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In each life a little rain must fall, but in space, one of the biggest risks to astronauts’ health is radiation “rain". NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) is simulating space radiation on Earth following upgrades to the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. These upgrades help researchers on Earth learn more about the effects of ionizing space radiation, to help keep astronauts safe on a journey to Mars. Radiation is one of the most dangerous risks to humans in space, and one of the most challenging to simulate here on Earth. The risk to human health significantly increases when astronauts travel beyond Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) outside the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere shields Earth from solar particle events (SPEs) and radiation caused by the sun and galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) produced by supernova fragments. Radiation particles like ions can be dangerous...

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Smallest-Ever Star Discovered by Astronomers in the UK

Saturday, September 23rd 2017 01:12 PM

The smallest star yet measured has been discovered by a team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge in the UK. With a size just a sliver larger than that of Saturn, the gravitational pull at its stellar surface is about 300 times stronger than what humans feel on Earth.The star is likely as small as stars can possibly become, as it has just enough mass to enable the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. If it were any smaller, the pressure at the center of the star would no longer be sufficient to enable this process to take place. Hydrogen fusion is also what powers the Sun, and scientists are attempting to replicate it as a powerful energy source here on Earth.These very small and dim stars are also the best possible candidates for detecting Earth-sized planets which can have liquid water on their surfaces, such as TRAPPIST-1, an ultracool dwarf star surrounded by seven temperate Earth-sized worlds.The newly-measured star, called EBLM J0555-57Ab, is located about six hund...

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2 Monster Black Holes Spotted at Galaxy's Heart

Thursday, September 21st 2017 02:48 PM

Not one but two gigantic black holes lurk at the heart of the distant spiral galaxy NGC 7674, a new study suggests. These two supermassive black holes are separated by less than 1 light-year and together harbor about 40 million times the mass of the sun, researchers said. If it holds up, the find would be just the second known system of double supermassive black holes. The other, announced in 2006, is in a galaxy known as 0402+379, whose two giant black holes are separated by about 24 light-years and boast a combined 15 billion solar masses. [No Escape: Dive into a Black Hole (Infographic)] (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory project, or LIGO, has spotted the gravitational waves emitted by multiple binary black holes as they spiral toward each other. But the LIGO detections involve objects a few tens of times more massive than the sun, known as stellar-mass black holes.) The research team analyzed observations of NGC 7674, which lies ab...

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There’s a supermassive black hole at the center of almost every galaxy in the Universe. How did they get there? What’s the relationship between these monster black holes and the galaxies that surround them? Every time astronomers look farther out in the Universe, they discover new mysteries. These mysteries require all new tools and techniques to understand. These mysteries lead to more mysteries. What I’m saying is that it’s mystery turtles all the way down. One of the most fascinating is the discovery of quasars, understanding what they are, and the unveiling of an even deeper mystery, where do they come from? As always, I’m getting ahead of myself, so first, let’s go back and talk about the discovery of quasars. Molecular clouds scattered by an intermediate black hole show very wide velocity dispersion in this artist’s impression. This scenario well explains the observational features of a peculiar molecular cloud CO-0.40-0.22. Credit:...

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Did you know you can see a galaxy 2½ million light-years away with your unaided eyes? Craters on the Moon with binoculars? Countless wonders await you any clear night. The first step in astronomy for beginners is simply to look up and ask, "What's that?" Begin gazing at the stars from your backyard, and you'll be taking the first step toward a lifetime of cosmic exploration and enjoyment. But what, exactly, comes next? Too many newcomers to astronomy get lost in dead ends and quit in frustration. Astronomy for beginners shouldn't be that way. What advice would help beginners the most? A while ago, the Sky & Telescope editors got together to brainstorm this question about astronomy for beginners. Pooling thoughts from more than 100 years of collective experience answering the phones and mail, we came up with the following pointers to help newcomers past the most common pitfalls and onto the likeliest route to success. Astronomy for Beginners: Learn the night sky...

