Science Photo of the Week

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How to steal a million stars?

EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 11, 2006

Based on observations with European Southern Observatory's Very
Large Telescope, a team of Italian astronomers reports that the
stellar cluster Messier 12 must have lost to our Milky Way galaxy
close to one million low-mass stars.

 



This photo shows the centre of the globular cluster
 Messier 12 as observed with the FORS-1 multi-mode instrument on
ESO's Very Large Telescope. Credit: ESO


 
 
"In the solar neighbourhood and in most stellar clusters, the least
massive stars are the most common, and by far", said Guido De Marchi
(ESA), lead author of the study. "Our observations with ESO's VLT
show this is not the case for Messier 12".


The team, which also includes Luigi Pulone and Francesco Paresce
(INAF, Italy), measured the brightness and colours of more than
16,000 stars within the globular cluster Messier 12 with the FORS1
multi-mode instrument attached to one of the Unit Telescopes of
ESO's VLT at Cerro Paranal (Chile). The astronomers could study
stars that are 40 million times fainter than what the unaided eye
can see (magnitude 25).


Messier 12 is one of about 200 globular clusters known in our
Galaxy. These are large groupings of 10,000 to more than a million
stars that were formed together in the youth of the Milky Way, about
 12 to 13 billion years ago. Globular clusters are a key tool for
astronomers, because all the stars in a globular cluster share a
common history. They were all born together, at the same time and
place, and only differ from one another in their mass. By accurately
 measuring the brightness of the stars, astronomers can determine
their relative sizes and stage of evolution precisely. Globular
clusters are thus very helpful for testing theories of how stars
evolve.






An artist's impression of the orbit of the globular
 cluster Messier 12 in the Milky Way. Due to gravitational
disruption, this cluster continuously loses stars, in particular
light ones. This process is enhanced when it passes through the
central plane in which most of the Galaxy's stars and nebulae are
located. The cluster emerges in a less dense state after such a
passage. The stars that are lost move on in orbits similar to that
of the cluster and populate the halo of the Milky Way. Credit: ESO

 

 
Located at a distance of 23,000 light years in the constellation
Ophiuchus (The Serpent-holder), Messier 12 got its name by being the
12th entry in the catalogue of nebulous objects compiled in 1774 by
French astronomer and comet chaser Charles Messier. It is also known
to astronomers as NGC 6218 and contains about 200 000 stars, most of
 them having a mass between 20 and 80 percent of the mass of the
Sun.


"It is however clear that Messier 12 is surprisingly devoid of low-
mass stars", said De Marchi. "For each solar-like star, we would
expect roughly four times as many stars with half that mass. Our VLT
observations only show an equal number of stars of different
masses."


Globular clusters move in extended elliptical orbits that
periodically take them through the densely populated regions of our
Galaxy, the plane, then high above and below, in the ‘halo'. When
venturing too close to the innermost and denser regions of the Milky
Way, the ‘bulge', a globular cluster can be perturbed, the smallest
 stars being ripped away.


"We estimate that Messier 12 lost four times as many stars as it
still has", said Francesco Paresce. "That is, roughly one million
stars must have been ejected into the halo of our Milky Way".
 

The total remaining lifetime of Messier 12 is predicted to be about
 4.5 billion years, i.e. about a third of its present age. This is
 very short compared to the typical expected globular cluster's
lifetime, which is about 30 billion years.


The same team of astronomers had found in 1999, another example of a
globular cluster that lost a large fraction of its original content.
 

The scientists hope to discover and study many more clusters like
these, since catching clusters while being disrupted should clarify
the dynamics of the process that shaped the halo of our home galaxy,
 the Milky Way.



SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Spacecraft spots powerful Saturn storm at night
CICLOPS NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 14, 2006

Following the recent detection of Saturnian radio bursts by NASA's
Cassini spacecraft that indicated a rare and powerful atmospheric
storm, Cassini imaging scientists have spotted the storm in an
unlikely fashion: they looked for it in the dark.


This image shows a rare and powerful storm on the
night side of Saturn. Light from Saturn's rings (called "ringshine")
 provided the illumination, allowing the storm and other cloud
features to be seen. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Download larger image version here

 
 
When lightning-generated radio noise from the storm was detected by
Cassini on January 23, the spacecraft was at a place in its orbit
where it was unable to image the sunlit side of Saturn. Instead,
 imaging scientists searched for the southern hemisphere storm in
images of the planet's night side. Fortunately, the small amount of
sunlight reflecting off Saturn's rings and illuminating the night
side is enough to make features in the atmosphere visible.


The storm is located on the side of Saturn that faces the spacecraft
when the radio emissions are detected; Cassini does not observe the
radio emissions for half a Saturnian day when the storm is on the
planet's other side.


The latitude of the new storm matches that of the "Dragon storm,"
which was a powerful emitter of radio noise and was imaged by
Cassini in 2004. It lies in a region of the southern hemisphere
referred to as "storm alley" by scientists because of the high level
of storm activity observed there by Cassini. The storm's north-south
dimension is about 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).


"It's really the only large storm on the whole planet," says Andrew
Ingersoll, a member of the Cassini imaging team. "It's in the right
place and it appeared at the right time to match the radio
emissions, so it has to be the right storm," he said.




The storm's north-south dimension is about 3,500
kilometers (2,175 miles); it is located at minus 36 degrees
(planetocentric) latitude and 168 degrees west longitude. This
places it on the side of the planet that faces the spacecraft when
the radio emissions are detected; the radio emissions shut down for
half a Saturnian day when the storm is on the other side. Credit:
 NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Download larger image version here

 
Cassini's investigation of the storm has also been aided by the
efforts of Earth-based amateur astronomers, who were able view
Saturn's dayside with their telescopes when Cassini could not. The
amateurs' images of Saturn provided the first visual confirmation of
the storm, now revealed in detail by the new views from Cassini


SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


Personally I think the storm looks like an alien
 with floppy ears and it wouldn't suprise me if this doesn't get the
conspiracy theorists busy !!



 



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« Last Edit: 15/02/2006 19:18:27 by neilep »
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Pluto's new moons likely born with Charon
SOUTHWEST RESEARCH INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 22, 2006

In a paper published today in Nature, a team of U.S. scientists led
by Dr. S. Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI),
concludes that two newly discovered small moons of Pluto were very
likely born in the same giant impact that gave birth to Pluto's much
larger moon, Charon. The team also argues that other, large binary
Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) may also frequently harbor small moons,
and that the small moons orbiting Pluto may generate debris rings
around Pluto.







This artist's rendering illustrates a giant impact
scenario similar to one that likely resulted in the two, newly
discovered moons of Pluto. Credit: Southwest Research Institute,
painting by Don Davis
 


(I'm so pleased that they mention it's an artists impression !!)

The team making these findings included Drs. Bill Merline, John
Spencer, Andrew Steffl, Eliot Young and Leslie Young of SwRI; Dr.
 Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory; Max Mutchler of the Space Telescope Science Institute;
and Dr. Marc Buie of the Lowell Observatory. This team discovered
Pluto's two small moons in 2005 using sensitive images obtained by
the Hubble Space Telescope, as reported by Weaver et al. in an
accompanying paper in the February 23 issue of Nature.
 

"The evidence for the small satellites being born in the Charon-
forming collision is strong; it is based around the facts that the
small moons are in circular orbits in the same orbital plane as
Charon, and that they are also in, or very near, orbital resonance
with Charon," says lead author Stern, executive director of the SwRI
Space Science and Engineering Division.



Collisions, both large and small, are major processes that shaped
many aspects of our solar system. Scientists use computer
simulations to study the origin of planetary systems formed by
impact events of a scale much larger than could be simulated in a
laboratory. Another large collision, like the one thought to have
created Charon and Pluto's small moons, is believed responsible for
the formation of the Earth-moon pair.


"The idea that Pluto's small moons and Charon resulted from a giant
impact now seems compelling. Future simulations to determine the
characteristics of the impact required to produce all three
satellites should provide improved constraints on the early
dynamical history of the Kuiper Belt," adds Dr. Robin Canup,
director of SwRI's Space Studies Department, who in 2005 produced
the most comprehensive models to date of the Charon-forming impact.



Source: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.com

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Rhea's wisps in colour
CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE
Posted: February 23, 2006




Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Download larger image version here, it's worth it...makes a nice desktop image


Bright, wispy markings stretch across a region of darker terrain on
Saturn's moon Rhea. In this extreme false-color view, the roughly
north-south fractures occur within strips of material (which appear
greenish here) that are a different color from the surrounding
cratered landscape.


To create the false-color view, ultraviolet, green and infrared
images were combined into a single black and white picture that
isolates and maps regional color differences. Most of the large-
scale variations in brightness across the surface are removed by
this process. This "color map" was then superimposed over a clear-
filter image.


The origin of the color differences is not yet understood, but it
may be caused by subtle differences in the surface composition or
grain sizes making up the icy soil.


Wispy markings were seen on the trailing hemispheres of both Rhea
and Dione in images taken by NASA's Voyager spacecraft, and were
hypothesized by some researchers to be the result of material
extruded onto the surface by ice volcanism. Cassini's earlier
revelation of the braided fractures on Dione led to speculation that
Rhea's wisps might also be created by fractures.

This view shows terrain on the trailing hemisphere of Rhea (1,528
kilometers, or 949 miles across). North is up.


The image was taken using the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera
 at a distance of approximately 245,000 kilometers (152,000 miles)
from Rhea and at a Sun-Rhea-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 30
degrees. Image scale is 1 kilometer (4,771 feet) per pixel.



SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

Men are the same as women.... just inside out !!
« Last Edit: 27/02/2006 18:19:03 by neilep »
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Hubble's largest galaxy portrait showcases Pinwheel
HUBBLE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 28, 2006




This new Hubble image reveals the gigantic Pinwheel Galaxy, one of
the best known examples of "grand design spirals," and its
supergiant star-forming regions in unprecedented detail. The image
is the largest and most detailed photo of a spiral galaxy ever
released. Credit: European Space Agency & NASA

Download larger image version here


Giant galaxies weren't assembled in a day. Neither was this Hubble
Space Telescope image of the face-on spiral galaxy Messier 101 (the
Pinwheel Galaxy). The image is the largest and most detailed photo
 of a spiral galaxy ever released from Hubble. The galaxy's portrait
is actually composed from 51 individual Hubble exposures, in
addition to elements from images from ground-based photos. The final
 composite image measures a whopping 16,000 by 12,000 pixels.
 

The Hubble observations that went into assembling this image
 composite were retrieved from the Hubble archive and were
 originally acquired for a range of Hubble projects: determining the
expansion rate of the universe; studying the formation of star
clusters in giant starbirth regions; finding the stars responsible
for intense X-ray emission and discovering blue supergiant stars. As
an example of the many treasures hiding in this immense image, a
group led by K.D. Kuntz (Johns Hopkins University and NASA) recently
catalogued nearly 3000 previously undetected star clusters in it.

The giant spiral disk of stars, dust and gas is 170,000 light-years
across or nearly twice the diameter of our Milky Way. The galaxy is
estimated to contain at least one trillion stars. Approximately 100
billion of these stars alone might be like our Sun in terms of
temperature and lifetime. Hubble's high resolution reveals millions
of the galaxy's individual stars in this image.






Upper left: Background galaxies far behind the Pinwheel Galaxy. The
galaxies are clearly reddened by the dust in the Pinwheel. Upper
middle: Dust lanes in the Pinwheel galaxy. The dust particles
scatter blue light the most and therefore colour the light from
background stars red. The same effect is seen in sunsets on the
Earth. Upper right: A selection of some of the millions of
individual stars visible in Messier 101 with Hubble's sharp vision.
 In total it is estimated that the Pinwheel galaxy contains about
one trillion stars. Lower left: An example of some of the 3000
bright clusters of sizzling newborn blue stars in the Pinwheel
galaxy. Lower middle: Another "grand design" spiral lies behind the
Pinwheel Galaxy itself and is visible through its disk. Lower right:
 Two distant galaxies behind Messier 101 and a collection of
individual foreground stars from one of its spiral arms. Credit:
European Space Agency & NASA

Download larger image version here


The Pinwheel's spiral arms are sprinkled with large regions of star-
forming nebulae. These nebulae are areas of intense star formation within molecular hydrogen clouds. Brilliant young clusters of
sizzling newborn blue stars trace out the spiral arms. The disk of
the galaxy is so thin that Hubble easily sees many more distant
galaxies lying behind the foreground galaxy.


The Pinwheel Galaxy lies in the northern circumpolar constellation,
Ursa Major (The Great Bear) at a distance of 25 million light-years
from Earth. We are seeing the galaxy from Earth today as it was at
the beginning of Earth's Miocene Period when mammals flourished and
the Mastodon first appeared on Earth. The galaxy fills an area on
the sky of one-fifth the area of the full moon


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM



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A frozen fountain near Paris' Luxembourg Park
AFP Thursday March 2, 01:54 PM






A frozen fountain near Paris' Luxembourg Park in January 2006. The
WWF environmental group warned that northern European countries will
be more exposed to severe winter storms unless power stations in
particular drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions. A frozen
fountain near Paris' Luxembourg Park in January 2006. The WWF
environmental group warned that northern European countries will be
more exposed to severe winter storms unless power stations in
particular drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions.


SOURCE: AFP Via YAHOO NEWS

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A shocking surprise in Stephan's Quintet

NASA/JPL PHOTO RELEASE
Posted: March 3, 2006


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Max Planck Institute
Download larger image version here


This false-color composite image of the Stephan's Quintet galaxy
cluster clearly shows one of the largest shock waves ever seen
(green arc). The wave was produced by one galaxy falling toward
another at speeds of more than one million miles per hour. The image
is made up of data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and a ground-
based telescope in Spain.


Four of the five galaxies in this picture are involved in a violent
collision, which has already stripped most of the hydrogen gas from
the interiors of the galaxies. The centers of the galaxies appear as
bright yellow-pink knots inside a blue haze of stars, and the galaxy
 producing all the turmoil, NGC7318b, is the left of two small
bright regions in the middle right of the image. One galaxy, the
large spiral at the bottom left of the image, is a foreground object
and is not associated with the cluster.


The titanic shock wave, larger than our own Milky Way galaxy, was
detected by the ground-based telescope using visible-light
wavelengths. It consists of hot hydrogen gas. As NGC7318b collides
with gas spread throughout the cluster, atoms of hydrogen are heated
in the shock wave, producing the green glow.


Stephan's Quintet is located 300 million light-years away in the
Pegasus constellation.




SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM
 



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Offline JimBob

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Nice happy face, Niel.
The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.  -- A. Einstein

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quote:
Originally posted by JimBob

Nice happy face, Niel.



