A gas cloud collides with the black hole at the center of our galaxy, and we get to watch
by Jenny Marder
The landscape in Chile’s Atacama desert is Martian-like: dry, barren and flanked by volcanoes, and its high altitude and unpolluted skies make it a prime spot for stargazing. It was there, after a full night of such observation — and over a 4 p.m. breakfast — that astronomer Stefan Gillessen found himself in possession of some very special data. His observations showed a cloud of gas being stretched out, or “spaghettified,” about to be ripped apart, as it barreled toward the black hole at the center of our galaxy.
He and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany had been observing Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole, using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. And for nearly a decade, they had been sitting on a batch of low-resolution data. When the atmospheric conditions are poor, it is common to use the telescope’s adaptive optics system at longer wavelengths, which allows scientists to still peer through the atmospheric turbulence, but compromises the sharpness of the image. It was in 2011 that he decided to systematically study this coarser data…
(read more: PBS.or - The News Hour)
image: This simulation shows the G2 gas cloud during its close approach to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Image by ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann.

A gas cloud collides with the black hole at the center of our galaxy, and we get to watch

by Jenny Marder

The landscape in Chile’s Atacama desert is Martian-like: dry, barren and flanked by volcanoes, and its high altitude and unpolluted skies make it a prime spot for stargazing. It was there, after a full night of such observation — and over a 4 p.m. breakfast — that astronomer Stefan Gillessen found himself in possession of some very special data. His observations showed a cloud of gas being stretched out, or “spaghettified,” about to be ripped apart, as it barreled toward the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

He and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany had been observing Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole, using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. And for nearly a decade, they had been sitting on a batch of low-resolution data. When the atmospheric conditions are poor, it is common to use the telescope’s adaptive optics system at longer wavelengths, which allows scientists to still peer through the atmospheric turbulence, but compromises the sharpness of the image. It was in 2011 that he decided to systematically study this coarser data…

(read more: PBS.or - The News Hour)

image: This simulation shows the G2 gas cloud during its close approach to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Image by ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann.

SOLAR POWER ARRAY COULD ORBIT EARTH: 
The U.S. Navy has a solar power plan that’s literally out of this world. They are hoping to construct an orbiting solar array in space that spans nine football fields!  
by Alyssa Danigelis
U.S. Naval Research Laboratory spacecraft engineer Paul Jaffe is working on solar modules intended to be launched into space one at a time. Then robots would assemble them into an enormous array that converts solar energy into a radio frequency that gets beamed to receivers on Earth. Hat tip Inhabitat.
The U.S. Navy is serious about finding efficient ways to power military installations, especially in remote areas. Being able to receive power from space would help keep operations covert. The U.S. Naval Research Lab is saying the array could power a whole city, too…
Read more about this project: Discovery News

SOLAR POWER ARRAY COULD ORBIT EARTH:

The U.S. Navy has a solar power plan that’s literally out of this world. They are hoping to construct an orbiting solar array in space that spans nine football fields! 

by Alyssa Danigelis

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory spacecraft engineer Paul Jaffe is working on solar modules intended to be launched into space one at a time. Then robots would assemble them into an enormous array that converts solar energy into a radio frequency that gets beamed to receivers on Earth. Hat tip Inhabitat.

The U.S. Navy is serious about finding efficient ways to power military installations, especially in remote areas. Being able to receive power from space would help keep operations covert. The U.S. Naval Research Lab is saying the array could power a whole city, too…

Read more about this project: Discovery News

amnhnyc
amnhnyc:

Who’s joining us tonight for the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson?
Watch live online at amnh.org/live starting at 7:30 pm EDT.
Space exploration is entering a new era. Dozens of aerospace companies have emerged in recent years, all with the goal of commercializing space as never before. From serving NASA’s cargo needs to sending tourists on space vacations to mining asteroids for profit, this next generation of entrepreneurs, and not NASA, may be the ones who transform space into our backyard, possibly creating the first-ever trillionaires.
Watch live at 7:30 EDT on Wednesday, March 19, as host and moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, leads the 2014 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, Selling Space, with a panel of entrepreneurs and space historians…

amnhnyc:

Who’s joining us tonight for the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson?

Watch live online at amnh.org/live starting at 7:30 pm EDT.

Space exploration is entering a new era. Dozens of aerospace companies have emerged in recent years, all with the goal of commercializing space as never before. From serving NASA’s cargo needs to sending tourists on space vacations to mining asteroids for profit, this next generation of entrepreneurs, and not NASA, may be the ones who transform space into our backyard, possibly creating the first-ever trillionaires.

Watch live at 7:30 EDT on Wednesday, March 19, as host and moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, leads the 2014 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, Selling Space, with a panel of entrepreneurs and space historians…

NGC 4565 (also known as the Needle Galaxy) is an edge-on spiral galaxy about 30 to 50 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices. NGC 4565 is a giant spiral galaxy more luminous than the Andromeda Galaxy, and has a population of roughly 240 globular clusters, more than the Milky Way.
Photographer: Ken Crawford                                                     via: Wikipedia

NGC 4565 (also known as the Needle Galaxy) is an edge-on spiral galaxy about 30 to 50 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices. NGC 4565 is a giant spiral galaxy more luminous than the Andromeda Galaxy, and has a population of roughly 240 globular clusters, more than the Milky Way.

Photographer: Ken Crawford                                                     via: Wikipedia

america-wakiewakie

america-wakiewakie:

The End of Space and Time? | Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf

Robbert Dijkgraaf’s focus is on string theory, quantum gravity, and the interface between mathematics and particle physics, bringing them together in an accessible way, looking at sciences, the arts and other matters.

(Read Transcript Here)

This is how I’m spending my Saturday night. 

Pluto Regains Its Title As Largest Object in Its Neighborhood
by Ken Crosswell
Quick: What’s the largest object in the solar system beyond Neptune?
Pluto was what you learned long ago, and now there’s fresh evidence to indicate that old answer was right all along. Pluto belongs to the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, which boasts more than a thousand known objects revolving around the sun beyond Neptune’s orbit. Most are much smaller than Pluto, but in 2005 astronomers discovered its biggest rival: Eris, which they claimed definitely surpassed Pluto in size.
In 2010, however, Eris staged an underwhelming performance when it moved in front of a distant star. The short duration of this so-called occultation revealed that Eris is just 2326 km across—possibly smaller than Pluto, whose diameter is somewhere between 2300 and 2400 km…
(read more: Science News/AAAS)
image: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto Regains Its Title As Largest Object in Its Neighborhood

by Ken Crosswell

Quick: What’s the largest object in the solar system beyond Neptune?

Pluto was what you learned long ago, and now there’s fresh evidence to indicate that old answer was right all along. Pluto belongs to the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, which boasts more than a thousand known objects revolving around the sun beyond Neptune’s orbit. Most are much smaller than Pluto, but in 2005 astronomers discovered its biggest rival: Eris, which they claimed definitely surpassed Pluto in size.

In 2010, however, Eris staged an underwhelming performance when it moved in front of a distant star. The short duration of this so-called occultation revealed that Eris is just 2326 km across—possibly smaller than Pluto, whose diameter is somewhere between 2300 and 2400 km…

(read more: Science News/AAAS)

image: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Black Hole: Star Eater
Albert Einstein thought that a black hole—a collapsed star so dense that even light could not escape its thrall—was too preposterous a notion to be real. Einstein was wrong.
by Michael Finkel
Our star, the sun, will die a quiet death. The sun’s of only average mass, starwise, and after burning through the last of its hydrogen fuel in about five billion years, its outer layers will drift away, and the core will eventually compact to become what’s known as a white dwarf, an Earth-size ember of the cosmos.
For a star ten times as big as the sun, death is far more dramatic. The outer layers are blasted into space in a supernova explosion that, for a couple of weeks, is one of the brightest objects in the universe. The core, meanwhile, is squeezed by gravity into a neutron star, a spinning ball bearing a dozen miles in diameter. A sugar-cube-size fragment of a neutron star would weigh a billion tons on Earth; a neutron star’s gravitational pull is so severe that if you were to drop a marshmallow on it, the impact would generate as much energy as an atom bomb.
But this is nothing compared with the death throes of a star some 20 times the mass of the sun. Detonate a Hiroshima-like bomb every millisecond for the entire life of the universe, and you would still fall short of the energy released in the final moments of a giant-star collapse. The star’s core plunges inward.
Temperatures reach 100 billion degrees. The crushing force of gravity is unstoppable. Hunks of iron bigger than Mount Everest are compacted almost instantly into grains of sand. Atoms are shattered into electrons, protons, neutrons. Those minute pieces are pulped into quarks and leptons and gluons. And so on, tinier and tinier, denser and denser, until…
(read more: National Geo)
illustration by Mark A. Garlick

Black Hole: Star Eater

Albert Einstein thought that a black hole—a collapsed star so dense that even light could not escape its thrall—was too preposterous a notion to be real. Einstein was wrong.

by Michael Finkel

Our star, the sun, will die a quiet death. The sun’s of only average mass, starwise, and after burning through the last of its hydrogen fuel in about five billion years, its outer layers will drift away, and the core will eventually compact to become what’s known as a white dwarf, an Earth-size ember of the cosmos.

For a star ten times as big as the sun, death is far more dramatic. The outer layers are blasted into space in a supernova explosion that, for a couple of weeks, is one of the brightest objects in the universe. The core, meanwhile, is squeezed by gravity into a neutron star, a spinning ball bearing a dozen miles in diameter. A sugar-cube-size fragment of a neutron star would weigh a billion tons on Earth; a neutron star’s gravitational pull is so severe that if you were to drop a marshmallow on it, the impact would generate as much energy as an atom bomb.

But this is nothing compared with the death throes of a star some 20 times the mass of the sun. Detonate a Hiroshima-like bomb every millisecond for the entire life of the universe, and you would still fall short of the energy released in the final moments of a giant-star collapse. The star’s core plunges inward.

Temperatures reach 100 billion degrees. The crushing force of gravity is unstoppable. Hunks of iron bigger than Mount Everest are compacted almost instantly into grains of sand. Atoms are shattered into electrons, protons, neutrons. Those minute pieces are pulped into quarks and leptons and gluons. And so on, tinier and tinier, denser and denser, until…

(read more: National Geo)

illustration by Mark A. Garlick

National Aeronautics and Space Administration:
 In celebration of the 24th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have captured infrared-light images of a churning region of star birth 6,400 light-years away.
The collection of images reveals a shadowy, dense knot of gas and dust sharply contrasted against a backdrop of brilliant glowing gas in the Monkey Head Nebula.

The image demonstrates Hubble’s powerful infrared vision and offers a tantalizing hint of what scientists can expect from the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Observations were taken in February, 2014. Massive newborn stars near the center of the nebula (and toward the right in this image) are blasting away at dust within the nebula. The ultraviolet light emitted by these bright stars helps shape the dust into giant pillars. This carving action occurs because the nebula is mostly composed of hydrogen gas, which becomes ionized by the ultraviolet radiation. As the dust particles are warmed by the ultraviolet light of the stars, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths.Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

 In celebration of the 24th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have captured infrared-light images of a churning region of star birth 6,400 light-years away.

The collection of images reveals a shadowy, dense knot of gas and dust sharply contrasted against a backdrop of brilliant glowing gas in the Monkey Head Nebula.
The image demonstrates Hubble’s powerful infrared vision and offers a tantalizing hint of what scientists can expect from the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Observations were taken in February, 2014.

Massive newborn stars near the center of the nebula (and toward the right in this image) are blasting away at dust within the nebula. The ultraviolet light emitted by these bright stars helps shape the dust into giant pillars.

