Space


This image of a tiny patch of sky reveals the oldest galaxies ever seen. Their light has traveled 13 billion years to the Hubble Space Telescope, stretched along the way from ultraviolet to near-infrared by the expanding universe. After this long wait, astronomers wasted no time, publishing 12 papers on the data in 3 months.  The beautiful color images were just released yesterday:


An image straight out of a CGI powered sci-fi movie lit up the skies over Norway earlier today at 8:45 a.m. local time. The phenomenon appeared as a spinning spiral of white light, entered around a bright star-like object. A bright blue tail streamed from the center of the object down towards earth.

The phenomenon was visible for over two minutes, could be seen for hundreds of miles, and was witnessed by thousands of individuals. It has been dubbed “Star-Gate,” and theories of its origin range from a misfired Russian missile, a meteor fireball, northern lights, a black hole, and alien activity. The only thing that everyone agrees upon, including scientists and the military, is as of now its appearance is a mystery - and is like nothing ever seen before.

The Big Dipper has a secret, invisible to the unaided eye, according to a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, which says that one of the stars that makes the bend in the ladle's handle, Alcor, has a smaller red dwarf companion.

Newly discovered Alcor B orbits its larger sibling and was caught in the act with an innovative technique called "common parallactic motion" by members of Project 1640, an international collaborative team that includes astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History, the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, the California Institute of Technology, and
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Virgin Galactic officially debuts SpaceShipTwo, named the VSS Enterprise, fast on the heels of their earlier ready for liftoff announcement in Wired.  From the Wired article, they noted
A new study appearing tomorrow in Earth and Planetary Science Letters rules out the possibility that the methane on Mars was delivered by meteorites, boosting the theory that life exists on the red planet.

Researchers had thought that meteorites might be responsible for Martian methane levels because when the rocks enter the planet's atmosphere they are subjected to intense heat, causing a chemical reaction that releases methane and other gases into the atmosphere.

However, the new study, by researchers from Imperial College London, shows that the volumes of methane that could be released by the meteorites entering Mars's atmosphere are too low to maintain the current atmospheric levels of methane. Previous studies have also ruled
 Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have discovered and directly imaged a faint celestial body that orbits the star GJ 758. Its mass is estimated to be between 10 and 40 Jupiter masses.

Accordingly, it is either a giant planet or a brown dwarf, a would-be sun. One thing is certain: with a temperature of around 330 degrees Celsius, GJ 758 B is the coldest companion of a Sun-like star ever to be directly imaged. The discovery is detailed in Astrophysical Journal Letters
Two things I like are open research and seeing my tax dollars get used effectively.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) just did both in one swoop.  As reported in detail on NASW, over two decades of earlier NSF work is now available online.  The magazine Mosaic just released "An on-line archive of articles published in The National Science Foundation’s flagship magazine from 1970 to 1992."
If Darth Vader friend-requested you and you clicked "Ignore," do you think he would know? I don't think I'd take that chance...

'Many eyes' is a better approach to image recognition than algorithms.  When looking at real-universe galaxy merger remnants, and comparing them with simulations, it's better to just have lots of people look at hundreds of possible results (and match them to reality), than to use a machine method. Earlier this week I forwarded details on the Galaxy Zoo 2: Mergers project, which allows you (yes, you!  What are you waiting for?  Match some galaxies!) do this.
This website shows you the size of the solar system to scale. You find the planets by scrolling to the right. A lot. The site does a great job of demonstrating the scale of the solar system and the distances involved. I highly recommend listening to George Hrab's International Year of Astronomy anthem FAR! while you scroll.