Here's another happy face , just for you Jim !! [:D]

Japanese researchers extract vanilla from cow dung


A milk cow eats grain at a farm. Japanese researchers
have succeeded in making the sweet smell of vanilla come out of the
last thing people could imagine -- cow dung



In a world-first recycling project, a one-hour heating and
pressuring process allows cow feces to produce vanillin, the main
component of the vanilla-bean extract, according to researcher Mayu
Yamamoto.


The vanillin extracted from the feces could be used in products such
as shampoo and aromatic candles but not in food, said Yamamoto, who
works for the Research Institute of the state-run International
Medical Center of Japan.


Compared with usual vanilla, "this component is exactly the same but
it would be difficult for people to accept it in food, given the
recent rules of disclosing the origins of ingredients," she said.

The production cost using dung is less than a half of making
vanillin out of vanilla beans, she added.


The feces of grass-eating animals is abundant with lignin, the
chemical compound that exists in plants and trees and is used to
produce vanilla aroma, Yamamoto said.


"Lignin is difficult to decompose," she said. "Farmers are troubled
by how to dispose properly of animal excrement. We tried to solve
this from a recycling viewpoint," she said.


After taking the vanillin, the processed feces could be returned to
the soil, she said.


The research has been done in cooperation with major Japanese
chemicals firm Sekisui Chemical.


The research team aims to develop a machine to handle several tons
of feces a day and put it in practical use in two-to-three years.


SOURCE: AFP vIA yahoonews



Men are the same as women, just inside out !
« Last Edit: 07/03/2006 20:57:52 by neilep »
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Offline JimBob

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THANKS, NEIL !!!!!!

She is cute. Is she married?  [8D]
The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.  -- A. Einstein

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quote:
Originally posted by JimBob

THANKS, NEIL !!!!!!

She is cute. Is she married?  [8D]



I think she is Jim, but I believe there are udder cuties available !![:D]

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Impact of Climate Warming on Polar Ice Sheets Confirmed03.08.06
   

In the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of the massive ice
sheets covering both Greenland and Antarctica, NASA scientists
confirm climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in
Earth's largest storehouse of ice and snow.


Antarctica lost much more ice to the sea than it
gained from snowfall, resulting in an increase in sea level.
Antarctica lost much more ice to the sea than it gained from
snowfall, resulting in an increase in sea level. Credit: NASA/SVS


Other recent studies have shown increasing losses of ice in parts of
these sheets. This new survey is the first to inventory the losses
of ice and the addition of new snow on both in a consistent and
comprehensive way throughout an entire decade.


The survey shows that there was a net loss of ice from the combined
polar ice sheets between 1992 and 2002 and a corresponding rise in
sea level. The survey documents for the first time extensive
thinning of the West Antarctic ice shelves and an increase in
snowfall in the interior of Greenland, as well as thinning at the
edges. All are signs of a warming climate predicted by computer
 models.

The survey, published in the Journal of Glaciology, combines new
satellite mapping of the height of the ice sheets from two European
Space Agency satellites. It also used previous NASA airborne mapping
 of the edges of the Greenland ice sheets to determine how fast the
thickness is changing.



The Greenland ice sheet gained more ice from snowfall at high
altitudes than it lost from melting ice along its coast. The
Greenland ice sheet gained more ice from snowfall at high altitudes
than it lost from melting ice along its coast. Credit: NASA/SVS


In Greenland, the survey saw large ice losses along the southeastern
 coast and a large increase in ice thickness at higher elevations in
the interior due to relatively high rates of snowfall. This study
suggests there was a slight gain in the total mass of frozen water
in the ice sheet over the decade studied, contrary to previous
assessments.


This situation may have changed in just the past few years,
according to lead author Jay Zwally of NASA's Goddard Space Flight
Center, Greenbelt, Md. Last month NASA scientists at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., reported a speed up of ice
flow into the sea from several Greenland glaciers. That study
included observations through 2005; Zwally's survey concluded with
2002 data.


When the scientists added up the overall gains and losses of ice
from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, there was a net loss of
ice to the sea. The amount of water added to the oceans (20 billion
tons) is equivalent to the total amount of freshwater used in homes,
businesses and farming in New York, New Jersey and Virginia each year.

"The study indicates that the contribution of the ice sheets to
recent sea-level rise during the decade studied was much smaller
than expected, just two percent of the recent increase of nearly
three millimeters a year," says Zwally. "Continuing research using
NASA satellites and other data will narrow the uncertainties in this
important issue."


NASA is continuing to monitor the polar ice sheets with the Ice,
 Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), launched in January
2003. ICESat uses a laser beam to measure the elevation of ice
sheets with unprecedented accuracy three times a year. The first
comprehensive ice sheet survey conducted by ICESat is expected early
next year, said Zwally, who is the mission's project scientist.


SOURCE: NASA


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Double helix nebula found in center of the Milky Way
UCLA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 15, 2006

Astronomers report an unprecedented elongated double helix nebula
near the center of our Milky Way galaxy, using observations from
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The part of the nebula the
astronomers observed stretches 80 light years in length. The
research is published March 16 in the journal Nature





The double helix nebula. The spots are infrared-luminous
 stars, mostly red giants and red supergiants. Many other stars are
present in this region, but are too dim to appear even in this
sensitive infrared image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA


 
 
"We see two intertwining strands wrapped around each other as in a
DNA molecule," said Mark Morris, a UCLA professor of physics and
astronomy, and lead author. "Nobody has ever seen anything like that
before in the cosmic realm. Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies
full of stars or formless amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas -
 space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order."


The double helix nebula is approximately 300 light years from the
enormous black hole at the center of the Milky Way. (The Earth is
more than 25,000 light years from the black hole at the galactic
center.)

The Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared telescope, is imaging the
sky at unprecedented sensitivity and resolution; Spitzer's
sensitivity and spatial resolution were required to see the double
helix nebula clearly.


"We know the galactic center has a strong magnetic field that is
highly ordered and that the magnetic field lines are oriented
perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy," Morris said. "If you take
these magnetic field lines and twist them at their base, that sends
what is called a torsional wave up the magnetic field lines.


"You can regard these magnetic field lines as akin to a taut rubber
band," Morris added. "If you twist one end, the twist will travel up
the rubber band."

Offering another analogy, he said the wave is like what you see if
you take a long loose rope attached at its far end, throw a loop,
and watch the loop travel down the rope.



"That's what is being sent down the magnetic field lines of our
galaxy," Morris said. "We see this twisting torsional wave
propagating out. We don't see it move because it takes 100,000 years
to move from where we think it was launched to where we now see it,
 but it's moving fast - about 1,000 kilometers per second - because
the magnetic field is so strong at the galactic center - about 1,000
times stronger than where we are in the galaxy's suburbs."


A strong, large-scale magnetic field can affect the galactic orbits
of molecular clouds by exerting a drag on them. It can inhibit star
formation, and can guide a wind of cosmic rays away from the central
 region; understanding this strong magnetic field is important for
understanding quasars and violent phenomena in a galactic nucleus.
Morris will continue to probe the magnetic field at the galactic
center in future research.

This magnetic field is strong enough to cause activity that does not
occur elsewhere in the galaxy; the magnetic energy near the galactic
center is capable of altering the activity of our galactic nucleus
and by analogy the nuclei of many galaxies, including quasars, which
are among the most luminous objects in the universe. All galaxies
that have a well-concentrated galactic center may also have a strong
magnetic field at their center, Morris said, but so far, ours is the
only galaxy where the view is good enough to study it.


Morris has argued for many years that the magnetic field at the
galactic center is extremely strong; the research published in
Nature strongly supports that view.


The magnetic field at the galactic center, though 1,000 times weaker
than the magnetic field on the sun, occupies such a large volume
that it has vastly more energy than the magnetic field on the sun.
It has the energy equivalent of 1,000 supernovae.


What launches the wave, twisting the magnetic field lines near the
center of the Milky Way? Morris thinks the answer is not the
monstrous black hole at the galactic center, at least not directly.
 

Orbiting the black hole like the rings of Saturn, several light
years away, is a massive disk of gas called the circumnuclear disk;
 Morris hypothesizes that the magnetic field lines are anchored in
this disk. The disk orbits the black hole approximately once every
10,000 years.


"Once every 10,000 years is exactly what we need to explain the
twisting of the magnetic field lines that we see in the double helix
nebula," Morris said.


SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM



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Huge crowds extend Darwin exhibit in New York


A variety of skulls are on display as part of an
exhibition on Charles Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History in
New York. The exhibition has been extended by five months amid an
overwhelming public response to what was touted as a scholarly rebuke to
opponents of teaching evolution in US schools


NEW YORK (AFP) - A monumental Charles Darwin exhibition in New York has been extended by five months amid an overwhelming public response to what was touted as a scholarly rebuke to opponents of teaching evolution in US schools.

The American Museum of Natural History said Wednesday that nearly 200,000 people had visited "Darwin" since it opened three months ago.

Originally slated to close at the end of this month, the exhibition will now run through August 20, said museum spokesman Joshua Schnakenberg.

"Darwin" had opened amid furious debate in many school districts over the teaching of the 19th century naturalist's evolutionary theory and the first trial on the teaching of the God-centered alternative favoured by many religious groups, "intelligent design," or ID.

That trial, in Pennsylvania, ended in defeat for the evangelical right with the judge in the case decrying the "breathtaking inanity" of the school board in the town of Dover which backed the concept that nature is so complex it must be the work of a superior being.

"Our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom," the judge said in his ruling in December.

An early section of the New York exhibit is devoted to the question, "What is a Theory?" and seeks to clarify the distinction between scientific theories and non-scientific explanations about the origins and diversity of life.

"This is really for the schoolchildren of America. This is the evidence of evolution," said the exhibit's curator, Niles Eldridge.

In a Gallup poll released last October, 53 percent of American adults agreed with the statement that God created humans in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it.

Thirty-one percent stood by the "intelligent design" stance, while only 12 percent said humans have evolved from other forms of life and "God has no part."


SOURCE: YAHOO NEWS via AFP

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Great galactic buddies
SPITZER SCIENCE CENTER RELEASE


Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have conducted a cosmic safari to seek out a rare galactic species. Their specimens -- clusters of galaxies in the very distant universe -- are few and far between, and have hardly ever been detected beyond a distance of 7 billion light-years from Earth.





In this false-color composite, some of the oldest
galaxy clusters in the universe pose for Spitzer's infrared array
camera. The individual galaxies that make up the distant clusters
are shown as red dots in all four images. The green blobs are Milky
Way stars along the line of sight, and the blue specks are faint
galaxies at various distances along the line of sight. The green and
blue data are from a visible-light, ground-based telescope. Credit:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCDavis/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory


Download larger image versionhere

 
To find the clusters, the team carefully sifted through Spitzer infrared pictures and ground-based catalogues; estimated rough distances based on the cluster galaxies' colors; and verified suspicions using a spectrograph instrument at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

Ultimately, the expedition resulted in quite a galactic catch -- the most distant galaxy cluster ever seen, located 9 billion light-years away. This means the cluster lived in an era when the universe was a mere 4.5 billion years old. The universe is believed to be 13.7 billion years old.

"Detecting a galaxy cluster 9 billion light-years away is very exciting," said the study's lead investigator, Dr. Peter Eisenhardt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's really amazing that Spitzer's 85-centimeter telescope can see 9 billion years back in time."

Using the same methods, the astronomers also found three other clusters living between 7 and 9 billion light-years away.

"Spitzer is an excellent instrument for detecting very distant galaxy clusters because they stand out so brightly in the infrared," said co-investigator Dr. Mark Brodwin, also of JPL. "You can think of these distant galaxy cluster surveys as a game of 'Where's Waldo?' With an optical telescope you can spot 'Waldo,' or the distant galaxy clusters, by carefully searching for them amongst a sea of faint galaxies."

"But in the Spitzer data, it's as though Waldo is wearing a bright neon hat and can be easily picked out of the crowd," Brodwin added.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. A typical cluster can contain thousands of galaxies and trillions of stars. Because of their huge size and mass, they are relatively rare. For example, if Earth were to represent the entire universe, then countries would be the equivalent of galaxies, and continents would be the galaxy clusters.

Galaxy clusters grow like snowballs, picking up new galaxies from gravitational interactions over billions of years. For this reason, team members say these behemoths should be even rarer in the very distant universe.

"The ultimate goal of this research is to find out when the galaxies in this and other distant clusters formed," said co-investigator Dr. Adam Stanford, of the University of California at Davis. Stanford is the lead author of a paper on the most distant galaxy cluster's discovery, which was published in the December 2005 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

This is the second time Eisenhardt and Stanford have broken the record for capturing the most distant galaxy cluster. Both say they accidentally broke the record in 1997 when they detected a cluster located 8.7 billion light-years away. The discovery was made by a deep survey of a 0.03-degree patch of sky, or an area significantly smaller than a pea held out at arms length, for 30 nights at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

"We were lucky in 1997 because we weren't looking for galaxy clusters and found the most distant one ever detected in a very small patch of sky," said Stanford. "Because galaxy clusters are so massive and rare, you typically need to deeply survey a large area of sky to find them."

"With Spitzer's great infrared sensitivity we surveyed more deeply in 90 seconds than we could in hours of exposure in the 1997 observations, and we used this advantage to survey a region 300 times larger," adds Eisenhardt.

The 9 billion-year-old cluster is just one of 25 the team captured on their Spitzer safari. They are currently preparing for more observations this spring at the W.M. Keck Observatory to confirm the distance of additional galaxy clusters from their sample. According to Eisenhardt, some of the clusters awaiting confirmation may be even more distant than the current record holder.

SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Cannibal stars like their food hot, XMM-Newton reveals
EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 26, 2006

The European Space Agency's XMM-Newton observatory has seen vast clouds of superheated gas, whirling around miniature stars and escaping from being devoured by the stars' enormous gravitational fields - giving a new insight into the eating habits of the galaxy's "cannibal" stars.



Artist's impression of a vast cloud of superheated gas
 whirling around an asteroid-sized cannibal star, part of a low-mass
 X-ray binary star system. Credit: ESA

 


The clouds of gas range in size from a few hundred thousand kilometres to a few million kilometres, ten to one hundred times larger than the Earth. They are composed of iron vapour and other chemicals at temperatures of many millions of degrees.

"This gas is extremely hot, much hotter than the outer atmosphere of the Sun," said Maria Diaz Trigo of ESA's European Science and Technology Research Centre (ESTEC), who led the research.

ESA's XMM-Newton x-ray observatory made the discovery when it observed six so-called 'low-mass X-ray binary' stars (LMXBs). The LMXBs are pairs of stars in which one is the tiny core of a dead star.

