Stories tagged astronomy

Got a spare two minutes? Watch this amazing composite photography made by NASA of Earth at night.

Astronomers have found a new planet, and it's the closet planet to our solar system. But don't get your hopes on going to visit there. It would take 40,000 years to get there and once you arrive, you'll find the planet is mostly lava. And it's much closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun. Its quick orbits on that short track take just 3.2 Earth days to make a year.


.Jose A. y Bonilla's 1883 photgraph
Jose A. y Bonilla's 1883 photgraphCourtesy Wikimedia

In August, 1883, Mexican astronomer Jose A. y Bonilla observed several objects passing in front of the solar disc. These objects were reported as being surrounded by a mist, looked dark against the solar disc, but bright outside of the disc. He took a photograph and published his findings in the magazine L'Astronomie in 1886. This photograph has had many interpretations, ranging from a flock of birds passing between the observer and the sun to the first photographic documentation of a UFO.

Recently, researchers from the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico have come up with an alternate explanation. Hector Javier Durand Manterola, Maria de la Paz Ramos Lara, and Guadalupe Cordero hypothesize that what Bonilla observed in 1883 was a highly fragmented comet, in an approach almost flush to the surface of the Earth. According to their calculations, the distance from the Earth's surface to the objects was between 538 km (334.3 miles) and 8,062 km (5009.5 miles), and the mass of the object before fragmentation was between 0.002 and 8.19 times the mass of Halley's Comet. Fragmentation of comets has been observed recently, as in the case of the comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, which fragmented in 1995/1996, 2001, and 2006, as shown here.Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (2006)
Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (2006)Courtesy NASA

However, the report's claims have been questioned. A comet breaking up so close to earth should have resulted in a meteor shower, and no astronomers detected one.

Report: Interpretation of the observations made in 1883 in Zacatecas (Mexico): A fragmented Comet that nearly hits the Earth

It's Friday. You know the drill.

Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
"Using the Swedish Solar Telescope, a ground-based observatory, Goran Scharmer and colleagues probe the penumbra--that's the stringy structure around the perimeter of the dark part of the sunspot. The images give scientists new insight into how that structure forms."
Learn more.
baby carbon nanotubes!
baby carbon nanotubes!Courtesy NASA

NASA has just come up with a material10x Blacker than the Blackest Black Paint; Spinal Tap's album cover just rendered "not as black as it could be."

The link to NASA's article also sports a killer video about how they grow the carbon nanotubes and use them in their equipment. Awwwwww, baby carbon nanotubes!

Twinkle, twinkle little star, how many of you out there are: Start counting right now and you might have a chance to figure out how many stars are up in the heavens.
Twinkle, twinkle little star, how many of you out there are: Start counting right now and you might have a chance to figure out how many stars are up in the heavens.Courtesy European Space Agency
Here in Minnesota we live the land of political recounts. But in the world of astronomy, a recount on the density of the heavens is leading to the conclusion there might be three times as many stars in the sky than we have thought in the past. Just how many stars are there? You'll have to click this link to get that astronomically large number.

It's Friday, so it's time for another Science Friday video. Science Friday
Science Friday
Courtesy Science Friday
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched in February, has started to send back data. The instruments are giving solar scientists an unprecedented look at the sun, says Dean Pesnell, SDO project scientist. The hope is to better understand how solar activity--solar flares, coronal mass ejections, coronal holes--is linked to the sun's magnetic field.

I recorded this live with internet broadcast, on 09th January 2010 during the Closing Ceremony of IYA2009 | International Year of Astronomy. You can hear how Vincenzo Giorgio of Thales Alenia Space, the Principal Sponsor of IYA2009, International Year of Astronomy is saying hinhis address @ the closing ceremony of IYA2009 live from Padua, Italy

1. watch-iya2009-closing-ceremony-live.html




I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin...
I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin...Courtesy ROOTS UP
I don't need scientists to tell me there are hints of dark matter on Minnesota's Iron Range. Have you heard that Bob Dylan song, North Country Blues? If you believe Bob, the Iron Range can be a pretty depressing place. A dark place, full of dark matter. Are you following me here?

It turns out that Bob Dylan grew-up not far from a very deep hole in the ground known as the Soudan mine. It used to be an iron mine, but as he points out in that song I mentioned, "The shaft was soon shut, and more work was cut, and the fire in the air, it felt frozen." Hmmm...what did he mean by "fire in the air"?

He may not have been referring to the Soudan mine in particular, but it seems a little bit odd that around the time he released Down in the Groove, a terrible album, this half-mile deep mine was reopened by scientific researchers as a high-energy physics laboratory. Deep beneath the ground, shielded from outside particle interference by the surrounding geologic formations, researchers began studying things like neutrinos and proton decay, searching for WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) and conducting something called a Cryogenic Dark Matter Search.

So Bob Dylan and a bunch of scientists, all hanging out on the Iron Range, all thinking about the nature of the universe. I'm telling you, this is no coincidence. I don't mean to imply that Bob Dylan writes his songs inside a physics laboratory a half mile beneath the Iron Range, but wouldn't that just make so much sense?

Recently a team of scientists working in this very underground lab announced that they may have detected particles of dark matter, invisible material that could lead to huge breakthroughs in both physics and astronomy. HUGE BREAKTHROUGHS. I would explain more, but to be honest, I don't really understand physics. Perhaps one of you can chime in?

Bob Dylan also recently released a new album of Christmas songs. Are these events related? You tell me.

This MinnPost article explains more about the recent scientific discovery. You can also look back at this Science Buzz post about dark matter, or follow-up on this conversation with physicist Prisca Cushman, who knows all about WIMPS and Dark Matter, and may even know Bob Dylan. On that note, this is pretty funny.

VY Canis Majoris v. our Sun: No contest.
VY Canis Majoris v. our Sun: No contest.Courtesy Public domain
If you’re like me, you’re fretting about what to buy your significant other this coming holiday season. Let it go. We have bigger problems. There’s a humongous star in the constellation Canis Major that’s in its final death throes and could go supernova at any time. VY Canis Majoris, as it is referenced, is the largest star known to science, and is so huge, if it were placed in the center of our Solar System, it would encompass all the space between our Sun and the orbit of the planet Saturn (see diagram). But don’t worry, the unstable red hypergiant is nearly 5000 light-years away, and is being monitored closely (in far-infrared and submillimeter portions of the light spectrum) by the European Space Agency's new space telescope Herschel. Read more here about what's actually going on.

More about the Herschel space observatory