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NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory Develops Groundbreaking Next Generation of Adaptive Optics

04/18/2017 12:33PM

NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory Develops Groundbreaking Next Generation of Adaptive Optics

A groundbreaking new optical device, developed at New Jersey Institute of Technology's (NJIT) Big Bear Solar Observatory is designed to correct images of the Sun that are distorted by multiple layers of atmospheric turbulence. This next generation adaptive optics device is providing scientists with the most precisely detailed, real-time pictures to date of solar activity occurring across vast stretches of the Sun's surface.

A Look at SuperNova 1987A - Thirty Years Later

04/08/2017 07:25PM

A Look at SuperNova 1987A - Thirty Years Later

Three decades ago, astronomers spotted one of the brightest exploding stars in more than 400 years. The titanic supernova, called Supernova 1987A (SN 1987A), blazed with the power of 100 million suns for several months following its discovery on February 23, 1987. Since that first sighting, SN 1987A has continued to fascinate astronomers with its spectacular light show. Located in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud, it was the nearest supernova explosion observed in hundreds of years and provided the best opportunity yet for astronomers to study the phases before, during, and after the death of a star. Recent data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Atacama Large Millimeter-Submillimeter Array (ALMA) indicates that SN 1987A has passed an important threshold as the supernova shock wave blasts through the dense ring of gas initially expelled by the pre-supernova star.

Villanova Astronomers Discover a New Class of Pulsating X-Ray Stars

03/29/2017 01:34PM

Villanova Astronomers Discover a New Class of Pulsating X-Ray Stars

A surprising new class of X-ray pulsating variable stars has been discovered by a team of Villanova University astronomers. New X-ray observations obtained by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory reveal that the star known as "d Cephei," the bright prototype of all Classical Cepheids, is actually a periodic pulsed X-ray source. At a distance of 890 light years away, this star, after which all Cepheids are named, is also one of the closest. Cepheids are among the most astronomically important objects in the Universe, for by measuring the pulsation periods and brightness of Cepheids, astronomers can measure distances to other galaxies.

Mapping the Family Tree of Stars

03/21/2017 09:36AM

Mapping the Family Tree of Stars

Astronomers are borrowing principles applied in biology and archaeology to build a family tree of the stars in our galaxy. By studying chemical signatures found in the stars, they are piecing together evolutionary trees looking at how the stars formed and how they are connected to each other. The signatures act as a proxy for DNA sequences. It's akin to chemical tagging of stars and forms the basis of a discipline astronomers refer to as Galactic Archaeology.

Maybe the World Really is Flat -- Do We Live in a Holographic Universe?

03/04/2017 09:04AM

Maybe the World Really is Flat -- Do We Live in a Holographic Universe?

The holographic universe, an idea first suggested in the 1990s, is one where all the information that makes up our 3D "reality" (plus time) is contained on a 2D surface. The idea is similar to that of an ordinary hologram on a credit card, where a three dimensional image is encoded on the two dimensional card. A team of UK, Canadian, and Italian theoretical physicists have now provided what is believed to be the first observational evidence that our universe could indeed be a vast and complex hologram. They have found substantial evidence supporting a holographic explanation of the universe -- In fact, as much evidence as currently exists for traditional explanations based on the widely accepted theory of cosmic inflation.

President Trump In Office for a Month -- Pluto May Be Reinstated as a Planet

02/24/2017 01:59PM

President Trump In Office for a Month -- Pluto May Be Reinstated as a Planet

First of all, I must apologize for the deliberately provocative and over-hyped title for this News Item. I got all wrapped-up in the sensationalism surrounding any mention of our new President Trump and I just couldn't resist. FACT #1 - President Trump has been in office for about a month. FACT #2 - Some scientists (including some prominent NASA scientists) are proposing a new definition for "Planet" that would reinstate Pluto as a planet. What I deliberately left out of the title is FACT #3 - The two statements are totally unrelated to each other. But face it -- You are reading this because you fell for a cheap trick referred to as a "Post-Hoc Fallacy," where you as a reader infer a cause and effect for two facts simply because they occurred about the same time and are presented together. But enough of this -- Back to the News Item. If this new definition is accepted by the IAU, then Pluto may once again be a planet.

Could Intermediate-Mass Black Holes Lurking in Galactic Halos Account for Dark Matter? Probably Not

02/19/2017 04:24PM

Could Intermediate-Mass Black Holes Lurking in Galactic Halos Account for Dark Matter?  Probably Not

The nature of dark matter has long been questioned, but the recent discovery of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has renewed interest in the possibility that dark matter could actually consist of primordial black holes in the mass range of 10 to 1000 solar masses. Could dark matter be made of these intermediate-mass black holes that formed at the beginning of the Universe? A recent study takes a new look at this question and concludes... Probably not.