Measuring just 15-20 kilometres across and comparable in size to an asteroid, each dead star is a tightly packed mass of neutrons containing more than 1.4 times the mass of the Sun.

Its extreme density generates a powerful gravitational field that rips gas from its 'living' companion star. The gas spirals around the neutron star, forming a disc, before being sucked down and crushed onto its surface, a process known as 'accretion'.

The newly discovered clouds sit where the river of matter from the companion star strikes the disc. The extreme temperatures have ripped almost all of the electrons from the iron atoms, leaving them carrying extreme electrical charges. This process is known as 'ionisation'.

The discovery solves a puzzle that has dogged astronomers for several decades. Certain LMXBs appear to blink on and off at X-ray wavelengths. These are 'edge-on' systems, in which the orbit of each gaseous disc lines up with Earth.

In previous attempts to simulate the blinking, clouds of low-temperature gas were postulated to be orbiting the neutron star, periodically blocking the X-rays. However, these models never reproduced the observed behaviour well enough.

XMM-Newton solves this by revealing the ionised iron. "It means that these clouds are much hotter than we anticipated," said Diaz. With high-temperature clouds, the computer models now simulate much better the dipping behaviour.

Some 100 known LMXBs populate our galaxy, the Milky Way. Each one is a stellar furnace, pumping X-rays into space. They represent a small-scale model of the accretion thought to be taking place in the very heart of some galaxies. One in every ten galaxies shows some kind of intense activity at its centre.

This activity is thought to be coming from a gigantic black hole, pulling stars to pieces and devouring their remains. Being much closer to Earth, the LMXBs are easier to study than the active galaxies.

"Accretion processes are still not well understood. The more we understand about the LMXBs, the more useful they will be as analogues to help us understand the active galactic nuclei," says Diaz.

SOURCE;SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM





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Images from Venus Give Clues About Planet's Climate


This image from Thursday shows a composite view of Venus' south pole


Scientists in Europe have released their first photos of Venus'
southern pole sent from the Venus Express spacecraft. They show
dense, swirling clouds similar to formations found at the planet's
northern pole.


The images are the first pictures ever taken of the neighboring
planet's southern pole and provide researchers with new data about
Venus' largely unknown atmosphere. The spacecraft's monitoring
camera will take photographs over the next few months with aim of
getting a more comprehensive picture of cloud formations and climate
developments.


 

"We can see there is a twister here that is similar to that which we
know from the northern pole," said Horst Uwe Keller, leader of the
 team operating the craft's wide-angle, multichannel camera.


The clouds are 13 miles deep and completely enclose Venus. With
infrared technology that enables the camera to peer though the
clouds, scientists hope to determine how the sulphuric acid around
the planet was formed, and find the cause of the high winds that
send it billowing in massive clouds.


 
Shared characteristics with Earth?


Venus Express is studying the cloud system in the planet's violent atmosphere

Researchers want to learn when and why the planet's extreme
atmosphere developed the way it did, featuring temperatures reaching
 up to 500 degrees Celsius and hurricane-like storms. They also want
 to find out if Venus ever had an atmosphere or other features more
similar to Earth's.


 

"There's also the question of how large the zone in the universe is
 where life can develop," said Keller.


 

Europe's first space probe to Venus slipped smoothly into orbit on
Tuesday. In the next several weeks, scientists will run more
thorough tests on the spacecraft's instruments and by June, all
instruments should be fully functioning.


 

In the coming months, the Venus Express will tighten its orbit
around the planet, providing scientists more detailed and revealing
images of the planet from a distance of about 155 miles (250
kilometers).


A picture released Thursday shows clouds at the south pole

SOURCE: /www.dw-world.de/

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Crescent Titan with rings
CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE
Posted: April 15, 2006



Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Download larger image version here
 

This poetic scene shows the giant, smog-enshrouded moon Titan behind
 Saturn's nearly edge-on rings. Much smaller Epimetheus (116
kilometers, or 72 miles across) is just visible to the left of Titan
(5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles across).
 

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft
narrow-angle camera at a distance of approximately 4.1 million
kilometers (2.5 million miles) from Titan. The image scale is 25
kilometers (16 miles) per pixel on Titan. The brightness of
Epimetheus was enhanced for visibility.


The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the
European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science
Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its
two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
 The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science
Institute in Boulder, Colo



SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Hubble spies gemstones in the southern sky
SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: April 18, 2006




<font color="blue"><b>Image credit: European Space Agency & NASA
Download larger image version </font id="blue"> here</b>
 
 
The Hubble Space Telescope has captured the most detailed images to
 date of the open star clusters NGC 265 and NGC 290 in the Small
Magellanic Cloud -- two sparkling sets of gemstones in the southern
sky.
 

These images, taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, show
a myriad of stars in crystal clear detail. The brilliant open star
clusters are located about 200,000 light-years away and are roughly
65 light-years across.


Star clusters can be held together tightly by gravity, as is the
case with densely packed crowds of hundreds of thousands of stars,
 called globular clusters. Or, they can be more loosely bound,
irregularly shaped groupings of up to several thousands of stars,
 like the open clusters shown in this image.


The stars in these open clusters are all relatively young and were
born from the same cloud of interstellar gas. Just as old school-
friends drift apart after graduation, the stars in an open cluster
will only remain together for a limited time and gradually disperse
into space, pulled away by the gravitational tugs of other passing
clusters and clouds of gas. Most open clusters dissolve within a few
hundred million years, whereas the more tightly bound globular
clusters can exist for many billions of years.


Open star clusters make excellent astronomical laboratories. The
stars may have different masses, but all are at about the same
distance, move in the same general direction, and have approximately
the same age and chemical composition. They can be studied and
compared to find out more about stellar evolution, the ages of such
clusters, and much more.


The Small Magellanic Cloud, which hosts the two star clusters, is
one of the small satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. It can be seen
with the unaided eye as a hazy patch in the constellation Tucana
(the Toucan) in the Southern Hemisphere. The Small Magellanic Cloud
is rich in gas nebulae and star clusters. It is most likely that
this irregular galaxy has been disrupted through repeated
interactions with the Milky Way, resulting in the vigorous star-
forming activity seen throughout the cloud. NGC 265 and NGC 290 may
very well owe their existence to these close encounters with the
Milky Way.



The images were taken in October and November 2004 through F435W,
F555W, and F814W filters (shown in blue, green, and red,
respectively).


The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation
between NASA and the European Space Agency. The Space Telescope
Science Institute in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations.
The Institute is operated for NASA by the Association of
Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., Washington.



<u>SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM</u>




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well mr hubble aint so clever,he missed out m3227895beta a small binary star to the right of ngc285,  naaah im talking tosh,ace piccy tho [8D]

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XMM-Newton observes fossil galaxy cluster


XMM-Newton observations of the fossil
galaxy cluster RX J1416.5+2315, show a cloud of hot gas emitting X-rays (in
blue). The cloud, reaching temperatures of about 50 million degrees, extend
over 3.5 million light years and surround a giant elliptical galaxy believed to
have grown to its present size by cannibalising its neighbours.

Credit: Credits: Khosroshahi, Maughan,
Ponman, Jones, ESA, ING





 
Taking advantage of the high sensitivity of ESA's XMM-Newton and the sharp vision of NASA's Chandra X-Ray space observatories, astronomers have studied the behaviour of massive fossil galaxy clusters, trying to find out how they find the time to form…
Many galaxies reside in galaxy groups, where they experience close encounters with their neighbours and interact gravitationally with the dark matter - mass which permeates the whole intergalactic space but is not directly visible because it doesn't emit radiation. These interactions cause large galaxies to spiral slowly towards the centre of the group, where they can merge to form a single giant central galaxy, which progressively swallows all its neighbours.

If this process runs to completion, and no new galaxies fall into the group, then the result is an object dubbed a 'fossil group', in which almost all the stars are collected into a single giant galaxy, which sits at the centre of a group-sized dark matter halo. The presence of this halo can be inferred from the presence of extensive hot gas, which fills the gravitational potential wells of many groups and emits X-rays.

A group of international astronomers studied in detail the physical features of the most massive and hot known fossil group, with the main aim to solve a puzzle and understand the formation of massive fossils. In fact, according to simple theoretical models, they simply could not have formed in the time available to them!

The fossil group investigated, called 'RX J1416.4+2315', is dominated by a single elliptical galaxy located one and a half thousand million light years away from us, and it is 500 thousand million times more luminous than the Sun.

The XMM-Newton and Chandra X-ray observations, combined with optical and infrared analyses, revealed that group sits within a hot gas halo extending over three million light years and heated to a temperature of 50 million degrees, mainly due to shock heating as a result of gravitational collapse.

Such a high temperature, about as twice as the previously estimated values, is usually characteristic of galaxy clusters. Another interesting feature of the whole cluster system is its large mass, reaching over 300 trillion solar masses. Only about two percent of it in the form of stars in galaxies, and 15 percent in the form of hot gas emitting X-rays. The major contributor to the mass of the system is the invisible dark matter, which gravitationally binds the other components.

According to calculations, a fossil cluster as massive as RX J1416.4+2315 would have not had the time to form during the whole age of the universe. The key process in the formation of such fossil groups is the process known as 'dynamical friction', whereby a large galaxy loses its orbital energy to the surrounding dark matter. This process is less effective when galaxies are moving more quickly, which they do in massive 'clusters' of galaxies.

This, in principle, sets an upper limit to the size and mass of fossil groups. The exact limits are, however, still unknown since the geometry and mass distribution of groups may differ from that assumed in simple theoretical models.

"Simple models to describe the dynamical friction assume that the merging galaxies move along circular orbits around the centre of the cluster mass", says Habib Khosroshahi from the University of Birmingham (UK), first author of the results. "Instead, if we assume that galaxies fall towards the centre of the developing cluster in an asymmetric way, such as along a filament, the dynamic friction and so the cluster formation process may occur in a shorter time scale," he continues. Such a hypothesis is supported by the highly elongated X-ray emission we observed in RX J1416.4+2315, to sustain the idea of a collapse along a dominant filament."

The optical brightness of the central dominant galaxy in this fossil is similar to that of brightest galaxies in large clusters (called 'BCGs'). According to the astronomers, this implies that such galaxies could have originated in fossil groups around which the cluster builds up later. This offers an alternative mechanism for the formation of BCGs compared to the existing scenarios in which BCGs form within clusters during or after the cluster collapse.

"The study of massive fossil groups such as RX J1416.4+2315 is important to test our understanding of the formation of structure in the universe," adds Khosroshahi. "Cosmological simulations are underway which attempt to reproduce the properties we observe, in order to understand how these extreme systems develop," he concludes.

SOURCE: EUREKALERT

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Evolutionary Back Story: Thoroughly modern spine supported human ancestor
Bruce Bower

Bones from a spinal column discovered at a nearly 1.8-million-year-old site in central Asia support the controversial possibility that ancient human ancestors spoke to one another.




WIDE OPEN. A recently discovered Homo erectus vertebra
from central Asia (left) displays a larger spinal cord canal than does
 a corresponding bone (right) from a skeleton that had been found in
Kenya.

Meyer



Excavations in 2005 at Dmanisi, Georgia, yielded five vertebrae from a Homo erectus individual, says anthropologist Marc R. Meyer of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The finds occurred in previously dated sediment that has yielded several skulls now attributed to H. erectusThe new discoveries represent the oldest known vertebrae for the genus Homo, Meyer announced last week at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The fossils consist of one lumbar, two thoracic, and two cervical vertebrae.

Meyer and his colleagues—David Lordkipanidze and Abesalom Vekua, both of the Georgian State Museum in Tbilisi—compared the size, shape, and volume of the Dmanisi vertebrae with more than 2,200 corresponding bones from people, chimpanzees, and gorillas.

"The Dmanisi spinal column falls within the human range and would have comfortably accommodated a modern human spinal cord," Meyer says.

Moreover, the fossil vertebrae would have provided ample structural support for the respiratory muscles needed to articulate words, he asserts. Although it's impossible to confirm that our prehistoric ancestors talked, Meyer notes, H. erectus at Dmanisi faced no respiratory limitations on speech.

In contrast, the 1984 discovery in Kenya of a boy's 1.6-million-year-old skeleton, identified by some researchers as H. erectus and by others as Homo ergaster, yielded small, chimplike vertebrae. Researchers initially suspected that the ancient youth and his presumably small-spined comrades lacked the respiratory control to talk as people do today.

In the past 5 years, investigators including Bruce Latimer of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History have suggested that the prehistoric boy offers a misleading view of H. erectus' backbone. They contend that growth of the bony canal encasing his spinal cord had been stunted, and spinal cord compression would have impeded his movement and caused limb weakness.

Finding ancient, humanlike vertebrae at Dmanisi fits with Latimer's view, Meyer says. Infant malnutrition, which often arrests growth of the human vertebral canal, may have affected the H. erectus youth, Meyer suggests.

The ancient boy, who died at age 10 or so, would have required intensive protection and provisioning, Meyer asserts. "Both altruism and spoken language may have been part of the behavioral repertoire of early Homo," the Pennsylvania researcher says.

The modern-looking vertebrae at Dmanisi, remarks David Frayer of the University of Kansas in Lawrence, comport with earlier fossil-skull studies indicating that early Homo possessed a speech-ready vocal tract.

Robert C. McCarthy of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton disagrees. At the Paleoanthropology Society meeting, he presented vocal-tract reconstructions for various ancient Homo species suggesting that the capacity to articulate speech as well as people do now emerged exclusively in Homo sapiens around 50,000 years ago.

Before then, all members of the Homo genus—including H. sapiens—possessed a short set of neck vertebrae, resulting in a vocal tract with a restricted range of speech sounds, McCarthy and his coworkers argue.

Many populations today, including Australian aborigines, possess neck vertebrae comparable in length to those that McCarthy's team considered inadequate for modern speech, Meyer responds.


SOURCE:SCIENCENEWS.COM

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The record of Rhea
CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE
Posted: May 14, 2006



Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Download larger image versionhere


Cassini looks down upon Rhea, whose cratered surface was already ancient before any complex life developed on Earth. The terrain seen here has probably changed little in the past billion years.

This view shows terrain on the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Rhea (1,528 kilometers, or 949 miles across). North is up.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera at a distance of approximately 94,000 kilometers (59,000 miles) from Rhea and at a Sun-Rhea-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 109 degrees. Image scale is 558 meters (1,832 feet) per pixel.

SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Dwarfs gave way to giants
HARVARD-SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS NEWS RELEASE
Posted: May 17, 2006

The first galaxies were small - about 10,000 times less massive than the Milky
 Way. Billions of years ago, those mini-furnaces forged a multitude of hot,
massive stars. In the process, they sowed the seeds for their own
destruction by bathing the universe in ultraviolet radiation. According to
theory, that radiation shut off further dwarf galaxy formation by both ionizing
 and heating surrounding hydrogen gas. Now, astronomers Stuart Wyithe
(University of Melbourne) and Avi Loeb (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics) are presenting direct evidence in support of this theory.



