ESO’s Very Large Telescope Celebrates 15 Years of Success
With this new view of a spectacular stellar nursery ESO is celebrating 15 years of the Very Large Telescope — the world’s most advanced optical instrument. This picture reveals thick clumps of dust silhouetted against the pink glowing gas cloud known to astronomers as IC 2944. These opaque blobs resemble drops of ink floating in a strawberry cocktail, their whimsical shapes sculpted by powerful radiation coming from the nearby brilliant young stars.
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The Making of a Giant Galaxy
Several telescopes have teamed up to discover a rare and massive merging of two galaxies that took place when the universe was just 3 billion years old (its current age is about 14 billion years). The galaxies, collectively called HXMM01, are churning out the equivalent of 2,000 suns a year. By comparison, our Milky Way hatches about two to three suns a year. The total number of stars in both colliding galaxies averages out to about 400 billion suns.
The Herschel Space Observatory first spotted the colliding duo in images taken with longer-wavelength infrared light, as shown in the image at left. Follow-up observations from many telescopes helped determine the extreme degree of star-formation taking place in the merger, as well as its incredible mass.
The image at right shows a close-up view, with the merging galaxies circled. The red data are from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Submillimeter Array atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and show dust-enshrouded regions of star formation. The green data, taken by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array, near Socorro, N.M., show carbon monoxide gas in the galaxies. In addition, the blue shows starlight.
The blue blobs outside of the circle are galaxies located much closer to us. These near-infrared light observations are from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Irvine/STScI/Keck/NRAO/SAO
Three Possible Futures for the Universe via Chandra X-ray Observatory (Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss)
“This illustration shows three possible futures for the Universe, depending on the behavior of dark energy, by showing how the scale of the Universe may change with time. If dark energy is constant, as the new Chandra results suggest, the expansion should continue accelerating forever. If dark energy increases, the acceleration may happen so quickly that galaxies, stars, and eventually atoms will be torn apart, in the so-called Big Rip. Dark energy may also lead to a recollapse of the Universe, in the Big Crunch. The illustration also shows the early decelerating expansion of the Universe, followed by the accelerating phase that started about 6 billion years ago.”
APOD | 2013 May 22 |Red Sprite Lightning with Aurora
Image Credit & Copyright: Walter Lyons (FMA Research), WeatherVideoHD.TV
Explanation: What’s that in the sky? It is a rarely seen form of lightning confirmed only about 25 years ago: a red sprite. Recent research has shown that following a powerful positive cloud-to-ground lightning strike, red sprites may start as 100-meter balls of ionized air that shoot down from about 80-km high at 10 percent the speed of light and are quickly followed by a group of upward streaking ionized balls. The above image, taken a few days ago above central South Dakota, USA, captured a bright red sprite, and is a candidate for the first color image ever recorded of a sprite and aurora together. Distant storm clouds cross the bottom of the image, while streaks of colorful aurora are visible in the background. Red sprites take only a fraction of a second to occur and are best seen when powerful thunderstorms are visible from the side.
Saturn and Moons
Credit: Scott MacNeill
Aurora Borealis in Maine
Credit: Mike Taylor
The Red Rectangle Nebula from Hubble
Image Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA; Reprocessing: Steven Marx, Hubble Legacy Archive
Explanation: How was the unusual Red Rectangle nebula created? At the nebula’s center is an aging binary star system that surely powers the nebula but does not, as yet, explain its colors. The unusual shape of the Red Rectangle is likely due to a thick dust torus which pinches the otherwise spherical outflow into tip-touching cone shapes. Because we view the torus edge-on, the boundary edges of the cone shapes seem to form an X. The distinct rungs suggest the outflow occurs in fits and starts. The unusual colors of the nebula are less well understood, however, and speculation holds that they are partly provided by hydrocarbon molecules that may actually be building blocks for organic life. The Red Rectangle nebula lies about 2,300 light years away towards the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). The nebula is shown above in great detail as recently reprocessed image from Hubble Space Telescope. In a few million years, as one of the central stars becomes further depleted of nuclear fuel, the Red Rectangle nebula will likely bloom into a planetary nebula.
