After two decades in space, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is nearing the end of its remarkable journey of exploration. Having expended almost every bit of its rocket propellant, operators are deliberately plunging Cassini into the giant planet to ensure that Saturn's moons will remain pristine and uncontaminated for future exploration -- in particular, the ice covered, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus, and Titan, with its intriguing pre-biotic chemistry. From its launch in 1997 to its upcoming Grand Finale, the Cassini-Huygens mission has racked up a remarkable list of achievements, and in the process has paved the way for the next generation of probes that will explore the four outer gaseous planets.
Do you yawn when you read an Astromart News posting? I hope not. But if you do, does your spouse or significant other also yawn even though he or she is across the room? Why is that so? Is this what Albert Einstein would label "Spooky action at a distance?" Nah. But still, why do we yawn if someone else does? Researchers at the University of Nottingham suggest that the human propensity for contagious yawning is triggered automatically by primitive reflexes in the primary motor cortex -- an area of the brain responsible for motor function. Their latest findings show that our ability to resist yawning when someone else near us yawns is limited... And our urge to yawn is increased if we are instructed to resist yawning.
To the unaided eye the famous bright star Antares shines with a strong red tint in the heart of the constellation Scorpius. It is a huge and comparatively cool red supergiant in the late stages of its life, on the way to becoming a supernova. A team of astronomers, led by Keiichi Ohnaka, of the Universidad Catolica del Norte in Chile, used ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile to map Antares' surface and to measure the motions of the surface material. This is the best image of the surface and atmosphere of any star other than the Sun.
For the average observer, the Solar Eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017, will last about 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality. The National Solar Observatory (NSO), in a unique experiment, plans to create 90 minutes of continuous totality using a chain of 68 telescopes strategically placed across the country. The Citizen CATE (Continental America Telescopic Eclipse) Experiment aims to capture images of the inner solar corona using a network of telescopes operated by volunteer citizen scientists, high school groups, and universities. The goal of CATE is to produce a scientifically unique data set -- A series of high resolution, rapid cadence white light images of the inner corona for 90 straight minutes.
Total solar eclipses are unique opportunities for scientists to study the hot atmosphere above the Sun's visible surface. The faint light from the Corona is usually overpowered by intense emissions from the Sun itself. During a total eclipse, however, the Moon blocks the glare from the bright solar disk and darkens the sky, allowing the weaker coronal emissions to be observed. A team led by Southwest Research Institute will use airborne telescopes aboard NASA WB-57 research aircraft to study the solar corona and Mercury's surface during next week's total solar eclipse. The August 21 observations will provide the clearest images to date of the Sun's outer atmosphere. In addition, the scientists will attempt to take the first-ever thermal images of surface temperature variations of the planet Mercury.
Imagine planting a single seed and with great precision being able to predict the exact height of the tree that grows from it. Now imagine traveling to the future and snapping photographic proof that you were right. If you think of the seed as the early universe and the tree as the universe the way it looks now, you have an idea of what the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration has just done. DES scientists have just unveiled the most accurate measurement ever made of the present large scale structure of the universe, and have been able to map it back to the first 400,000 years following the Big Bang.
The Sun's core spins nearly four times faster than the Sun's surface according to new findings by an international team of astronomers. Scientists had originally assumed that the Sun was spinning like a merry-go-round with the core rotating at about the same speed as the surface. The researchers studied surface acoustic waves in the Sun's atmosphere, some of which penetrate to the Sun's core, where they interact with gravity waves that have a sloshing motion similar to how water would move in a half-filled tanker truck driving on a curvy mountain road. After the Sun formed, the Solar wind likely slowed the rotation of the outer part of the Sun. It is hoped that eventually, a better understanding of the rotation of the Solar core may give a clue to how the Sun formed.
So, what will you be doing during the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017? Observing? Photographing? Throwing a Great American Eclipse party in your backyard? In past total solar eclipses, people have spent thousands of dollars on extravagant trips and cruises to remote parts of the world to cross this experience off of their "bucket lists." This year, you will be able to walk outside and see one for yourself from the comfort of your home (weather permitting). On August 21, 2017, most of the nation will only see a partial eclipse, but if you are one of the lucky millions along the path of totality, you will experience about two minutes of mid-day darkness as the black shadow of the Moon races across the nation at about 2000 mph.
NASA's Juno mission completed a close flyby of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot on July 10, 2017, during its sixth science orbit. Just days after celebrating its first anniversary in Jupiter orbit, the Juno spacecraft flew directly over the planet's Great Red Spot, the gas giant's iconic, 10,000 mile wide (16,000 kilometer wide) storm. This was humanity's first up-close view of the gigantic feature -- a storm monitored by astronomers since 1830, and possibly existing for centuries before that.
Quantum teleportation has become a standard operation in quantum optics labs around the world. The technique relies on the strange phenomenon of quantum entanglement. This occurs when two quantum objects, such as photons, form at the same instant in time and the in same location in space, and so share the same existence. In technical terms, they are described by the same wave function. According to a report in MIT Technology Review, researchers in China have teleported a photon from the ground to a satellite orbiting more than 500 kilometers above. It may not yet be the same as Star Trek, but it is a start.
Is there a musical equivalent to the curvature of space-time? Gavin Starks thinks so. Yesterday he presented his findings at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting held at the University of Hull in the UK. Starks, who has a background in radio astronomy and electronic music, has been working on "Acoustic Cosmology" for more than 20 years in collaboration with Professor Andy Newsam of Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. Their aim is to test whether mathematical relationships that describe cosmology and quantum mechanics can be applied to a Sonic Universe, or "Soniverse."
Remains of microorganisms at least 3.77 billion years old have been discovered by an international team led by University College London scientists, providing direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth. Tiny filaments and tubes formed by bacteria that lived on iron were found encased in quartz layers in Quebec, Canada, where some of the oldest sedimentary rocks known on Earth exist. These rocks likely formed part of an iron-rich deep sea hydro-thermal vent system that provided a habitat for Earth's first life forms between 3.77 and 4.30 billion years ago. Earth was formed 4.54 billion years ago, so it appears that life on Earth emerged rather early in its history.
Dating back to the first century AD, scientists, philosophers, and other observers have noted the occasional occurrence of "Bright Nights," when an unexplained glow in the night sky lets observers see distant mountains, read newspapers, or check their watches. Few, if any, people observe Bright Nights anymore due to widespread light pollution, but new findings show that they can be detected by scientists and may still be noticeable in remote areas. The new study suggests that waves in the upper atmosphere converge over specific locations on Earth and amplify naturally occurring airglow -- a faint light in the night sky that often appears green due to the activities of atoms of oxygen in the high atmosphere. Normally, people don't notice airglow, but on Bright Nights it can become visible to the naked eye, producing the unexplained glow detailed in historical observations.
Did our Sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago? Almost certainly yes -- though not an identical twin... And so did every other Sun-like star in the Universe, according to a new study. Many stars have gravitationally bound companions, including our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, a triplet system. Astronomers have long sought an explanation -- Are binary and triplet star systems born that way? Did one star capture the other? Do binary stars sometimes split up and become single stars? The new study, based on a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud in the constellation Perseus and a mathematical model that can explain the Perseus observations only if all Sun-like stars are born with a companion, suggest that Yes -- all Sun-like stars in the Universe start life as binaries.
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