This artist's conception shows a collection of hot, blue stars
comprising an early dwarf galaxy surrounded by red hydrogen gas. Credit:
David A. Aguilar (CfA)

 
 
Wyithe and Loeb showed that fewer, larger galaxies, rather than more
numerous, smaller galaxies, dominated the billion-year-old universe. Dwarf
galaxy formation essentially shut off only a few hundred million years after the
 Big Bang.


"The first dwarf galaxies sabotaged their own growth and that of their
siblings," says Loeb. "This was theoretically expected, but we identified the
first observational evidence for the self-destructive behavior of early
galaxies."

Their research is being reported in the May 18, 2006 issue of Nature.


Nearly 14 billion years ago, the Big Bang filled the universe with hot matter in
the form of electrons and hydrogen and helium ions. As space expanded and
cooled, electrons and ions combined to form neutral atoms. Those atoms
efficiently absorbed light, yielding a pervasive dark fog throughout space.
Astronomers have dubbed this era the "Dark Ages."


The first generation of stars began clearing that fog by bathing the universe
in ultraviolet radiation. UV radiation splits atoms into negatively charged
electrons and positively charged ions in a process called ionization. Since the
 Big Bang created an ionized universe that later became neutral, this second
phase of ionization by stars is known as the "epoch of reionization." It took
place in the first few hundred million years of existence.


"We want to study this time period because that's when the primordial soup
evolved into the rich zoo of objects we now see," said Loeb.


During this key epoch in the history of the universe, gas was not only ionized
, but also heated. While cool gas easily clumps together to form stars and
galaxies, hot gas refuses to be constrained. The hotter the gas, the more
massive a galactic "seed" must be to attract enough matter to become a
galaxy.


Before the epoch of reionization, galaxies containing only 100 million solar
masses of material could form easily. After the epoch of reionization, galaxies
required more than 10 billion solar masses of material to be assembled.


To determine typical galaxy masses, Wyithe and Loeb looked at light from
quasars - powerful light sources visible across vast distances. The light from
 the farthest known quasars left them nearly 13 billion years ago, when the
universe was a fraction of its present age. Quasar light is absorbed by
intervening clouds of hydrogen associated with early galaxies, leaving telltale
 bumps and wiggles in the quasar's spectrum.

By comparing the spectra of different quasars along different lines of sight,
Wyithe and Loeb determined typical galaxy sizes in the infant universe. The
presence of fewer, larger galaxies leads to more variation in the absorption
seen along various lines of sight. Statistically, large variation is exactly what
 Wyithe and Loeb found.

"As an analogy, suppose you are in a room where everybody is talking,"
explains Wyithe. "If this room is sparsely populated, then the background
noise is louder in some parts of the room than others. However if the room is
 crowded, then the background noise is the same everywhere. The fact that
we see fluctuations in the light from quasars implies that the early universe
was more like the sparse room than the crowded room."


Astronomers hope to confirm the suppression of dwarf galaxy formation using
the next generation of telescopes - both radio telescopes that can detect
distant hydrogen and infrared telescopes that can directly image young
galaxies. Within the next decade, researchers using these new instruments
will illuminate the "Dark Ages" of the universe.


Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA
scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution
and ultimate fate of the universe.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Hubble captures a 'five-star' rated gravitational lens
HUBBLE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY INFORMATION CENTRE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: May 22, 2006

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured the first-ever picture of a distant quasar lensed into five images. In addition, the image holds a treasure of lensed galaxies and even a supernova.


Credit: ESA, NASA, K. Sharon (Tel Aviv University) and E. Ofek (Caltech)
Download larger image version here

 
 
The most unique feature in a new image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is a group of five quasar images produced by a process called gravitational lensing, in which the gravitational field of a massive object - in this case, a cluster of galaxies - bends and amplifies light from an object - in this case, a quasar - farther behind it.

Although other multiply lensed quasars have been seen before this newly observed ³quintuple quasar² is the only case so far in which multiple quasar images are produced by an entire galaxy cluster acting as a gravitational lens.

The background quasar is the brilliant core of a galaxy. It is powered by a black hole, which is devouring gas and dust and creating a gusher of light in the process. When the quasar's light passes through the gravity field of the galaxy cluster that lies between us and the quasar, the light is bent by the space-warping gravity field in such a way that five separate images of the object are produced surrounding the cluster's centre. The fifth quasar image is embedded to the right of the core of the central galaxy in the cluster. The cluster also creates a cobweb of images of other distant galaxies gravitationally lensed into arcs.

The galaxy cluster creating the lens is known as SDSS J1004+4112 and was discovered as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. It is one of the more distant clusters known (seven billion light-years, redshift z=0.68), and is seen when the Universe was half its present age.

Gravitational lensing occurs for extremely concentrated masses like the cores of galaxies or galaxy clusters. Their strong gravity warps the surrounding space, and light travelling through that warped space bends its direction. Multiple images of a distant light source may be seen, each taking a different path through the warped space.



Credit: ESA, NASA, K. Sharon (Tel Aviv University) and E. Ofek (Caltech)
 
 
A gravitational lens will always produce an odd number of lensed images, but one image is usually very weak and embedded deep within the light of the lensing object itself. Though previous observations of SDSS J1004+4112 have revealed four of the images of this system, Hubble's sharp vision and the high magnification of this gravitational lens combine to place a fifth image far enough from the core of the central imaging galaxy to make it visible as well.

The galaxy hosting the background quasar is at a distance of 10 billion light years (at redshift 1.74). The quasar host galaxy can be seen in the image as faint red arcs. This is the most highly magnified quasar host galaxy ever seen.

The Hubble picture also shows a large number of stretched arcs that are more distant galaxies lying behind the cluster, each of which is split into multiple distorted images. The most distant galaxy identified and confirmed so far is 12 billion light years away (a redshift of 3.33, corresponding to only 1.8 billion years after the Big Bang).

By comparing this image to a picture of the cluster obtained with Hubble a year earlier, the researchers discovered a rare event - a supernova exploding in one of the cluster galaxies. This supernova exploded seven billion years ago, and the data, together with other supernova observations, are being used to try to reconstruct how the Universe was enriched by heavy elements through these explosions.

SOURCE;SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM



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A new ruler available to measure the universe

LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: May 22, 2006

A team of astronomers led by Nikhil Padmanabhan and David Schlegel has published the largest three-dimensional map of the universe ever constructed, a wedge-shaped slice of the cosmos that spans a tenth of the northern sky, encompasses 600,000 uniquely luminous red galaxies, and extends 5.6 billion light-years deep into space, equivalent to 40 percent of the way back in time to the Big Bang.



A schematic view of the new SDSS three-dimensional map,
which includes regular galaxies (black points) and luminous red
galaxies (red points) and extends 5.6 billion light-years, 40
percent of the distance to the edge of the visible universe. Credit:
LBNL
 


Schlegel is a Divisional Fellow in the Physics Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Padmanabhan will join the Lab's Physics Division as a Chamberlain Fellow and Hubble Fellow in September; presently he is at Princeton University. They and their coauthors are members of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and have previously produced smaller 3-D maps by using the SDSS telescope in New Mexico to painstakingly collect the spectra of individual galaxies and calculate their distances by measuring their redshifts.

"What's new about this map is that it's the largest ever," says Padmanabhan, "and it doesn't depend on individual spectra."

The principal motive for creating large-scale 3-D maps is to understand how matter is distributed in the universe, says Padmanabhan. "The brightest galaxies are like lighthouses -- where the light is, is where the matter is."

Schlegel says that "because this map covers much larger distances than previous maps, it allows us to measure structures as big as a billion light-years across."

A natural ruler in space


The variations in galactic distribution that constitute visible large-scale structures are directly descended from variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background, reflecting oscillations in the dense early universe that have been measured to great accuracy by balloon-borne experiments and the WMAP satellite.

The result is a natural "ruler" formed by the regular variations (sometimes called "baryon oscillations," with baryons as shorthand for ordinary matter), which repeat at intervals of some 450 million light-years.

"Unfortunately it's an inconveniently sized ruler," says Schlegel. "We had to sample a huge volume of the universe just to fit the ruler inside."

Says Padmanabhan, "Although the universe is 13.7 billion years old, that really isn't a whole lot of time when you're measuring with a ruler that's marked only every 450 million light-years."

The distribution of galaxies reveals many things, but one of the most important is a measure of the mysterious dark energy that accounts for some three-fourths of the universe's density. (Dark matter accounts for roughly another 20 percent, while less than 5 percent is ordinary matter of the kind that makes visible galaxies.)

"Dark energy is just the term we use for our observation that the expansion of the universe is accelerating," Padmanabhan remarks. "By looking at where density variations were at the time of the cosmic microwave background" -- only about 300,000 years after the Big Bang -- "and seeing how they evolve into a map that covers the last 5.6 billion years, we can see if our estimates of dark energy are correct."

The new map shows that the large-scale structures are indeed distributed the way current ideas about the accelerating expansion of the universe would suggest. The map's assumed distribution of dark matter, which although invisible is affected by gravity just like ordinary matter, also conforms to current understanding.

Dead, red galaxies

What made the big new 3-D map possible were the Sloan Digital Sky Survey's wide-field telescope, which covers a three-degree field of view (the full moon is about half a degree), plus the choice of a particular kind of galactic "lighthouse," or distance marker: luminous red galaxies.

"These are dead, red galaxies, some of the oldest in the universe -- in which all the fast-burning stars have long ago burned out and only old red stars are left," says Schlegel. "Not only are these the reddest galaxies, they're also the brightest, visible at great distances."

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey astronomers worked with colleagues on the Australian Two-Degree Field team to average the color and redshift of a sample of 10,000 red luminous galaxies, relating galaxy color to distance. They then applied these measurements to 600,000 such galaxies to plot their map.

Padmanabhan concedes that "there's statistical uncertainty in applying a brightness-distance relation derived from 10,000 red luminous galaxies to all 600,000 without measuring them individually. The game we play is, we have so many that the averages still give us very useful information about their distribution. And without having to measure their spectra, we can look much deeper into space."

Schlegel agrees that the researchers are far from achieving the precision they want. "But we have shown that such measurements are possible, and we have established the starting point for a standard ruler of the evolving universe."

He says "the next step is to design a precision experiment, perhaps based on modifications to the SDSS telescope. We are working with engineers here at Berkeley Lab to redesign the telescope to do what we want to do."

"The Clustering of Luminous Red Galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Imaging Data," by Nikhil Padmanabhan, David J. Schlegel, Uros Seljak, Alexey Makarov, Neta A. Bahcall, Michael R. Blanton, Jonathan Brinkmann, Daniel J. Eisenstein, Douglas P. Finkbeiner, James E. Gunn, David W. Hogg, Zeljko Ivezic', Gillian R. Knapp, Jon Loveday, Robert H. Lupton, Robert C. Nichol, Donald P. Schneider, Michael A. Strauss, Max Tegmark, and Donald G. York, will appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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Underwater Hotel

Currently under construction in Dubai, Hydropolis is the world's
first underwater luxury hotel. It will include three elements: the
land station, where guests will be welcomed, the connecting tunnel,
which will transport people by train to the main area of the hotel,
and the 220 suites within the submarine leisure complex.

This will be a hotel where those who do not dive - or do not even
swim - can experience the tranquillity and inspiration of the
underwater world.




In order to enter this surreal space, visitors will begin at the
 land station. This 120m woven, semicircular cylinder will arch over
a multi-storey building.






The upper storeys of the land station house a variety of facilities,
including a cosmetic surgical clinic, a marine biological research
laboratory and conference facilities.




The world of science fiction becoming reality.





SOURCE: http://www.alltraveltips.com/underwaterhotel.html



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Crunch time for Planet Pluto  
By Nicola Cook
BBC Horizon  



Pluto moves from 30 to 50 times the Sun-Earth distance over its 248-
year orbit. It has two moons in addition to Charon (the smaller
object pictured here). The gravity on Pluto is about 6% of Earth's;
the surface temperature -233C.



 
At its conference this August, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) will make a decision that could see Pluto lose its status as a planet.

For the first time, the organisation will be officially defining the word "planet", and it is causing much debate in the world of astronomy.

There is only one thing that everyone seems to agree on: there are no longer nine planets in the Solar System.

Matters were brought to a head by the discovery in January of last year of a potential 10th planet, temporarily named 2003 UB313.

Professor Mike Brown and his team at the California Institute of Technology have already discovered several large objects on the edge of the Solar System, but 2003 UB313 is special because it is bigger than Pluto.

The question now facing the IAU is whether to make this new discovery a planet.

Pressing issue

Co-discoverer Dr Chad Trujillo thinks the solution is pretty straightforward.

"The logically consistent thing would be to either have 2003 UB313 a planet, and Pluto be a planet; or have neither be a planet," he told the BBC's Horizon programme.

But Pluto is already an unusual planet. It is made predominantly of ice, and is smaller even than the Earth's Moon.

 



In 1992, Professor Dave Jewitt and Dr Jane Lu at the University of Hawaii discovered a new collection of objects beyond Neptune called the Kuiper Belt. Some suggest Pluto should no longer be considered a planet, but a Kuiper Belt Object.

As Professor Jewitt says: "We always say we found plus one Kuiper Belt, and minus one planet. And the one we lost, of course, is Pluto."

There are many astronomers who agree with Dave Jewitt and would opt for an eight-planet Solar System, with neither Pluto or 2003 UB313 making the grade; but a number of astronomers are arguing for a more specific definition of a planet.

Kuiper Belt researcher Dr Marc Buie, of the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, has come up with a clear planetary definition he would like to see the IAU adopt.

Different categories

"I believe the definition of planet should be as simple as possible, so I've come up with two criteria," he said.

"One is that it can't be big enough to burn its own matter - that's what a star does. On the small end, I think the boundary between a planet and not a planet should be, is the gravity of the object stronger than the strength of the material of the object? That's a fancy way of saying is it round?"

 

This definition could lead to a Solar System with as many as 20 planets, including Pluto, 2003 UB313, and many objects previously classified as moons or asteroids.

One possible resolution to the debate is for new categories of planet to be introduced. Mercury, Venus, the Earth and Mars would be "rocky planets". The gas-giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune would be a second category.

Pluto, 2003 UB313, and any other objects passing the "roundness test", would be reclassified as a third type of planet - perhaps "icy dwarfs".

Whatever the final outcome, by September there will no longer be nine planets in the Solar System.



