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A new telescope in La Palma, in Spain's Canary Islands, coordinates with gravitational-wave detectors to track down optical signals of the colossal collisions that cause them. The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO), built as an international collaboration led by the U.K.'s University of Warwick and Australia's Monash University, was officially inaugurated July 3. The ripples in space-time called gravitational waves can be detected on Earth when they're created by extremely large-scale events in the universe — like when two ultradense neutron stars or black holes orbit each other and merge. (Massive stellar explosions called supernovas can also cause detectable gravitational waves.) The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) first detected distortion caused by those waves in 2016. ['We Don't Planet' Episode 8: Gravitational Waves] GOTO will be able to respond to alerts from LIGO and other gravitational-wave detectors, an...

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During next month's Great American Total Solar Eclipse, you may be tempted to take in the historic event by gazing directly at the sun, but you absolutely should not do this without the proper eye protection, experts say. That's because, even though the sun is some 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away, it can still cause serious, and sometimes irreversible, eye damage. "Even very short direct observation of the sun has the potential to cause damage," said Dr. Russell Van Gelder, a clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and director of the University of Washington Medicine Eye Institute in Seattle. [The 8 Most Famous Solar Eclipses in History] On Aug. 21, 2017, the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun, causing a total solar eclipse that will be visible from parts of the United States, along a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina. It will be the first time since 1918 that a total solar eclipse will be visible...

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Planet Nine hypothesis supported by new evidence

Tuesday, July 18th 2017 02:54 PM

Last year, the existence of an unknown planet in our Solar system was announced. However, this hypothesis was subsequently called into question as biases in the observational data were detected. Now Spanish astronomers have used a novel technique to analyse the orbits of the so-called extreme trans-Neptunian objects and, once again, they point out that there is something perturbing them: a planet located at a distance between 300 to 400 times the Earth-Sun separation. Scientists continue to argue about the existence of a ninth planet within our Solar System. At the beginning of 2016, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech, USA) announced that they had evidence of the existence of this object, located at an average distance of 700 AU or astronomical units (700 times the Earth-Sun separation) and with a mass ten times that of Earth. Their calculations were motivated by the peculiar distribution of the orbits found for the trans-Neptunian objects (TNO) of...

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Throughout its 4.5-billion-year history, Earth has been repeatedly pummeled by space rocks that have caused anything from an innocuous splash in the ocean to species annihilation. When the next big impact will be, nobody knows.  But the pressure is on to predict — and intercept — its arrival. "Sooner or later we will get... a minor or major impact," Rolf Densing, who heads the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, told AFP ahead of International Asteroid Day on Friday. It may not happen in our lifetime, he said, but "the risk that Earth will get hit in a devastating event one day is very high." For now, there is little we can do. And yet, the first-ever mission to crash a probe into a small space rock to alter its trajectory suffered a major setback when European ministers declined in December to fund part of the project. "We are not ready to defend ourselves" against an Earth-bound object, said Densing. "We have no active planetary defe...

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The most distant star ever observed has been spotted, and its light comes from across two-thirds of the universe. That puts the star a whopping 9 billion light-years away. Patrick Kelly at the University of California, Berkeley and his colleagues found the star in Hubble Space Telescope images of a galaxy cluster called MACS J1149. In April and May 2016, Kelly and his team saw a mysteriously fluctuating point of light in the galaxy cluster’s vicinity. Follow-up images and analyses, posted June 30 at arXiv.org, showed that light is probably from a single bright blue star that coincidentally was behind the galaxy cluster, aligned along Hubble’s line of sight. The star is visible because the galaxy cluster’s gravity bent spacetime around the cluster, making it act like a cosmic magnifying glass. This phenomenon, called gravitational lensing, helps astronomers observe objects more distant than telescopes can see on their own. The team calculated how much...

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Astronomers just discovered the smallest star ever

Wednesday, July 12th 2017 11:32 AM

A team of astronomers at the University of Cambridge was on the lookout for new exoplanets when they came across an exciting accidental discovery: They found the smallest star measured to this day.   This tiny new star, which is being called EBLM J0555-57Ab, is about 600 light-years from Earth, and has a comparable mass (85 Jupiter masses) to the estimated mass of TRAPPST-1. The new star, though, has a radius about 30 percent smaller. Like TRAPPIST-1, EBLM J0555-57Ab is likely an ultracool M-dwarf star.   The team used data from an experiment called WASP (the Wide Angle Search for Planets), which is typically used in the search for planets rather than stars, to look for new exoplanets. During their studies, they noticed a consistent dimming of EBLM J0555-57Ab’s parent star, which signified an object in orbit. Through further research to measure the mass of any orbiting companions, they discovered the object they’d detected was too massive to be...

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Your parents probably told you to NEVER look directly at the sun with your naked eye. In fact, you've probably been told that by lots of reputable sources (including our own Space.com). But according to NASA and four other science and medical organizations, it's OK to look at a total solar eclipse with the naked eye — but only when the face of the sun is totally obscured by the moon.   A total solar eclipse happens when the central disk of the sun is completely covered by the moon. Many people have probably seen a partial solar eclipse, in which the disk of the moon appears to take a bite out of the sun's disk, but never fully obscures it. But total solar eclipses are a much rarer sight. In 2017, a total solar eclipse will cross the continental U.S. from coast to coast.  A joint statement from NASA and the four other organizations says that with the right information, skywatchers can safely view the total sol...

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A record-breaking quantum satellite has again blown away the competition, achieving two new milestones in long-distance quantum communications through space. In June, Chinese researchers demonstrated that the satellite Micius could send entangled quantum particles to far-flung locations on Earth, their properties remaining intertwined despite being separated by more than 1,200 kilometers (SN Online: 6/15/17). Now researchers have used the satellite to teleport particles’ properties and transmit quantum encryption keys. The result, reported in two papers published online July 3 and July 4 at arXiv.org, marks the first time the two techniques have been demonstrated in space. In quantum teleportation, the properties of one particle are transferred to another. The scientists first sent particles of light, or photons, from the ground to the satellite — a distance of up to 1,400 kilometers. When the researchers made particular measurements of other photons on the...

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THREE BILLION YEARS ago, two black holes collided to form a larger one. In the process, they produced a massive wave rolling through the fabric of spacetime at the speed of light. When the wave finally arrived at Earth on January 4 this year, it had faded into a light tickle upon the super-sensitive instruments of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, and for the third time ever, physicists observed a ripple in spacetime known as a gravitational wave. More detections means that physicists have a more precise understanding of how gravity works than ever—and they might have a new way to study the deepest mysteries of the universe. The previously detected gravitational waves—the first of which was announced last year—also came from black hole collisions. “The event was a lot like our first detection, but the black holes were another two times further away,” says physicist David Shoemaker, the spokesperson for...

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When it comes to the distant universe, even the keen vision of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope can only go so far. Teasing out finer details requires clever thinking and a little help from a cosmic alignment with a gravitational lens. By applying a new computational analysis to a galaxy magnified by a gravitational lens, astronomers have obtained images 10 times sharper than what Hubble could achieve on its own. The results show an edge-on disk galaxy studded with brilliant patches of newly formed stars. “When we saw the reconstructed image we said, ‘Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere,’” said astronomer Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The galaxy in question is so far away that we see it as it appeared 11 billion years ago, only 2.7 billion years after the big bang. It is one of more than 70 strongly lensed galaxies studied by the Hubble Space Telescope, following up targets selected by the...

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