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).
An international team of astronomers have observed a giant star in our galaxy that has decreased in brightness by a factor of 30, so that it nearly disappeared from the sky. While many stars change in brightness because they pulsate or are eclipsed by another star in a binary system, it’s exceptionally rare for a star to become fainter over a period of several months and then brighten up again. Is this a new class of ‘blinking giant’ binary star system? Astronomers are not sure.
The world’s first wooden satellite is on the way, in the shape of the Finnish WISA Woodsat. European Space Agency (ESA) materials experts are contributing a suite of experimental sensors to the mission as well as helping with pre-flight testing. WISA Woodsat is a 10x10x10 cm ‘CubeSat’ – a type of nano-satellite built up from standardized boxes – but with surface panels made from plywood. Woodsat’s only non-wooden external parts are corner aluminum rails used for its deployment into space plus a metal selfie stick. Woodsat has secured a berth on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket to be launched from New Zealand before the end of this year.
A research collaboration involving scientists from the UK, Canada, Sweden, and Australia has analyzed an ancient rock sample brought from the Moon to Earth by the Apollo 17 astronauts more than 50 years ago. By using modern techniques, which were simply not available at the time the samples were originally collected, the team was able to determine the rock sample’s age, from which crater it came, and its geological trajectory. It turns out that this rock is very, very old -- around 4.2 billion years old. That’s only about 350 million years younger than the entire Solar System.
Welcome to the night sky report for June 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Though the nights are shorter in June, they are filled with fine sights. Look for the Hercules constellation, which will lead you to a globular star cluster with hundreds of thousands of densely packed stars. You can also spot Draco the dragon, which will point you to the Cat’s Eye Nebula. Catch Saturn and Jupiter in the morning and the constellation Scorpius after dark. Plus skywatchers in the Northeast US, Eastern Canada, and Northern Europe can see a partial solar eclipse on June 10th.
In 2018, Cornell researchers built a high-powered detector that set a world record by tripling the resolution of a state-of-the-art electron microscope. As successful as it was, that approach had a weakness -- It only worked with ultrathin samples that were a few atoms thick. Anything thicker would cause the electrons to scatter in ways that could not be disentangled. Now a Cornell team has bested its own record by a factor of two with an electron microscope pixel array detector that incorporates even more sophisticated 3D reconstruction algorithms, resulting in an ultra-precise image with picometer (one-trillionth of a meter) precision. The resolution is so fine-tuned that the only blurring that remains is the thermal jiggling of the atoms themselves.
Using South Africa’s MeerKAT Radio Telescope, astronomers from the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Rome and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany, have discovered new millisecond pulsars hidden deep inside globular clusters. Millisecond pulsars are extremely compact stars mainly made up of neutrons and are amongst the most extreme objects in the Universe. They pack hundreds of thousands of times the mass of the Earth in a sphere with a diameter of about 24 km. They spin at very high rates and emit a beam of radio waves that hit an observer at every rotation, like a lighthouse. Millisecond pulsars spin at truly breathtaking speeds -- rates of up to 700 times per second, which means that these stars are spinning at a staggering 42,000 revolutions per minute. To put this in context, a Ferrari Formula 1 race car engine has a maximum internal engine rotational speed of 15,000 rpm.
Sixty years ago today, astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American in space. At exactly 9:34 AM EST on May 5, 1961, about 45 million Americans sat tensely in front of their black and white television sets and watched a slim Redstone booster rocket with a small and cramped Mercury spacecraft manned by Alan Shepard, lift off its pad at Cape Canaveral and go roaring upward through the clear blue sky. Shepard's capsule, named Freedom 7, made an historic 15 minute suborbital flight, officially kicking off manned Project Mercury flights. With six manned flights from 1961 to 1963, Project Mercury's objectives were very specific: 1) to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth, 2) to investigate man's ability to function in space, and 3) to recover both man and spacecraft safely -- a set of objectives it achieved with flying colors, thus opening the door for Projects Gemini and Apollo later in the decade.
Welcome to the night sky report for May 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In May, we are looking away from the crowded, dusty plane of our own galaxy, toward a region where the sky is brimming with distant galaxies. Locate Virgo to find a concentration of roughly 2000 galaxies and search for Coma Berenices to identify many more. Key deep sky objects this month are galaxies like M104 (the Sombrero Galaxy), M87, and M64 (the Black Eye Galaxy). At the beginning of the month, the bright planet Saturn will appear to the left of the half-lit Moon and the Moon will form a large triangle with the bright planets Saturn and Jupiter. Around the middle of May you will have an opportunity to see all three of the rocky inner planets (Mercury, Venus, and Mars) at the same time. At the end of the month, look for a total lunar eclipse.
Combined results from Fermilab and Brookhaven show strong evidence that our best theoretical model of the subatomic world, the Standard Model of Particle Physics, is incomplete. The Standard Model took a long time to build. Physicist J.J. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897 and scientists at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) found the final piece of the puzzle, the Higgs boson, in 2012. According to the Standard Model, all ordinary matter, including every atom in the periodic table of elements, consists of only three types of matter particles: up and down quarks (which make up the protons and neutrons in the nucleus) and leptons (which include the electrons that surround the nucleus). The model also explains how force carrying particles, which belong to a broader group of bosons, influence the quarks and leptons. That’s basically it. Despite its success at explaining the Universe, the Standard Model does have limits. For example, the Higgs boson gives mass to quarks, charged leptons (like electrons), and the W and Z bosons, however, we do not yet know whether the Higgs boson also gives mass to neutrinos, those ghostly particles that interact very rarely with other matter in the Universe. Now, results from the “Muon g-2 Experiment” at Fermilab seem to indicate that a new particle (or force) is showing itself by interacting with muons in an unexpected way.
Sixty Years ago, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human in space. On April 12, 1961, his remotely controlled Vostok 1 spacecraft lofted him to an altitude of about 200 miles and carried him once around the planet. The world learned about the first manned flight into space through a brief communiqué from the Soviet TASS News Agency. Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space less than a month later.
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