Supergiant Fast X-ray Transients (SFXTs) are a baffling type of X-ray binary system discovered with ESA’s INTEGRAL space telescope. These binaries were first noticed because of their occasional flare-ups in the X-ray portion of the spectrum. The transient activity, which lasts only a few hours, enhances the brightness of these otherwise very faint sources dramatically. Over the years, INTEGRAL has discovered numerous SFXTs. Previously thought to be extremely rare, it turns out that these are actually quite common in our galaxy.
A unique observatory in a remote location in Argentina is starting to unravel the mysteries of High Energy Cosmic Rays. There is no scientific consensus on the source of these particles, some of which shower the Earth at energies a million times higher than that produced in particle accelerators like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), but the Pierre Auger Observatory is shedding new light on these energetic particles from space and using them as messengers to tell us more about the wider Universe. Something out there -- no one knows what -- is hurling incredibly energetic particles around the Universe. Do these particles come from some unknown super-powerful cosmic explosion? From a huge black hole sucking stars to their violent deaths? From colliding galaxies? Researchers at the Pierre Auger Observatory have concluded that the most extreme and energetic of these cosmic rays are not originating in our Milky Way Galaxy, but rather in extra-galactic objects far, far away.
This summer, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will travel closer to the Sun and deeper into the solar atmosphere than any mission before it. Over the course of seven years of planned mission duration, the spacecraft will make 24 orbits of the Sun. On each close approach, it will sample the solar wind, study the Sun’s corona, and provide unprecedented close-up observations. On the final three orbits, Parker Solar Probe will fly to within 3.8 million miles of the Sun's surface. For comparison, Mercury is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun and Earth’s average distance is 93 million miles. Inside the part of the solar atmosphere known as the corona, the spacecraft will travel through material with temperatures greater than a million degrees Fahrenheit while being bombarded with intense sun light. Yet it won’t melt… Here’s why.
Welcome to the night sky report for August 2018 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Mid-month, the Perseid meteor shower—an always-anticipated feature of the August night sky—will peak. Backyard telescopes will also reveal sunlight reflecting off the clouds of Venus’s thick atmosphere and the Ring Nebula, an expanding shell of glowing gas in the constellation Lyra. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Since cosmic rays were discovered in 1912, scientists have sought the origins of these mysterious particles. In September 2017, a flash of blue light in the ice deep beneath the South Pole set researchers on a path to resolving this century-old riddle. With the help of an icebound detector situated a mile beneath the South Pole, an international team of scientists has found the first evidence of a source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, a ghostly subatomic particle that can travel in a straight line for billions of light years, passing unhindered through galaxies, stars and anything else nature throws in its path. The observation, made by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, helps resolve a more than century-old riddle about what sends subatomic particles such as neutrinos and high-energy cosmic rays speeding through the universe. 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?
“Your smartphone has already replaced your camera, your TV, your radio, your wristwatch, your calendar, your GPS, your credit cards, your newspaper, your magazines, and your local library... Maybe you should lift up your head, look away from the screen, and engage your family and friends in some face-to-face conversation -- Before your smartphone replaces them too.”
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.
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