Take a Spaceship Journey to Arp. 273 ~ Hubble Zoom

Arp 273 is a group of galaxies which interact with each other.  The constellation is 300 million light years away from Earth in the constellation Andromeda. The Andromeda galaxy is also located in the Andromeda constellation. The larger of th...

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Astrophysicists Can Now Make Weather Forecasts For Distant Planets

Exoplanet day/night cycle
Cloudy mornings and scorching hot afternoons: the Kepler space telescope has provided weather forecasts for some distant exoplanets.

Excerpt from techtimes.com

A telescope observing distant planets has found evidence of weather patterns, allowing astrophysicists to "forecast" their conditions.

Analyzing data from NASA's Kepler space telescope, a team of astrophysicists at universities in Canada and Great Britain has identified signs of daily weather variations on six exoplanets.
They observed phase variations as different parts of the planets reflected light from their host stars, in much the same way that our moon cycles though different phases.

"We determined the weather on these alien worlds by measuring changes as the planets circle their host stars, and identifying the day-night cycle," said Lisa Esteves from the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

"We traced each of them going through a cycle of phases in which different portions of the planet are illuminated by its star, from fully lit to completely dark," added Esteves, who the led the team on the study.

The scientists have offered up "forecasts" of cloudy mornings for four of the planets, and clear but scorching hot afternoons on two others.

They based their predictions on the planets' rotations, which produce an eastward motion of their atmospheric winds. That would blow clouds that formed over the cooler side of one of the planets around to its morning side — thus producing the "cloudy" morning forecast.

"As the winds continue to transport the clouds to the day side, they heat up and dissipate, leaving the afternoon sky cloud-free," said Esteves. "These winds also push the hot air eastward from the meridian, where it is the middle of the day, resulting in higher temperatures in the afternoon."

The Kepler telescope has proven to be the ideal instrument for studying phase variations on distant exoplanets, according to the researchers.

The massive amounts of data and the extremely precise measurements that the telescope is capable of permits them to detect even tiny, subtle signals coming from the distant world, and to separate them from the almost overwhelming light coming from their host stars.

"The detection of light from these planets hundreds to thousands of light years away is on its own remarkable," said co-author Ernst de Mooij from the Astrophysics Research Centre from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's University, Belfast.
"But when we consider that phase cycle variations can be up to 100,000 times fainter than the host star, these detections become truly astonishing."

There may come a day when a weather report for a distant planet is a common and unremarkable event, the researchers added.
"Someday soon we hope to be talking about weather reports for alien worlds not much bigger than Earth, and to be making comparisons with our home planet," said Ray Jayawardhana of York University in England.

This study was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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‘Hats Off’ To HATS-6b: Discovery of ‘puffy’ new planet brings scientists closer to finding new life in outer space

An artist's impression of the planet HATS-6b, orbiting the star, HATS-6. (Supplied: ANU) Excerpt from abc.net.au A "puffy" new planet orbiting a small, cool star has been discovered 500 light years away from Earth, by a team of scientists c...

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Local Lick Observatory Astronomers Discover ‘Supersized Earths’ Surrounding Relatively Nearby Star

A telescope at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton. (CBS)
A telescope at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton. (CBS)

Excerpt from cbslocal.com

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – Astronomers at the Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton have confirmed the existence of three planets described as “supersized Earths” orbiting a star 54 light years away.
Researchers from the University of California, University of Hawaii, the University of California Observatories and Tennessee State University have been working for years to confirm the planets were there.

The planets orbit a star called HD 7924. They orbit at a distance closer than Mercury orbits our sun (35.9 million miles), and complete their orbits in five, 15 and 24 days, respectively.
“The three planets are unlike anything in our solar system, with masses seven to eight times the mass of Earth and orbits very close to their host star,” UC Berkeley graduate student Lauren Weiss said in a written statement.

The researchers used a robotic telescope called the “Automated Planet Finder,” which searches for planets around nearby stars that could be suitable for life. Most distant planets discovered by astronomers so far are gas giants like Jupiter.

Astronomers first found evidence of planets surrounding HD 7924 six years ago. The planets are not visible to the naked eye.

