When a star ventures too close to a black hole, gravitational forces create intense tides that break the star apart into a stream of gas, resulting in a cataclysmic phenomenon known as a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE). Tremendous amounts of energy are released, causing the tidal disruption to outshine the combined light of every star in the black hole's host galaxy for months, and even years. By analyzing observations of an X-ray flare and fitting the data with theoretical models, University of Arizona astronomers have documented a fatal encounter between an unlucky star and an intermediate-mass black hole and have been able to make the first measurements of both the black hole's mass and spin.
In order to better understand the history and evolution of the Milky Way, astronomers are studying the composition of the gases and metals that make up an important part of our galaxy. This includes 1) the initial gas coming from outside our galaxy, 2) the gas between the stars inside our galaxy, often enriched with chemical elements, and 3) the dust created by the condensation of the metals present in this gas. Until now, theoretical models assumed that these three elements were homogeneously mixed throughout the Milky Way and reached a level of chemical enrichment similar to the Sun’s atmosphere, called the Solar Metallicity. A team of astronomers from the University of Geneva in Switzerland have observed the composition of these gases in our galaxy and have shown that, contrary to the models established until now, they are not as homogeneously mixed as previously thought. This has an impact on the current understanding of the evolution of galaxies and, as a result, our understanding of the Milky Way’s evolution will need to be revisited.
Brown dwarfs aren’t quite stars and aren’t quite planets, and a new study suggests there might be more of them lurking in our galaxy than scientists previously thought. A new study offers a tantalizing explanation for how a peculiar cosmic object, nicknamed “The Accident,” came to be. “The Accident” is a brown dwarf. Though they form like stars, these objects don’t have enough mass to kick-start nuclear fusion, the process that causes stars to shine. And while brown dwarfs often defy characterization, astronomers have a good grasp on their general characteristics… Or they did, until they found this one.
Welcome to the night sky report for September 2021 -- 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), 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.
Since they were first detected more than a hundred years ago, Cosmic Rays – highly energetic particles that continuously rain down on Earth from space – have posed an enduring mystery. What creates and propels the particles across vast distances? Where do they come from? Using an internationally organized effort, scientist have for the first time located a source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos -- ghostly elementary cosmic particles that travel billions of light years through the universe, flying unaffected through stars, planets, and entire galaxies. The joint observation campaign was triggered by a single neutrino that was recorded by the IceCube Neutrino Telescope at the South Pole in September 2017. The energy of this specific neutrino was around 300 Tera-ElectronVolts – That is more than 40 times the energy produced by the world’s largest particle accelerator, the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland. Telescopes on Earth and in space were able quickly follow-up the initial detection with more detailed observations that determined the exotic particle had originated in a galaxy nearly four billion light years away in the constellation Orion, where a gigantic black hole was behaving like a natural particle accelerator.
By early Saturday morning, August 14th, it was clear -- The world record calculation for the number Pi had fallen to a Swiss team at the University of Applied Sciences in Graubunden. The record is now back in Switzerland after two previous American world records. The high performance computer at the Center for Data Analytics, Visualization, and Simulation (DAViS) exceeded the old world record of 50 trillion digits by adding 12.8 trillion new, previously unknown digits to the back-end of the irrational number known the world over as Pi. The last ten known digits of Pi are now 3.1415926535…7817924264.
The Yerkes Observatory in the Village of Williams Bay, Wisconsin, on the shores of Geneva Lake in Walworth County, was completed in 1897. The observatory contains the largest refractor telescope in the world and is often referred to as “the birthplace of modern astrophysics.” The Chicago millionaire Charles Tyson Yerkes Jr. provided funding starting in 1892 to construct the Great Refractor and build the observatory that bears his name. He donated the facility to the University of Chicago in October 1897. The university owned Yerkes Observatory until May 1, 2020 when it, together with fifty acres of surrounding land, was donated to the Yerkes Future Foundation, an independent, charitable, nonprofit organization. The Observatory and grounds are currently undergoing restoration and renovation in order to prepare for public access later this year (or possibly next) and to ready the Yerkes landmark for another 125 years of science and discovery.
