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The Milky Way was “T-Boned” by a Dwarf Galaxy 3 Billion Years Ago

Posted by Guy Pirro 10/22/2020 04:37PM

The Milky Way was “T-Boned” by a Dwarf Galaxy 3 Billion Years Ago

About two decades ago, astronomers identified an unusually high density of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy called the “Virgo Overdensity.” Star surveys revealed that some of these stars were moving toward us while others were moving away, which is unusual in that a cluster of stars would typically travel in concert. Based on emerging data, astrophysicists proposed that the overdensity was the result of a radial merger -- The stellar version of a T-bone crash of a dwarf galaxy into the Milky Way. It is believed that nearly 3 billion years ago, a dwarf galaxy plunged into the center of the Milky Way and was ripped apart by the gravitational forces of the collision. Astrophysicists at Rensselaer report that the merger produced a series of telltale shell-like formations of stars in the vicinity of the Virgo constellation -- The first such “shell structures” to be found in the Milky Way. The finding offers further evidence of the ancient event, and new possible explanations for other phenomena in the galaxy.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx to Attempt a “Grab-and-Snatch” on Asteroid Bennu Today

Posted by Guy Pirro 10/20/2020 03:24PM

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx to Attempt a “Grab-and-Snatch” on Asteroid Bennu Today

Today, OSIRIS-REx will attempt a historic feat for NASA -- To collect the first samples from an asteroid’s surface. The spacecraft will maneuver down to the selected Nightingale site on Bennu’s rocky and dusty surface to collect a sample for return to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to gather at least 2 ounces of regolith from the asteroid Bennu. Since Bennu is so far away, the operators on the ground will issue instructions to the spacecraft and then it will autonomously approach Bennu and extend its robotic arm, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM). If all goes well, TAGSAM will stow the gathered material and begin the trip home for arrival in 2023.

I’ll Have Spaghetti with Those Meatballs

Posted by Guy Pirro 10/15/2020 11:05PM

I’ll Have Spaghetti with Those Meatballs

Spaghettification is the vertical stretching and horizontal compression of objects into long thin shapes (rather like spaghetti) in a very strong gravitational field near black holes. The stretching is so powerful that no object can withstand its pull. It is theorized that the horizontal compression balances the vertical stretching so that object being “spaghettified” experiences no net change in volume. Astronomers have captured the last moments of a star just before it was ripped apart and spaghettified by a black hole. The violent occurrence, called a tidal disruption event, created a blast of light seen just 215 million light years from Earth -- the closest such flare recorded to date. To get a detailed look at just what happens when a star is devoured by a monstrous black hole, researchers pointed the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Very Large Telescope (VLT) and New Technology Telescope (NTT) at the new flash of light that occurred close to a supermassive black hole last year. Follow-up observations occurred over a six month period at multiple telescopes around the world, including the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) Harvard and Smithsonian's Multiple Mirror Telescope (MMT), located at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of October 2020

Posted by Guy Pirro 10/03/2020 04:25PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of October 2020

Welcome to the night sky report for October 2020 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In October, Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek myth, becomes increasingly prominent in the southeastern sky. Look for M15 (NGC7078) and NGC7331. This October also brings a Harvest Moon and a Blue Moon. Plus look for Mars at any time of the night. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

Rust in Peace – Why is the Moon Rusting?

Posted by Guy Pirro 09/22/2020 12:38AM

Rust in Peace – Why is the Moon Rusting?

Mars has long been known for its rust. Iron on its surface combined with water and oxygen from the ancient past, give the Red Planet its hue. But scientists were recently surprised to find evidence that our airless Moon has rust on it as well. While our Moon is airless, research indicates the presence of hematite, a form of rust that normally requires oxygen and water. That has scientists puzzled.

Something’s Just Not Right with our Current Understanding of Dark Matter

Posted by Guy Pirro 09/13/2020 01:44AM

Something’s Just Not Right with our Current Understanding of Dark Matter

Dark matter does not emit, absorb, or reflect light. Its presence, if it truly exists, is known only through its gravitational pull on visible matter in space. This mysterious substance is believed to be the invisible scaffolding of our Universe, forming long filamentary structures -- the cosmic web -- along which galaxies form. Astronomers have discovered that there may be a missing ingredient in our cosmic recipe of how dark matter behaves. They have uncovered a discrepancy between the theoretical models of how dark matter should be distributed in galaxy clusters, and observations of dark matter's grip on those clusters. One way astronomers can detect dark matter is by measuring how its gravity distorts space through an effect called “gravitational lensing.” Researchers have found that small-scale concentrations of dark matter in clusters produce gravitational lensing effects that are ten times stronger than expected. This evidence is based on unprecedented detailed observations of several massive galaxy clusters by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

Did Meteorite Impacts Help Create Life on Earth?

Posted by Guy Pirro 09/09/2020 03:35AM

Did Meteorite Impacts Help Create Life on Earth?