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Guiding Our Search for Life on Other Earths

The James Webb Telescope

Excerpt from space.com

A telescope will soon allow astronomers to probe the atmosphere of Earthlike exoplanets for signs of life. To prepare, astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger and her team are modeling the atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. Here's how:
The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, will usher a new era in our search for life beyond Earth. With its 6.5-meter mirror, the long-awaited successor to Hubble will be large enough to detect potential biosignatures in the atmosphere of Earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars.
And we may soon find a treasure-trove of such worlds. The forthcoming exoplanet hunter TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), set to launch in 2017, will scout the entire sky for planetary systems close to ours. (The current Kepler mission focuses on more distant stars, between 600 and 3,000 light-years from Earth.) 

Astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger

While TESS will allow for the brief detection of new planets, the larger James Webb will follow up on select candidates and provide clues about their atmospheric composition. But the work will be difficult and require a lot of telescope time.
"We're expecting to find thousands of new planets with TESS, so we'll need to select our best targets for follow-up study with the Webb telescope," says Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University and co-investigator on the TESS team.
To prepare, Kaltenegger and her team at Cornell's Institute for Pale Blue Dots are building a database of atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. The models will then be used as "ID cards" to guide the study of exoplanet atmospheres with the Webb and other future large telescopes.
Kaltenegger described her approach in a talk for the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Director Seminar Series last December.
"For the first time in human history, we have the technology to find and characterize other worlds," she says. "And there's a lot to learn."

Detecting life from space  

In its 1990 flyby of Earth, the Galileo spacecraft took a spectrum of sunlight filtered through our planet's atmosphere. In a 1993 paper in the journal Nature, astronomer Carl Sagan analyzed that data and found a large amount of oxygen together with methane — a telltale sign of life on Earth. These observations established a control experiment for the search of extraterrestrial life by modern spacecraft.
"The spectrum of a planet is like a chemical fingerprint," Kaltenegger says. "This gives us the key to explore alien worlds light years away."
Current telescopes have picked up the spectra of giant, Jupiter-like exoplanets. But the telescopes are not large enough to do so for smaller, Earth-like worlds. The James Webb telescope will be our first shot at studying the atmospheres of these potentially habitable worlds.
Some forthcoming ground-based telescopes — including the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), planned for completion in 2020, and the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), scheduled for first light in 2024 — may also be able to contribute to that task. [The Largest Telescopes on Earth: How They Compare]
And with the expected discovery by TESS of thousands of nearby exoplanets, the James Webb and other large telescopes will have plenty of potential targets to study. Another forthcoming planet hunter, the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), a planned European Space Agency mission scheduled for launch around 2022-2024, will contribute even more candidates.
However, observation time for follow-up studies will be costly and limited.
"It will take hundreds of hours of observation to see atmospheric signatures with the Webb telescope," Kaltenegger says. "So we'll have to pick our targets carefully."

Giant Magellan Telescope
Set to see its first light in 2021, The Giant Magellan Telescope will be the world’s largest telescope.

Getting a head start

To guide that process, Kaltenegger and her team are putting together a database of atmospheric fingerprints of potential alien worlds. "The models are tools that can teach us how to observe and help us prioritize targets," she says.
To start, they have modeled the chemical fingerprint of Earth over geological time. Our planet's atmosphere has evolved over time, with different life forms producing and consuming various gases. These models may give astronomers some insight into a planet's evolutionary stage.
Other models take into consideration the effects of a host of factors on the chemical signatures — including water, clouds, atmospheric thickness, geological cycles, brightness of the parent star, and even the presence of different extremophiles.
"It's important to do this wide range of modeling right now," Kaltenegger said, "so we're not too startled if we detect something unexpected. A wide parameter space can allow us to figure out if we might have a combination of these environments."
She added: "It can also help us refine our modeling as fast as possible, and decide if more measurements are needed while the telescope is still in space. It's basically a stepping-stone, so we don't have to wait until we get our first measurements to understand what we are seeing. Still, we'll likely find things we never thought about in the first place."

A new research center

The spectral database is one of the main projects undertaken at the Institute for Pale Blue Dots, a new interdisciplinary research center founded in 2014 by Kaltenegger. The official inauguration will be held on May 9, 2015.
"The crux of the institute is the characterization of rocky, Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of nearby stars," Kaltenergger said. "It's a very interdisciplinary effort with people from astronomy, geology, atmospheric modeling, and hopefully biology."
She added: "One of the goal is to better understand what makes a planet a life-friendly habitat, and how we can detect that from light years away. We're on the verge of discovering other pale blue dots. And with Sagan's legacy, Cornell University is a really great home for an institute like that."

