Space

Welcome to the first big solar flare of 2014.

The sun emitted a significant solar flare peaking at 1:32 p.m. EST on Jan.7, 2014. This is the first significant flare of 2014 and follows on the heels of mid-level flare earlier in the day. Each flare was centered over a different area of a large sunspot group currently situated at the center of the sun, about half way through its 14-day journey across the front of the disk along with the rotation of the sun.  


Astronomers using NASA's Fermi observatory have made the first-ever gamma-ray measurements of a gravitational lens, thanks to B0218+357, located 4.35 billion light-years from Earth in the direction of a constellation Triangulum.  

It's not really what it was designed to do.  While radio and optical telescopes can resolve and monitor individual blazar images, Fermi's LAT cannot. Instead, the Fermi team exploited a "delayed playback" effect, which
opens new avenues for research, including a novel way to probe emission regions near supermassive black holes. It may even be possible to find other gravitational lenses with data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
 


Astronomers has discovered the first Earth-mass planet that transits its host star and found that KOI-314c is the lightest planet to have both its mass and physical size measured.

Though it weighs the same as Earth, it is 60 percent larger in diameter, meaning that it must have a very thick, gaseous atmosphere, they note.

The team gleaned the planet's characteristics using data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft. KOI-314c orbits a dim, red dwarf star located approximately 200 light-years away. It circles its star every 23 days. The team estimates its temperature to be 220 degrees Fahrenheit, too hot for life as we know it.


Using the new capabilities of the upgraded Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), scientists have discovered previously-unseen binary companions to a pair of very young protostars, which gives strong support for one of the competing explanations for how double-star systems form.

Astronomers know that about half of all Sun-like stars are members of double or multiple-star systems, but have debated over how such systems are formed.

"The only way to resolve the debate is to observe very young stellar systems and catch them in the act of formation," said John Tobin, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). "That's what we've done with the stars we observed, and we got valuable new clues from them," he added.


If you were a weather forecaster for exoplanet GJ 1214b you would have an easy job. Today's forecast: cloudy. Tomorrow: cloudy. Extended outlook: more clouds.

Determining the weather on a distant planet around another star hasn't really been possible before. 

GJ 1214b is classified as a super-Earth type planet because its mass is intermediate between those of Earth and Neptune. Super-Earths like GJ 1214b are among the most common type of planets in the Milky Way galaxy but because no such planets exist in our Solar System, the physical nature of super-Earths is largely unknown.


Solar variation has not strongly influenced climate change, according to a paper which seeks to  overturn a widely held scientific view that lengthy periods of warm and cold weather in the past might have been caused by periodic fluctuations in solar activity.

Research in a narrow time period - the last 1,000 years - examined the causes of climate change in the northern hemisphere and found that until the year 1800, the key driver of periodic changes in climate was volcanic eruptions. These tend to prevent sunlight from reaching the Earth, causing cool, drier weather. Since 1900, greenhouse gases have been the primary cause of climate change.


A new population of exploding stars must 'switch off' their radio transmissions before collapsing into a Black Hole. But they emit one last strong beam of highly energetic radiation, known as a gamma-ray burst, before they die.

It was thought all gamma-ray bursts were followed by a radio afterglow.

"But we were wrong. After studying an ultra-sensitive image of gamma-ray bursts with no afterglow, we can now say the theory was incorrect and our telescopes have not failed us," Centre for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) at Curtin University research fellow Dr. Paul Hancock said.


For most of its life, a star is pretty stable, slowly consuming the fuel at its core to keep it shining brightly, but once most of the hydrogen that stars use as fuel has been consumed, some stars evolve into very different beasts -- pulsating stars. They become unstable, expanding and shrinking over a number of days or weeks and growing brighter and dimmer as they do so.

It's not well known but astronomers actually cannot see what our Galaxy, the Milky Way, really looks like. We are on the inside looking out so scientists instead deduce its shape by observation of its stars and their distances from us. 

In the 1950s, astronomers used radio telescopes to map our Galaxy. Their observations focused on clouds of gas in the Milky Way in which new stars are born, revealing four major arms. More recently, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope scoured the Galaxy for infrared light emitted by stars but in 2008 it was announced that Spitzer imaging had found about 110 million stars, yet only evidence of two spirals. Did the Milky Way have missing arms? Were they ever there?


Astronomers recently took precise measurements of the closest pair of failed stars to the Sun, the binary brown dwarf system WISE J104915.57-531906.1, and the results suggest that the system harbors a third, planetary-mass object.

Failed stars are known as brown dwarfs and have a mass below 8% of the mass of the Sun—not massive enough to burn hydrogen in their centers. This particular system, Luhman 16AB, was discovered earlier this year and is only 6.6 light-years away.