Bye-Bye Planet Pluto is broadcast on BBC Two at 2100 BST this Thursday, 22 June
 



SOURCE: BBC.CO.UK

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Hubble reveals two dust disks around nearby star
SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: June 28, 2006

Detailed images of the nearby star Beta Pictoris, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, confirm the existence of not one but two dust disks encircling the star. The images offer tantalizing new evidence for at least one Jupiter-size planet orbiting Beta Pictoris.



Larger versionHERE


The finding ends a decade of speculation that an odd warp in the young star's debris disk may actually be another inclined disk. The recent Hubble Advanced Camera for Surveys view ­ the best visible-light image of Beta Pictoris ­ clearly shows a distinct secondary disk that is tilted by about 4 degrees from the main disk. The secondary disk is visible out to roughly 24 billion miles from the star, and probably extends even farther, said astronomers.

The finding, by a team of astronomers led by David Golimowski of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., appears in the June 2006 issue of the Astronomical Journal. To see the faint disk, astronomers used the Advanced Camera for Surveys' coronagraph, which blocked the light from Beta Pictoris. The disk is fainter than the star because its dust only reflects light.

The best explanation for the observations is that a suspected unseen planet, about one to 20 times the mass of Jupiter and in an orbit within the secondary disk, is using gravity to sweep up material from the primary disk.

"The Hubble observation shows that it is not simply a warp but two concentrations of dust in two separate disks," Golimowski said. "The finding suggests that planetary systems could be forming in two different planes. We know this can happen because the planets in our solar system are typically inclined to Earth's orbit by several degrees. Perhaps stars forming more than one dust disk may be the norm in the formative years of a star system."

Dynamical computer models by David Mouillet and Jean-Charles Augereau of Grenoble Observatory in France suggest how a secondary dust disk can form. A planet in an inclined orbit gravitationally attracts small bodies of rock and/or ice, called planetesimals, from the main disk, and moves them into an orbit aligned with that of the planet. These perturbed planetesimals then collide with each other, producing the tilted dust disk seen in the new Hubble images.

Astronomers do not know how the planet, if it exists, settled into an inclined orbit. However, computer simulations by multiple research teams show that planet embryos which start out in a very thin plane, can, through gravitation interactions, rapidly scatter into orbits that become inclined to the primary disk. Whatever the process, the four degree inclination of the suspected perturbing planet in Beta Pictoris is not unlike the several degree spread seen in our solar system.

"The actual lifetime of a dust grain is relatively short, maybe a few hundred thousand years," Golimowski explained. "So the fact that we can still see these disks around a 10- to 20-million-year-old star means that the dust is being replenished by collisions between planetesimals."

Beta Pictoris is located 63 light-years away in the southern constellation Pictor. Although the star is much younger than the Sun, it is twice as massive and nine times more luminous. Beta Pictoris entered the limelight over 20 years ago when NASA's Infrared Astronomical Satellite detected excess infrared radiation from the star. Astronomers attributed this excess to the presence of warm circumstellar dust.

The dust disk was first imaged by ground-based telescopes in 1984. Those images showed that the disk is seen nearly edge-on from Earth. Hubble observations in 1995 revealed an apparent warp in the disk.

Subsequent images obtained in 2000 by Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph confirmed the warp. The latter study was led by Sara Heap of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. At that time, Heap and her colleagues suggested that the warp may be a secondary disk tilted about 4 degrees from the main disk. Several teams of astronomers attributed the warp to a planet in a tilted orbit out of the plane of the main disk.

Astronomers using ground-based telescopes also found various asymmetries in the star's disk. Infrared images taken in 2002 by the Keck II Observatory in Hawaii showed that another, smaller inner disk may exist around the star in a region the size of our solar system. Golimowski's team did not spot the disk because it is small and is blocked by the Advanced Camera's coronagraph. This possible inner disk is tilted in the opposite direction from the disk seen in the new Hubble images. This misalignment implies that the tilted disks are not directly related. Nevertheless, they both may bolster evidence for the existence of one or more planets orbiting the star.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM



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FSU Etruscan expert announces historic discovery at ancient site

Tallahassee, Fla. -- Digging on a remote hilltop in Italy, a Florida State University classics professor and her students have unearthed artifacts that dramatically reshape our knowledge of the religious practices of an ancient people, the Etruscans.




View of the Etruscan site at Cetamura, with a rock platform hypothesized to be an Etruscan altar of the second century BCE.




"We are excavating a monumental Etruscan building evidently dating to the final years of Etruscan civilization," said Nancy Thomson de Grummond, the M. Lynette Thompson Professor of Classics at FSU and director of the university's archaeology programs in Italy. Within the building, de Grummond's team located in early June what appears to be a sacrificial pit and a sanctuary -- finds remarkable for the wealth of items they are yielding that appear to have been used in religious rituals.

Nearly every summer since 1983, de Grummond has taken groups of FSU students into Italy's Tuscany region to participate in archaeological digs at Cetamura del Chianti, a site once inhabited by the Etruscans and ancient Romans. In the final days of this year's program, de Grummond and her students unearthed what she calls "the most thrilling" find she has seen in 23 years at Cetamura.

She explained that the Etruscans, who once ruled most of the Italian peninsula, were conquered and absorbed by the Romans in the second and first centuries B.C.E. ("Before the Common Era"). Prior to that time, however, they were a highly advanced civilization that constructed roads, buildings and sewer systems and developed the first true cities in Europe. They also built large, complex religious sanctuaries -- which may have been the purpose served, in part, by the Cetamura structure.

"The building has a highly irregular plan, with stone foundations 3 or 4 feet thick," she said. "One wing of the building is about 60 feet long, flanking a space that has walls running at right angles. Some walls run on a diagonal to the grid, or are curved. There are paved areas alternating with beaten earth floors and what I believe to be a large courtyard in the middle. Some of the foundations are so heavy and thick that they could easily have supported multistoried elements.


Etruscan potsherd with an incised inscription with the name of the god Lurs, worshipped at Cetamura.


Within the building's courtyard, de Grummond said, is a freestanding sandstone platform that likely served as an altar. A few feet away, she and her students unearthed "the most fascinating find of all -- a pit filled with burnt offerings for the gods.

"In all, the pit contained approximately 10 vessels, some miniature and thus clearly intended only as gifts for the gods," de Grummond said. "On the other hand, several of the vessels were quite large, including one storage vessel, probably for grain, and a huge pitcher, probably for wine. There also were little cups for drinking and a bowl for eating, as well as a small beaker of the type that holds oil or spices. All of these vessels were ceramic, some ritually broken and but with most or all of the fragments buried together in the pit. Further, most of the pots seem to be locally made rather than imported. They were offering to the gods their own special creations.

"We should be able to restore these vases and have quite a splendid array of Etruscan pottery dating from a single moment and a particular place in their history," de Grummond said.

Also of great interest to de Grummond was the discovery of some 10 iron nails deposited in the pit, all in an excellent state of preservation.

"These reflect what we know from ancient texts in Latin that note that the Etruscans treated nails as sacred, and regarded them as symbolizing inexorable fate," she said. "They had a ritual practice in regard to their deity Nurtia in which they would hammer a nail into the wall of the temple each year as a tribute to the goddess. We cannot yet be sure about the cultic significance of the nails of Cetamura, but they may well relate to the passage of time and thus to the sacred calendar of the Etruscans."

One of de Grummond's students also unearthed an Etruscan inscription on a shard of pottery that contained the name of a little-known Etruscan god, Lurs.
.

"Almost nothing is known about Lurs, but we may have at Cetamura some very rare evidence about his worship," she said.

De Grummond is a leading scholar on the religious practices of the Etruscans, a people whose culture profoundly influenced the ancient Romans and Greeks. "The Religion of the Etruscans," a book written and edited by de Grummond and Erika Simon, another expert in classical archaeology who served as the Langford Family Eminent Scholar in Classics at FSU in 1999, was published last spring. De Grummond soon will release another book, "Etruscan Myth, Sacred History and Legend."

De Grummond said she hopes to continue excavating the Cetamura sacred area, and building on nearly a quarter-century of knowledge that she has gathered there.

"It is a bit eerie to have excavated something so central to my own lifelong interest in the myth, religion and rituals of the Etruscans," she said. "Without a doubt, this is one of the most exciting of the discoveries I have experienced."

SOURCE: EUREKAALERT.

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Cassini's radar mapper finds possible lakes on Titan
CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE





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The Cassini spacecraft, using its radar system, has discovered very strong evidence for hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Dark patches, which resemble terrestrial lakes, seem to be sprinkled all over the high latitudes surrounding Titan's north pole.

Scientists have speculated that liquid methane or ethane might form lakes on Titan, particularly near the somewhat colder polar regions. In the images, a variety of dark patches, some with channels leading in or out of them, appear. The channels have a shape that strongly implies they were carved by liquid. Some of the dark patches and connecting channels are completely black, that is, they reflect back essentially no radar signal, and hence must be extremely smooth. In some cases rims can be seen around the dark patches, suggesting deposits that might form as liquid evaporates. The abundant methane in Titan's atmosphere is stable as a liquid under Titan conditions, as is its abundant chemical product, ethane, but liquid water is not.

For all these reasons, scientists interpret the dark areas as lakes of liquid methane or ethane, making Titan the only body in the solar system besides Earth known to possess lakes. Because such lakes may wax and wane over time, and winds may alter the roughness of their surfaces. Repeat coverage of these areas should test whether indeed these are bodies of liquid.

These two radar images were acquired by the Cassini radar instrument in synthetic aperture mode on July 21, 2006. The top image centered near 80 degrees north, 92 degrees west measures about 420 kilometers by 150 kilometers (260 miles by 93 miles). The lower image centered near 78 degrees north, 18 degrees west measures about 475 kilometers by 150 kilometers (295 miles by 93 miles). Smallest details in this image are about 500 meters (1,640 feet) across.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the United States and several European countries.


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Going out with a bang
Lunar orbiter to impact
BY STEPHEN CLARK
SPACEFLIGHT NOW


A pioneering space probe has set a course for a dramatic end to its three-year mission in September, when it will collide with the Moon in a spectacular send-off for scientists to learn new information about the lunar surface.


This artist's impression shows the trajectory of the SMART-1 spacecraft in the final phase of its mission. Credits: ESA

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Going out with a bang
Lunar orbiter to impact
BY STEPHEN CLARK
SPACEFLIGHT NOW
Posted: July 24, 2006

A pioneering space probe has set a course for a dramatic end to its three-year mission in September, when it will collide with the Moon in a spectacular send-off for scientists to learn new information about the lunar surface.


This artist's impression shows the trajectory of the SMART-1 spacecraft in the final phase of its mission. Credits: ESA
Download larger image version here
 
 
The innovative SMART-1 technology demonstrator is about to wrap up a highly successful mission testing a range of new spacecraft concepts and systems for potential use in the future. The Swedish-built craft also conducted a broad science program using an array of instruments.

The end will come with a fiery crash into the Moon's nearside at about 0541 GMT (1:41 a.m. EDT) on September 3, according to the best data now available. This time is only certain within seven hours.

The exact timing of the impact will slightly change as the probe's orbit evolves in several upcoming trim maneuvers designed to fine-tune the craft's approach. Five such burns are planned for July 27, July 28, August 25, and on the final two days before SMART-1 hits the surface.

Scientists' "best guess" on the impact site puts it in the Moon's mid-southern latitudes in a region known as the Lake of Excellence. The location is believed to be of mostly volcanic origin and areas of highlands and hills are also nearby. The area is also known as Lacus Excellentiae in Latin.

At the time of impact, the Lake of Excellence will be shrouded in darkness - only slightly illuminated by light from the Earth in a phenomenon called "earthshine." The boundary between bright sunshine and nighttime on the Moon will be located not far away, possibly allowing material blown above the surface to reach altitudes high enough to be lit by sunlight.

Ground controllers in Germany had to command a two-week series of thruster firings to raise the low point of SMART-1's trek around the Moon to push back the inevitable crash from about August 17 to the current date of September 3. The plan also brought the forecasted impact site into the direct view of scientists on the ground. If left undisturbed, the 630-pound probe would have smacked into the far side of the Moon facing away from Earth.

The set of orbit-raising maneuvers began June 19 and ended on July 2 - about five days ahead of schedule.

Astronomers at observatories across the globe plan to try to see the plume of debris ejected high above the lunar surface as SMART-1 drives into the Moon. Organized groups at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, Kitt Peak in Arizona, telescopes in Hawaii, and other locations will attempt to spot the impact and its aftermath

The most favorable position for observing an on-time impact will be in North and South America and Hawaii. There, the quarter Moon will be high in the sky for prime viewing.

Larger telescopes could detect a flash at the moment of impact due to vaporized hydrazine fuel. A few minutes later, dust and rocks thrown high above the Moon might be seen. If the debris reaches an altitude of over 12 miles, it could be lit by sunlight. If so, amateur astronomers with smaller backyard telescopes could see the dust cloud backdropped by the darker lunar surface.

"We are calling upon astronomical observatories and amateurs worldwide to participate in a coordinated observation effort with SMART-1, including the final orbits until impact," said European Space Agency SMART-1 project scientist Bernard Foing.

Instruments to be operating during SMART-1's final hours include an infrared spectrometer, an X-ray spectrometer, and a tiny camera to take pictures of the Moon as the spacecraft passes near the surface.

The material propelled into sunlight will be closely analyzed to determine details such as its mineral composition and physical properties. Some of the debris could be excavated from underground during SMART-1's crash, so scientists are especially interested in learning about the sub-surface of the Moon.

During SMART-1's final orbits, the spacecraft should be speeding just a few miles above the lunar surface. Accurate predictions of the expected impact time and location are hard to produce because of unknown variations in topography along the probe's trajectory over the Moon. Officials say an unexpected mountain or cliff could cause the craft to crash earlier than anticipated.

By early September, SMART-1 will complete one orbit of the Moon about every five hours. With each orbit's closest approach to the surface, the probe will slowly descend further.

Two low passes before the most likely impact time are also being closely watched in case SMART-1 hits the Moon early. If the spacecraft strikes the Moon at 0037 GMT, observers in South America and the Canary Islands will garner the best view of the event. One orbit earlier - at 1933 GMT on September 2 - astronomers based in Europe and Africa will have the best chance to view the crash.

At first contact, engineers believe SMART-1 will gently glide down at a vertical speed of just under 45 miles per hour, assuming the impact is on a relatively flat surface. However, the craft will be traveling at a horizontal clip of well over 4,000 miles per hour. The low-angle impact could carve a crater up to three feet deep and a couple dozen feet wide.

The testbed carries an efficient ion engine that is fueled by a relatively small amount of xenon fuel and electricity. Strides have also been made in autonomous navigation through ground software that can remotely track the craft's position and velocity through images of stars taken by an on-board camera. Several communications tests through lasers and higher radio frequencies were also carried out.

