April 2011

WISE: “Millions of Newfound Objects”

April 15, 2011

Data from the first 57 percent of the sky surveyed by the WISE mission (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) are now available and accessible through the online archive. You can dig into the archive hunting for WISE imagery right now, as I did this morning to retrieve this Alpha Centauri image. The WISE team has put […]

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Astronomy in Year Trillion

April 14, 2011

We’ve got to come up with a better name that ‘Milkomeda’ to describe what’s going to eventually happen when the Milky Way and Andromeda merge. Remember that Andromeda is one of the galaxies with a blueshift, showing that it is moving toward us. That the merger will probably happen — in about five billion years […]

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Visualizing Warped Spacetime

April 13, 2011

What on Earth — or off it — could inspire a physicist with the credentials of Caltech’s Kip Thorne to say “I’ve never before coauthored a paper where essentially everything is new. But that’s the case here.” Yet if Thorne couldn’t say that about some of his earlier work with wormholes (!), he feels safe […]

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Europa: Thin Ice and Contamination

April 12, 2011

These days funding for missions to some of the most interesting places in the Solar System is much in question. But sooner or later we’re going into the outer system to investigate the possibilities for life on worlds like Europa, Enceladus or Titan. The case for Europa seems particularly compelling, but we have to be […]

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New Debate over Volcanoes on Titan

April 11, 2011

Back in December, scientists from the Cassini team presented evidence for ice volcanoes on Titan, looking at a region called Sotra Facula, which bears some resemblance to volcanoes on Earth like Mt. Etna in Italy and Laki in Iceland. An ice volcano, also known as a cryovolcano, would draw on geological activity beneath the surface […]

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Imaging Red Dwarf Planets

April 8, 2011

If you’re trying to get actual images of exoplanets, it helps to look at M-dwarfs, particularly young ones. These stars, from a class that makes up perhaps 75 percent of all the stars in the galaxy, are low in mass and much dimmer than their heavier cousins, meaning the contrast between the star’s light and […]

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Stable Orbit for a Newly Discovered Companion

April 7, 2011

The Earth is followed around the Sun by several Near Earth Asteroids in what are called ‘horseshoe orbits.’ Have a look at the NASA image below showing the orbital contours of such orbits. You can see the horseshoe shape, so called because the object’s apparent direction changes as seen by a viewer on the Earth. […]

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Wild 2: Liquid Water Inside a Comet?

April 6, 2011

What goes on inside Kuiper Belt objects in the outer reaches of the Solar System? We can get some idea from what we’re learning about comets like Wild-2, dust grains of which were brought back to Earth in 2006 as part of the Stardust mission. The thinking about Wild-2 is that, like many comets, it […]

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Impact Events Shown by Planetary Rings

April 5, 2011

Send a spacecraft into the outer Solar System and unexpected things can happen. We’re all anticipating the arrival of the New Horizons probe at Pluto/Charon in 2015, but the work the spacecraft has done along the way has recently been highlighted again. Moving toward Jupiter in 2007, New Horizons was programmed to image Jupiter’s ring […]

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At System’s Edge: The IBEX ‘Ribbon’

April 4, 2011

Studying the heliosphere and its interactions with the interstellar medium isn’t easy, which is one among many reasons we follow the fortunes of the Voyager probes with such continuing fascination. They’re pushing up against the boundary between the Sun’s local ‘bubble’ and deep space beyond, where charged particles from the solar wind are no longer […]

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