astronomy round-up: 11 May 2012

Here are some of the astronomy stories I’ve been following?and one I wrote?this week:

Orion Nebula False Colour

1. Notre Dame Law Student Finds Rare Wolf-Rayet Star

“Colin Littlefield says he has never taken a college physics course. He likes astronomy but plans to make a career as a civil rights lawyer.

“So he may be the only law student in America to publish a research paper in The Astronomical Journal. He?s discovered a rare star, a Wolf-Rayet, a hot, giant luminous body that is blasting such large quantities of gas into space that it probably doesn?t have long (astronomically speaking) to live.”

2. What’s the Origin of Exploding Stars? Two Right Answers

“Astronomers have long had two competing explanations for the origin of exploding stars called Type Ia supernovas. A new study, to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, suggests both explanations might be at work.”

3. Overfed Black Holes Shut Down Galactic Star-Making

“The Herschel Space Observatory has shown galaxies with the most powerful, active black holes at their cores produce fewer stars than galaxies with less active black holes. The results are the first to demonstrate black holes suppressed galactic star formation when the universe was less than half its current age.”

4. Searching for Exoplanet Oceans More Challenging Than First Thought

“As astronomers continue to discover more exoplanets, the focus has slowly shifted from what sizes such planets are, to what they?re made of. First attempts have been made at determining atmospheric composition but one of the most desirable finds wouldn?t be the gasses in the atmosphere, but the detection of liquid water which is a key ingredient for the formation of life as we know it. While this is a monumental challenge, various methods have been proposed, but a new study suggests that these methods may be overly optimistic.”

5. NASA’s Spitzer Sees the Light of Alien ‘Super Earth’

“NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has detected light emanating from a “super-Earth” planet beyond our solar system for the first time. While the planet is not habitable, the detection is a historic step toward the eventual search for signs of life on other planets.”

6. Oslo-experiment may explain massive star explosions
Apollon: University of Oslo

“The Big Bang only produced the lightest elements, such as hydrogen and helium. One of the fundamental questions of astrophysics is how all the other elements were formed. In 1957, American researchers concluded that elements were formed through nuclear reactions inside stars.”

7. Ultra-cool companion helps reveal giant planets
The Royal Astronomical Society (UK)

“An international team of astronomers led by David Pinfield of the University of Hertfordshire has found a brown dwarf that is more than 99% hydrogen and helium. Described as ultra-cool, it has a temperature of just 400 degrees Celsius and its discovery could be a key step forward in helping astronomers distinguish between brown dwarfs and giant planets.”

8. Amazing photo shows ‘swarm’ of stars
The Christian Science Monitor

“A ball of some of the oldest stars in the universe looks like a swarm of bees in a new view from an observatory in Chile.

“The photo, released today (May 9), was taken by a European Southern Observatory telescope and shows 100,000 stars crowded together in Messier 55, a globular star cluster located roughly 17,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius (The Archer). It is one of about 160 globular clusters orbiting the outskirts of our Milky Way galaxy.”

9. Night-sky photos are easier than you think
The Oregonian, by yours truly

“Have you ever wanted to take a good picture of the night sky? You may not produce photos to rival the Hubble telescope’s, but chances are you already have the equipment to get started with astrophotography.”

10. NASA Dawn Mission Reveals Secrets of Large Asteroid

“NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has provided researchers with the first orbital analysis of the giant asteroid Vesta, yielding new insights into its creation and kinship with terrestrial planets and Earth’s moon.”

11. Cygnus-X: the cool swan glowing in flight
European Space Agency

“Chaotic networks of dust and gas signpost the next generations of massive stars in this stunning new image of the Cygnus-X star-nursery captured by ESA?s Herschel space observatory.”

Creative Commons photo “Orion Nebula False Colour” by DJMcCrady.

Posted in astronomy & science.


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