Astronomers are planning to use NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to observe next month’s historic transit of Venus across the sun’s face. But there’s a twist. Astronomers can’t point Hubble anywhere near the sun, because our star’s bright light could damage the telescope’s super-sensitive instruments. So Hubble will watch the June 5-6 Venus transit by using the moon as a mirror. The goal is to see if Hubble can determine the makeup of Venus’ atmosphere by studying sunlight that has poured through it.
For the first time, astronomers have identified a stellar victim of a giant black hole, an unlucky star whose death may ultimately provide more clues on the inner workings of the enigmatic gravitational monster that devoured it. Supermassive black holes are objects millions to billions times the sun’s mass that lurk in the hearts of most galaxies. They lay quietly until victims, such as stars, wander close enough to get shredded apart by their extraordinarily powerful gravitational pull.
The Messier 78 nebula (NGC 2068), is often called the reflection nebula, because its dust particles reflect the starlight that falls on them. These pockets of dust typically hide more interesting cosmic objects, but the new photo of Messier 78 and its surroundings demonstrates the beauty of dust particles in space. Dense clouds of gas and dust are important to astronomers because they are the birthplaces of new stars.
Cosmic rays are charged subatomic particles that streak to Earth from deep in outer space. A few rare cosmic rays are extraordinarily powerful, with energies up to 100 million times greater than any attained by human-made particle colliders, such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The sources of these cosmic rays are a mystery. According to study co-author Francis Halzen at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, principal investigator at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a massive telescope designed to find the tiny subatomic particles nature is capable of accelerating elementary particles to macroscopic energies.
Dark matter is one of the greatest cosmic mysteries of our time, an invisible, intangible material thought to make up five-sixths of all matter in the universe. Scientists currently think it is composed of a new type of particle, one that interacts normally with gravity but only very weakly with all the other known forces of the universe. As such, dark matter is detectable only via the gravitational pull it generates.
NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the brilliance of the compact center of Messier 70, a globular cluster. This picture was obtained with the Wide Field Camera of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. The field of view is around 3.3 by 3.3 arcminutes. Quarters are always tight in globular clusters, where the mutual hold of gravity binds together hundreds of thousands of stars in a small region of space. Messier 70 has undergone what is known as a core collapse.
New Infrared and X-ray observations from two space telescopes strengthen the view that the galaxy may have been created by the cataclysmic collision of two older galaxies. The infrared light was captured by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory. The X-ray observations were made by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope. Centaurus A is the closest giant elliptical galaxy to Earth, at a distance of around 12 million light-years.
As space agency announced on April 4 NASA’s prolific Kepler space observatory, which has discovered more than 2,300 potential alien planets to date, will keep hunting strange new worlds for at least four more years. The $600 milllion Kepler observatory launched in March 2009 on a mission to find Earth-size planets in the so-called habitable zones of their parent stars, a just-right range of distances that could support liquid water and, perhaps, life as we know it.
According to scientists massive supernova explosion that destroyed a faraway star apparently turned the left over stellar corpse inside out as well. Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory spacecraft, a team of researchers mapped the distribution of elements in the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A for short) in unprecedented detail. They found that Cas A, which is located about 11,000 light-years from Earth and exploded 300 years ago from our perspective, is wearing its guts on the outside.