On the scientific front, SMART-1 has captured and returned up to 1,000 images per week during the past 15 months. Its miniature visible camera is fitted with several color filters, so scientists were also able to take several black-and-white pictures of the same area and artificially create a color image.

The spacecraft's instruments have also been working on studies of lunar composition and the search for ice hidden in the bottoms of polar craters. SMART-1 has also collected evidence on the Moon's evolution and origin. Extensive mapping operations have also been a priority for planning in advance of future lunar missions.

SMART-1 has been circling the Moon since November 2004, almost 14 months after launching aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in September 2003. The probe took a circuitous route to the Moon, completing 332 orbits around Earth while using its electric propulsion system to gently nudge it higher before finally slipping into lunar orbit.

While transitioning to a stable science orbit a few months later, SMART-1 was quickly granted a mission extension in February 2005 that allowed the mission to continue operations through August of this year.

The mission is the first member of the European Space Agency's Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology program. SMART missions are designed to test new technologies before employing them on more expensive projects.
 
SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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New view of quasar emerges
HARVARD-SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS NEWS RELEASE


In the distant, young universe, quasars shine with a brilliance unmatched by anything in the local cosmos. Although they appear starlike in optical telescopes, quasars are actually the bright centers of galaxies located billions of light-years from Earth.



This artist's conceptual drawing shows the core of a quasar known as
 Q0957+561. Observations indicate that the quasar contains a 4-billion solar-mass object that astronomers have dubbed a
magnetospheric eternally collapsing object, or MECO for short.
Credit: Christine Pulliam (CfA)


The seething core of a quasar currently is pictured as containing a disk of hot gas spiraling into a supermassive black hole. Some of that gas is forcefully ejected outward in two opposing jets at nearly the speed of light. Theorists struggle to understand the physics of the accretion disk and jets, while observers struggle to peer into the quasar's heart. The central "engine" powering the jets is difficult to study telescopically because the region is so compact and Earth observers are so far away.

Astronomer Rudy Schild of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and his colleagues studied the quasar known as Q0957+561, located about 9 billion light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, near the Big Dipper. This quasar holds a central compact object containing as much mass as 3-4 billion Suns. Most would consider that object to be a "black hole," but Schild's research suggests otherwise.

"We don't call this object a black hole because we have found evidence that it contains an internally anchored magnetic field that penetrates right through the surface of the collapsed central object, and that interacts with the quasar environment," commented Schild.

The researchers chose Q0957+561 for its association with a natural cosmic lens. The gravity of a nearby galaxy bends space, forming two images of the distant quasar and magnifying its light. Stars and planets within the nearby galaxy also affect the quasar's light, causing small fluctuations in brightness (in a process called "microlensing") when they drift into the line of sight between Earth and the quasar.

Schild monitored the quasar's brightness for 20 years, and led an international consortium of observers operating 14 telescopes to keep the object under steady around-the-clock watch at critical times.

"With microlensing, we can discern more detail from this so-called 'black hole' two-thirds of the way to the edge of the visible universe than we can from the black hole at the center of the Milky Way," said Schild.

Through careful analysis, the team teased out details about the quasar's core. For example, their calculations pinpointed the location where the jets form.

"How and where do these jets form? Even after 60 years of radio observations, we had no answer. Now the evidence is in, and we know," said Schild.

Schild and his colleagues found that the jets appear to emerge from two regions 1,000 astronomical units in size (about 25 times larger than the Pluto-Sun distance) located 8,000 astronomical units directly above the poles of the central compact object. (An astronomical unit is defined as the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, or 93 million miles.) However, that location would be expected only if the jets were powered by reconnecting magnetic field lines that were anchored to the rotating supermassive compact object within the quasar. By interacting with a surrounding accretion disk, such spinning magnetic field lines spool up, winding tighter and tighter until they explosively unite, reconnect and break, releasing huge amounts of energy that power the jets.

"This quasar appears to be dynamically dominated by a magnetic field internally anchored to its central, rotating supermassive compact object," stated Schild.

Further evidence for the importance of the quasar's internally anchored magnetic field is found in surrounding structures. For example, the inner region closest to the quasar appears to have been swept clean of material. The inner edge of the accretion disk, located about 2,000 astronomical units from the central compact object, is heated to incandescence and glows brightly. Both effects are the physical signatures of a swirling, internal magnetic field being pulled around by the rotation of the central compact object - a phenomenon dubbed the "magnetic propeller effect."

Observations also suggest the presence of a broad cone-shaped outflow from the accretion disk. Where lit by the central quasar, it shines in a ring-like outline known as the Elvis structure after Schild's CfA colleague, Martin Elvis, who theorized its existence. The surprisingly large angular opening of the outflow that is observed is best explained by the influence of an intrinsic magnetic field contained within the central compact object in this quasar.

In light of these observations, Schild and his colleagues, Darryl Leiter (Marwood Astrophysics Research Center) and Stanley Robertson (Southwestern Oklahoma State University), have proposed a controversial theory that the magnetic field is intrinsic to the quasar's central, supermassive compact object, rather than only being part of the accretion disk as thought by most researchers. If confirmed, this theory would lead to a revolutionary new picture of quasar structure.

"Our finding challenges the accepted view of black holes," said Leiter. "We've even proposed a new name for them - Magnetospheric Eternally Collapsing Objects, or MECOs," a variant of the name first coined by Indian astrophysicist Abhas Mitra in 1998. "Astrophysicists of 50 years ago did not have access to the modern understanding of quantum electrodynamics that is behind our new solutions to Einstein's original equations of relativity."

This research suggests that, in addition to its mass and spin, the quasar's central compact object may have physical properties more like a highly redshifted, spinning magnetic dipole than like a black hole. For that reason, most approaching matter does not disappear forever, but instead feels the motor-like rotating magnetic field and gets spun back out. According to this theory, a MECO does not have an event horizon, so any matter that is able to get by the magnetic propeller is gradually slowed down and stopped at the MECO's highly redshifted surface, with just a weak signal connecting the radiation from that matter to a distant observer. That signal is very hard to observe and has not been detected from Q0957+561.

This research was published in the July 2006 issue of the Astronomical Journal.



SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM




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Planet-forming disks might put the brakes on stars

JET PROPULSION LABORATORY NEWS RELEASE


Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have found evidence that dusty disks of planet-forming material tug on and slow down the young, whirling stars they surround.
 


This artist's concept demonstrates how a dusty planet-forming disk
can slow down a whirling young star, essentially saving the star
from spinning itself to death. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Young stars are full of energy, spinning around like tops in half a day or less. They would spin even faster, but something puts on the brakes. While scientists had theorized that planet-forming disks might be at least part of the answer, demonstrating this had been hard to do until now.

"We knew that something must be keeping the stars' speed in check," said Dr. Luisa Rebull of NASA's Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, Calif. "Disks were the most logical answer, but we had to wait for Spitzer to see the disks."

Rebull, who has been working on the problem for nearly a decade, is lead author of a new paper in the July 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. The findings are part of a quest to understand the complex relationship between young stars and their burgeoning planetary systems.

Stars begin life as collapsing balls of gas that spin faster and faster as they shrink, like twirling ice skaters pulling in their arms. As the stars whip around, excess gas and dust flatten into surrounding pancake-like disks. The dust and gas in the disks are believed to eventually clump together to form planets.

Developing stars spin so fast that, left unchecked, they would never fully contract and become stars. Prior to the new study, astronomers had theorized that disks might be slowing the super speedy stars by yanking on their magnetic fields. When a star's fields pass through a disk, they are thought to get bogged down like a spoon in molasses. This locks a star's rotation to the slower-turning disk, so the shrinking star can't spin faster.

To prove this principle, Rebull and her team turned to Spitzer for help. Launched in August of 2003, the infrared observatory is an expert at finding the swirling disks around stars, because dust in the disks is heated by starlight and glows at infrared wavelengths.

The team used Spitzer to observe nearly 500 young stars in the Orion nebula. They divided the stars into slow spinners and fast spinners, and determined that the slow spinners are five times more likely to have disks than the fast ones.

"We can now say that disks play some kind of role in slowing down stars in at least one region, but there could be a host of other factors operating in tandem. And stars might behave differently in different environments," Rebull said.

Other factors that contribute to a star's winding down over longer periods of time include stellar winds and possibly full-grown planets.

If planet-forming disks slow down stars, does that mean stars with planets spin more slowly than stars without planets? Not necessarily, according to Rebull, who said slowly spinning stars might simply take more time than other stars to clear their disks and develop planets. Such late-blooming stars would, in effect, give their disks more time to put on the brakes and slow them down.

Ultimately, the question of how a star's rotation rate is related to its ability to support planets will fall to planet hunters. So far, all known planets in the universe circle stars that turn around lazily. Our sun is considered a slowpoke, currently plodding along at a rate of one revolution every 28 days. And, due to limits in technology, planet hunters have not been able to find any extrasolar planets around zippy stars.

"We'll have to use different tools for detecting planets around rapidly spinning stars, such as next-generation ground and space telescopes," said Dr. Steve Strom, an astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Ariz.

Other members of Rebull's team include Drs. John Stauffer of the Spitzer Science Center; S. Thomas Megeath at the University of Toledo, Ohio; and Joseph Hora and Lee Hartmann of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. Hartmann is also affiliated with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.



SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM
 


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New definition would add 3 "planets" to Solar System
ASTRONOMICAL UNION NEWS RELEASE
Posted: August 16, 2006

The world's astronomers, under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), have concluded two years of work defining the difference between "planets" and the smaller "solar system bodies" such as comets and asteroids. If the definition is approved by the astronomers gathered 14-25 August 2006 at the IAU General Assembly in Prague, our Solar System will include 12 planets, with more to come: eight classical planets that dominate the system, three planets in a new and growing category of "plutons" - Pluto-like objects - and Ceres. Pluto remains a planet and is the prototype for the new category of "plutons."




If the definition is approved by the astronomers gathered at the IAU
 General Assembly in Prague, our Solar System will consist of 12
planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn,
Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon and 2003 UB313. The three new
proposed planets are Ceres, Charon (Pluto's companion) and 2003
UB313. Credit: The International Astronomical Union/Martin Kornmesser




With the advent of powerful new telescopes on the ground and in space, planetary astronomy has gone though an exciting development over the past decade. For thousands of years very little was known about the planets other than they were objects that moved in the sky with respect to the background of fixed stars. In fact the word "planet" comes from the Greek word for "wanderer". But today hosts of newly discovered large objects in the outer regions of our Solar System present a challenge to our historically based definition of a "planet".

At first glance one should think that it is easy to define what a planet is - a large and round body. On second thought difficulties arise, as one could ask "where is the lower limit?" - how large, and how round should an asteroid be before it becomes a planet - as well as "where is the upper limit?" - how large can a planet be before it becomes a brown dwarf or a star?

IAU President Ron Ekers explains the rational behind a planet definition: "Modern science provides much more knowledge than the simple fact that objects orbiting the Sun appear to move with respect to the background of fixed stars. For example, recent new discoveries have been made of objects in the outer regions of our Solar System that have sizes comparable to and larger than Pluto. These discoveries have rightfully called into question whether or not they should be considered as new ‘planets.' "

The International Astronomical Union has been the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919. The world's astronomers, under the auspices of the IAU, have had official deliberations on a new definition for the word "planet" for nearly two years. IAU's top, the so-called Executive Committee, led by Ekers, formed a Planet Definition Committee (PDC) comprised by seven persons who were astronomers, writers, and historians with broad international representation. This group of seven convened in Paris in late June and early July 2006. They culminated the two year process by reaching a unanimous consensus for a proposed new definition of the word "planet


The three new planets. Credit: The International Astronomical Union/Martin Kornmesser

Owen Gingerich, the Chair of the Planet Definition Committee says: "In July we had vigorous discussions of both the scientific and the cultural/historical issues, and on the second morning several members admitted that they had not slept well, worrying that we would not be able to reach a consensus. But by the end of a long day, the miracle had happened: we had reached a unanimous agreement."

The part of "IAU Resolution 5 for GA-XXVI" that describes the planet definition, states "A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet." Member of the Planet Definition Committee, Richard Binzel says: "Our goal was to find a scientific basis for a new definition of planet and we chose gravity as the determining factor. Nature decides whether or not an object is a planet."

According to the new draft definition, two conditions must be satisfied for an object to be called a "planet." First, the object must be in orbit around a star, while not being itself a star. Second, the object must be large enough (or more technically correct, massive enough) for its own gravity to pull it into a nearly spherical shape. The shape of objects with mass above 5 x 1020 kg and diameter greater than 800 km would normally be determined by self-gravity, but all borderline cases would have to be established by observation.

If the proposed Resolution is passed, the 12 planets in our Solar System will be Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon and 2003 UB313. The name 2003 UB313 is provisional, as a "real" name has not yet been assigned to this object. A decision and announcement of a new name are likely not to be made during the IAU General Assembly in Prague, but at a later time. The naming procedures depend on the outcome of the Resolution vote. There will most likely be more planets announced by the IAU in the future. Currently a dozen "candidate planets" are listed on IAU's "watchlist" which keeps changing as new objects are found and the physics of the existing candidates becomes better known.


There will most likely be more planets announced by the IAU in the
future. Currently a dozen "candidate planets" are listed on
IAU's "watchlist" which keeps changing as new objects are found and
the physics of the existing candidates becomes better known. A
number of these planet candidates are shown here. Credit: The
International Astronomical Union/Martin Kornmesser


The IAU draft Resolution also defines a new category of planet for official use: "pluton". Plutons are distinguished from classical planets in that they reside in orbits around the Sun that take longer than 200 years to complete (i.e. they orbit beyond Neptune). Plutons typically have orbits that are highly tilted with respect to the classical planets (technically referred to as a large orbital inclination). Plutons also typically have orbits that are far from being perfectly circular (technically referred to as having a large orbital eccentricity). All of these distinguishing characteristics for plutons are scientifically interesting in that they suggest a different origin from the classical planets.

The draft "Planet Definition" Resolution will be discussed and refined during the General Assembly and then it (plus four other Resolutions) will be presented for voting at the 2nd session of the GA 24 August between 14:00 and 17:30 CEST.

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together distinguished astronomers from all nations of the world. IAU's mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers. The IAU General Assembly is held every three years and is one of the largest and most diverse meetings in the astronomical community's calendar.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM  Hmmm...sticky toffee sauce is also nice ! [:)]








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Digging up troves of possible solar systems in Orion

NASA/JPL NEWS RELEASE
Posted: August 14, 2006

Astronomers have long scrutinized the vast and layered clouds of the Orion nebula, an industrious star-making factory visible to the naked eye in the sword of the famous hunter constellation. Yet, Orion is still full of secrets.


This infrared image from Spitzer shows the Orion nebula, our closest
massive star-making factory, 1,450 light-years from Earth. The
nebula is close enough to appear to the naked eye as a fuzzy star in
the sword of the popular hunter constellation. The nebula itself is
located on the lower half of the image, surrounded by a ring of
dust. It formed in a cold cloud of gas and dust and contains about 1,000 young stars. These stars illuminate the cloud, creating the
beautiful nebulosity, or swirls of material, seen here in infrared. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ T. Megeath (University of Toledo)
Download larger image version here


A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope probes deep into the clouds of dust that permeate the nebula and its surrounding regions. The striking false-color picture shows pinkish swirls of dust speckled with stars, some of which are orbited by disks of planet-forming dust.

Spitzer, with its powerful infrared vision, was able to unearth nearly 2,300 such planet-forming disks in the Orion cloud complex, a collection of turbulent star-forming clouds that includes the well-known Orion nebula.

The disks - made of gas and dust that whirl around young suns - are too small and distant to be seen by visible-light telescopes; however, the infrared glow of their warm dust is easily spotted by Spitzer's infrared detectors. Each disk has the potential to form planets and its own solar system.

"This is the most complete census of young stars with disks in the Orion cloud complex," said Dr. Thomas Megeath of the University of Toledo, Ohio, who led the research. "Basically, we have a census of potential solar systems, and we want to know how many are born in the cities, how many in small towns, and how many out in the countryside."

A look at Orion's demographics reveals that the potential solar systems populate a variety of environments. Megeath and his colleagues found that about 60 percent of the disk-sporting stars in the Orion cloud complex inhabit its bustling "cities," or clusters, containing hundreds of young stars. About 15 percent reside in small outer communities, and a surprising 25 percent prefer to go it alone, living in isolation.

Prior to the Spitzer observations, scientists thought that up to 90 percent of young stars, both with and without disks, dwelled in cities like those of Orion.

"The Orion image shows that many stars also appear to form in isolation or in groups of just a few stars," said team member Dr. John Stauffer of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "These new data may help us to determine the type of environment in which our sun formed."

Astronomers do not know whether our middle-aged sun grew up in the stellar equivalent of the city or countryside, though most favor a large city scenario. Newborn stars like the ones in Orion tend to drift away from their siblings over time, so it is hard to trace an adult star's origins.

Megeath and his colleagues estimate that about 60 to 70 percent of the stars in the Orion cloud complex have disks. "It is an interesting question why this number isn't 100 percent. Eventually, we may be able to understand why some stars don't have disks," said Megeath.

Spitzer's infrared vision also dug up 200 stellar embryos in the Orion cloud complex, most of which had never been seen before. Stellar embryos are still too young to have developed disks.

The Orion cloud complex is about 1,450 light-years from Earth and spans about 240 light-years of space. Spitzer's wide field of view allowed it to survey most of the complex, an area of the sky equivalent to 28 full moons. The featured image shows a slice of this survey, the equivalent of four full moons-worth of sky, and includes the Orion nebula itself.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. Spitzer's infrared array camera, which made the observations, was built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The instrument's principal investigator is Dr. Giovanni Fazio of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Large and small stars in harmonious coexistence
HUBBLE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY INFORMATION CENTRE
Posted: August 14, 2006



Credit: NASA, ESA and D. A. Gouliermis (MPIA)
Download larger image version here (careful if you have dial up...it's BIG !!



The latest photo from the Hubble Space Telescope, presented at the 2006 General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Prague this week, shows a star forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). This sharp image reveals a large number of low-mass infant stars coexisting with young massive stars.

This is a Hubble Space Telescope image of one of the hundreds of star- forming stellar systems, called stellar associations, located 180,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). The LMC is the second closest known satellite galaxy of our Milky Way, orbiting it roughly every 1.5 billion years.

Earlier ground-based observations of such systems had only allowed astronomers to study the bright blue giant stars in these systems, and not the low-mass stars.

This new, most detailed view to date of the star-forming association LH 95 was taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and provides a extraordinarily rich sample of newly formed low-mass stars, allowing a more accurate calculation of their ages and masses. An international team of astronomers, led by Dimitrios Gouliermis of the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, is currently studying the Hubble data.

According to Dr. Gouliermis "Hubble's sharp vision has over the years dramatically changed the picture that we had for stellar associations in the Magellanic Clouds". The LMC is a galaxy with relatively small amounts of elements heavier than hydrogen, giving astronomers an insight into star-formation in environments different from our Milky Way.




These images reveal details of the LH 95 region. From
top to bottom and left to right they show a dense part of the
parental molecular cloud, a compact cluster of faint infant stars,
the main part of LH 95, where massive and low-mass stars coexist
close to a dusty lane, and one of the remarkable background
galaxies. Credit: NASA, ESA

Download larger image version here




 
Once massive stars - those with at least 3 times the mass of the Sun - have formed, they generate strong stellar winds and high levels of ultraviolet radiation that ionize the surrounding interstellar gas. The result is a nebula of glowing hydrogen that will expand out into the molecular cloud that originally collapsed to form these stars. The blue haze seen throughout the image around LH 95 is actually part of this bright nebula, known as DEM L 252.

Some dense parts of this star-forming region have not been completely eroded by the stellar winds and can still be seen as dark dusty filaments in the picture. Such dust lanes absorb parts of the blue light from the stars behind them, making them appear redder. Other parts of the molecular cloud have already contracted to turn into glowing groups of infant stars, the fainter of which have a high tendency to cluster.

The new Hubble view of LH 95 shows that there are at least two small compact clusters associated with such groups, one to the right, above the centre of the picture and one to the far left. These stellar nurseries host hundreds of newly discovered infant low- mass stars. Such stars have also been found by Hubble in the main part of LH 95 amongst its massive bright stellar members.

This deep image also reveals a variety of distant galaxies, seen as reddish spirals and elliptical galaxies decorating the background of LH 95.

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds can be seen by the naked eye in the southern hemisphere.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


Source: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Surprising observations shake up galactic theories
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO-BOULDER NEWS RELEASE
Posted: August 14, 2006

A heavy form of hydrogen created just moments after the Big Bang has been found to exist in larger quantities than expected in the Milky Way, a finding that could radically alter theories about star and galaxy formation, says a new international study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.




This is a false-color image of the star AE Aurigae (bright source of
light slightly off center of image) embedded in a region of space
containing smoke-like filaments of carbon-rich dust grains, a common
phenomenon. Such dust might be hiding deuterium, an isotope of
hydrogen, and stymieing astronomers' efforts to study star and
galaxy formation. The FUSE satellite has surveyed the local
deuterium concentration in the galaxy and found far more than
expected. Because deuterium is a tracer of star and galaxy
evolution, this discovery could radically alter theories about how
stars and galaxy form. Credit: T.A. Rector and B.A. Wolpa, NOAO,
AURA, and NSF
Download larger image versionhere


CU-Boulder astrophysicist Jeffrey Linsky said new data gathered by NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, or FUSE, satellite, shows why deuterium appears to be distributed unevenly in the Milky Way Galaxy. It apparently has been binding to interstellar dust grains, changing from an easily detectable gaseous form to an unobservable solid form, said Linsky, a fellow of JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The FUSE deuterium study, six years in the making, solves a 35-year- old mystery concerning the distribution of deuterium in the Milky Way while posing new questions about how stars and galaxies are made, according to the research team. A paper on the subject by a team of international researchers led by Linsky is being published in the Aug. 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

"Since the 1970s, we have been unable to explain why deuterium levels vary all over the place," said Linsky. "The answer we found is as unsettling as it is exciting."

Since deuterium -- a hydrogen isotope containing a proton and a neutron -- is believed burned and lost forever during star formation, scientists think the amount of deuterium present in the universe is "pure" and serves as a tracer for star creation and galaxy building over billions of years, said Linsky. While primordial deuterium in the distant, early universe has been measured at concentrations of about 27 parts per million parts hydrogen atoms, measurements by FUSE and NASA's Copernicus satellite have shown a "patchy" distribution of the element in the Milky Way galaxy, often at far lower levels.

In 2003, Princeton University's Bruce Draine, a co-author on the new study, developed a model showing that deuterium, when compared to hydrogen, might preferentially bind to interstellar dust grains. The observations by FUSE -- which can detect the telltale spectral fingerprints of deuterium in the ultraviolet energy range -- strongly support the theory, according to The Astrophysical Journal paper authors.

"Where there are high concentrations of interstellar dust in the galaxy, we see lower concentrations of deuterium gas with FUSE," said Linsky. "And where there is less interstellar dust, we are measuring higher levels of deuterium gas."

In relatively undisturbed areas of the universe -- like regions around Earth's sun, for example -- deuterium atoms systematically "leave" the gas phase and replace normal hydrogen atoms in dust grains, said Linsky. When a pocket of the universe is disturbed by events like a supernova shock wave or violent activity triggered by nearby hot stars, the dust grains are vaporized, releasing deuterium atoms back into a gas, which has been measured by FUSE, the researchers said.

Scientists assumed from astrophysical theories that at least one- third of the primordial deuterium present in the Milky Way was destroyed over time as it cycled through the stars, said Linsky. But according to the new FUSE findings, the present-day deuterium abundance is less than 15 percent below the primordial values.

"This implies that either significantly less material has been converted to helium and heavier elements in stars or that much more primordial gas has rained down onto the galaxy over its lifetime than had been thought," said Linsky. "In either case, our models of the chemical evolution of the Milky Way will have to be revised significantly to explain this important new result."

Launched in 1999, FUSE is a NASA Explorer mission developed in cooperation with the French and Canadian Space Agencies and by Johns Hopkins University, CU-Boulder and the University of California, Berkeley. CU-Boulder's Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy designed and built the mission's $9 million spectrograph, which collects and funnels UV light from the satellite's four telescopes.

The paper was co-authored by scientists from Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Northwestern universities, the Space Telescope Science Institute, CU-Boulder, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Texas-Austin, NASA-Goddard, the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique in Marseille, France, and the Observatoire de Paris- Meudon in Meudon, France.

Other CU-Boulder co-authors include JILA's Brian Wood, CASA's Michael Shull and CASA doctoral graduate Seth Redfield.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Hubble images some of galaxy's dimmest stars
RICE UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: August 17, 2006

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have imaged some of
 the galaxy's oldest and dimmest stars, offering a rare experimental
 glimpse of two mysterious star types tiny, slow burners less than
one-tenth the size of our sun and once giant stars that still glow
more than 10 billion years after their deaths.


 


Looking like glittering jewels, the stars in this
Hubble Space Telescope image at left are part of the ancient
globular star cluster NGC 6397. The image at lower right shows the
faintest red dwarf star (the red dot within the red circle) spied by
 Hubble. The image at upper right pinpoints one of the dim white
dwarfs (the blue dot within the blue circle) seen by Hubble. Credit:
NASA, ESA, and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)



The research appears in this week's issue of the journal Science.

"This project pushed the limits of what even Hubble can do," said study co-author Jay Anderson, a research scientist at Rice University. "These stars can't be reliably detected in a single image. You have to combine a large number of images to find them."

In total, the research team trained Hubble's cameras on the same patch of sky for more than 75 hours, gathering 378 overlapping images. The target was a region of space containing about 1 percent of the globular cluster NGC 6397 a collection of stars that formed early in our galaxy's history.

"When we look at random stars in the sky they have a variety of ages," Anderson said. "Globular clusters offer unique opportunities for astronomers to study a population of stars that are all the same age. All the stars we see in clusters are ancient, because they were created when the galaxy was forming. They're fossils from the galaxy's earliest days."

There are about 150 globular clusters in our galaxy, and most contain between 100,000 and 1 million stars. While most of the galaxy's stars including our own sun orbit the galactic center in the plane of the galaxy, globular clusters predate the flattening of the Milky Way, so they're scattered in a more spherical distribution.

NGC 6397 is one of the nearest clusters to Earth, located just 8,500 light years away. But even at this relatively close astronomical distance, the light from NGC 6397's faintest stars is easily lost in the glare from its brightest stars.

To survey the dimmest objects, Anderson and colleagues relied on computers. Anderson, whose specialty is writing programs to sift through astronomical data, spent months writing and refining software that could examine each Hubble image, pixel by pixel, and find the faintest stars.

The two types of object imaged represent the heavy end and the light end of the stellar mass spectrum.

A star's destiny is determined by its mass. There's a minimum mass that a star must have in order to burn hydrogen, and objects below that threshold cool rapidly and fade away. From the NGC 6397 survey, Anderson and his colleagues identified the smallest visible stars yet seen in a globular cluster, stars less than one-tenth the mass of Earth's sun. This is very near the predicted theoretical threshold, and Anderson said data from the survey will be helpful for verifying and refining theories about the structure and evolution of low-mass stars.

On the other end of the stellar mass spectrum are stars that are significantly larger than the sun. Stars about eight times the mass of the sun burn quickly and die in spectacular planetary nebulae, explosions that spew much of the star's material into space. Upon their final collapse, these stars become white dwarfs, extremely dense objects that radiate heat for billions of years as they slowly fade into darkness. Anderson said that while the brightest and therefore youngest white dwarfs have been seen in many clusters, the new survey yielded the first images of the faintest and oldest white dwarfs in an ancient cluster. The brightness of the white dwarfs at this end of the scale can help astronomers find out how long the stars have been cooling. From that, they can better determine the age of the cluster, which in turn can be used to narrow estimates of the lower limit of the age of the universe.

SOURCE: spaceflightnow.com

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Mystery of Quintuplet stars in Milky Way solved
ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: August 17, 2006

For the first time, scientists have identified the cluster of Quintuplet stars in the Milky Way's galactic center, next to the super massive black hole, as massive binary stars nearing the end of their life cycle, solving a mystery that had dogged astronomers for more than 15 years.




A Yin and Yang in the Galactic Center. High-resolution infrared
images of the dusty pinwheel nebulae are shown inset overlaid on a
Hubble Space Telescope image of the Quintuplet cluster. Each of the
five bright red stars is now thought to be a pinwheel nebula.
Credit: Peter Tuthill (Sydney U.), Keck Observatory, Donald Figer

(RIT).
 

 
The nature of the stars was not entirely clear until now. In a paper published in the Aug. 18 issue of Science, co-authors Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney and Donald Figer of Rochester Institute of Technology show that the Quintuplet cluster consists of young massive binary stars that produce large amounts of dust. Their data reveal that five bright red stars are nearing the end of their "short" lives of approximately 5 million years. These quickly evolving stars burn fast and bright, but die younger than fainter stars, which live for billions of years. The study captures the Quintuplet stars just before disintegrating in supernovae explosions.

