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October 15, 2010

Brazilian astronomers propose new model of our galaxy

Brazilian astronomers propose new model of our galaxy

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Correction — Oct 19, 2010
 
A version of this article previously available at this page incorrectly attributed a quotation to the research team. The two sentences in question have been deleted.
 

Friday, October 15, 2010

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Image of Messier 101, or the Pinwheel Galaxy, showing ‘straight’ arms, slightly squarish in appearance. A team of astronomers theorize that our galaxy may resemble M101.
Image: NASA/ESA.

Brazilian astronomers have proposed a new model to explain the structure of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The new model suggests that our galaxy may have one more arm than previously thought and that these arms are more straight than curved.

The astronomers, led by Jacques Lepine at the University of Sao Paulo, used data from clouds of gas to develop their new proposed model.

In order to study the structure of the Milky Way, the astronomers studied spectra created by Carbon monosulphide clouds, contrary to the common method of analyzing spectra from clouds of ionized hydrogen. This method was used in hopes of producing an accurate ‘face-on’ map of our galaxy.

The postulated extra arm, if indeed actual, will increase the number of known arms from two to three. Previously, in 2008, the number was changed from four to two. This new arm is estimated to be about 30,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way and is thought to have a “strong inward curvature”.

The new model also suggests that our Solar System is in one of the straightest parts of an outer arm of our galaxy.



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October 1, 2010

New planet found in \’Habitable Zone\’

New planet found in ‘Habitable Zone’ – Wikinews, the free news source

New planet found in ‘Habitable Zone’

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Astronomers at the University of California at Santa Cruz have discovered a new planet which is considered to be in the middle of the Habitable Zone of its parent star, a discovery which has raised the possibility of finding life on another planet. Researchers found the planet while conducting the Lick-Carnegie exoplanet survey of Gliese 581, a red dwarf. The planet, named ‘Gliese 581 g‘, is approximately 20 light years away from Earth and is hypothesised to have a generally rocky landscape with enough gravitational pull to accumulate an atmosphere.

The orbits of planets in the Gliese 581 system compared to those of our own solar system
Image: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation.

Steven Vogt of the University of California stated that Gliese 581g potentially has a gravitational pull similar to that of Earth, which would allow humans to walk around upright on its surface although human inhabitation of the planet is in no foreseeable future. Vogt observed that there is a significant possibility that life exists on Gliese 581 g.

“Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 per cent,” Vogt said. Only lichen, bacteria and other micro-organisms are expected to exist on the planet.

Gliese 581 g is thought to have a temperature range from extremely hot to freezing cold depending on the side with respect to its star. The average temperature is expected to range from −31 to −12 degrees Celsius.

Prior to this discovery, two other planets were discovered in the low or “cold” end and the high or “hot” end of the ‘Habitable Zone’, respectively, orbiting the same star.



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September 19, 2010

Jupiter at its brightest in 47 years

Jupiter at its brightest in 47 years – Wikinews, the free news source

Jupiter at its brightest in 47 years

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

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Jupiter makes its closest approach to Earth in 47 years this week.
Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

The planet Jupiter will be at its closest to the Earth since 1963 tomorrow and Tuesday, scientists say. This will cause the planet’s appearance to peak at a brightness and size not seen since then. The planet Uranus will also make a close approach, but will be more difficult to spot, as it is much farther away.

Scientists say that Jupiter will rise at about the time of sunset and will be nearly directly overhead at midnight. The only brighter object that will be in the sky at that time will be the moon. NASA scientist Tony Phillips said “Jupiter is so bright right now, you don’t need a sky map to find it.” It will not appear this bright again until 2022.

Jupiter will pass within 368 million miles of Earth at the time of closest approach. Although this will occur on Monday and Tuesday, it will remain large and bright for approximately another month.

During this event, the planet will be located in the sky not far from the moon. Some of the planet’s own moons will be visible with the aid of a telescope or binoculars.

According to NASA scientists, Earth-Jupiter encounters occur about every 13 months. Since both planets’ orbits are slightly elliptical, meaning they are not perfect circles around the Sun, the distance varies in each encounter.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, is the fifth planet from the Sun and is more massive than all of the other planets combined, about 318 times as massive as the Earth.



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August 25, 2010

Astronomers discover large exo-solar system

Astronomers discover large exo-solar system

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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Artist’s conception of a typical planetary system.
Image: NASA.

Astronomers have discovered a planetary system that could contain between five and seven planets, located about 127 light-years from Earth.

Only fifteen planetary systems are known to contain more than three planets. The newly discovered system is centered around star HD 10180, whose properties may be similar to those of our own Sun. The researchers who made the discovery say that the system is arranged in a more compact way than our own; it is believed that the year of one of the inner planets could be equal to as little as just over one Earth day.

