Space

Waves from Daphnis

Undulations mark both sides of the path of Saturn's moon Daphnis through the A ring. 

Daphnis may be small at only 8 kilometers (5 miles) across, but the moon's gravity is great enough, and the Keeler gap in which it resides is narrow enough, so that the perturbed particles create the wavelike patterns seen here. 
"Kepler is like Field of Dreams meets Cosmos" says Padi Boyd, a scientist with the Kepler planet-hunting mission. This set the stage for an enjoyable short interview. Earlier I wrote why Kepler is awesomeness squared, and now we look at how the motivation of the people involved leads to better science success.

Kepler was conceived, proposed, and lead by Bill Borucki. It is NASA Discovery mission #10, designed to be low cost and focused towards one task. For Kepler, that's planet-hunting.
A team of astronomers from University College London (UCL) have discovered that an exotic world passes directly in front of the Sun-like star it orbits, revealing for the first time that it is about the same size as Jupiter.

The team were alerted by the exoplanet science website http://www.oklo.org, run by Greg Laughlin of the University of California Santa Cruz. Using infrared space observations, Greg predicted that a planet (HD 80606b) would pass in front of its parent star (HD 80606) in a so-called transit event.

Rather than travelling to one of the major observatories in Hawaii or Chile, the students used a telescope at UCL's University of London Observatory (ULO) in the capital's northern suburb of Mill Hill.
Exoplanet researcher Michel Mayor today announced the discovery of the lightest exoplanet found so far. The planet, Gliese 581 e, in the famous system Gliese 581, is only about twice the mass of our Earth. The team also refined the orbit of the planet Gliese 581 d, first discovered in 2007, placing it well within the habitable zone, where liquid water oceans could exist.

These amazing discoveries are the outcome of more than four years of observations using the most successful low-mass-exoplanet hunter in the world, the HARPS spectrograph attached to the 3.6-meter ESO telescope at La Silla, Chile.
Astronomers using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii, the IRAM Millimetre-wave Telescope in Spain, and the Spitzer Space Telescope in orbit above the Earth, have completed the most wide-ranging census ever produced of dynamical star formation in and around the well-known Great Nebula of Orion.

They have found this stellar nursery to be a lively and somewhat overcrowded place, with young stars emitting gas jets in all directions, creating quite a chaotic picture and demonstrating there is much more going on in Orion than previously thought. Researchers including UKIRT Director Professor Gary Davis will present this and other UKIRT science results on Monday 20th April at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science at the University of Hertfordshire.
An international team  have discovered one of the coolest sub-stellar bodies ever found outside our own solar system, orbiting the red dwarf star Wolf 940, some 40 light years from Earth.

The object is thought to have formed like a star, but has ended up looking more like Jupiter. It is roughly the same size, despite being between 20 and 30 times as heavy, and when the infrared spectral "fingerprints" of the two objects are compared, their resemblance is striking.

The new object orbits its star at about 440 times the distance at which the Earth orbits the sun. At such a wide distance, it takes about 18,000 years to complete a single orbit.
'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.