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SkyWatch: Week of 9/10/17

Tuesday, September 12th 2017 04:29 PM

Friday, September 8 Jupiter has been a conspicuous evening object for the past several months, but it’s nearing the end of its reign. The giant planet lies about 10° high in the west-southwest 45 minutes after sunset. Still, at magnitude –1.7, it shines brightly enough to appear prominent against the twilight glow. If you view Jupiter through binoculars this evening, you’ll also see 1st-magnitude Spica 3° to its lower left. The planet appears 12 times brighter than the star. A telescope easily shows Jupiter’s four bright moons, but the planet’s low altitude means you won’t see crisp details on its 32"-diameter disk. Saturday, September 9 The constellations Ursa Major the Great Bear and Cassiopeia the Queen lie on opposite sides of the North Celestial Pole, so they appear to pivot around the North Star (Polaris) throughout the course of the night and the year. In late August and early September, these two constellations appear equally...

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New Clues to Universe's Structure Revealed

Saturday, September 9th 2017 01:56 PM

Imagine planting a single seed and with great precision being able to predict the exact height of the tree that grows from it. Now imagine traveling to the future and snapping photographic proof that you were right.If you think of the seed as the early universe, and the tree as the universe the way it looks now, you have an idea of what the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration has just done. DES scientists have just unveiled the most accurate measurement ever made of the present large scale structure of the universe.These measurements of the amount and "clumpiness" (or distribution) of dark matter in the present day cosmos were made with a precision that, for the first time, rivals that of inferences of the early universe by the European Space Agency's orbiting Planck observatory. The new DES result (the tree, in the above metaphor) is close to the forecasts made from the Planck measurements of the distant past (the seed), allowing scientists to understand more about the ways the uni...

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The Breakthrough Listen Program, an initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe, has detected 15 brief but powerful radio pulses emanating from a mysterious and repeating source - FRB 121102 - far across the universe.Fast radio bursts are brief, bright pulses of radio emission from distant but largely unknown sources, and FRB 121102 is the only one known to repeat. More than 150 high energy bursts have been observed coming from the object, which was identified last year as a dwarf galaxy about 3 billion light years from Earth.Possible explanations for the repeating bursts range from outbursts from rotating neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields (magnetars) to a more speculative idea -- They are directed energy sources, powerful laser bursts used by extraterrestrial civilizations to power spacecraft, akin to Breakthrough Starshot's plan to use powerful laser pulses to propel nano-spacecraft to our solar system's nearest star, Proxima Centauri."Bursts from t...

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10 Women in Astronomy Everyone Should Know

Thursday, June 15th 2017 12:06 PM

    There is an article buzzing around the Internet that asks: Where are all the women astronomers. Well, you may may not know their names, but they are there, changing the way we look at the Cosmos. In the NASA photo above Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a chemist and NASA astronaut, looks at Earth from the International Space Station. Vera Cooper Rubin: Dark matter detective In the early 1970s, Vera Rubin teamed up with astronomer Kent Ford and others to study the rotation of spiral galaxies, according to the Jewish Women's Archive. To their surprise, they found that the predicted angular motion didn’t match what they were seeing. In fact, galaxies were rotating so fast that predictions showed they should break apart if the only thing holding them together was the gravity from their visible stars. Rubin and her collaborators hypothesized that some invisible glue — an unseen mass — must be at work. The group’s groundbreaking work provided...

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Successor to Hubble: Bigger, Better, Higher

Tuesday, June 13th 2017 03:31 PM

  The Hubble Telescope has been a breathtaking resource for astronomers but it’s about to be replaced by a bigger, better, higher telescope called the Jame Webb Space Telescope. (Photo: NASA, Amber Staughn, NASA, TED Talk) The Webb Telescope will have a mirror that is 6.5 meters. That’s 7 times larger than Hubble. It’s orbit will be 1 million miles out, about 4 times farther out than the moon. It won’t orbit the earth at that altitude, but will rather be in co-orbit with the Earth around the sun.   Lifesize model of Webb Telescope on display in Seattle in 2007 The Webb will see mostly in the infrared spectrum, but will be able to see some red. It will see heat, but it will also be able to see planets. But one of the main advantages of Webb will be its ability to see chemical compositions in atmospheres, such as water vapor, oxygen and other compounds.  

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