It is believed that up to seven planets may be present in this system; two, however, are subject to ambiguity. One of these is believed to have a mass that may be relatively close to Earth’s. This planet, if confirmed, may prove to be the smallest world yet discovered outside our solar system.

This system, however, is not the first to be discovered outside our solar system. Astronomers have been spotting these systems for several years. Christophe Lovis, lead researcher on the project, shares his thoughts about the discovery: “This also highlights the fact that we are now entering a new era in exoplanet research – the study of complex planetary systems and not just of individual planets.”

Martin Dominik, an astronomer from the University of St. Andrews, warns against describing the system as the “richest yet discovered,” as it is unclear whether other systems with more planets have been discovered in the past. Dominik elaborates: “Like most discoveries in science, the findings come with more questions than answers; but in my opinion, this is what really advances a field.”



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August 22, 2010

Scientists say the moon is slowly shrinking

Scientists say the moon is slowly shrinking

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

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The moon, as seen in 2006
Image: Luc Viatour.

New research identifies cracks over the moon‘s crust that may have been created by the cooling and shrinking of it over the past billion or so years.

Scientists have discovered landforms littered across the moon’s surface called lobate scarps that have apparently resulted from the moon’s shrinking very slowly. These scarps were found all over the moon and appear to be minimally weathered, indicating that the geologic events that created them were fairly recent. This theory contradicts the claim that the moon is completely devoid of geologic activity.

Over the past billion years, about a quarter of the moon’s 4.5 billion-year lifespan, it has shrunk about 200 meters (700 feet) in diameter. The scarps that are thought to have resulted from the contraction scenario were first identified near the lunar equator by cameras aboard the Apollo moon missions of the early 1970’s.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently photographed similar landforms in other locations on the moon, further supporting the theory that Earth’s closest neighbor in space may in fact be shrinking.

The concept, however, is not a recent one. Scientists know that the moon’s core was once very hot, causing it to expand. As the core cools, the moon naturally begins to contract.



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August 20, 2010

Scientists conclude that the universe may expand forever

Scientists conclude that the universe may expand forever

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Correction — August 22, 2010
 
This article describes a study of dark energy, not of dark matter as mentioned in the first paragraph. At this time, dark energy is estimated to be three quarters of the mass of the universe, and contributes to accelerated expansion, while dark matter is estimated to contribute about one quarter of the universe’s mass.
 

Friday, August 20, 2010

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Galaxy cluster Abell 1689
Image: NASA/ESA.

A study of the amount of dark matter in the universe suggests that the universe itself may continue to expand indefinitely. Researchers say that the universe will likely then become a cold, dead cosmic wasteland.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers led by Professor Eric Jullo at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The researchers used data from the Hubble Space Telescope showing the way that light was distorted, known as a gravitational lens, from a large galactic cluster known as Abell 1689 to estimate the amount of dark energy to be about three quarters of the universe.

Dark energy is a completely invisible force that is constantly acting upon the universe. Its existence is known only because of its effects on the expansion of the universe.

As the universe expands and cools, the temperature will approach absolute zero.

Jullo says that scientists can now say, for the first time, that the universe “will continue to accelerate and the universe will expand forever”.



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August 3, 2010

Northern lights may appear across Canada and northern U.S. late Tuesday night

Northern lights may appear across Canada and northern U.S. late Tuesday night

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Northern lights are expected to be visible further south than usual, late tonight (file photo)
Image: US Air Force.

Forecasters predict that northern lights could be visible to the naked eye late tonight and early tomorrow morning across Canada, northern parts of the U.S., and possibly the United Kingdom.

Solar storms caused a large ejection of plasma from the Sun’s surface on Sunday, and the plasma is heading directly towards Earth. The plasma, a cloud of rapidly moving hydrogen gas atoms and subatomic particles, is expected to reach us late Tuesday. The plasma will interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, which will cause northern lights, or aurora borealis, to be visible much further south than is usual. Northern lights usually appear as green or red rivers of lights across the sky.

On Sunday, around 0855 UTC, Earth orbiting satellites detected a C3-class solar flare. The origin of the blast was sunspot 1092. At about the same time, an enormous magnetic filament stretching across the sun’s northern hemisphere erupted. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the action.

“It’s the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time” said astronomer Leon Golub of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The eruption was detected by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which was launched in February 2010, and is currently orbiting the Earth.

The Sun goes through approximately eleven-year long activity cycles, with the last maximum occurring in 2001. Sunday’s eruption is a sign that the many years of inactivity is over, and the Sun is heading towards another maximum.



