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diary of a Supernova

Monday, October 30th 2017 11:37 AM

     Everything in the universe someday comes to an end. Even stars. Though some might last for trillions of years, steadily sipping away at their hydrogen reserves and converting them to helium, they eventually run out of fuel. And when they do, the results can be pretty spectacular. Our own sun will make a mess of the solar system when it enters the last stages of its life in 4 billion years or so. It will swell, turn red (consuming Earth in the process) and cast off its outer layers, giving one last gasp as a planetary nebula before it settles down into post-fusion retirement as a white dwarf. [Supernova Photos: Great Images of Star Explosions]   The most spectacular deaths, though, are reserved for the most massive stars. Once an object builds up to at least eight times the mass of the sun, interesting games can be played inside the core, with … explosive results. Walking the nuclear line Any star, no matter how massive, walks a thin tightrope...

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Comet Returns

Monday, October 30th 2017 11:25 AM

A special comet just made its grand return to the view of one of NASA's sun-gazing spacecraft. Comet 96P/Machholz was caught on camera by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), which is co-managed by the European Space Agency. A picture from Oct. 25 shows Comet 96P in the bottom-right corner of the image, exactly as predicted. The comet made its way up the right-hand side of the spacecraft's field of view before disappearing out of sight on Monday (Oct. 30). A composite image of the comet's travels released Friday (Oct. 27) showcases that flyby. This visit marks the fifth time Comet 96P has flown past the sun under SOHO's watch, with previous appearances in 1996, 2002, 2007 and 2012. [Amazing Comet Photos from Earth and Space] This composite image shows the approach of Comet 96P/Machholz around the sun between Oct. 25 and 27 as seen by the NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory in space. The comet is making its fifth trip around t...

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For the first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves (ripples in space-time) together with the light from a spectacular collision of two neutron stars. This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been observed with both gravitational waves and light. The discovery was made using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US, the Virgo detector in Italy, and some 70 ground and space-based observatories. Neutron stars, the smallest, densest stars known to exist, are formed when massive stars explode in supernovas. Neutron stars are so dense that a teaspoon of neutron star material has a mass of about a billion tons. As two of these neutron stars spiraled together about 130 million years ago, they emitted gravitational waves that were detected for about 100 seconds on August 17, 2017. In the days and weeks following the initial discovery, a full spectrum of light and electromagnetic radiation from the event (including X-ray,...

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Sputnik 1 -- 60 Years Ago Today

Friday, October 27th 2017 11:40 AM

History changed 60 years ago today, on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1. The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball -- about 23 inches diameter -- and weighed less than 190 pounds. It took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That single launch ushered in a whole array of new political, military, technological, and scientific developments in the years that followed. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the Space Age and the US - USSR space race.Like the Soviet Union, the United States was planning to launch a satellite as part of the International Geophysical Year. Caught off-guard, the American public felt echoes of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor less than 16 years before. Americans feared that the Soviets, whom they believed were behind the US technologically after the devastation of World War II, could launch ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons at...

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Stardust Gallery manufactured LED lighted Lightbox Review by Eric Todd The owner of Stardust Gallery, Craig, was looking for volunteers to review an LED backlit lightbox containing either a Hubble image or an image of user choice. Since I had what I felt were fairly decent Milky Way images acquired from a session at a dark sky site late last Fall, I thought one of the somewhat processed images might be a good candidate to display inside one of the Stardust Gallery backlit lightboxes, and eagerly forwarded the image to the website. Within a few days, I was informed of shipment and received the lightbox a short time later. The first thing I noticed was the packaging- a heavy, frame like cardboard box that is just slightly larger than the lightbox. Inside, the lightbox itself was carefully bubble wrapped to provide both protection and add rigidity to the assembly. In addition, I unwrapped a small wall transformer with a plug that matched a similar plug to a cord emanating from the b...

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Have you missed out on WorldWide Telescope (WWT) because you're not using a Windows computer? Good news -- WWT can now be accessed via a web interface, with no dependence on your Operating System. WWT is a powerful application that allows users to interactively browse the multi-wavelength sky. Based on feedback from the astronomy community, WWT has now expanded its support so that anyone can use the full features of this application from their web browser.   WorldWide Telescope has been a mainstay in classrooms, museums, and planetariums since its launch as a Windows application nearly 10 years ago. It is a virtual sky, with terabytes of astronomical image overlays incorporating numerous all-sky surveys across the electromagnetic spectrum. It is also a virtual universe, with high definition base maps of Solar System planets, 3D star positions, and SDSS Cosmos galaxies. Beyond data visualization, WWT has a rich contextual narrative layer that allows its users to record their pa...

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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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WASHINGTON — International cooperation in dealing with the growing problem or orbital debris is essential, a panel of experts argued, but said not to expect a comprehensive accord on the issue for the foreseeable future. At a discussion about international approaches to orbital debris, organized by the Aerospace Corporation here Sept. 21, panelists from the United States and several other nations emphasized bilateral and multilateral approaches over comprehensive international accords, like a proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. That proposed code, introduced by the European Union in 2008, included a number of provisions intended to reduce the chance of collisions and minimizing the creation of debris, either though accidental or deliberate actions. While the code had the support of some major space nations, including the United States, opposition from others has effectively blocked its progress. Michiru Nishida of the Japanese Embassy’s pol...

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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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NASA found a bunch more potentially habitable planets

Friday, September 22nd 2017 03:20 PM

It might seem like NASA is constantly announcing a brand-spanking-new "Earth-like" exoplanet—some far-away world that might possibly maybe have the basic requirements for life as we know it. And it seems that way because, well, that's pretty accurate: it's all thanks to NASA's wildly successful Kepler Space Telescope, which uses the blinking and dimming of distant alien stars to spot planets that might orbit around them. But the latest Kepler finds (219 new planetary candidates, 10 of which are Earth-size and the right distance from their host star to hold liquid water) mark something of an end: this represents the final official planetary search results from Kepler's mission data. This requires a little bit of unpacking. After all, as you may know, the Kepler Space Telescope is still out there in space finding new planets—and will probably continue doing so for about another year. But the telescope's primary mission ended prematur...

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