Pulling together decades of data from the Voyager, Galileo, Cassini, and New Horizon probes, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists at the US Geological Survey have put together a complete geological map of Io, the beautiful, mysterious Jovian moon. Io is the most volcanically active object in the solar system, and its surface reflects that: unlike everything else around, it has no craters, a sign that its surface is constantly being remade. That’s thanks to volcanoes that shoot out more than 100 times more lava per year than Earth’s.
The map is a lovely thing, and you can play around with it yourself here.
When Fomalhaut b was announced in 2008, images showed it following a clear orbit around its star.
What’s the News: Even if you don’t know an exoplanet from an exoskeleton, you probably saw the gorgeous images of Fomalhaut, aka “Sauron’s Eye,” making their way around the web in 2008. A tiny, bright dot in the star’s surrounding dust cloud had moved, showing itself to be a planet—the first planet beyond our solar system to actually be seen, rather than detected with nonoptical instruments. Cue the champagne!
But new pictures show something odd: Fomalhaut b, as the planet was named, is veering off in an unexpected direction. Does this mean it’s not a planet after all, or is there another explanation? Read More
Its’ time for another mind-blowing, record-breaking discovery by the Hubble Space Telescope. This time, it’s creeping closer than ever toward the beginning of the universe.
Astronomers have just announced they have discovered what may be the most distant galaxy ever seen, smashing the previous record holder. This galaxy is at a mind-crushing distance of 13.2 billion light years from Earth, making it not just the most distant galaxy but also the most distant extant object ever detected!
Named UDFj-39546284, the galaxy is seen as it was just 480 million years after the Universe itself formed! The previous record holder — which was announced just last October — was 13.1 billion light years away. This new galaxy beats that by 120 million light years, a substantial amount. Mind you, these galaxies formed not long after the Big Bang, which happened 13.73 billion years ago. We think the very first galaxies started forming 200 – 300 million years after the Bang; if that’s correct then we won’t see any galaxies more than about 13.5 billion light years away. Going from 13.1 to 13.2 billion light years represents a big jump closer to that ultimate limit!
For plenty more about this, check out the rest of Phil’s post at Bad Astronomy.
Bad Astronomy: How Deep Is the Universe?
Bad Astronomy: Galaxy Cluster at the Edge of the Universe
80beats: Planck Telescope Searchers the Super-Cold Universe, Finds Neat Stuff
Image: NASA, ESA
From Phil Plait:
The record for the most distant object in the Universe ever seen has been smashed: a galaxy has been found at the staggering distance of 13.1 billion light years!
It’s so dim that the faintest star you can see with your unaided eye is 4 billion times brighter. Its distance is simply numbing; the Universe itself is only 13.7 billion years old, so the light from this object began its journey on its way to Earth just 600 million years after the Universe itself formed.
Head to the full post at Bad Astronomy for all the details about how astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to find this faraway galaxy, and what the discovery tells us about the infant universe.
Bad Astronomy: The Universe Is 13.73 +/-.12 Billion Years Old
Bad Astronomy: New burst vaporizes cosmic distance record
80beats: Hubble Spies Baby Galaxies That Formed Just After the Big Bang
DISCOVER: Happy Birthday Hubble: The Telescope’s Most Underrated Images
Out in the asteroid belt beyond Mars, two asteroids rendezvous-ed in the darkness, with explosive results. Atomic bomb level explosive.
These two asteroids, one probably 400 feet wide and the other, smaller asteroid around 10 to 15 feet across, collided sometime in early 2009. This is the first time we humans have observed an asteroid impact right after it has occurred, and the first time a resulting x-shape has been seen. Researchers aren’t sure what caused the novel shape, and they were surprised by how long the dust tail has lasted. The analysis of the finding, originally announced earlier this year, is published in Nature this week.
From Phil Plait, DISCOVER’s Bad Astronomer:
This is a false-color image showing the object, called P/2010 A2, in visible light. The long tail of debris is obvious; this is probably dust being blown back by the solar wind, similar to the way a comet’s tail is blown back. What apparently has happened is that two small, previously-undiscovered asteroids collided, impacting with a speed of at least 5 km/sec (and possibly faster). The energy in such a collision is like setting off a nuclear bomb, or actually many nuclear bombs! The asteroids shattered, and much of the debris expanded outward as pulverized dust.
Looking at the image, the bright spot to the left is most likely what’s left of one of the two asteroids, a chunk of rock estimated to be a mere 140 meters (450 feet) across. In the press release they’re not clear about the curved line emanating to the right of the nucleus. It may be — and I’m spitballing here — dust blown back from a stream of chunks, since the tail is broad and appears to originate from that swept curve, and not from the nucleus itself. The other filament perpendicular to the curve is from yet another piece of debris.
