Space

If participants in the Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer study have their way, a telescope on the moon will allow astronomers to see 'back in time' and study the young Universe during the first 100 million years of its existence.

Although the night sky is filled with stars, these stars did not form instantaneously after the Big Bang. There was an interval, now called the “Dark Ages,” in which the Universe was unlit by any star.

The most abundant element in the Universe, and the raw material from which stars, planets, and people are formed, is hydrogen. Fortunately, the hydrogen atom can produce a signal in the radio-wavelength part of the spectrum, at 21 cm; a wavelength far longer than what the human eye can detect.

Astronomers at the University of Rochester have announced that low-mass stars and possibly even super-Jupiter-sized planets may be responsible for creating some of the most breathtaking objects in the sky.

The news is ironic because the name “planetary” nebula has always been a misnomer. When these objects were discovered 300 years ago, astronomers couldn’t tell what they were and named them for their resemblance to the planet Uranus. But as early as the mid-19th century, astronomers realized these objects are really great clouds of dust emitted by dying stars.

Rochester researchers now say they have found that planets or low-mass stars orbiting these aged stars may indeed be pivotal to the creation of the nebulae’s fantastic appearance.

Model of the spiral shock waves caused by a planet orbiting a dying star. Credit: University of Rochester


Astronomers using ESO's New Technology Telescope have measured the distribution of mass inside a dark filament in a molecular cloud with an amazing level of detail and to great depth, based on a new method that looks at the scattered near-infrared light or 'cloudshine.'

Dark clouds are feebly illuminated by nearby stars. This light is scattered by the dust contained in the clouds, an effect dubbed 'cloudshine' by Harvard astronomers Alyssa Goodman and Jonathan Foster. This effect is well known to sky lovers, as they create in visible light wonderful pieces of art called 'reflection nebulae'. The Chameleon I complex nebula is one beautiful example.

The vast expanses between stars are permeated with giant complexes of cold gas and dust opaque to visible light.

Astrophysicists are having a heated debate over the wave structure of the Sun’s Corona - a debate which may one day influence solar weather forecasting and the theory behind fusion reactors. The Sun’s core is about 6000 degrees C, but its outer layer, the Corona, which is filled with a strong magnetic field, is 200 to 300 times hotter.

Last year American scientists thought they had cracked this paradox with research showing how high-energy Alfvén wave structures could super-heat the Corona.

The astrophysicists said they could detect Alfvén waves within the Corona – waves that have a corkscrew motion along the magnetic field at supersonic speed.

Alfvén waves or magneto-acoustic kink waves?

The Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham, Ariz., has taken celestial images using its twin side-by-side, 8.4-meter (27.6 foot) primary mirrors together, achieving first "binocular" light.

U.S., Italian and German partners in the telescope, known as the LBT, are releasing the images today. First binocular light is a milestone not only for the LBT, “now the world's most powerful telescope" but for astronomy itself, the partners say. The University of Arizona in Tucson is a quarter owner of telescope observing time.

The first binocular light images show three false-color renditions of the spiral galaxy NGC 2770. The galaxy is 102 million light years from our Milky Way, a relatively close neighbor.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have compiled a large catalog of gravitational lenses in the distant universe. The catalog contains 67 new gravitationally lensed galaxy images found around massive elliptical and lenticular-shaped galaxies. This sample demonstrates the rich diversity of strong gravitational lenses. If this sample is representative, there would be nearly half a million similar gravitational lenses over the whole sky.

The lenses come from a recently completed, large set of observations as part of a huge project to survey a single 1.6-square-degree field of sky (nine times the area of the full Moon) with several space-based and Earth-based observatories.

A University of British Columbia astronomer with an international team has discovered the largest structures of dark matter ever seen. Measuring 270 million light-years across, these dark matter structures criss-cross the night sky, each spanning an area that is eight times larger than the full moon.

“The results are a major leap forward since the presence of a cosmic dark matter web that extends over such large distances has never been observed before,” says Ludovic Van Waerbeke, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy.

To glimpse the unseen structures, the team of French and Canadian scientists “X-rayed” the dark matter, an invisible web that makes up more than 80 per cent of the mass of the universe.

Venus, it turns out, is a planet of extraordinarily changeable and extremely large-scale weather. Bright hazes appear in a matter of days, reaching from the south pole to the low southern latitudes and disappearing just as quickly. This kind of ‘global weather’, unlike anything on Earth, has given scientists a new mystery to solve.

The cloud-covered world of Venus is all but a featureless, unchangeable globe at visible wavelengths of light. Switch to the ultraviolet and it reveals a truly dynamic nature. Transient dark and bright markings stripe the planet, indicating regions where solar ultraviolet radiation is absorbed or reflected, respectively.

In July 2007, the Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC) captured a series of images showing the development of a bright southern haze.

ESA’s Integral has made the first unambiguous discovery of high-energy X-rays coming from a rare massive star at our cosmic doorstep, Eta Carinae. It is one of the most violent places in the galaxy, producing vast winds of electrically-charged particles colliding at speeds of thousands of kilometres per second.

The only astronomical object that emits gamma-rays and is observable by the naked eye, Eta Carinae is monstrously large, so large that astronomers call it a hypergiant. It contains between 100–150 times the mass of the Sun and glows more brightly than four million Suns put together. Astronomers know that it is not a single star, but a binary, with a second massive star orbiting the first.

People across the western hemisphere may be surprised to see a rust-colored Moon in the sky in a few days - an ominous omen to ancient people but a more predictable occurrence now. Early on 21 February (the evening of the 20 February for observers in North and South America) will be this year’s first and only total eclipse of the Moon.

Bonus: unlike the solar equivalent, the whole event is safe to watch and needs no special equipment.

In a total lunar eclipse, the Earth, Sun and Moon are almost exactly in line and the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. The Moon is full, moves into the shadow of the Earth and dims dramatically but usually remains visible, lit by sunlight that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere.