The sun celebrated May Day with a spectacular solar eruption Wednesday, unleashing a colossal wave of super-hot plasma captured on camera by a NASA spacecraft.
The solar eruption occurred over a 2.5-hour period Wednesday (May 1) and appeared as a “gigantic rolling wave” on the sun in a video recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, agency officials said in an image description. The solar eruption is what scientists call a coronal mass ejection (CME) — a type of sun storm that can fire off billions of tons of solar material at more than a million miles per hour, they added.
When aimed directly at Earth, the most powerful CME events can pose a risk to satellites and astronauts in orbit, as well as interfere with communications and navigation networks. They can even damage ground-based power infrastructure.
But the May Day solar eruption occurred on the side of the sun and was not aimed at Earth, NASA officials said. It produced a dazzlingly bright wave of plasma that expanded from the sun’s surface and then erupted from the sun’s side, or limb, into open space.
The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle and is expected to reach its peak activity this year.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is one of several sun-watching spacecraft that keeps constant watch on Earth’s nearest star to track solar weather patterns and storm events. The $850 million SDO mission launched in 2010 and records constant high-definition views of the sun in several different wavelengths, including the extreme ultraviolet range of the light spectrum used to make the video of the May 1 solar eruption.
Monster Hurricane on Saturn Spied by NASA Spacecraft
by Mike Wall
Spectacular new images from a NASA spacecraft orbiting Saturn have captured the most detailed views ever of an enormous hurricane churning around the ringed planet’s north pole.
The stunning new images and video of the Saturn hurricane, which were taken by NASA’s Cassini probe, show that the storm’s eye is 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide — about 20 times bigger than typical hurricane eyes on Earth. And the Saturn maelstrom is more powerful than its Earth counterparts, with winds at its outer edge whipping around at 330 mph (530 km/h)…
This image covers many shallow irregular pits with raised rims, concentrated along ridges and other topographic features. How did these odd features form?
One idea is that they could be from sublimation of shallow lenses of nearly pure ice, but why do the pits have raised rims? They can’t be impact craters with such fortuitous alignment and irregular margins. They aren’t wind-blown deposits because there are many boulders, too big to be moved by the wind. There are younger wind-blown drifts on top of the pits, and there’s no clear connection to volcanism.
Some speculate that there were ancient oceans over this region—could that somehow explain these features? Ancient glaciation is another possibility, perhaps depositing ice-rich debris next to topographic obstacles.Future images of this region may provide clues, but for now this is a mystery.
(via: HRISE - University of Arizona) (image: NASA/JPL/U of Az)
Black Hole Hunter game was developed as a part of the Royal Society Summer Exhibition 2008, Can you hear black holes collide? presented by Cardiff University, Universities of Birmingham, Glasgow and Southampton in the UK in collaboration with the Albert Einstein Institute and Milde Marketing in Germany.
Famous Space Pillars feel the Heat of Star’s Explosion
by Whitney Clavin
The three iconic space pillars photographed by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 might have met their demise, according to new evidence from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
A new, striking image from Spitzer shows the intact dust towers next to a giant cloud of hot dust thought to have been scorched by the blast of a star that exploded, or went supernova. Astronomers speculate that the supernova’s shock wave could have already reached the dusty towers, causing them to topple about 6,000 years ago. However, because light from this region takes 7,000 years to reach Earth, we won’t be able to capture photos of the destruction for another 1,000 years or so.
Spitzer’s view of the region shows the entire Eagle nebula, a vast and stormy community of stars set amid clouds and steep pillars made of gas and dust, including the three well-known “Pillars of Creation.”…
The bizarre, hourglass-shaped Kuiper belt object 2001QG298 spins round like a propeller as it orbits the Sun, according to an astronomer from Queens University Belfast. The discovery that the spinning object is tilted at nearly 90 degrees to the ecliptic plane was surprising, and suggests that this type of object could be very common in the Kuiper belt.
The Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) orbit the sun beyond Neptune and are the best preserved leftovers of the formation of the planets. 2001QG298 is a remarkable KBO made up from two components that orbit each other very closely, possibly touching. “Imagine that you glue two eggs together tip to tip – that’s approximately the shape of 2001QG298. It looks a bit like an hourglass,” said Dr Pedro Lacerda at the Joint Meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the Division for Planetary Sciences in Nantes, France.*
The strange shape of 2001QG298 was uncovered by Dr Scott Sheppard and Prof David Jewitt in 2004. They noticed that 2001QG298’s apparent brightness periodically tripled every 7 hours or so…
Astronomers using a world-wide collection of telescopes have discovered the most prolific star factory in the Universe, surprisingly in a galaxy so distant that they see as it was when the Universe was only six percent of its current age.
The galaxy, dubbed HFLS3, 12.8 billion light-years from Earth, is producing the equivalent of nearly 3,000 Suns per year, a rate more than 2,000 times that of our own Milky Way. The galaxy is massive, with a huge reservoir of gas from which to form new stars.
“This is the most detailed look into the physical properties of such a distant galaxy ever made,” said Dominik Riechers, of Cornell University. “Getting detailed information on galaxies like this is vitally important to understanding how galaxies, as well as groups and clusters of galaxies, formed in the early Universe,” he added…
NASA Announces the Discovery of the Most Interesting Planetary System Outside Our Own
Meet Kepler 62, a system of five planets circling a red star, 1,200 light years away.
by Alexis C. Madrigal
The Kepler Space Telescope has been in orbit looking for planets around other stars since 2009, and it’s started to find some startlingly interesting solar systems out there.
Today, the Kepler team announced the discovery of star system Kepler 62, a group of five planets circling a red star, two of which may be capable of supporting life. That doubles the number of Earth-like planets in the habitable zone that Kepler has confirmed in the cosmos. And they’re the smallest, and therefore closest to Earth size, that astronomers have detected. The system is 1,200 light years away…
I have long been fascinated by gamma-ray bursts (or GRBs). These are incredibly violent events: It’s like taking the Sun’s entire lifetime energy output and cramming into a single event that lasts for mere seconds! The energy emitted is so intense, so bright, we can see GRBs from a distance of billions of light years.
Gamma rays themselves are just a form of light, like the kind we see, but with huge energy; each photon is packed with millions or billions of times the energy in a single photon of visible light. Only the most energetic events in the Universe can make them, so if we detect a burst of them coming from the sky, we know something literally disastrous has happened.
But astronomers were recently surprised to find a third type of GRB, one that lasts not for minutes, but for hours. Whatever these objects are, they don’t just flash with light, they linger, blasting out far, far more gamma rays for far, far longer than was previously thought. What could do such a thing?…
Einstein’s gravity theory passes toughest test yet:
Bizarre binary star system pushes study of relativity to new limits
by Dave Finley
A strange stellar pair nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth has provided physicists with a unique cosmic laboratory for studying the nature of gravity. The extremely strong gravity of a massive neutron star in orbit with a companion white dwarf star puts competing theories of gravity to a test more stringent than any available before.
Once again, Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, published in 1915, comes out on top.
At some point, however, scientists expect Einstein’s model to be invalid under extreme conditions. General Relativity, for example, is incompatible with quantum theory. Physicists hope to find an alternate description of gravity that would eliminate that incompatibility.
A newly-discovered pulsar—a spinning neutron star with twice the mass of the Sun—and its white-dwarf companion, orbiting each other once every two and a half hours, has put gravitational theories to the most extreme test yet. Observations of the system, dubbed PSR J0348+0432, produced results consistent with the predictions of General Relativity…
Earlier this week, the internet was captivated by an old picture from NASA’s Spirit rover appearing to draw a big ol’ dick in the Martian sand with its tracks. Now that everyone’s tired of looking at that, we can all remember that the universe is full of inappropriate stuff sure to delight your inner seven-year-old (Uranus anyone?).
Case in point is the above image, a complex cloud of gas and dust known as the Keyhole nebula. Astronomers were too polite to give the structure on the left its own designation so the public has taken to calling it “The Finger of God” or “God’s Birdie.”
This mosaic of WFPC-2 images shows the evolution of the G impact site on Jupiter (the 21 comet fragments of Shoemaker-Levy 9 were each assigned a corresponding letter to identify the impact site; G represents the 7th fragment to strike the planet. It was also the largest impact.).
The images from lower right to upper left show: the impact plume at 07/18/94 07:38 UT (about 5 minutes after the impact); the fresh impact site at 07/18/94 at 09:19 UT (1.5 hours after impact); the impact site after evolution by the winds of Jupiter (left), along with the L impact (right), taken on 07/21/94 at 06:22 UT (3 days after the G impact and 1.3 days after the L impact); and further evolution of the G and L sites due to winds and an additional impact (S) in the G vicinity, taken on 07/23/94 at 08:08 UT (5 days after the G impact).