The one ring is back, and it’s beautiful.
What you see here is the aftermath of stellar death, rediscovered after NASA temporarily lost the ability to watch it play out. Astronomers tracked supernova 1987A after its discovery that year, picking up insights into what happens after a huge star expends itself. But in 2004, the Hubble Space Telescope‘s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph went kaput. The May 2009 space shuttle servicing mission repaired this eye in the sky, leading to a study in this week’s edition of the journal Science that reveals what’s behind this fluorescent view, and why that ring shines so brightly.
One of the top three priorities for the next decade of astrophysics and astronomy, we noted this week, is unraveling dark energy, the weird force that pushes the universe apart. Given that scientists know next-to-nothing about dark energy—besides the fact that it makes up most of the universe—any step could be an important one. Thanks to a study out this week in Science, astrophysicists at least can have more confidence in this phenomenon that can’t be directly seen or measured: Their estimates for dark matter’s extent appear to be on target.
The technique scientists used in this study is called gravitational lensing, and the lens in this case is a huge galactic cluster called Abell 1689.
Because of its huge mass, the cluster acts as a cosmic magnifying glass, causing light to bend around it. The way in which light is distorted by this cosmic lens depends on three factors: how far away the distant object is; the mass of Abell 1689; and the distribution of dark energy [BBC News].
We know about exoplanet HD 209458b, nicknamed “Osiris.” We know it’s 153 light years away, that it has water in its atmosphere, and that it orbits its star in three and a half days at a distance 100 times closer than Jupiter is to the sun. But we didn’t know this for sure until now: This planet has a tail.
In a study in The Astrophysical Journal, a research team says Osiris, a gas giant, orbits so close that its star is blasting away its atmosphere. As the planet progresses on its blazing hot and hasty revolutions, a tail like that of a comet follows behind it. The Hubble Space Telescope‘s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph caught the effect as Osiris made repeated transits in front of its star.
The instrument detected the heavy elements carbon and silicon in the planet’s super-hot 2,000 degrees F (1,100 C or so) atmosphere. This detection revealed the parent star is heating the entire atmosphere, dredging up the heavier elements and allowing them to escape the planet.
Jeffrey Linsky, of the University of Colorado, who led the study, said: “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” [Christian Science Monitor].
Happy birthday, old friend.
Tomorrow marks 20 years since the space shuttle Discovery carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. And to mark the occasion, NASA released the latest in a long line of incredibly gorgeous images of nebulae and star birth. This is the Carina nebula, which the telescope first shot in 2007. “We wanted to have an image that will be at least as spectacular as the iconic ‘pillars of creation,’ says Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, referring to a widely reproduced 1995 Hubble image of the Eagle Nebula. “This particular image can arguably be called ‘Eagle Nebula on steroids’” [Science News]. This sweeping view comes thanks to the Wide Field Camera 3, installed during a Hubble upgrade last summer.
There’s plenty more Hubble love to go around. DISCOVER blogger Phil Plait promises a few surprises in his “Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble.” And if you’ve already seen the Eagle Nebula more times than you can count, check out our gallery of the most underrated Hubble images.
DISCOVER: Happy Birthday, Hubble: The Telescope’s Most Underrated Images
Bad Astronomy: Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble
80beats: Prepare To Be Amazed: First Images from the Repaired Hubble Are Stunning
80beats: Hubble Spies Galaxies That Formed Just After the Big Bang
Image: NASA, ESA, M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)
Launch up from your couch and voyage to the final frontier this weekend with Hubble 3D, a hi-tech piece of visual wizardry from Warner Bros, IMAX, and NASA. The movie tracks the efforts of the astronauts on board mission STS-125, who blasted off aboard space shuttle Atlantis last May to fix the Hubble Space Telescope. For this mission, as DISCOVER explained in a review of the movie, Atlantis carried not only its regular payload of new gear for the telescope, but also a 600-pound IMAX camera to record the orbital repair job in breathtaking detail.
Apart from replacing worn out equipment and upgrading the world’s largest telescope so that it could continue to send home breathtaking images of the universe, the astronauts also functioned as cinematographers, using only eight minutes of film to shoot the repair work. The film also takes viewers on a tour of the telescope’s most famous observations, and explains what the ‘scope has revealed about such wonders as the stellar nurseries of the Orion nebula and our closest galactic neighbor, Andromeda. Director Toni Meyers, whose credits include a 3-D documentary about the international space station, says: “I think there is a kind of innate curiosity in all of us and a thirst to travel to places that either we can’t go to or it’s extremely difficult to do so” [CNN].