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When NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune in 1989, it observed large, dark storms inhabiting the distant planet's atmosphere. Since then, scientists have monitored Neptune using the Hubble Space Telescope and seen new storms develop. But unlike Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a storm which has been roiling for at least two centuries, the storms brewing on the windy planet Neptune come and go in just a few years — and now, for the first time, researchers have seen one begin to disappear, NASA officials said in a statement. [The Amazing Blue Planet Neptune in Photos]   The giant, dark storms on Neptune are impermanent features on the distant planet. Credit: NASA/JPL "It looks like we're capturing the demise of this dark vortex, and it's different from what well-known studies led us to expect," Michael Wong, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley and lead author on the new work, said in the statement. Previous simulations sugges...

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With a dummy named "Starman" on board, the Roadster launched into space on Feb. 6 and is now orbiting the sun somewhere between Earth and Mars (but not heading toward the asteroid belt, as Musk first announced).   "Once footage of the car and Starman started to arrive and people wondered if it could be observed from Earth, there was just one thing in my mind: to find the answer to that question and if yes, to try take a picture — better yet, a video — of it," Andreo wrote on his website, DeepSkyColors.com. [In Photos: SpaceX's 1st Falcon Heavy Rocket Test Launch Success!] To catch a view of the shiny car as it cruised off into space, Andreo packed up his telescopes and cameras, and drove to the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve in California, a semidark site just a short drive from his home in Sunnyvale. Using an online ephemeris calculator provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Andreo was able to determine exactly where and when to...

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This image of the Rosette Nebula was created using data taken through the INT Photometric H-Alpha Survey of the Northern Galactic Plane. Credit: Nick Wright/Keele University A new simulation explains the hole at the center of the Rosette Nebula that gives the cloud of interstellar gas and dust its distinctive rose-like shape. The Rosette Nebula sits in the Milky Way about 5,000 light-years from Earth. Massive stars at its core have blasted a hole in the cloud of material with radiation and flows of charged gas particles, called stellar wind. But the size of the hole didn't match up with the age of the central stars; simulations suggested that an even larger hole should have bloomed in the material. "The massive stars that make up the Rosette Nebula's central cluster are a few millions of years old and halfway through their lifecycle," Christopher Wareing, a researcher at the University of Leeds in England and the lead author of the new work, said in a statement...

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There You Are -- Photo of a Single Strontium Atom

Wednesday, February 14th 2018 10:23 AM

This image shows a Strontium atom held by the fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. The distance between the small needle tips is about two millimeters. Humans cannot see things that are smaller than the wavelength of the light that is reflected from the surface of an object. And Strontium has an atomic radius that is smaller than the wavelength of light. So, the question is: How can we "see" it? The answers is that we are not actually "seeing" the atom of Strontium, but rather we are seeing the light that the excited atom is giving off. (Image Credit: David Nadlinger, University of Oxford)   "Single Atom in an Ion Trap," by David Nadlinger, from the University of Oxford, shows the atom held by the fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. The distance between the small needle tips is about two millimeters.When illuminated by a laser of the right blue-violet color the atom absorbs and re-emits light particles sufficiently quickly for an or...

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  These two large black spots on the sun, known as sunspots, appeared quickly in February 2013, and each is as wide across as six Earths. Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/HMI/Goddard Space Flight Center The sun may be dimming, temporarily. Don't panic; Earth is not going to freeze over. But will the resulting cooling put a dent in the global warming trend? A periodic solar event called a "grand minimum" could overtake the sun perhaps as soon as 2020 and lasting through 2070, resulting in diminished magnetism, infrequent sunspot production and less ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching Earth — all bringing a cooler period to the planet that may span 50 years. The last grand-minimum event — a disruption of the sun's 11-year cycle of variable sunspot activity — happened in the mid-17th century. Known as the Maunder Minimum, it occurred between 1645 and 1715, during a longer span of time when parts of the world became so cold that the period was called the Lit...

