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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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The annual Perseid meteor shower may be great, but it's got nothing on the brief sky show a comet gave Mars a few years back. Comet Siding Spring produced the most intense meteor shower in recorded history when the object flew by the Red Planet in October 2014, according to newly analyzed data collected at the time by NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter. MAVEN'S observations suggest that the Siding Spring shower boasted about 108,000 meteors per hour at its peak and lasted up to 3 hours, scientists led by Matteo Crismani, of the University of Colorado Boulder, reported today (Sept. 21) in a presentation at the European Planetary Science Congress 2017 (EPSC 2017) in Riga, Latvia. [Mars-Bound Comet: Photos of Comet Siding Spring] For comparison, viewers with dark skies can usually count on seeing about 80 meteors per hour during the mid-August peak of the Perseid meteor shower, which is perhaps the most famous and reliably impressive of Earth's annu...

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We have discovered a planet. It gathers in light from its sun, and refuses to let go. In return, the star strips away the planet’s atmosphere, slowly devouring it. That's how the popular planet-inventing Twitter bot Newfound Planets , might describe this particular gaseous giant, smashing together verbs and adjectives into a delicious galactic treat that has to be too good to be true. But this is entirely real. WASP-12b is a burning monster of a world, a ‘Hot Jupiter’ orbiting a star 1400 light-years away. Scientists first discovered the planet back in 2008, but recent observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope show that the planet is very unusual (even amid its fellow extrasolar worlds with glowing atmospheres, scorching temperatures, or ruby-adorned clouds. In a study published last week in The Astrophysical Journal, researchers found that WASP-12b is far darker than previous glances through ground-based telescopes h...

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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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A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close today, as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a fateful plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet. "This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it’s also a new beginning,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Cassini’s discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth." Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini entered Saturn's atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability, as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. Loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 4:55 a.m. PDT (7:55 a.m. EDT), with the signal received by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna complex in Can...

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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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PASADENA, Calif. — NASA scientists just received their last message from the Cassini spacecraft, which plunged into Saturn early Friday morning. Those final bits of data signal the end of one of the most successful planetary science missions in history. “The signal from the spacecraft is gone and within the next 45 seconds so will be the spacecraft,” program manager Earl Maize reported from mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, just after 4:55 a.m. local time. “This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team.” One of the last pieces of data captured by Cassini was an infrared image of the place into which it took its final plunge. The image, taken 15 hours before the spacecraft's demise, reveals a spot on Saturn's dark side just north of the planet's equator where the spacecraft disintegrated shortly after losing contact with Earth. Cassini was the first probe to orbit Saturn. Bui...

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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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