Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers have gained new insights about the atmosphere of Pluto - (it's a dwarf now, get over it.)

What stands out?   Large amounts of methane in the atmosphere and it's hotter than the surface by about 40 degrees, though -180 degrees Celsius is still not the place for your interplanetary tropical vacation. These properties of Pluto's atmosphere may be due to the presence of pure methane patches or of a methane-rich layer covering the dwarf planet's surface.

pluto atmosphere
Astronomers using a telescope aboard the NASA Swift Satellite have captured information from the early stages of a gamma ray burst - the most violent and luminous explosions occurring in the Universe since the Big Bang.

Swift is able to both locate and point at gamma ray bursts (GRBs) far quicker than any other telescope, so by using its Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) the astronomers were able to obtain an ultraviolet spectrum of a GRB just 251 seconds after its onset - the earliest ever captured. Further use of the instrument in this way will allow them to calculate the distance and brightness of GRBs within a few hundred seconds of their initial outburst, and gather new information about the causes of bursts and the galaxies they originate from.
Astronomy as a profession is hyper-specialized.  What do you study-- planets, stars, galaxies, clusters, cosmology? Oh, if only it were that simple.  Say you study stars.  It doesn't stop there!

If stars, what wavelength?  There's radio, IR, optical, UV, X-ray, gamma-ray, multi-wavelength work.  Oh, you study X-ray emission from stars?

What kind of X-ray stars-- single, binaries, compact objects, remnants?  You're into binaries?

What kind of binary star X-ray emission-- coronal, accretion disk, Roche lobe overflow?
A deep new image of the magnificent Helix planetary nebula has been obtained using the Wide Field Imager at ESO's La Silla Observatory. The image shows a rich background of distant galaxies, usually not seen in other images of this object.
Interstellar space dust from a dead star identified by a research team led by The University of Nottingham could unlock some of the mysteries of the early universe.

Dr Loretta Dunne and her team have found new evidence of huge dust production in the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant, the remains of a star that exploded about 300 years ago. The paper is set to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Sadly, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) had a launch failure, and is now spread out on Antarctica somewhere. Ironically, I'd written earlier today about the economics of the New Horizons mission.

For New Horizons, well, that launched successfully. OCO did not. This is a fundamental part of rocket science-- it either works or it doesn't. It either blows up or remains intact. When you're only launching one, the stakes are high. And rockets are risky.

Sending stuff into space requires it be lightweight and functional. And people seem to really like their lightweight, functional iPhones. But if we just sent an iPhone to Pluto, it wouldn't be able to do stuff. It hasn't the range or survivability. On the other hand, using the DSN to transmit data to a New Horizons-sized PDA isn't feasible either. But why am I making these silly comparisons?

Dr. Henry Throop of SWRI started it. He made an interesting comparison of the iPhone versus the New Horizons mission to Pluto, as part of his PPT on "The New Horizons Geometry Visualizer: Planning the Encounter with Pluto" at the IDL User Group (Oct 16 08). To this I added some cost figures. Here we go.

We're 54 days into the International Year of Astronomy, and what better way to celebrate than to peer at the heavens through your very own Galileoscope? Orders begin shipping in April.

Until your telescope arrives, grab a pair of binocs and check out the Green Comet. No, not a new summer blockbuster superhero franchise, but the comet Lulin. (I assume Bruce Willis and his team are standing by in case NASA calls.)
On long, dark winter nights, the constellation of Orion the Hunter dominates the sky. Within the Hunter's sword, the Orion Nebula swaddles a cluster of newborn stars called the Trapezium. These stars are young but powerful, each one shining with the brilliance of 100,000 Suns. They are also massive, containing 15 to 30 times as much material as the Sun.

Where did the Trapezium stars come from? The question is not as simple as it seems. When it comes to the theory of how massive stars form, the devil is in the details.

We hear a lot about 'going green' these days and it seems even the Universe can't endure one more moment of Al Gore putting his hands together, as if in prayer, and guilting us into investing in carbon trading companies, one of which he happens to own stock in.

As a peace offering, the cosmos is offering comet Lulin, which is making an appearance in the nighttime sky this month - and it's green.  Literally. Don Yeomans of JPL, manager for NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, answers a few questions about this odd comet.

comet lulin

Sky chart showing comet Lulin on Feb. 24, 2009. Image credit: NASA/JPL