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February 23, 2009

New comet to be visible to naked eye for several days

New comet to be visible to naked eye for several days

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Comet Lulin in January and February 2009.
Image: Joseph Brimacombe, Cairns, Australia.

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For the next few days, a newly discovered, green-tinted comet will be visible by the naked eye in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Comet Lulin, with the official designation of C/2007 N3, was discovered in 2007 and astronomers say that this is the first time it has visited our solar system and may well be the last.

As it makes its way around the Sun, an astonishing 800 gallons (3 m3) of water will evaporate from the comet every second. In each 15 minute period, it will shed enough water to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool. It will come within 38 million miles of Earth at its closest pass, making it visible to the naked eye and even clearer with binoculars or a telescope.

The best viewing time for people living in the northern hemisphere is after midnight when Lulin will be at its highest point in the sky, or 40 degrees from the morning horizon. Current estimates peg the maximum brightness at 4th or 5th magnitude, which means dark country skies would be required to see it. No one can say for sure, however, because this is Lulin’s first visit.

Astronomers from NASA and the United Kingdom will use the Swift Telescope to study the comet and its composition. Astronomers also say to see it while you can because this could be the first and only time it passes through our solar system. It’s estimated that if it returns, it will not be for another 1,000,000 years.

“We won’t be able to send a space probe to [the comet], but Swift is giving us some of the information we would get from just such a mission,” said Jenny Carter, at the University of Leicester in England, who is leading the study.

The comet was discovered using the Lulin Observatory in Taiwan by astronomers Ye Quanzhi and Lin Chi-Sheng.



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This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

May 22, 2008

First supernova seen during explosion breakout

First supernova seen during explosion breakout

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

SWIFT images galaxy NGC 2770 with SN 2007uy before SN 2008D, with X-ray view (left) and visible light (right).

In upper right of the galaxy image is SN 2008D in X-ray image (left) and visible light (right).

Astronomers have for the first time watched a supernova explosion break out of the surface of the parent star. Previously only the remnants after an explosion have been found. The new object, SN 2008D, is in another galaxy.

Alicia Soderberg, a Hubble and Carnegie-Princeton Fellow at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, explained the significance: “For years we have dreamed of seeing a star just as it was exploding, but actually finding one is a once in a lifetime event… This newly born supernova is going to be the Rosetta Stone of supernova studies for years to come.”

Observations were being made of a different supernova in galaxy NGC 2770 when Soderberg noticed a new X-ray ray source had appeared. A burst of X-rays is produced when the explosion of a supernova reaches the surface of the exploding star. Because the SWIFT orbiting telescope was being used, which provides images as they are received, there was no delay in getting the images and an alert was sent to other major telescopes.

Other observers who joined the watch were the 3.5-meter telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Keck I telescope in Hawaii, the 200-inch and 60-inch telescopes at the Palomar Observatory in California, and the Very Large Array in New Mexico.

The primary task of SWIFT is rapid detection of gamma ray bursts, and because of their short duration the observatory requires constant monitoring. The observations of galaxy NGC 2770 were being done while the satellite was not busy with its major task.



Related news

  • “Astronomers witness supernova” — Wikinews, August 31, 2006

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February 2, 2005

Swift satellite goes fully on-line

Swift satellite goes fully on-line – Wikinews, the free news source

Swift satellite goes fully on-line

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Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Swift satellite

NASA’s Swift satellite has completed all tests since its launch last November and with the Ultravioliet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) now on line, is now fully functional for the mission’s 2 year quest for gamma-ray bursts.

Swift image of Pinwheel Galaxy

The UVOT was tested on the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101).

“After many years of effort building the UVOT, it was exciting to point it toward the famous Pinwheel Galaxy, M101,” said Dr. Peter Roming, UVOT Lead Scientist at Penn State University. “The ultraviolet wavelengths in particular reveal regions of star formation in the galaxy’s wispy spiral arms. But more than a pretty image, this first-light observation is a test of the UVOT’s capabilities.”

Gamma ray bursts are some of the most powerful objects observed in the Universe and are thought to signal the birth of black holes.

Swift is designed to detect the bursts and automatically re-orient itself to gather images and data of the phenomenon. Swift detected and imaged its first official burst on January 17, 2005, before the UVOT was operational with the aid of the Burst Alert (BAT) and X-ray (XRT) telescopes activated several weeks earlier. The BAT detects the gamma-ray bursts, automatically and immediately turns the telescope, bringing the XRT and UVOT to bear on the location of the event which record detailed observations of the burst afterglow.

The UVOT is a joint product of Penn State University and the Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

See also

  • January 21, 2005: NASA’s Swift detects possible birth of black hole

References

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This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

January 21, 2005

NASA\’s Swift detects possible birth of black hole

NASA’s Swift detects possible birth of black hole

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Swift satellite

On Jan. 17, the NASA-led Swift satellite mission detected and imaged its first gamma-ray burst, one of the most powerful explosions to occur in the universe.

The burst was in the midst of exploding as Swift, designed to autonomously repoint itself, turned and focused in less than 200 seconds on the event. The satellite was fast enough to capture an image with its X-Ray Telescope (XRT), while gamma rays were still being detected with the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT).

“This is the first time an X-ray telescope has imaged a gamma-ray burst while it was bursting,” said Dr. Neil Gehrels, Swift’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. “Most bursts are gone in about ten seconds, and few last upwards of a minute. Previous X-ray images have captured the burst afterglow, not the burst itself.”

“This is the one that didn’t get away,” said Prof. John Nousek, Swift’s mission operations director at Penn State University, in State College, PA. “And this is what Swift was built to do: to detect these fleeting gamma-ray bursts and focus its telescopes on them autonomously within about a minute. The most exciting thing is this mission is just revving up.”

Swift has three main instruments. The BAT detects bursts and initiates the autonomous slewing to bring the XRT and the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) within focus of the burst. In December, the BAT started detecting bursts, including a remarkable triple detection on Dec. 19. Today’s announcement marks the first BAT detection autonomously followed by XRT detection, demonstrating the satellite is swiftly slewing as planned. The UVOT is still being tested, and it was not collecting data when the burst was detected. Scientists expect Swift to be fully operational by Feb. 1.

“We are frantically analyzing the XRT data to understand the X-ray emission seen during the initial explosion and the very early afterglow,” said Dr. David Burrows, the XRT lead at Penn State. “This is a whole new ballgame. No one has ever imaged X-rays during the transition of a gamma-ray burst from the brilliant flash to the fading embers.”

The origin of gamma-ray bursts remains a mystery. At least some appear to originate in massive star explosions. Others might be the result of merging black holes or neutron stars. Any of these scenarios likely will result in the formation of a new black hole.

The Swift satellite’s two-year mission will be to:

  • Determine the origin of gamma-ray bursts.
  • Classify gamma-ray bursts and search for new types.
  • Determine how the explosion develops.
  • Use gamma-ray bursts to study the early universe.
  • Perform the first sensitive hard X-ray survey of the sky.

Swift, still in its checkout phase, is an international collaboration launched on Nov. 20, 2004. It is a NASA mission in partnership with the Italian Space Agency and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, United Kingdom.

References

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This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

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