Space

Unlike many astronomical phenomena, meteors are best seen with the unaided eye rather than through a telescope or binoculars and are perfectly safe to watch, so be prepared to sleep outside on August 12th, the annual maximum of the Perseid meteor shower.

In doing so, you will be joining your ancestors, who have viewed what are also called "The Tears of St. Lawrence"(1) for some 2,000 years.

Meteors are the result of small particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed and in the case of the Perseid shower these come from the tail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which was last in the vicinity of the Earth in 1992. To the eye, the meteors appear to originate from a ‘radiant’ in the constellation of Perseus, hence the name Perseid.


We don't have spacecraft to take us outside our solar system but astronomers have still been able to develop a good understanding of how our solar system formed and in turn, how others formed. In the last dozen years, the nearly 300 exoplanets have been discovered have added to our knowledge base.

Conventional knowledge said most solar systems were like our own but three Northwestern University researchers questioned that assumption and explored the question in detail. What they learned is that the solar system in which the Earth orbits our sun is actually uncommon.

Edward Thommes, Soko Matsumura and Frederic Rasio were the first to develop large-scale, sophisticated computer simulations to model the formation of planetary systems from beginning to end. Because of computing limitations, earlier models provided only brief glimpses of the process. The findings of their study titled, "Gas Disks to Gas Giants: Simulating the Birth of Planetary Systems," are detailed in the August 8, 2008 issue of Science magazine.
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Nihilist types, and even prevailing theoretical models, attempting to explain the formation of the solar system have assumed it to be average in every way but a new study by Northwestern University astronomers that used recent data from the 300 exoplanets discovered orbiting other stars turns that view on its head.

Our solar system is pretty special and if early conditions had been just slightly different planets could have been thrown into the sun or jettisoned into deep space.

When Yale astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski and colleagues at Oxford University enlisted public support in cataloguing galaxies, they never envisioned the strange object Hanny van Arkel found in archived images of the night sky.

The Dutch school teacher, a volunteer in the Galaxy Zoo project that allows members of the public to take part in astronomy research online, discovered a mysterious and unique object some observers are calling a "cosmic ghost."

When van Arkel posted about the image that quickly became known as "Hanny's Voorwerp" ( Dutch for "object") on the Galaxy Zoo forum, astronomers who run the site began to investigate and soon realized van Arkel might have found a new class of astronomical object.


Globular star clusters, dense bunches of hundreds of thousands of stars, contain some of the oldest surviving stars in the Universe. A new international study of globular clusters outside our Milky Way Galaxy has found evidence that these hardy pioneers are more likely to form in dense areas, where star birth occurs at a rapid rate, instead of uniformly from galaxy to galaxy.

Astronomers used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to identify over 11 000 globular clusters in the Virgo cluster of galaxies, most of which are more than 5 billion years old. Comprised of over 2 000 galaxies, the Virgo cluster is located about 54 million light-years away and is the nearest large galaxy cluster to Earth. Along with Virgo, the sharp vision of Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) resolved the star clusters in 100 galaxies of various sizes, shapes, and brightness – even in faint, dwarf galaxies.


On August 1, a total solar eclipse was visible in parts of Canada, northern Greenland, the Arctic, central Russia, Mongolia and China. The eclipse swept across Earth in a narrow path that began in Canada’s northern territory of Nunavut and ended in northern China’s Silk Road region.

Though the eclipse was not visible in most of North America, NASA TV and the Exploratorium made streaming video of the event available online. The following images are taken from that video, shot from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwestern China near the Mongolian border. The sun appears differently in some of the images because of the different filters used to capture the event. Times listed are ET and approximate.

Titan, which is one-and-a-half times the size of Earth's moon and bigger than either Mercury or Pluto, is one of the most fascinating bodies in the solar system when it comes to exploring environments that may give rise to life.

Scientists have confirmed that it has just gotten more interesting - it has a surface liquid lake in the south polar region. Titan is truly wet. The lake is about 235 kilometers, or 150 miles, long, according to the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, or VIMS, on NASA's Cassini orbiter, which identifies the chemical composition of objects by the way matter reflects light.


A frequent sign of the maturity of a spiral galaxy is the formation of a ribbon of stars and gas that slices across the nucleus, like the slash across a "no smoking" sign.

In a landmark study of more than 2,000 spiral galaxies from the largest galaxy census conducted by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers found that so-called barred spiral galaxies were far less plentiful 7 billion years ago than they are today, in the local universe.

The study's results confirm the idea that bars are a sign of galaxies reaching full maturity as the "formative years" end. The observations are part of the Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS).


A team of European scientists working with COROT have discovered an exoplanet orbiting a star slightly more massive than the Sun. After just 555 days in orbit, the mission has now observed more than 50 000 stars and is adding significantly to our knowledge of the fundamental workings of stars.

The latest discovery, COROT-exo-4b is an exoplanet of about the same size as Jupiter. It takes 9.2 days to orbit its star, the longest period for any transiting exoplanet ever found.

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer, astronomers were able to witness for the first time the appearance of a shell of dusty gas around a star that had just erupted and follow its evolution for more than 100 days. This provided the astronomers with a new way to estimate the distance of this object and obtain invaluable information on the operating mode of stellar vampires, dense stars that suck material from a companion.

Although novae were first thought to be new stars appearing in the sky, hence their Latin name, they are now understood as signaling the brightening of a small, dense star. Novae occur in double star systems comprising a white dwarf - the end product of a solar-like star - and, generally, a low-mass normal star - a red dwarf. The two stars are so close together that the red dwarf cannot hold itself together and loses mass to its companion. Occasionally, the shell of matter that has fallen onto the ingesting star becomes unstable, leading to a thermonuclear explosion which makes the system brighter.