V404 Cygni is a black hole binary system located about 7800 light years away from Earth. The black hole is actively pulling material away from a companion star (with about half the mass of the Sun) into a disk around the invisible object. This material glows in X-rays, so astronomers refer to these systems as "X-ray Binaries." In 2015, Swift discovered a burst of X-rays from V404 Cygni. The burst created high-energy rings from a phenomenon known as light echoes. Instead of sound waves bouncing off a canyon wall, the light echoes around V404 Cygni were produced when a burst of X-rays from the black hole system bounced off of dust clouds between V404 Cygni and Earth. A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin recently analyzed Swift and Chandra observations of the system. The rings tell astronomers not only about the black hole's behavior, but also about the landscape between V404 Cygni and Earth. The observed light echoes appear as narrow rings rather than wide rings or haloes because the X-ray burst lasted only a relatively short period of time.
Welcome to the night sky report for August 2021 -- 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. Find a dark location to enjoy the Perseid meteors on August 11 and then check out Jupiter and Saturn all night long all month. The full moon on August 22nd is what's known as a "seasonal blue moon," as it's the third full moon out of four this season, where normally in each season there are only three. This happens every two-and-a-half to three years or as they say, "once in a blue moon." The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
It’s finally here! -- NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle that provides the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. The core stage of the SLS rocket has been delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, placed on the mobile launcher, and attached to the twin solid rocket boosters inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Serving as the backbone of the giant rocket, the core stage supports the weight of the payload, upper stage, and crew vehicle, and is the main structural element that bears the full thrust of its four powerful engines and two five-segment solid rocket boosters. The 188,000-pound core stage, with its four RS-25 engines, will provide more than 2 million pounds of thrust during launch and ascent and, coupled with the boosters, will provide more than 8.8 million pounds of thrust to send the Artemis I mission to space. Artemis I will be an uncrewed test of the Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon.
Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, is bigger than the planet Mercury and is the only moon in the solar system with its own magnetosphere – a bubble-shaped region of charged particles surrounding the celestial body. On Monday, June 7th, NASA’s Juno spacecraft came within 645 miles (1038 kilometers) of the surface of Ganymede. The flyby was the closest a spacecraft has come to the solar system’s largest natural satellite since NASA’s Galileo spacecraft made its close approach back on May 20, 2000. Along with striking imagery, the solar-powered spacecraft’s flyby yielded insights into the moon’s composition, ionosphere, magnetosphere, and ice shell.
The Younger Dryas period is one of the best known examples of an abrupt environmental change. About 14,500 years ago, Earth's climate began to slowly shift from a cold glacial world to a warmer interglacial state. Partway through this transition, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere suddenly returned to near-glacial conditions. But at the end of the Younger Dryas period, about 11,500 years ago, things changed abruptly. For example, in Greenland, temperatures rose 10°C (18°F) in a decade. A new study at the University of Edinburgh suggests that around 13,000 years ago, a comet hit Earth and triggered the climate change. Now, 13,000 years is not long ago in the greater scheme of things and humans were clearly around at the time. What effect did this rapid climate change have on them? One thing that jumps out to the researchers – our ancestors in the in the Fertile Crescent of southwest Asia during this time switched from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to ones centered on agriculture and the creation of permanent settlements. Also, this major cosmic catastrophe appears to have been memorialized on the giant stone pillars of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey about 11,000 years ago. The researchers believe that this cosmic event (known as the Younger Dryas impact or the Clovis Comet impact) may have set in motion the changes in social lifestyles that eventually led to human civilization as we know it today.
Welcome to the night sky report for July 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In July, find the constellation Scorpius to identify the reddish supergiant star Antares, which will lead you to the globular star cluster M4 (NGC 6121). M22 (NGC 6656), in the constellation Sagitarius, another globular cluster, is one of the brightest clusters in the sky and is visible with the naked eye. Keep observing around the group of stars commonly known as the Teapot and you’ll see the Lagoon Nebula (M8, NGC 6523), the Omega Nebula (M17, NGC 6618), and the Trifid Nebula (M20, NGC 6514). The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Historically, supernovae have fallen into two main types: thermonuclear and iron-core collapse. A thermonuclear supernova is the explosion of a white dwarf star after it gains matter in a binary star system. An iron core-collapse supernova occurs when a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel and its iron core collapses, creating a black hole or neutron star. A worldwide team led by University of California - Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers at Las Cumbres Observatory has discovered the first convincing evidence for a new type of stellar explosion — an Electron-Capture Supernova, or a “Goldilocks Supernova,” which falls between the two major types. While this new type of supernova has been theorized for 40 years, real-world examples have been elusive until now. The discovery also sheds new light on the thousand-year mystery of the supernova from A.D. 1054 that was visible all over the world in the daytime. This supernova in 1054 eventually became what we observe today as the Crab Nebula (NGC 1952 or M1).
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