This morning’s launch of SpaceX’s third Dragon capsule has the twittersphere all a-flutter. Falcon 9’s blastoff from Cape Canaveral initially appeared to be a success. Read More
Supernovae, the spectacular death rattles of the largest stars, are the astronomical gifts that keep giving.
The stellar explosions can add a temporary new jewel to the night (and sometimes day) sky, and they leave behind spectacular and intricate formations known as remnants. A certain class of supernovae helped astronomers realize that the universe’s expansion is speeding up, leading to the “discovery” of dark energy pervading our cosmos. And now, it seems, supernovae might ultimately be to blame for one of astronomy’s longest running mysteries: the origins of cosmic rays.
Scientists have known about these ridiculously energetic and high-velocity particles for nearly a hundred years. In daily life, cosmic rays may be familiar as the source of extra radiation airline passengers are exposed to. However scientists have been uncertain about where cosmic rays come from. The extreme conditions of temperature and speed that accompany supernovae and their remains made them a natural starting point for guesses. Now two separate Science papers finally provide evidence that cosmic rays do indeed come from supernovae remnants.
This colorful supernova remnant is called W49B, and inside it astronomers think they may have found the Milky Way’s youngest black hole. It’s only 1,000 years old, as seen from Earth, and 26,000 lightyears away.
From a vantage point on NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers observed and measured the remnant and determined it to be very unique. The supernova explosion of this massive star was not symmetrical like most, and instead of collapsing to form a telltale neutron star at its center, this supernova seems to have a black hole.
On Friday, February 15, astronomers will get an unusually good look at a near-Earth asteroid called 2012 DA14. It will be the first time a known object of this size will come this close to Earth—a mere 8 percent the distance between us and our moon.
The asteroid, which measures 150 feet across, was first spotted by astronomers when it zoomed by Earth this time last year. This asteroid’s fly-bys occur about once a year since its orbit around the sun is very similar to our own.
Any mention of Pluto among astronomy buffs, around water coolers and in comments sections, is enough to spark controversy. When the diminutive world officially became known as a dwarf planet in 2006, many took the “demotion” personally. But an announcement today from the SETI Institute might just be cool enough to bring everyone together.
The discoverers of Pluto’s two smallest moons are reaching out to the world for help in naming them. Currently designated P4 and P5, these tiny satellites were discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively, using Hubble Space Telescope data. These were always temporary labels, though, and the time has come to select their official names. There might be even more moons lurking around the former planet, but the thing about Pluto is it’s really, really far, and even for Hubble the entire system registers as little more than dots. Plus, these moons are really small, only about 20 miles across max, making others like them extra hard to spot.
We’re not supposed to look at the sun, but no one said anything about listening. If you, like amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft, had your radio tuned to the right frequency last Saturday evening, you would have heard the garbled effects of a solar flare drowning out radio waves here on Earth after it erupted on the surface of the sun. For those of you who still want to listen after the fact, you’re in luck:
Thomas Ashcraft is an independent, self-taught radio astronomer who operates his own Heliotown Observatory in north central New Mexico. Using optical telescopes and radio instruments, Ashcraft keeps an eye (and an ear) on the Sun, Jupiter, meteoric fireballs and transient luminous events called red sprites. He recorded the sound of the solar flare this weekend and shared his methodology and thoughts with DISCOVER writer Breanna Draxler via e-mail.
If you live along the Eastern seaboard, keep an eye on the sky tonight. NASA will be launching a rocket sometime between 5:30 and 6:50 p.m. EST from its flight facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.
The rocket is a practice run for two upcoming space observation missions. It will be loaded with two different kinds of lithium canisters. Once ignited, the lithium will vaporize and produce two cloud-like trails that will appear red in the sky. Since they are higher in the atmosphere they will be illuminated by the sun, even though it will no longer be visible from ground level. Assuming a clear night, the vapor trails should be visible to the naked eye along the length of the East Coast, from Canada to Florida, for a short time.
You may be familiar with the celebrity home touring show Cribs, but this video takes the concept of home tours
above and beyond. No, really. It’s a tour of the International Space Station with astronaut Sunita Williams as your guide. She (and her big, zero-gravity hair) bounce around the space station to reveal all the crazy perks that don’t show up in the NASA photos.
It looks like an astronaut. It acts like an astronaut. And here, on January 2, it operates the valves on a task board like an astronaut.
Robonaut 2 is the second iteration of NASA’s attempts to put a human-like robot in space, and he is fast approaching his second anniversary aboard the International Space Station. In this case he is taking directions from a crew on Earth to operate a slew of valves in the Destiny Laboratory, but he can also be controlled by his fellow astronauts in space or complete certain tasks all on his own.
Apophis is a big name in the world of asteroids, and on Wednesday the famed space object will be making an appearance for astronomers across the globe.
A flurry of apocalyptic hoopla was generated
in 2004 when astronomers found an asteroid that looked like it may be headed for Earth. Apophis measures almost 1000 feet across, and if it were to hit Earth, the fateful collision would occur on Friday the 13th, in April of 2029. So astronomers set out to take more pictures of the asteroid’s orbit and better estimate the chances of a collision. As a clearer picture of its orbit emerged, the odds went from 1 in 300, to 1 in 45, to zero. But that doesn’t mean the threat is gone.