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Our sun is five billion years younger than most other stars in our galaxy

Excerpt from stgist.com

The sun, or the nearest star from Earth, was formed around 5 billion years after the Milky Way galaxy’s peak production of stars, a new research published in the Astrophysical Journal. 

Using multiple ground based, and space telescopes, including the Magellan Telescopes located at Las Campanas Observatory in South America, a new study was able to confirm that the closest star from us, the Sun, was formed after the so-called stellar “baby boom” of the Milky Way galaxy.

It’s like traveling back in time. Researchers from Texas A&M University in College Station, headed by astronomer Casey Papovich, were able to see the undepicted past of our own galaxy by observing similar regions located billions of light years away from us.

The “baby boom” happened around 10 billion years ago, the new study published in Astrophysical Journal revealed. At that time, the Milky Way galaxy was producing 30 times more stars than today. If so, then our solar system’s 4.6 billion years old Sun was formed more than 5 billion years after the production peak.

Sun’s late formation allowed the solar system we know today to produce planets with heavier elements. Scientists say elements heavier than hydrogen and helium became more abundant in “late to the game systems”, and the death of massive stars that were formed before the Sun had provided materials needed to form planets, including Earth and its complex life forms.

Scientists scanned through a collection of more than 24,000 galaxies, and took at least 2,000 snapshots of galaxies that closely resemble our own. The census has provided the most complete picture yet of how spiral galaxies similar to Milky Way form in the universe.

According to Mr. Papovich, the lead author of the study who also serves as an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at A&M University in Texas, they know where to find traces by analyzing how galaxies like our own were formed.

Papovich said his team has provided a data that clearly show the rapid phase of growth around 9 to 10 billion years ago, or at least more than 5 billion years after our Sun formed. They also found the connection between the size of the galaxy, and the formation of stars.

Surprisingly, the robust collection of distant galaxies confirmed that stars formed inside the Milky Way, instead of forming in other smaller baby galaxies that later merged to join the system.

In separate studies, scientists were able to confirm that our own solar system is wetter than thought. Beyond Earth, celestial objects like Jupiter’s Galilean moons Europa and Ganymede, Saturn’s Enceladus, and even the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt, are hosting fluid slightly similar to Earth’s — and it is highly possible that the Sun’s late formation allowed this setup to exist.

Papovich who worked alongside Texas A&M postdoctoral researchers Vithal Tilvi and Ryan Quadri, were joined by at least two dozen astronomers from other countries. The research is published April 9th entitled “ZFOURGE/CANDELS: ON THE EVOLUTION OF M* GALAXY PROGENITORS FROM z = 3 TO 0.5*.” The research was funded by NASA

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An Alien Radio Beacon? Possibly Not This Time

An Alien Radio Beacon? Possibly Not This Time.

Excerpt from postpioneer.com

For practically a decade, astronomers have puzzled over strong bursts of radio energy that appear to be hailing from billions of light years away. Recently, we received reports of a new wrinkle to this mystery: The bursts seem to comply with a mathematical...

For practically a decade, astronomers have puzzled over strong bursts of radio energy that appear to be hailing from billions of light years away. Recently, we received reports of a new wrinkle to this mystery: The bursts seem to comply with a mathematical pattern, one that does not line up with something we know about cosmic physics.

And, of course, when we hear “mathematical pattern,” “radio transmission,” and “outer space,” all strung collectively, we straight away jump to our preferred explanation—aliens! (Or, you know, a decaying pulsar star, an unmapped spy satellite, or a cell telephone tower.)

It’s also probable that the pattern doesn’t basically exist.

Because 2007, telescopes have picked up almost a dozen so-known as “fast radio bursts,” pulses that last for mere milliseconds, but erupt with as a great deal power as the sun releases in a month. Where could they be coming from? To come across out, a group of researchers took advantage of a basic principle: That higher frequency radio waves encounter less interference as they traverse space, and are detected by our telescopes earlier than reduce frequency waves. The time delay, or “dispersion measure”, in between larger and reduce frequency radio waves from the very same pulse event can be applied to figure out the distance those waves traveled.