Stray Black Hole "Bullet" Zipping Through the Milky Way

02/08/2017 03:59PM

Stray Black Hole "Bullet" Zipping Through the Milky Way

By analyzing the gas motion of an extraordinarily fast moving cosmic cloud in a corner of the Milky Way, astronomers have detected hints of a wandering black hole hidden in the cloud. Millions of lone black holes are believed to be zipping through the Milky Way, although only a few dozen have been found to date.

Newly Discovered Dipole Repeller is Pushing Our Local Group of Galaxies Through Space

02/02/2017 01:42PM

Newly Discovered Dipole Repeller is Pushing Our Local Group of Galaxies Through Space

For decades, astronomers have known that our Milky Way galaxy, together with our companion Andromeda galaxy, are moving through space at about 1.4 million miles per hour. Scientists have generally assumed that excessive gravity from two dense regions of the universe, known as the Great Attractor and the Shapley Concentration, were responsible for this motion. But now, in a groundbreaking study, a team of researchers is reporting the discovery of a previously unknown and nearly empty region of space located in the opposite direction that is effectively exerting a repelling force and pushing our Local Group of galaxies through space. This void has been dubbed the "Dipole Repeller."

Roger Chaffee, Ed White, Gus Grissom -- 50 Years Ago Today

01/27/2017 09:05AM

Roger Chaffee, Ed White, Gus Grissom -- 50 Years Ago Today

It was 50 years ago today -- January 27, 1967, when tragedy struck on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy during a pre-flight test for Apollo 1. The mission was to be the first crewed flight of Apollo, and was scheduled to launch on February 21, 1967. Astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives when a fire swept through the Apollo Command Module.

Is This the First Sign of a Weird Quantum Property of Empty Space?

01/26/2017 04:00PM

Is This the First Sign of a Weird Quantum Property of Empty Space?

Neutron stars are the very dense remnant cores of massive stars that have exploded as supernovae at the ends of their lives. They have extreme magnetic fields that are billions of times stronger than that of the Sun. By studying the light emitted from an extraordinarily dense and strongly magnetized neutron star using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers may have found the first observational indications of a strange quantum effect first predicted by Werner Heisenberg and Hans Heinrich Euler in the 1930s. The polarization of the observed light suggests that the empty space around the neutron star is subject to a quantum effect known as "Vacuum Birefringence," which results from the interaction between photons and virtual charged particles that appear and vanish all the time due to quantum mechanics.

Why are Quasars so Bright? - - Russian RadioAstron Space Telescope and Arecibo Link Together to Find an Answer

01/22/2017 12:50PM

Why are Quasars so Bright? - - Russian RadioAstron Space Telescope and Arecibo Link Together to Find an Answer

Remarkable new observations derived by linking Arecibo Observatory's 305 meter dish with Russia's RadioAstron Space Radio Telescope has provided results that are causing much head scratching in radio astronomical circles. The achievable resolution from this combination of observatories is equivalent to seeing a golf ball on the Moon or a fingernail on the surface of the Earth from a spy satellite in geosynchronous orbit. What used to be a well understood explanation for the mechanism that generates intense radio signals from tiny and very distant quasar nuclei has now been tested in previously impossible ways. The results make it difficult to interpret the data in terms of conventional theories.

Some Words of Wisdom -- My Favorite Quotable Quotes

01/04/2017 08:47PM

Some Words of Wisdom -- My Favorite Quotable Quotes

Let's start off the new year with some words of wisdom. Here is an update to my collection of quotable quotes. Some are deep. Others not so much...

Solving Five Problems of Particle Physics and Cosomolgy in One Stroke

12/09/2016 09:32AM

Solving Five Problems of Particle Physics and Cosomolgy in One Stroke

In the search for the mysterious dark matter, physicists have used elaborate computer calculations to come up with an outline of the particles of this unknown form of matter. To do this, the scientists extended the successful Standard Model of particle physics, which allowed them, among other things, to predict the mass of so-called axions, promising candidates for dark matter that could be up to ten billion times lighter than electrons. Through a simple extension to the Standard Model (by adding just three neutrinos, a fermion, and a field that includes two new particles), physicists have come up with a new twist that they say solves five of the biggest unanswered questions in modern physics all at once: explaining the weirdness of dark matter, neutrino oscillations, baryogenesis, cosmic inflation, and the strong CP (Charge Parity) problem.

A Major Supercluster of Galaxies is Hiding Behind the Milky Way

11/23/2016 06:57AM

A Major Supercluster of Galaxies is Hiding Behind the Milky Way

Superclusters are the largest and most massive known structures in the Universe. They consist of clusters of galaxies that span up to 200 million light years across the sky. The most famous supercluster is the Shapley Supercluster, some 650 million light years away. It is believed to be the largest of its kind in our cosmic neighborhood. Now a team of astronomers has discovered a previously unknown major concentration of galaxies hiding behind our Milky Way Galaxy in the constellation Vela, which they have dubbed the Vela Supercluster. The gravitational attraction from this large mass concentration in our cosmic neighborhood may have an important effect on the motion of our Local Group of galaxies.