Space

NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Mars Sunday to begin three months of examining a site chosen for its likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander's robotic arm.

Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. The signals took that long to travel from Mars to Earth at the speed of light.

Mission team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, cheered confirmation of the landing and eagerly awaited further information from Phoenix later Sunday night.

Two new exoplanets mean that the COROT mission(1) has now found a total of four new exoplanets in its 510 day journey. COROT started observations of its sixth star field at the beginning of May and, during this observation phase which will last 5 months, will simultaneously observe 12,000 stars.

The two new planets are gas giants of the hot Jupiter type, which orbit very close to their parent star and tend to have extensive atmospheres because heat from the nearby star gives them energy to expand. But an oddity dubbed ‘COROT-exo-3b’ has raised particular interest among astronomers. It appears to be something between a brown dwarf, a sub-stellar object without nuclear fusion at its core but with some stellar characteristics, and a planet. Its radius is too small for it to be a super-planet.

Astronomers have seen the aftermath of spectacular stellar explosions known as supernovae before, but until now no one has witnessed a star dying in real time. While looking at another object in the spiral galaxy NGC 2770, using NASA’s orbiting Swift telescope, Carnegie-Princeton fellows* Alicia Soderberg and Edo Berger detected an extremely luminous blast of X-rays released by a supernova explosion.

They alerted 8 other orbiting and on-ground telescopes to turn their eyes on this first-of-its-kind event.

“We were in the right place, at the right time, with the right telescope on January 9th and witnessed history,” remarked Soderberg. “We were looking at another, older supernova in the galaxy, when the one now known as SN 2008D went off. We would have missed it if it weren’t for Swift’s real-time capabilities, wide field of view, and numerous instruments.”


On April 25, NASA’s Swift satellite picked up the brightest flare ever seen from a normal star other than our Sun. The flare, an explosive release of energy from a star, packed the power of thousands of solar flares. It would have been visible to the naked eye if the star had been easily observable in the night sky at the time.

The star, known as EV Lacertae, isn’t much to write home about. It’s a run-of-the-mill red dwarf, by far the most common type of star in the universe. It shines with only one percent of the Sun’s light, and contains only a third of the Sun’s mass. At a distance of only 16 light-years, EV Lacertae is one of our closest stellar neighbors. But with its feeble light output, its faint magnitude-10 glow is far below naked-eye visibility.


An obese oddball of a star has left astronomers wondering how it could have formed.

Found with the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, the star is a pulsar – a compact, rapidly spinning star – called J1903+0327. It lies 20,000 light-years away spinning at a rate of 465 revolutions per second – the fifth fastest-spinning pulsar known in our Galaxy.

Astronomers believe such super-fast pulsars started life as the more common, sedate pulsars that spin only a few times a second, but were later ’reborn‘ in their present hyperactive state. This re-birthing or recycling can take place, astronomers think, if the pulsar has a nearby companion that it orbits. At a certain point in its life cycle, the companion pours its own matter onto the pulsar and this extra material ‘spins-up‘ the pulsar.

Hydroxyl is made up of a hydrogen and oxygen atom each. It has been found on another planet for the first time - in the upper reaches of the atmosphere of Venus, some 100 km above the surface - by Venus Express’s Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer, VIRTIS. It is thought to be important for any planet’s atmosphere because it is highly reactive. On Earth it has a key role in purging pollutants from the atmosphere.

The OH “radical” is a very special and reactive molecule, which is unusual in conventional chemistry because of its reactivity. This detection gives scientists an important new tool to unlock the workings of Venus’s dense atmosphere.

The elusive molecule was detected by turning the spacecraft away from the planet and looking along the faintly visible layer of atmosphere surrounding the planet’s disc. The instrument detected the hydroxyl molecules by measuring the amount of infrared light that they give off.


New observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate that the crust and upper mantle of Mars are stiffer and colder than previously thought.

The findings suggest any liquid water that might exist below the planet's surface and any possible organisms living in that water, would be located deeper than scientists had suspected.

"We found that the rocky surface of Mars is not bending under the load of the north polar ice cap," said Roger Phillips of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. Phillips is the lead author of a new report appearing in this week's online version of Science. "This implies that the planet's interior is more rigid, and thus colder, than we thought before."

They all relate to Cepheid variables! Before you tune out because it sounds like a hard concept to understand, bear with me. I’ll start with a story from Greek mythology. (Notice how a lot of the constellations have stories from myths?)


NASA held a press conference today to announce the discovery of a discovery of the most recent supernova in our galaxy. The discovery was made by tracking the rapid expansion of its remains.

The supernova explosion occurred about 140 years ago, making it the most recent supernova in the Milky Way as measured in Earth's time frame. Previously, the last known galactic supernova occurred around 1680, based on studying the expansion of its remnant Cassiopeia A.

The tracking of this source began in 1985 when astronomers, led by David Green of the University of Cambridge, used the VLA to identify G1.9+0.3 as the remnant of a supernova explosion near the center of our galaxy. Based on its small size, it was thought to have resulted from a supernova that exploded about 400 to 1000 years ago.


A goal that remained elusive for 25 years has now allowed astronomers to obtain the most precise measurement of the cosmic temperature at an incredible distance; in a well-hidden galaxy whose light has taken almost 11 billion years to reach us - about 80% of the age of the universe.

The only way this galaxy can be seen is through the imprint its interstellar gas leaves on the spectrum of an even more remote quasar [1]. “Quasars are here only used as a beacon in the very distant Universe. Interstellar clouds of gas in galaxies, located between the quasars and us on the same line of sight, absorb parts of the light emitted by the quasars. The resulting spectrum consequently presents dark ‘valleys’ that can be attributed to well-known elements and possibly molecules,” explains Raghunathan Srianand (Pune, India), who led the team making the observations.