This carving action occurs because the nebula is mostly composed of hydrogen gas, which becomes ionized by the ultraviolet radiation. As the dust particles are warmed by the ultraviolet light of the stars, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Major Discovery: ‘Smoking Gun’ for Universe’s Incredible Big Bang Expansion Found

by Mike Wall

Astronomers have found the first direct evidence of cosmic inflation, the theorized dramatic expansion of the universe that put the “bang” in the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, new research suggests.

If it holds up, the landmark discovery — which also confirms the existence of hypothesized ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves — would give researchers a much better understanding of the Big Bang and its immediate aftermath.

If it is confirmed, then it would be the most important discovery since the discovery, I think, that the expansion of the universe is accelerating,” Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who is not a member of the study team, told Space.com, comparing the finding to a 1998 observation that opened the window on mysterious dark energy and won three researchers the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics.

A team led by John Kovac, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is announcing the discovery today (March 17), unveiling results that have been submitted to the prestigious journal Nature. Nature released a video describing the cosmic inflation discovery earlier today. Kovac’s team will also discuss the results in a news conference today at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT); you can watch it by going here: 

http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/news_conferences.html

(read more: Space.com)

also read:

NY Times

Smithsonian Magazine

Scientific American

[The Big Bang to Now in 10 Easy Steps]

ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT FINDING IN PHYSICS:

First glimpse of big bang ripples from universe’s birth

Important evidence found for Big Bang

by Lisa Grossman

Waves in the very fabric of the cosmos are allowing us to peer further back in time than anyone thought possible, showing us what was happening in the first slivers of a second after the big bang. If confirmed, the discovery of these primordial waves will have rippling effects throughout science. It backs up key predictions for how the universe began and operates, and offers a glimmer of hope for tying together two foundational theories of modern physics. It might even net the discoverers a Nobel prize.

The waves in question are called gravitational waves and are produced when a massive object accelerates through the fabric of space-time, causing ripples. They appear in Einstein’s highly successful theory of general relativity, although they have never been directly detected.

Today, scientists working with the BICEP2 collaboration at the south pole announced the first clear sign of gravitational waves, found in maps of the earliest light emitted after the big bang. The distinctive swirls made by the waves are more pronounced than the team expected, because models had suggested that gravitational waves from this early era would be incredibly weak and perhaps even undetectable…

(read more: New Scientist)

more stories:

Science News/AAAS

Popular Science

New Scientist

What is DARK MATTER?
In view of the compelling evidence that most of the matter in the universe is dark matter, one of the most pressing questions in modern astrophysics is: What is dark matter?
There is as yet no answer to this question, but it is becoming increasingly clear what it is not. Detailed observations of the cosmic microwave background with the WMAP satellite show that the dark matter cannot be in the form of normal, baryonic matter, that is, protons and neutrons that compose stars, planets, and interstellar matter. That rules out hot gas, cold gas, brown dwarfs, red dwarfs, white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes.
Black holes would seem to be the ideal dark matter candidate, and they are indeed very dark. However stellar mass black holes are produced by the collapse of massive stars which are much scarcer than normal stars, which contain at most one-fifth of the mass of dark matter. Also, the processes that would produce enough black holes to explain the dark matter would release a lot of energy and heavy elements; there is no evidence of such a release…
(read more: Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

What is DARK MATTER?

In view of the compelling evidence that most of the matter in the universe is dark matter, one of the most pressing questions in modern astrophysics is: What is dark matter?

There is as yet no answer to this question, but it is becoming increasingly clear what it is not. Detailed observations of the cosmic microwave background with the WMAP satellite show that the dark matter cannot be in the form of normal, baryonic matter, that is, protons and neutrons that compose stars, planets, and interstellar matter. That rules out hot gas, cold gas, brown dwarfs, red dwarfs, white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes.

Black holes would seem to be the ideal dark matter candidate, and they are indeed very dark. However stellar mass black holes are produced by the collapse of massive stars which are much scarcer than normal stars, which contain at most one-fifth of the mass of dark matter. Also, the processes that would produce enough black holes to explain the dark matter would release a lot of energy and heavy elements; there is no evidence of such a release…

(read more: Chandra X-Ray Observatory)