Using advanced imaging techniques on the world's biggest telescope at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the scientists captured the stars at the highest attainable resolution for the instrument, far exceeding the capability of the Hubble Space Telescope, which imaged the cluster a decade ago. The extra-resolution gives scientists a new glimpse of the dust plumes surrounding the stars and the swirling spirals Tuthill likened to pinwheels when he identified the first one in 1999 elsewhere in the galaxy.

"Only a few pinwheels are known in the galaxy," Figer says. "The point is, we've found five all next to each other in the same cluster. No one has seen anything like this before."

According to Figer, the swirling dust in pinwheel stars is key to the presence of the most evolved massive stars and points to the presence of pairs of stars. The geometry of the plume allows scientists to measure the properties of the binary stars, including the orbital period and distance.

"The only way that pinwheels can form is if they have two stars, swirling around each other. The stars are so close that their winds collide, forming dust in a spiral shape, just like water sprayed from a garden hose of a twirling sprinkler," Figer says. "A single star wouldn't be able to produce the dust and wouldn't have the spiral outflow."

An earlier study by Figer in 1996 claimed the Quintuplet cluster consists of evolved massive stars that produce dust. Figer's research could not be confirmed until now with the use of the Keck telescope.

"If you want to understand star formation, you have to understand if they are forming alone or if they have partners," Figer says. "The answer gives us a clue as to whether stars form alone or with companions."


Source: spaceflightnow.com








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Eternal life of stardust portrayed in Spitzer image
UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA NEWS RELEASE


This vibrant image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope
shows the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our own
Milky Way galaxy. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Meixner (STScI) & the
 SAGE Legacy Team

Download larger image version here

 

 
Astronomers have combined hundreds of thousands of Spitzer Space Telescope images into a map of the whole Large Magellanic Cloud. They see features throughout the galaxy in such sharp detail that they can count newly formed stars, determine how much dust old stars are pumping into the galaxy and, for the first time, to sensitively map the rate at which stars are forming across an entire galaxy.

"We can use this amazing map to really start to understand in detail how a galaxy evolves," said Karl Gordon of the University of Arizona Steward Observatory. Gordon heads the UA group who processed 600,000 images that Spitzer's Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS) took of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

The Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way about 160,000 light years away, is an ideal astrophysical laboratory for studying the lifecycle of galaxies.

Using Spitzer's unprecedented sensitivity across a spectrum of infrared wavelengths, "We now can study some details in another galaxy that so far we've been able to study only in our own galaxy," Gordon said.

Spitzer scientists combined some of the MIPS images with others taken by the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), a Spitzer instrument that takes images at shorter infrared wavelengths than MIPS does. The result is a composite picture of 300,000 images of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a picture that shows everything from hot stars to cold dust between the stars, or the interstellar medium.

"What's exciting and significant is that our images go really deep in the galaxy, deep enough to get a life cycle of the interstellar medium, a life cycle of dust. We see young stars which consume dust as they form in dusty molecular clouds and old stars which are ejecting dust back into the interstellar medium.

"We can now test sophisticated theories about how stars form, how they evolve, what the different populations are, and how important they are in a global galaxy environment," Gordon said. "One of the strengths of this is not just that we've measured a small piece of the galaxy, but we've measured almost the entire galaxy in deep, sharp detail."

The survey of the Large Magellanic Cloud is among 19 key "Legacy" projects undertaken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which was launched August 2003. The project is headed by Margaret Meixner of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. Others from the UA Steward Observatory who are reporting this research in the Astronomical Journal are Charles W. Engelbracht, Bi-Qing For, Karl Misselt, Jason Harris, Douglas Kelly, Pablo Perez-Gonzalez and Dennis Zaritsky.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM





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Incredible cliffs of Dione
CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE




Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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This splendid view showcases Dione's tortured complex of bright cliffs. At lower right is the feature called Cassandra, exhibiting linear rays extending in multiple directions.

The trailing hemisphere of Dione (1,126 kilometers, or 700 miles across) is seen here. North is up.

The image was taken in polarized green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera at a distance of approximately 263,000 kilometers (163,000 miles) from Dione. Image scale is 2 kilometers (1 mile) per pixel.

SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Space station streaks over Atlantis
SPACEFLIGHT NOW
Posted: September 5, 2006

As space shuttle Atlantis stands bathed in powerful flood lights at launch pad 39B on the evening before blastoff, its destination -- the International Space Station -- soars overhead as photographed in this time-lapse image from the Kennedy Space Center press site.


Credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight Now
 

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW>COM





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Planet or failed star? Hubble finds strange object
SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: September 7, 2006

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have photographed one of the smallest objects ever seen around a normal star beyond our Sun. Weighing in at 12 times the mass of Jupiter, the object is small enough to be a planet. The conundrum is that it's also large enough to be a brown dwarf, a failed star.



This Hubble image shows the brown dwarf candidate,
called CHXR 73 B, as the bright spot at lower right. It orbits a red
 dwarf star, dubbed CHXR 73, which is a third less massive than the
Sun. Credit: NASA, ESA and K. Luhman (Penn State University)

Download larger image version here

 
 
The Hubble observation of the diminutive companion to the low-mass red dwarf star CHXR 73 is a dramatic reminder that astronomers do not have a consensus in deciding which objects orbiting other stars are truly planets -- even though they have at last agreed on how they will apply the definition of "planet" to objects inside our solar system.

Kevin Luhman of Penn State University in University Park, Pa., leader of the team that found the object, called CHXR 73 B, is casting his vote for a brown dwarf. "New, more sensitive telescopes are finding smaller and smaller objects of planetary-mass size," said Luhman. "These discoveries have prompted astronomers to ask the question, are planetary-mass companions always planets?"

Some astronomers suggest that an extrasolar object's mass determines whether it is a planet. Luhman and others advocate that an object is only a planet if it formed from the disk of gas and dust that commonly encircles a newborn star. Our solar system planets formed 4.6 billion years ago out of a dust disk around our Sun.

Brown dwarfs, by contrast, form just like stars: from the gravitational collapse of large, diffuse clouds of hydrogen gas. Unlike stars, brown dwarfs do not have quite enough mass to ignite hydrogen fusion reactions in their cores, which power stars such as our Sun.

CHXR 73 B is 19.5 billion miles from its red dwarf sun. That's roughly 200 times farther than Earth is from our Sun. At 2 million years old, the star is very young when compared with our middle-aged 4.6-billion-year-old Sun.

"The object is so far away from its star that it is unlikely to have formed in a circumstellar disk," Luhman explained. Disks around low-mass stars are about 5 to 10 billion miles in diameter. There isn't enough material at that distance from the red dwarf to create a planet. Theoretical models show that giant planets like Jupiter form no more than about 3 billion miles from their stars.



This is an artist's concept of the red dwarf star CHXR
73 (upper left) and its companion CHXR 73 B in the foreground (lower
right) weighing in at 12 Jupiter masses. Credit: NASA, ESA and G.
Bacon (STScI)

Download larger image version here

 
Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys discovered the object while conducting a survey of free-floating brown dwarfs. Astronomers have found hundreds of brown dwarfs in our galaxy since the first brown dwarfs were spied about a decade ago. Most of them are floating through space and not orbiting stars.

"It is important to study young star systems to understand how small bodies formed. Young brown dwarfs are brighter than older, cooler brown dwarfs. This allows them to be seen even at lower masses, where older dwarfs would still be undetectable," said team member John Wilson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

One way to further settle the uncertainty would be if a disk of dust could be observed around CHXR 73's companion. Like stars, brown dwarfs have circumstellar disks, too. They would be no more than about 2 billion miles in diameter.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected disks around several free-floating brown dwarfs. But CHXR 73 B is too close to its star for Spitzer to detect the disk. So astronomers will have to wait for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2013 to determine if this companion has a disk. The Webb telescope will combine Hubble's sharpness, which is needed for detecting close companions, and Spitzer's infrared sensitivity, which is necessary for seeing cool, dusty disks.

The team's result will appear in the Sept. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM





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Earliest New World Writing Discovered

 A heap of debris taken from a quarry in Veracruz, Mexico has yielded a stone block inscribed with what appears to be the oldest writing ever found in the Americas. Numerous symbols are carved across the block in rows. Experts say the block dates back almost 3,000 years, and was created by people from the Olmec civilization. The Olmec were an early central American people who rose to prominence before the heyday of the Maya.

It is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, says Stephen Houston, an archeologist at Brown University.

The inscriptions are hieroglyphics -- 62 small drawings in rows, with some of the signs repeated up to four times.

"It's not just a set of symbols that might be placed together the way you might see, let's say, on medieval French or English painting," Houston says. "Rather, they are arranged in a sequence that is meant to reflect a language with grammatical elements and with a word order that makes sense."

There are 28 different glyphs -- as archeologists call the signs for short. Some look like vegetables. One looks like a sharp awl or pick. Some symbols are repeated, such as a symbol that looks like an insect. Houston suspects that one symbol might be some sort of punctuation. Some sequences of symbols are separated from the rest, in what look like poetic couplets.

Not all of these symbols are unfamiliar to archeologists. Mary Pohl at Florida State University is an expert on the Olmec. She's analyzed Olmec symbols on jewelry and a cylindrical seal that dates almost as far back as the inscribed tablet. She says a few of the symbols are clearly written versions of carved stone objects, like an ear of corn, previously found at Olmec archeological sites.

"One sign looks actually like a corn cob with silk coming out the top," Pohl says. Other signs are unique, she says, and never before seen, like one of an insect.

Pohl says these objects -- and thus probably the writing -- had a special value in rituals.

"We see that the writing is very closely connected with ritual and the early religious beliefs, because they are taking the ritual carvings and putting them into glyphs and making writing out of them," Pohl says. "And all of this is occurring in the context of the emergence of early kings and the development of a centralized power and stratified society."

The tablet and inscriptions are described in the journal Science. Its date is based on other artifacts found nearby, and may need further confirmation.

Houston and scientists from Mexico who first identified the text say they have no idea what it actually says. With no previous text to work from, deciphering it will be difficult.

What's needed are more texts for comparison. Archeologists say there are a lot of Olmec sites in Mexico that are still unexplored, and any one could hold the key to reading the oldest known language in the Americas.


Front view of a stone block recently discovered in
Veracruz, Mexico. It's inscribed with 28 different signs, some of
them repeated.  Science © 2006




A recreation of the symbols and their placement on the
Veracruz stone block.  Science © 2006



A previously discovered cylinder seal from San Andres,
Tabasco, Mexico, showing glyphs also created by the Olmec
civilization. The writings are estimated to date from 650 B.C.

 


SOURCE:NPR.ORG



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Meet the Earliest Baby Girl ever Discovered!

Discovery of an Australopithecus afarensis child will help to answer important questions concerning human evolution
   
   
   


3.3 million years ago, a three year old girl died in present day Ethiopia, in an area called Dikika. Though a baby, she provides researchers with a unique account of our past, as would a grandmother. Her completeness, antiquity, and age at death combine make this find unprecedented in the history of paleoanthropology and open many new research avenues to investigate into the infancy of early human ancestors. The extraordinary discovery reported this week in the scientific journal Nature, was found in north-eastern Ethiopia, by a paleoanthropological research team led by Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. The scientific significance of the new find is multi-fold, contributing substantially to our comprehension of the morphology, body plan, behaviour, movement and developmental patterns of our early ancestors. After full cleaning and preparation of the fossil it will be possible to reconstruct, for the first time, much of an entire body of a 3 year-old Australopithecus afarensis child, which will resolve many pending questions regarding early human evolution.



Fig. 1: The skull of the Australopithecus afarensis child.

Image: National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa



The new find consists of a skeleton of the earliest and most complete juvenile human ancestor ever found that lived 150,000 years before Lucy. She was only three years old when she died and belongs to Australopithecus afarensis (the Lucy species) and was found in an area called Dikika, in Ethiopia, by a paleoanthropological team, the DRP (Dikika Research Project) led by Dr. Zeresenay Alesmeged of the Max Planck Institute. The DRP is an international and multidisciplinary project including several researchers with diverse areas of expertise, and about 40 assistants conducting field research in Ethiopia every year. The first piece of the baby was found on December 10th, 2000, but recovering the partial skeleton required intensive searching and sifting over four successive field seasons




 Some of the postcranial (the skeleton other than the head) elements of the Dikika skeleton.

Image: National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa



SOURCE: EUREKAALERT.ORG

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Hundreds of young galaxies found in early universe
SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: September 24, 2006

Astronomers analyzing two of the deepest views of the cosmos made with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered a gold mine of galaxies, more than 500 that existed less than a billion years after the Big Bang. These galaxies thrived when the cosmos was less than 7 percent of its present age of 13.7 billion years. This sample represents the most comprehensive compilation of galaxies in the early universe, researchers said.





The discovery is scientifically invaluable for understanding the origin of galaxies, considering that just a decade ago early galaxy formation was largely uncharted territory. Astronomers had not seen even one galaxy that existed when the universe was a billion years old, so finding 500 in a Hubble survey is a significant leap forward for cosmologists.

The galaxies unveiled by Hubble are smaller than today's giant galaxies and very bluish in color, indicating they are ablaze with star birth. The images appear red because of the galaxies' tremendous distance from Earth. The blue light from their young stars took nearly 13 billion years to arrive at Earth. During the journey, the blue light was shifted to red light due to the expansion of space.

"Finding so many of these dwarf galaxies, but so few bright ones, is evidence for galaxies building up from small pieces -- merging together as predicted by the hierarchical theory of galaxy formation," said astronomer Rychard Bouwens of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the Hubble study.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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Opportunity rover arrives at dramatic vista
NASA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: September 27, 2006

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity has arrived at the rim of a crater approximately five times wider than a previous stadium-sized one it studied for half a year.


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Download larger image version here
 
 
Initial images from the rover's first overlook after a 21-month journey to "Victoria Crater" show rugged walls with layers of exposed rock and a floor blanketed with dunes. The far wall is approximately one-half mile from the rover.

"This is a geologist's dream come true," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for NASA's twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit. "Those layers of rock, if we can get to them, will tell us new stories about the environmental conditions long ago. We especially want to learn whether the wet era that we found recorded in the rocks closer to the landing site extended farther back in time. The way to find that out is to go deeper, and Victoria may let us do that."

Opportunity has been exploring Mars since January 2004, more than 10 times longer than its original prime mission of three months. It has driven more than 5.7 miles. Most of that was to get from "Endurance" crater to Victoria, across a flat plain pocked with smaller craters and strewn with sand ripples. Frequent stops to examine intriguing rocks interrupted the journey, and one large sand ripple kept the rover trapped for more than five weeks

SOURCE : SPACEFLIHTNOW.COM


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