Here’s where things got weird. When researchers calculated the dispersion distance for each and every of eleven rapid radio bursts, they identified that every distance is an integer many of a single number: 187.5. When plotted on a graph, as the researchers show us in Figure 1 of their paper, the points type a striking pattern.

A single explanation is that the bursts are coming from distinctive sources, all at on a regular basis spaced intervals from the Earth, billions of light years away. They could also be brought on by a smaller cosmic object a lot closer to residence, such as a pulsar star, behaving according to some sort of physics we don’t yet understand. And then there’s the possibility that aliens are trying to communicate, by blasting simple numeric patterns into space.

But no matter how you slice it, eleven data points is a tiny sample set to draw any meaningful conclusions from. A handful of deviant observations could bring about the complete pattern to unravel.

And that is precisely what seems to be happening. As Nadia Drake reports for National Geographic, newer observations, not integrated in the most up-to-date scientific report or other well known media articles, don’t fit:

“There are 5 quickly radio bursts to be reported,” says Michael Kramer of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy. “They do not fit the pattern.”
Rather of aliens, unexpected astrophysics, or even Earthly interference, the mysterious mathematical pattern is probably an artifact produced by a little sample size, Ransom says. When working with a limited quantity of data – say, a population of 11 quickly radio bursts – it’s straightforward to draw lines that connect the dots. Usually, on the other hand, these lines disappear when much more dots are added.
“My prediction is that this pattern will be washed out quite immediately after a lot more fast radio bursts are located,” says West Virginia University’s Duncan Lorimer, who reported the very first burst in 2007. “It’s a great instance of how apparently considerable final results can be identified in sparse information sets.”

That is a bit of a bummer, but nevertheless, these radio bursts are fascinating, and what could be causing them remains as a lot of a mystery as ever. It could even nonetheless be aliens, if not an alien beacon. As SETI Institute Director Seth Shostak told me in an e mail:

“If it is a signal, nicely, it is surely NOT a message — except perhaps to say ‘here we are’. There’s not actual bandwidth to it, which suggests these speedy radio bursts can not encode several bits. But there are so many other possibilities, I feel that automatically attributing one thing in the sky that we don’t (at very first) understand to the operate of aliens is … premature!”

If there’s 1 point that is clear in this whole organization, it is that we’ve nonetheless got plenty to discover about the patterns woven into the universe around us.

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Ancient supernova had enough dust to make 7,000 earths

The Cassiopeia A nebula is the gaseous remnant of a supernova explosion whose light reached the Earth around the year 1680.

Excerpt from sciencerecorder.com

A recent discovery has revealed that a supernovae is capable enough producing such quantities of cosmic dust that it can yield thousands of Earths.

An international team of researchers analyzed data obtained by SOFIA – a NASA and German Aerospace Center’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy project – which took images of a cosmic dust cloud.

Supernova remant. Image Credit: NASA/CXO/Herschel/VLA/Lau et al

“This discovery is a special feather in the cap for SOFIA, demonstrating how observations made within our own Milky Way galaxy can bear directly on our understanding of the evolution of galaxies billions of light years away,” said Pamela Marcum, one of the researchers.

The team made measurements of long infrared wavelengths of the Supernova Remnant Sagittarius A East, gaining an estimate for the total mass of dust within the cloud based on what it released.
SOFIA, an enhanced Boeing 747 with high end telescope, flies in altitudes between 39,000 to 45,000 feet to capture its images.

Astronomers already knew that the shock waves of supernovas produce high concentrations of dust when they move outward.
The question was whether the cosmic particles could withstand the intense shock waves.

“The dust survived the later onslaught of shock waves from the supernova explosion, and is now flowing into the interstellar medium where it can become part of the ‘seed material’ for new stars and planets,” said Ryan Lau, of Cornell University, who led the research team.

This new discovery encouraged the idea that the vast quantities of dust seen in remote yet fairly young galaxies may have been produced by the explosions of large stars that were actually much older.

The research was published in Science magazine on Thursday.

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4 July 2010 - 11:10am

Channeler: Blossom Goodchild

July 4, 2010

Blossom: Good morning to you. I wonder if I could bring up the issue of the ‘activation’ in our last communication? Many experienced ...

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