was created to analyze the various decisions facing NASA's human space flight program reported an influx of $3 billion would help put our human space flight program on a sustainable path," Olson said in the letter to Biden, referring to the findings of a blue-ribbon panel led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine. That panel concluded, among other things, that a funding boost to NASA's top-line beginning in 2011 that gradually ramped up to an additional $3 billion a year would enable the agency to explore beyond low-Earth orbit.

Nine months later, Olson said, "with billions of dollars unspent and as aerospace jobs are lost never to return, our letter remains unanswered."

In June Obama notified lawmakers that his administration would shift $100 million of NASA's $4.2 billion funding request for manned exploration programs in 2011 to the U.S. Commerce and Labor departments to pay for economic development initiatives in Florida and other states bracing for job losses when the space shuttle retires next year.

In a letter sent July 1 to Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Olson and seven other Texas Republicans argued there is no need for NASA to lose those funds to jobs programs administered by other agencies. Wolf and Issa are the ranking members of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, respectively.

The letter, co-signed by Rep. Ralph Hall, the ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee, asserts that the Commerce Department alone was given $7.9 billion in 2009 economic stimulus funds for "job creation," of which $4.7 billion has yet to be spent.

"This $100 million should come out of that budget," the lawmakers wrote.

As of June 4, the federal government obligated a total of $397 billion in economic stimulus spending and provided an estimated $223 billion in tax relief for families, totaling roughly 78 percent of the $787 billion economic stimulus appropriation, according to a June 17 White House report on the status of Recovery Act spending.

Sunrise To Sunset: Earth Photographed From International Space Station


Sunrise to Sunset: Earth's Day Photographed From Space

By Staff

posted: 07 July 2010

03:57 pm ET

Stunning photos from the International Space Station show the Earth below from sunrise to sunset. But what takes half a day on Earth lasted less than one hour for astronaut photographers on the station.

The photos show the day cycle of Earth from orbit, beginning with a sunrise over Northern Europe and ending with sunset over southeast Australia. They were taken during half of a single orbit of the station as it flew around Earth. [See the photos: Earth's day from space]

The International Space Station takes about 92 minutes to complete one circle around the planet. Cruising along at 17,200 mph (27,700 kph), the station gives astronauts a chance to see 15 or 16 sunrises and sunsets every day.

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Maps.alot.comYet the amazing view doesn't seem to get old.

Astronauts snapped these recently released photos during an April flight of the space shuttle Discovery, which can be seen in the upper left of each frame. The top frame showcases snow-covered Norway, the Jutland Peninsula and low clouds cover Central Europe.

In the middle picture, the lake-studded Tibetan Plateau and the glaciers of the Himalayan Mountains are visible. Smoke shrouds the lowlands along the southern margin of the Himalayas and much of Southeast Asia, including the Irrawaddy Delta.

In the bottom frame, Australia's arid interior is colored with myriad shades of red. As sunset nears, cloud shadows lengthen, highlighting their structure.

Discovery was docked at the space station for its STS-131 mission at the time. That mission delivered vital supplies and science equipment to the orbiting lab

Gallery (from article)

Gallery (other photos of Earth from space)