Welcome to the night sky report for July 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. On July 27th, Mars reaches its long-awaited opposition and is visible all night. Look for its south polar cap and dark features that shift as the planet rotates. This month you will also spot constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius, globular cluster M4, and the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
A new multi-agency report outlines how the U.S. could become better prepared for near-Earth objects—asteroids and comets whose orbits come within 30 million miles of Earth—otherwise known as NEOs. While no known NEOs currently pose significant risks of impact, the report is a key step to addressing a nationwide response to any future risks. NASA, along with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several other governmental agencies collaborated on this federal planning document for NEOs.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is officially entering a new stage. On June 15, 2018, a ground-breaking ceremony at CERN celebrated the start of the civil-engineering work for the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) -- a new milestone in CERN’s history. By 2026 this major upgrade will have considerably improved the performance of the LHC, by increasing the number of collisions in the large experiments and thus boosting the probability of the discovery of new physics phenomena. This means that physicists will be able to investigate rare phenomena and make more accurate measurements. The LHC allowed physicists to unearth the Higgs boson in 2012, making great progress in understanding how particles acquire their mass. The HL-LHC upgrade will allow studies of scenarios beyond the Standard Model, including Super-Symmetry (SUSY), theories about extra dimensions, and quark substructure.
Caltech scientists have found, for the first time, that merging pairs of neutron stars -- the burnt-out cores of stars that have exploded -- create the majority of heavy elements in small "dwarf" galaxies. Heavy elements, such as silver and gold, are key for planet formation and even life itself. By studying these dwarf galaxies, the researchers hope to learn more about the primary sources of heavy elements for the whole universe.
To study the most extreme objects in the Universe, astronomers sometimes have to go to some extreme places themselves. Over the past several months, a team of scientists has braved frigid temperatures to set up and observe with a new radio telescope in Greenland. Taking advantage of excellent atmospheric conditions, the Greenland Telescope is designed to detect radio waves from stars, star-forming regions, galaxies and the vicinity of black holes. One of its primary goals is to take the first image of a supermassive black hole.
Welcome to the night sky report for June 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The warm nights of June are perfect for sky watching. Don’t miss the constellations Bootes (the Herdsman), Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown), and Draco (the Dragon) -- or the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, all of which grace the night sky this month. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Somewhere in the vastness of the universe another habitable planet likely exists... And it may not be that far — astronomically speaking — from our own solar system. Distinguishing that planet’s light from its star, however, can be problematic. But an international team including physicists from UC Santa Barbara, California Institute of Technology, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has developed a new instrument to detect planets around the nearest stars. Named DARKNESS (the DARK-speckle Near-infrared Energy-resolved Superconducting Spectrophotometer), it is the world’s largest and most advanced superconducting camera.
The Sun’s corona, invisible to the human eye except when it appears briefly as a fiery halo of plasma during a solar eclipse, remains a puzzle even to scientists who study it closely. Beginning 1,300 miles from the Sun’s surface and extending millions more in every direction, it is more than a hundred times hotter than lower layers much closer to the fusion reactor at the Sun’s core. A team of physicists at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) led by Gregory Fleishman, has recently discovered a phenomenon that may begin to untangle what they call “one of the greatest challenges for solar modeling” – determining the physical mechanisms that heat the upper atmosphere to 1 million degrees Fahrenheit and higher.
This week marks the twentieth anniversary of “first light” for the telescope behind the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which has gone on to create by far the largest three-dimensional map of the Universe ever made. Early in the morning of May 10th, 1998, the observers and engineers pointed the Sloan Foundation Telescope to the celestial equator and light went through to the survey’s exquisitely sensitive camera. When dawn broke after a long night’s work, SDSS observer Dan Long emailed his usual observer’s log summarizing what happened. After describing the technical details of the observations, and before noting a series of newly identified problems to fix, he wrote: “Wow; What a night!”
Welcome to the night sky report for May 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. As the evenings grow warmer, head outside to peer deep into the sky for a view of the Sombrero Galaxy in Virgo and the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. This May will also bring us a spectacular view of the full disk of Jupiter, Saturn’s iconic rings, and the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Welcome to the night sky report for April 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard and follow the advice of James Marshall Hendrix (apparently a fellow admirer of the heavens): "Excuse me while I kiss the sky."
There are many reasons that the Crab Nebula is such a well-studied object. It is one of a handful of cases where there is strong historical evidence for when the star exploded (1054 AD). Having this definitive timeline helps astronomers understand the details of the explosion and its aftermath. The latest image of the Crab Nebula is a composite that was taken with Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer. At the center it shows a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar. The combination of rapid rotation and a strong magnetic field generates an intense electromagnetic field that creates jets of matter and anti-matter moving away from both the north and south poles of the pulsar, and an intense wind flowing out in the equatorial direction.
The good news: Astronomers have made the most precise measurement to date of the rate at which the universe is expanding. The potentially unsettling news: This may mean that there is something unknown about the makeup of the universe because the new numbers remain at odds with independent measurements of the early universe's expansion rate. Is something weird going on with physics in the depths of space? Researchers suggest that there may be new physics at work to explain the inconsistency. One idea is that the universe contains a new subatomic particle that travels close to the speed of light. Such speedy particles, collectively called "Dark Radiation," include previously known particles like neutrinos. Another possibility is that dark matter (an invisible form of matter not made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons) interacts more strongly with normal matter or radiation than previously assumed.
One of the biggest mysteries in astro-particle physics has been the origins of ultrahigh energy cosmic rays, very high energy neutrinos, and high energy gamma rays. Now, a new theoretical model based on work by Penn State and University of Maryland researchers, reveals that these extreme energy space particles may have a unified origin in cosmic rays that are accelerated by powerful jets emanating from supermassive black holes. The new model explains the natural origins of all three types of "cosmic messenger" particles simultaneously and is the first astrophysical model of its kind based on detailed numerical computations.
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