Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’

We won’t reach Alpha Centauri until the 24th century…unless we have an energy breakthrough [Mad Science]

27 Sep
If you take humanity's current energy and technological capacity and project a steady increase into the future, the chances of us reaching the stars any time soon look bleak. Even our nearest stellar neighbor is at least 300 years away. More »

The mountains of Titan are formed by the moon slowly shrinking [Exogeology]

15 Aug
The mountains on Saturn's moon Titan defy easy explanation, but readings from the Cassini probe offer a fascinating new possibility: Titan is slowly releasing heat and shriveling up, causing mountains to form on its surface like wrinkles on a raisin. More »

Starburst galaxy gives birth to twenty Suns every year [Space Porn]

12 Aug
Say hello to the Haro 11 galaxy, shining brightly from 300 million light-years away. One of the busiest stellar nurseries in the universe, this is one of the youngest examples of a starburst galaxies that is constantly pumping out stars. More »

Asteroid mining will give us all the platinum we’ll ever need, and maybe start a new Space Age [Asteroid Mining]

19 Jul
The platinum group metals are crucial to electronics, massively expensive, and extremely rare on this planet. But on asteroids? A single one holds billions of pounds of these metals - and that could start the era of private space exploration. More »

How do we measure gravitational waves? [Mad Science]

03 Jul
"Gravitational telescopes" let scientists observe fluctuations in spacetime itself. They are, in a word, crazystupidamazing. More »

A 3D atlas of the universe: Carter Emmart on

01 Jul

For the last 12 years, Carter Emmart has been coordinating the efforts of scientists, artists and programmers to build a complete 3D visualization of our known universe. He demos this stunning tour and explains how it's being shared with facilities around the world. (Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 6:57)

Watch Cater Emmart's talk on, where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances from our archive of 700+ TEDTalks.


Earth: A Very Special Place In the Void [Dark Energy]

29 Sep

You know that "I'm an insignificant dot in the middle of this enormous universe" feeling you get when you stare up into the night sky a little too long? Well, some Oxford scientists think you might be a little more special than that - or at least, the planet you live on is. Their radical new theory would not only obviate the need for dark energy to explain observed patterns of galactic motion, it would overturn the centuries-old Copernican Principle. Not bad for a day's work.

In the 16th century, Copernicus hypothesized that the Earth is not the center of the solar system, but rather the sun is. Later, cosmologists expanded this idea into the Copernican Principle: Earth is not in a special place in the universe, therefore our observations of local space can be used to infer data about the rest of the universe. When astronomers observed that the universe appears to be expanding at an accelerating rate, they needed to add something to their equations to make it all make sense. That something is dark energy, which would have to exist in massive quantities (as yet, pretty much undetectable) to explain this expansion.

Here's the thing - the universe is really, really, really huge. Just the part we can see is almost incomprehensibly big, and there's a whole lot of universe we can't see. No one knows how big the whole universe is, but it's entirely possible that our part of the universe is just a tiny fraction of the whole. Physicists from Oxford University are considering the idea that the universe we can observe is actually anomalous, a giant void with a low density of matter. The rest of the universe may look substantially different. Doing some number crunching revealed that their model of the universe works without dark energy, but isn't quite as accurate as the current dark energy model. However, they need more observations of certain types of supernovae to refine their numbers - in a few months, their equations may look better with more data.

What's particularly cool is that this maverick theory that tosses a very accepted tenet of astronomy right out the window is being published in Physical Review Letters, one of the most respected physics journals. It sure beats excommunication. Image by: NASA.

Overturning Copernicus, eliminating dark energy. [Nobel Intent]

Tsunami invisibility cloak, dark energy v. the void, sorting nanotubes with light, and more. [EurekAlert!]

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First Historic Image of Planet 3106 Trillion Miles From Earth [Telescopes]

18 Sep

Thanks to the distortion-reducing power of the ALTAIR adaptive optics system on the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii, three University of Toronto scientists were able to capture images of the star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 from a distance of about 500 light years away. The image is believed to be the first ever of a planet in an alien solar system around a sun-like star. The discovery is made even more significant because the "planet" lies a tremendous distance away from its parent star—challenging currently accepted theories about star and planet formation. It will take up to 2 years of research to determine whether or not this object is, in fact, tied to the star by gravity. [Gemini via ScienceNews via DVICE]

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Hubble Finds Unidentified Object in Space, Scientists Puzzled [Hubble]

15 Sep

This is exactly why we send astronauts to risk their life to service Hubble: in a paper published last week in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists detail the discovery of a new unidentified object in the middle of nowhere. I don't know about you, but when a research paper conclusion says "We suggest that the transient may be one of a new class" I get a chill of oooh-aaahness down my spine. Especially when after a hundred days of observation, it disappeared from the sky with no explanation. Get your tinfoil hats out, because it gets even weirder.

The object also appeared out of nowhere. It just wasn't there before. In fact, they don't even know where it is exactly located because it didn't behave like anything they know. Apparently, it can't be closer than 130 light-years but it can be as far as 11 billion light-years away. It's not in any known galaxy either. And they have ruled out a supernova too. It's something that they have never encountered before. In other words: they don't have a single clue about where or what the heck this thing is.

The shape of the light curve is inconsistent with microlensing. In addition to being inconsistent with all known supernova types, is not matched to any spectrum in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database.

The only thing the astronomers—working on the Supernova Cosmology Project—can tell is that it appeared all of the sudden in the direction of a cluster with the catchy name of CL 1432.5+3332.8, about 8.2 billion light-years away. Hubble caught a spark that continued to brighten during a 100-day period, peaking at the 21st magnitude, only to fade away in the same period of time.

Apparently, a scientist at the LHC declared that the object is similar to the flash that an Imperial Star Destroyer does when reaching Warp 10. Either that or some dust on the Hubble lenses, so someone tell NASA to get some Windex up there too. [Sky and Telescope]

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