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Simulating the Universe: The Next Generation

Saturday, February 10th 2018 03:38 PM

  For almost 10 years, an international team of astrophysicists has been working on a project to simulate the evolution of the universe, from just after the Big Bang to the present day. Four years ago these simulations, known as Illustris, were the first to closely replicate the diversity of galaxies we observe in the real universe, producing “red and dead” ellipticals, star-forming spirals, and more exotic systems. But a recent announcement brings a fresh level of sophistication to the table. The first three papers from Illustris: The Next Generation (IllustrisTNG) simulate a much bigger slice of universe at higher resolution than its predecessor. Although still not on the grand, universe-wide scale of simulations that solely follow dark matter’s interaction with gravity, IllustrisTNG is large enough to provide a cosmological context to the processes it monitors. And despite not being as granular as “zoom-in” simulations that follow the small-sc...

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The Naked Sun — Where Have All Its Spots Gone?

Saturday, February 10th 2018 01:38 PM

  It lost its spots. The image is from a video posted by NASA showing the Sun going naked from Jan. 26th to Jan. 30th, when a very small, lonely spot finally turns up. In fact, NASA says that with the exception of this one spot, the Sun was naked for almost two weeks. Spotless periods like this are common as the Sun approaches the low point in its 11-year solar cycle. We’re headed for that minimum next year. By contrast, during the peak of a solar cycle, the Sun is freckled with many spots. These crackle with intense magnetic activity producing flashes of x-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation that can bathe the Earth. Top: The freckled Sun, with many sunspots during the peak of the solar cycle, is seen to the left. Compare that to the naked Sun with no sunspots on the right. This occurs as activity fades toward solar minimum. Bottom: When sunspot numbers are high during the peak of a solar cycle, the surface cra...

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Asteroid 2018 CB Zips by Earth

Friday, February 9th 2018 04:18 PM

Potentially hazardous and near-Earth asteroids zing through Earth's neighborhood nearly every day. Since the weekend, seven small asteroids — including two potentially hazardous ones — came within 0.5 to 16 times the distance of the Moon. The largest, 2002 AJ29, was all of 2,100 feet (640 meters) across. The work week ends with an exceptionally close approach of asteroid 2018 CB, which will skim just 44,000 miles past Earth around 5 p.m. Eastern Time (22:00 UT) Friday, February 9th. Potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) are those at least 328 feet across that approach within 4.6 million miles of Earth. Because asteroid orbits can change over time due to gravitational effects from the Sun and planets, a PHA could potentially impact the planet sometime in the future. That future looms large and distant because at least for now, no known PHA is predicted to impact Earth for at least a century. There are only probabilities, and those probabilities usually dr...

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Photographer Alexx Mayes captured this view of the Falcon Heavy's third burn near Reno, Nevada on Feb. 6, 2018. Credit: Alexx Mayes     Riding on the rocket's second stage was Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster, an electric vehicle with a dummy named "Starman" behind the wheel. After the launch, the car and its passenger spent nearly 6 hours orbiting the Earth on the rocket's second stage, or the upper portion of the rocket that is designed to deliver payloads into orbit.  [In Photos: SpaceX's 1st Falcon Heavy Rocket Test Launch Success!]      At about 9:45 p.m. EST (0245 GMT), the rocket performed its third and final burn, which was supposed to send this dummy payload cruising by Mars in an elliptical orbit around the sun. (However, the rocket overshot its target and ended up on a path toward the asteroid belt instead.) Shortly after the second stage initiated this burn, people in the western U.S. began reporting rocket sightings i...

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  The two halves of the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) arrived at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems' Space Park facility in Redondo Beach, California, on Feb. 2, after being transported from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, according to a statement from NASA. Later this summer, the optical telescope and integrated science instrument module (OTIS) will be combined with the Telescope's spacecraft element; together they will officially become the Webb observatory.  "This is a major milestone," Eric Smith, director of the James Webb Space Telescope program at NASA, said in the statement. "The Webb observatory, which is the work of thousands of scientists and engineers across the globe, will be carefully tested to ensure it is ready to launch and enable scientists to seek the first luminous objects in the universe and search for signs of habitable planets." [Building the James Webb Space Telescope: Hubble's Successor (Gallery)] The Space Tele...

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