It's among the most fundamental of questions: What are the origins of life on Earth? What if impact craters, long seen as harbingers of death, turned out to be the cradle of life? A new study makes the case that impact craters should be considered by space agencies like NASA and ESA as top exploration targets, not just for their invaluable post-impact geological records, but also – and perhaps more importantly – as prime locations for seeking potential habitats for extraterrestrial life.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of September 2020

Posted by Guy Pirro 09/02/2020 04:28PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of September 2020

Welcome to the night sky report for September 2020 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In September, Pegasus becomes increasingly prominent in the southeastern sky, allowing stargazers to locate globular clusters M2 (NGC 7089) and M30 (NGC 7099), as well as a nearby double star, Alpha Capricorni, which is an optical double (but not a binary pair). The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

Aurora Mysteries Unlocked with NASA’s THEMIS Mission

Posted by Guy Pirro 08/20/2020 12:28AM

Aurora Mysteries Unlocked with NASA’s THEMIS Mission

Auroras are created when charged particles from the Sun are trapped in Earth’s magnetic environment – the magnetosphere – and are funneled into Earth’s upper atmosphere, where collisions cause hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms and molecules to glow. A special type of aurora, draped east-west across the night sky like a glowing pearl necklace, is helping scientists better understand the science of auroras and their powerful drivers out in space. Known as auroral beads, these lights often show up just before large auroral displays, which are caused by electrical storms in space called substorms. Previously, scientists weren’t sure if auroral beads were somehow connected to other auroral displays as a phenomenon in space that precedes substorms, or if they were caused by disturbances closer to Earth’s atmosphere. But now powerful new computer models combined with observations from NASA’s “Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms” (THEMIS) mission have provided the first strong evidence of the events in space that lead to the appearance of these beads.

Is Planet Nine a Primordial Black Hole?

Posted by Guy Pirro 08/13/2020 05:31PM

Is Planet Nine a Primordial Black Hole?

Scientists at Harvard University and the Black Hole Initiative (BHI) have developed a new method to find black holes in the outer Solar System, and along with it, determine once-and-for-all the true nature of the hypothesized Planet Nine.

Quasar Tsunamis that Travel at Breathtaking Velocities Wreak Havoc on Host Galaxies

Posted by Guy Pirro 08/07/2020 02:40AM

Quasar Tsunamis that Travel at Breathtaking Velocities Wreak Havoc on Host Galaxies

Quasars are extremely remote celestial objects that emit exceptionally large amounts of energy. Quasars contain supermassive black holes fueled by in-falling matter that can shine 1000 times brighter than their host galaxies of hundreds of billions of stars. Using the unique capabilities of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, a team of astronomers has discovered the most energetic outflows ever witnessed in the Universe. These quasar outflows emanate from the center of the galaxies and tear across interstellar space like tsunamis, wreaking havoc on the galaxies in which the quasars live. These winds, driven by blistering radiation pressure from the vicinity of the black hole, snowplow across the galaxy's disk, pushing material away from the galaxy's center, accelerating to breathtaking velocities that are a few percent of the speed of light. Material that otherwise would have formed new stars is violently swept from the galaxy, causing star birth to cease. Radiation pushes the gas and dust to far greater distances than scientists previously thought, disturbing the natural evolution of the entire galaxy.

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of August 2020

Posted by Guy Pirro 07/28/2020 02:04PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of August 2020

Welcome to the night sky report for August 2020 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In August, a flock of star-studded figures soars overhead. Look for the constellation Lyra, shaped as a small parallelogram, which points to Epsilon Lyrae and the Ring Nebula. You can also spot three bright summer stars: Vega, Deneb, and Altair, which form the Summer Triangle. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

How to See Comet NEOWISE

Posted by Guy Pirro 07/17/2020 03:18AM

How to See Comet NEOWISE

A comet visiting from the most distant parts of our Solar System is putting on a spectacular display. Named Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, the comet made its once-in-our-lifetime close approach to the Sun on July 3, 2020, and will cross outside Earth's orbit on its way back to the outer parts of the Solar System by mid-August. The comet cruised just inside Mercury's orbit on July 3. This very close passage by the Sun is cooking the comet's outermost layers, causing gas and dust to erupt off the icy surface and creating a large tail of debris. And yet the comet has managed to survive this intense roasting. Observers all over the world are racing to see the natural fireworks display before the comet speeds away into the depths of space.

Words of Wisdom -- My Favorite Proverbs from Around the World

Posted by Guy Pirro 07/14/2020 10:54PM

Words of Wisdom -- My Favorite Proverbs from Around the World

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao Tzu “A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.” - American Proverb (Silicon Valley)

Words of Wisdom -- My Favorite Quotable Quotes

Posted by Guy Pirro 07/05/2020 01:53AM

Words of Wisdom -- My Favorite Quotable Quotes

“Your smartphone has already replaced your camera, your TV, your radio, your wristwatch, your calendar, your GPS, your credit cards, your newspaper, your magazines, and your local library... Maybe you should lift up your head, look away from the screen, and engage your family and friends in some face-to-face conversation -- Before your smartphone replaces them too.” - Guy J. Pirro