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May 24, 2010

Nicolaus Copernicus buried again

Nicolaus Copernicus buried again – Wikinews, the free news source

Nicolaus Copernicus buried again

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Copernicus was one of the most important people of the Renaissance.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was buried for the second time yesterday, in the Catholic church of Frombork, Poland. Copernicus is considered the founder of modern astronomy, and known for declaring that the Earth revolved around the Sun, contrary to popular belief at the time.

His body was discovered and exhumed in 2005 by Polish archaeologists in a nameless tomb in the same church. After the extraction, the body was sent for DNA testing, which confirmed it was Copernicus, who died in 1543.

His funeral was presided over by Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk. In his time, Copernicus was considered a heretic due to his theory, which was published shortly before his death.

He studied in the Kraków University and in the Bologne University. In his work De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium he demonstrated, through mathematical and astronomical calculations, that the planets –including Earth– rotated around the Sun.



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April 25, 2010

Stephen Hawking: aliens \”almost certain to exist,\” could invade Earth

Stephen Hawking: aliens “almost certain to exist,” could invade Earth

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stephen Hawking in 2007, experiencing zero-gravity.
Image: David Shapinsky.

This plaque appeared on Pioneer spacecraft, in the hope of making extraterrestrial contact.
Image: NASA Pioneer.

After three years working on a new television series for the Discovery Channel, Stephen Hawking concludes that aliens are “almost certain to exist” and could even be dangerous.

Hawking says that it is rational to assume that intelligent life exists somewhere in the universe, and mathematically unlikely that life is unique to the Earth, given the existence of a hundred billion galaxies, each of them containing hundreds of millions of stars.

Hawking imagines nomadic aliens, having exhausted their home’s resources, could attempt to take control of other planets, invading with “massive ships”, and draws a comparison with Christopher Columbus discovering America, resulting in similar devastating consequences. With this in mind he advises “intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.” However, he believes that the most likely forms of life would be microbes or simple animals on planets, in the centre of stars or drifting through space.

His declaration comes in the month of the 20th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s launch into space.

The Drake equation, created in the 1960s, estimates the probability of extraterrestrial civilizations; feeding in modern research gives a high likelihood. The contradiction between this and actual discovery is known as the Fermi paradox.

Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, supports efforts to search for transmissions that might be artificial in origin. “Even if we couldn’t make much sense of it, we’d have learnt that ‘intelligence’ wasn’t unique to the hardware inside human skulls, and had emerged elsewhere,” he said.

Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking will begin on May 9 on the Discovery Channel.

Stephen Hawking, 68, retired as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge in 2009. Known for his research into cosmology, quantum gravity and black holes, he became a household name following the publication of his 1988 book A Brief History of Time, which remained on the Sunday Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.



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December 19, 2009

NASA flyby of Saturn moon Titan produces first image of liquid on another world

NASA flyby of Saturn moon Titan produces first image of liquid on another world

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

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The historic image shows a telltale bright reflection

NASA have revealed that a flyby of its probe Cassini past Titan, a moon of Saturn, has produced a historic image: the first photograph showing liquid on a world other than our own.

The picture shows a “specular reflection” from an extremely smooth surface, in this case a liquid. Cassini has been trying to spot one since arriving in 2004, and in 2008 used infrared data to prove that there were liquid methane lakes down there. The northern hemisphere has only been visible since August 2009, as before then it was covered by winter weather. Most of Titan’s lakes are in the north.

“This one image communicates so much about Titan — thick atmosphere, surface lakes and an otherworldliness. It’s an unsettling combination of strangeness yet similarity to Earth,” said Bob Pappalardo, a Cassini scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Titan’s atmosphere is, like Earth’s, mainly nitrogen, but temperatures on the icy world are around -180°C. This reduces the prospect of life, although the presence of liquid does increase the likelihood.

The lake seen in the photograph is called Kraken Mare, and at 150,000 square miles (400,000 square kilometers), it isn’t the largest basin on north Titan, but it is bigger than the Earth’s biggest lake, the Caspian Sea.

Ralf Jaumann, another Cassini scientist, spoke of the team’s hopes for the future. “Next, we want to find out more about Titan’s liquid. Do we have some kind of weather there? Do we have changes with seasons? Does it rain? How does the liquid methane run across the surface?”

A team of scientists are due to propose to NASA that the agency drop a boat into a Titan lake, with Kraken Mare and the similarly sized Ligeia Mare being hot candidates. The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) is projected to be relatively low-cost at US$400 million and would investigate the composition, density and shape of a Titan lake. If launched in 2016 it could arrive in 2023 and spend several years floating on the moon. However, several other projects are also keen to get themselves the next opportunity NASA is offering for the launch of a new project other than its own.



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