astronomy round-up: 24 August 2012

Grand Canyon National Park: 2012 Star Party 1151

I’m running on many things this week. My apologies for the late posting.

  • Link found between cold European winters and solar activity

    “Scientists have long suspected that the Sun’s 11-year cycle influences climate of certain regions on Earth. Yet records of average, seasonal temperatures do not date back far enough to confirm any patterns. Now, armed with a unique proxy, an international team of researchers show that unusually cold winters in Central Europe are related to low solar activity — when sunspot numbers are minimal. The freezing of Germany’s largest river, the Rhine, is the key.”

  • Curiosity begins driving at Bradbury Landing

    “NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists announced yesterday they have named for the late author Ray Bradbury.”

  • Good news! Universe not a fractal, study finds

    “Stars crowd together into galaxies, galaxies assemble into clusters, and clusters amass to form superclusters. Astronomers, probing ever-larger volumes of the cosmos, have been surprised again and again to find matter clustering on ever-larger scales. This Russian-nesting-doll-like distribution of matter has led them to wonder whether the universe is a fractal: a mathematical object that looks the same at any scale, whether you zoom in or out.”

  • Astronomers discover Milky Way’s twin, Magellanic Clouds and all

    “As a spiral galaxy, the Milky Way is far from unique. But what makes our galaxy particularly special is its pairing with the Magellanic Clouds — two irregular dwarf galaxies that are orbiting around it. Astronomers have never been able to find anything quite like it — at least not until now.”

  • Curiosity Stretches its Arm – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    “NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity flexed its robotic arm today for the first time since before launch in November 2011. The 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) arm maneuvers a turret of tools including a camera, a drill, a spectrometer, a scoop and mechanisms for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.”

  • Rover’s Laser Instrument Zaps First Martian Rock – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    “NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity fired its laser for the first time on Mars, using the beam from a science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called “Coronation.” The mission’s Chemistry and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, hit the fist-sized rock with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivers more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.”

  • First evidence discovered of planet’s destruction by its star

    “The first evidence of a planet’s destruction by its aging star has been discovered by an international team of astronomers. The evidence indicates that the missing planet was devoured as the star began expanding into a “red giant” — the stellar equivalent of advanced age. “A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the Sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth’s orbit some five-billion years from now,” said Alexander Wolszczan, Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University, who is one of the members of the research team. Wolszczan also is the discoverer of the first planet ever found outside our solar system.”

  • Chemistry of Exoplanet-Hosting Stars Provides New Insights into Planet Formation

    “A team of European astrophysicists led by Dr Vardan Adibekyan of the Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal, has found that metals like magnesium may play a significant role in the formation of low mass planets.”

  • Bad News, Space Fans: Barnard’s Star—One of Our Sun’s Closest Neighbors—Is Barren

    “Due to its proximity, Barnard’s star is often short-listed as a target for humanity’s first interstellar probe. Astronomers have long hoped to find a habitable planet around it, an alien Earth that might someday bear the boot prints of a future Neil Armstrong, or the tire tracks of a souped-up 25th-century Curiosity rover. Which is a bummer, because new observations indicate that Barnard’s Star is likely barren, its habitable zone empty of planets Earth’s size or larger.”

  • What prevents stars from forming at faster rates?

    “Boston University undergraduate researcher Rob Marchwinski and his colleagues in BU’s Astronomy Department may have found the answer to a universal question: Why aren’t there more stars?”

  • Just Right, or Nonexistent? Dispute Over ‘Goldilocks’ Planet Gliese 581G

    “What ever happened to the Goldilocks planet? It was big news back in September 2010 when a group led by Steven S. Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution for Science said they had discovered a small planet circling a small red star in the constellation Libra, at a distance smack in the middle of the so-called Goldilocks zone — that “just right” region where water on the surface is possible.”

  • The world’s first astronomers

    “As the world’s oldest continuous culture, Aboriginal people can make the claim to be the world’s first astronomers. For them, gazing at the stars is about more than making out and naming constellations.”

  • US Astronomy Facing Severe Budget Cuts and Facility Closures

    “The US astronomy budget is facing unprecedented cuts with potential closures of several facilities. A new report by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Astronomical Sciences says that available funding for ground-based astronomy could undershoot projected budgets by as much as 50%. The report recommends the closure – called “divestment” in the new document — of iconic facilities such as the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and the Green Bank Radio Telescope, as well as shutting down four different telescopes at the Kitt Peak Observatory by 2017.”

  • End iconic telescopes’ funding, report says

    “A newly released report from a National Science Foundation (NSF) committee offers some hard-hitting news, with recommendations to cut funding to several iconic telescopes and astronomical facilities as part of an aggressive new path for the agency over the next decade.”

  • Nature News Blog: Astronomy panel puts six aging observatories on the block

    “Wanted: A responsible operator for a radio telescope, 110 metres wide. Rebuilt in 2000. Nestled in the scenic woods of West Virginia. Capable of measuring the pulsing heartbeat of collapsed stars with incredible precision.”

  • What is the apogalacticon?

    “Does the sun orbit around anything? It turns out that it does! The sun, and the entire solar system along with it, loops around the galaxy. As it does, it oscillates towards and away from the galaxy’s center. The apogalacticon is a milestone on this journey: the location in the sun’s galactic orbit that brings it farthest from the Milky Way’s core.”

  • Voyager at 35: Break on Through to the Other Side – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    “Thirty-five years ago today, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, the first Voyager spacecraft to launch, departed on a journey that would make it the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune and the longest-operating NASA spacecraft ever. Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1, that launched 16 days later on Sept. 5, 1977, are still going strong, hurtling away from our sun. Mission managers are eagerly anticipating the day when they break on through to the other side – the space between stars.”

  • CU-Boulder researchers gear up for NASA radiation belt space mission

    “The University of Colorado Boulder will play a key role in a NASA mission launching this week to study how space weather affects Earth’s two giant radiation belts known to be hazardous to satellites, astronauts and electronics systems on Earth.”

  • New NASA Mission to Take First Look Deep Inside Mars

    “NASA has selected a new mission, set to launch in 2016, that will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars to see why the Red Planet evolved so differently from Earth as one of our solar system’s rocky planets. The new mission, named InSight, will place instruments on the Martian surface to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid like Earth’s and why Mars’ crust is not divided into tectonic plates that drift like Earth’s. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientists understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve.”

  • New Insight on Mars Expected from New NASA Mission – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    “On Aug. 20, NASA announced the selection of InSight, a new Discovery-class mission that will probe Mars at new depths by looking into the deep interior of Mars.”



Creative Commons photo by Grand Canyon NPS.



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