'Sigmoids' are S-shaped structures found in the outer atmosphere of the Sun (the corona), seen with X-ray telescopes and thought to be a crucial part of explosive events like solar flares. Now a group of astronomers have developed the first model to reproduce and explain the nature of the different stages of a sigmoid’s life.
Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, an international team of astronomers have found that at least 1 in 100 white dwarf stars show evidence of orbiting asteroids and rocky planets, suggesting these objects once hosted Solar Systems similar to our own. Team member Dr Jay Farihi of the University of Leicester will present this discovery on Monday 20th April at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science conference at the University of Hertfordshire.
Astronomers have announced plans to build an ultra-stable, high-precision spectrograph for the Science and Technology Facilities Council's 4.2-m William Herschel Telescope (WHT - part of the Isaac Newton Group or ING on La Palma) in an effort to discover habitable Earth-like planets around other stars. Dr Ian Skillen of the ING will present the new High Accuracy Radial-velocity Planet Search – New Earths Facility (HARPS-NEF) spectrograph in a poster on Monday 20th April at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science conference at the University of Hertfordshire.

Kepler has First Light. It is On! Team is a Go! Photons are Arriving!

This provocativly-titled NASA release states "NASA's Kepler Captures First Views of Planet-Hunting Territory", and has a good explanation of Kepler's capabilities. What I wish to tackle is why Kepler matters.

Kepler is a new space telescope with an awesomely wide field of view, seeing a huge 100 square degrees in a single frame, then zooming in closer with two other 'scopes. It is primarily a planet-hunting mission, but there will be much good science coming from Kepler-- some of which we can't even imagine yet.

The most crowded collision of galaxy clusters has been identified by combining information from three different telescopes. This result gives scientists a chance to learn what happens when some of the largest objects in the Universe go at each other in a cosmic free-for-all.

Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, astronomers were able to determine the three-dimensional geometry and motion in the system MACSJ0717.5+3745 (or MACSJ0717 for short) located about 5.4 billion light years from Earth.
If you happened to visit this site earlier today, you may have found it devoid of a suitable banner. That is because I took some time pondering on that design detail for this new site. I wanted something that resembled the banner of the old site which hosted my blog, over at wordpress, which showed a starry field; but I also wanted to convey some personality with it -no more anonymous pictures stolen from a prepackaged theme (Regulus in that case); and possibly, some meaning.
Given my title, I believe this is my first official rant. NASA ran a press conference on STEREO today. As the First 3D Reconstruction of a CME, it... okay, let me pause here. There have been 3D reconstructions of CMEs since the SOHO era. And there are at least 7 papers in the literature using some variant of the words 'First STEREO reconstruction of a CME'.
Twin NASA spacecraft have provided scientists with a view of the speed, trajectory, and three-dimensional shape of powerful explosions from the sun known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. This new capability will dramatically enhance scientists' ability to predict if and how these solar tsunamis could affect Earth.

When directed toward our planet, these ejections can be breathtakingly beautiful and yet potentially cause damaging effects worldwide. The brightly colored phenomena known as auroras -- more commonly called Northern or Southern Lights -- are examples of Earth's upper atmosphere harmlessly being disturbed by a CME. However, ejections can produce a form of solar cosmic rays that can be hazardous to spacecraft, astronauts and technology on Earth.

The NASA STEREO mission (my mission!) is visiting L4 and L5. These are the Lagrange points are where the Earth and Sun gravitationally balance each other out.  SOHO hangs out at L1, between Earth and Sun (but very near Earth).  L4 and L5 are about 60 degrees ahead and behind the Earth's position in its orbit.L4 L5 illustration
A research team say they have found a sample of massive galaxies with properties that suggest that they may have formed relatively recently, which runs counter to the widely-held belief that massive, luminous galaxies (like our own Milky Way) began their formation and evolution shortly after the Big Bang, some 13 billion years ago. Further research into the nature of these objects could open new windows into the study of the origin and early evolution of galaxies.