NGC 4214 - Dwarf barred irregular galaxy in Canes Venatici
Credit: Jeff Johnson
NASA’s Curiosity Rover Drills Into 2nd Mars Rock
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has broken out its trusty drill again, pulling samples from deep within a Red Planet rock for the second time ever.
The 1-ton Curiosity rover bored 2.6 inches (6.6 centimeters) into a rock dubbed “Cumberland” on Sunday (May 19), NASA officials said. The resulting powdered sample will be delivered to the robot’s onboard science instruments in the coming days.
Curiosity first used its drill to collect samples back in February, boring into a nearby rock called “John Klein.” That operation revealed that ancient Mars was likely capable of supporting microbial life — a groundbreaking discovery that the mission team wants to confirm.
“The science team expects to use analysis of material from Cumberland to check findings from John Klein,” NASA officials wrote in a mission update Monday (May 20).
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Majestic Milky Way Shines Over Acadia National Park
Credit: Christopher Georgia
APOD | 2013 May 20 | Blue Sun Bursting
Image Credit & Copyright: Alan Friedman (Averted Imagination)
Explanation: Our Sun is not a giant blueberry. Our Sun can be made to appear similar to the diminutive fruit, however, by imaging it in a specific color of extreme violet light called CaK that is emitted by the very slight abundance of ionized Calcium in the Sun’s atmosphere, and then false color-inverting the image. This solar depiction is actually scientifically illuminating as a level of the Sun’s chromosphere appears quite prominent, showing a crackly textured surface, cool sunspots appearing distinctly bright, and surrounding hot active regions appearing distinctly dark. The Sun is currently near the maximum activity level in its 11 year cycle, and has emitted powerful flares over the past week. During times of high activity, streams of energetic particles from Sun may impact the Earth’s magnetosphere and set off spectacular auroras.
UK astronaut Tim Peake to go to International Space Station
The UK astronaut Tim Peake has been given a date to fly to the International Space Station (ISS).
The European Space Agency (Esa) says it will release details of his mission on Monday. It will not be before 2015.
Peake, who was a major and a helicopter pilot in the British Army Air Corps, has been in training for an expedition to the ISS since 2009.
To get there, he will have to ride a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
Tasks once in orbit will include helping to maintain the 27,000km/h platform and carrying out science experiments in Esa’s Columbus laboratory module, which is attached to the front of the 400-tonne complex.
Forty-one-year-old Peake hails from Chichester, and is so far the only Briton ever to be accepted into the European Astronaut Corps.
His mission will make him the first UK national to live and work in space, and to fly the Union flag, on a British-government-funded programme (the UK is Esa’s third largest contributor).
All previous UK-born astronauts that have gone into orbit have done so either through the US space agency (Nasa) as American citizens or on private ventures organised with the assistance of the Russian space agency.
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APOD | 2013 May 19 | Earth’s Richat Structure
Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
Explanation: What on Earth is that? The Richat Structure in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania is easily visible from space because it is nearly 50 kilometers across. Once thought to be an impact crater, the Richat Structure’s flat middle and lack of shock-altered rock indicates otherwise. The possibility that the Richat Structure was formed by a volcanic eruption also seems improbable because of the lack of a dome of igneous or volcanic rock. Rather, the layered sedimentary rock of the Richat structure is now thought by many to have been caused by uplifted rock sculpted by erosion. The above image was captured by the ASTER instruments onboard the orbiting orbiting Terra satellite. Why the Richat Structure is nearly circular remains a mystery.
Snow Falling on Telescopes
This image shows a wintry La Silla Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert sitting beneath the Milky Way. Despite the telescopes’ location in one of the best areas for astronomical observation, at an altitude of 7800 feet (2400 meters), the desert cannot completely escape winter weather, including snow blanketing the mountain peak and telescope domes. The high altitude sites operated by European Southern Observatory can experience both hot and cold temperatures through the year, including sometimes harsh conditions.
Credit: ESO/José Francisco Salgado
This Week in Science - May 13 - 19, 2013:
- Magnetar at black hole here.
- Cloned human stem cells here.
- Cell calculators here.
- Music matched to color here.
- Scientists agreeing on climate change here.
- Remote-piloted plane here.
- Earth’s core here.
- Bright lunar explosion here.
- American asteroid sampling here.
- Hofstadter butterfly effect here.
- Electric shocks aid math skills here.
- Printable solar panels here.