The newest known example of a rare type of object in the Solar System – a comet hidden among the main-belt asteroids – has been found and studied by Planetary Science Institute (PSI) Senior Scientist Henry Hsieh. Discovered to be active on July 7, 2021, this asteroid (248370) 2005 QN137 is just the eighth main-belt asteroid, out of more than half a million known main-belt asteroids, confirmed to not only be active, but to have been active on more than one occasion. This behavior strongly indicates that its activity is due to the sublimation of icy material. As such, it is considered a so-called main-belt comet, and is one of just about 20 objects that have currently been confirmed or are suspected to be main-belt comets.
Welcome to the night sky report for November 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. In November, hunt for the fainter constellations of fall, including Pisces, Aries, and Triangulum. They will guide you to several galaxies and a pair of white stars. Look for spiral galaxy M74 and the Triangulum Galaxy. Enjoy the Moon and planets after sunset all month, plus a lunar eclipse. A partial lunar eclipse will be visible to much of the world on Nov. 18th and 19th.The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Earth is like a wobbling top spinning in space and the angular momentum keeps it pointing with the same orientation relative to its orbital plane over time. This spinning, however, is affected by numerous forces, including the gravitational tugs of the Moon and the Sun… and the distribution of the continents on the surface of the planet. Geologists have now found new evidence that the solid outer shell of the Earth may have shifted relative to its spin axis about 84 million years ago, causing the planet to wobble back and forth like a top. The new research suggests that the Earth tipped over significantly during the late Cretaceous period due to the distribution of mass on its surface and this could have implications for the evolution of life on Earth.
Astronomers have discovered unusual signals coming from the direction of the Milky Way’s center. The radio waves fit no currently understood pattern of variable radio source and could suggest a new class of stellar object. The strangest property of this new signal is that it is has a very high polarization. This means its light oscillates in only one direction (but for this object, that direction rotates over time). The brightness of the object also varies dramatically, by a factor of 100, and the signal switches on and off apparently at random. Astronomers have no any idea as to what the source is.
Welcome to the night sky report for October 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The crisp, clear October nights are full of celestial showpieces for the backyard sky gazer. Find Pegasus, the flying horse of Greek myth, to pinpoint dense globular star clusters and galaxies. Look for M15, NGC 7331, and M31 - the Andromeda Galaxy. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
When the core of a massive star undergoes gravitational collapse at the end of its life, protons and electrons are literally scrunched together, leaving behind one of nature's most wondrous creations: a neutron star. Neutron stars cram roughly 1.3 to 2.5 solar masses into a city-sized sphere perhaps 20 kilometers (12 miles) across. Matter is packed so tightly that a sugar cube sized amount of material would weigh more than 1 billion tons -- about the same as Mount Everest. This squashes every feature on the surface to miniscule dimensions and means that the stellar remnant is an almost perfect sphere. (Think of a neutron star as giant ball bearing in space, but much, much denser). So, if a mountain could form on the surface of a massive neutron star, how tall could it be? That’s the question University of Southampton researchers in the UK have tried to answer… And their answer may surprise you. New models of neutron stars show that their tallest mountains may be only fractions of a millimeter high, due to the huge gravity on these ultra-dense objects.
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.
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