Sunday, July 31, 2016
Thursday, July 28, 2016
M13: A GREAT GLOBULAR CLUSTER OF STARS Image Credit & Copyright: Dean Fournier; Inset: ESA/Hubble & NASA
M13 is one of the most prominent and best known globular clusters. Visible with binoculars in the constellation of Hercules, M13 is frequently one of the first objects found by curious sky gazers seeking celestials wonders beyond normal human vision. M13 is a colossal home to over 100,000 stars, spans over 150 light years across, lies over 20,000 light years distant, and is over 12 billion years old. At the 1974 dedication of Arecibo Observatory, a radio message about Earth was sent in the direction of M13. The featured image in HDR, taken through a small telescope, spans an angular size just larger than a full Moon, whereas the inset image, taken by Hubble Space Telescope, zooms in on the central 0.04 degrees.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Artist’s concept of the heating mechanism from Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
Credits: Art by Karen Teramura, UH IfA with James O’Donoghue and Luke Moore
New NASA-funded research suggests that Jupiter’s Great Red Spot may be the mysterious heat source behind Jupiter’s surprisingly high upper atmospheric temperatures.
Here on Earth, sunlight heats the atmosphere at altitudes well above the surface—for example, at 250 miles above our planet where the International Space Station orbits. Scientists have been stumped as to why temperatures in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere are comparable to those found at Earth, yet Jupiter is more than five times the distance from the sun. They wanted to know: if the sun isn’t the heat source, then what is?
Researchers from Boston University’s Center for Space Physics set out to solve the mystery by mapping temperatures well above Jupiter’s cloud tops using observations from Earth. They analyzed data from the SpeX spectrometer at NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a 3-meter infrared telescope operated for NASA by the University of Hawaii. By observing non-visible infrared light hundreds of miles above the gas giant, scientists found temperatures to be much higher in certain latitudes and longitudes in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere, where the spot is located.
“We could see almost immediately that our maximum temperatures at high altitudes were above the Great Red Spot far below—a weird coincidence or a major clue?” said Boston University’s James O’Donoghue, lead author of the study.
The study, in the July 27 issue of the journal Nature, concludes that the storm in the Great Red Spot produces two kinds of turbulent energy waves that collide and heat the upper atmosphere. Gravity waves are much like how a guitar string moves when plucked, while acoustic waves are compressions of the air (sound waves). Heating in the upper atmosphere 500 miles (800 kilometers) above the Great Red Spot is thought to be caused by a combination of these two wave types “crashing,” like ocean waves on a beach.
“The extremely high temperatures observed above the storm appear to be the ‘smoking gun’ of this energy transfer,” said O’Donoghue. “This tells us that planet-wide heating is a plausible explanation for the ‘energy crisis,’ a problem in which upper-atmospheric temperatures are measured hundreds of degrees hotter than can be explained by sunlight alone.”
This effect has been observed over the Andes Mountains here on Earth and may also be happening elsewhere in the outer solar system, though it has not been directly observed. Scientists believe this phenomenon also occurs on giant exoplanets orbiting other stars.
The Great Red Spot (GRS) has delighted and mystified since its discovery in the 17th Century. With its swirl of reddish hues, it’s 2-3 times as wide as Earth and is seen by many as a “perpetual hurricane,” with winds peaking at about 400 miles an hour.
NASA's Juno spacecraft, which recently arrived at Jupiter, will have several opportunities during its 20-month mission to observe the Great Red Spot and the turbulent region surrounding it. Juno will peer hundreds of miles downward into the atmosphere with its microwave radiometer, which passively senses heat coming from within the planet. This capability will enable Juno to reveal the deep structure of the Great Red Spot, along with other prominent Jovian features, such as the colorful cloud bands.
An artist's illustration depicts the interior of a low-mass star, such as GJ 3253.
An artist's illustration depicts the interior of a low-mass star, such as GJ 3253, a low-mass red dwarf star about 31 light years away from Earth, seen in an X-ray image from Chandra in the inset.
Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Keele Univ./N. Wright et al; Optical: DSS
Astronomers have used data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make a discovery that may have profound implications for understanding how the magnetic field in the Sun and stars like it are generated.
Researchers have discovered that four old red dwarf stars with masses less than half that of the Sun are emitting X-rays at a much lower rate than expected.
X-ray emission is an excellent indicator of a star’s magnetic field strength so this discovery suggests that these stars have much weaker magnetic fields than previously thought.
Since young stars of all masses have very high levels of X-ray emission and magnetic field strength, this suggests that the magnetic fields of these stars weakened over time. While this is a commonly observed property of stars like our Sun, it was not expected to occur for low-mass stars, as their internal structure is very different.
The Sun and other stars are giant spheres of superheated gas. The Sun's magnetic field is responsible for producing sunspots, its 11-year cycle, and powerful eruptions of particles from the solar surface. These solar storms can produce spectacular auroras on Earth, damage electrical power systems, knock out communications satellites, and affect astronauts in space.
“We have known for decades that the magnetic field on the Sun and other stars plays a huge role in how they behave, but many details remain mysterious,” said lead author Nicholas Wright of Keele University in the United Kingdom. “Our result is one step in the quest to fully understand the Sun and other stars.”
The rotation of a star and the flow of gas in its interior both play a role in producing its magnetic field. The rotation of the Sun and similar stars varies with latitude (the poles versus the equator) as well as in depth below the surface. Another factor in the generation of magnetic field is convection. Similar to the circulation of warm air inside an oven, the process of convection in a star distributes heat from the interior of the star to its surface in a circulating pattern of rising cells of hot gas and descending cooler gas.
Convection occurs in the outer third (by radius) of the Sun, while the hot gas closer to the core remains relatively still. There is a difference in the speed of rotation between these two regions. Many astronomers think this difference is responsible for generating most of the magnetic field in the Sun by causing magnetic fields along the border between the convection zone and the core to wind up and strengthen. Since stars rotate more slowly as they age, this also plays a role in how the magnetic field of such stars weakens with time
“In some ways you can think of the inside of a star as an incredibly complicated dance with many, many dancers,” said co-author Jeremy Drake of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “Some dancers move with each other while others move independently. This motion generates magnetic field, but how it works in detail is extremely challenging to determine.”
For stars much less massive than the Sun, convection occurs all the way into the core of the star. This means the boundary between regions with and without convection, thought to be crucial for generating magnetic field in the Sun, does not exist. One school of thought has been that magnetic field is generated mostly by convection in such stars. Since convection does not change as a star ages, their magnetic fields would not weaken much over time.
By studying four of these low-mass red dwarf stars in X-rays, Wright and Drake were able to test this hypothesis. They used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to study two of the stars and data from the ROSAT satellite to look at two others.
“We found that these smaller stars have magnetic fields that decrease as they age, exactly as it does in stars like our Sun,” said Wright. “This really goes against what we would have expected.”
These results imply that the interaction along the convection zone-core boundary does not dominate the generation of magnetic field in stars like our Sun, since the low mass stars studied by Wright and Drake lack such a region and yet their magnetic properties are very similar.
A paper describing these results by Wright and Drake appears in the July 28th issue of the journal Nature. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.
Read More from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.
For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
PUZZLING A SKY OVER ARGENTINA Image Credit & Copyright: Sergio Montúfar; Acknowledgement: Planetario Ciudad de La Plata / CASLEO observatory
Can you find the comet? True, a careful eye can find thousands of stars, tens of constellations, four planets, three galaxies, and the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy -- all visible in the sky of this spectacular 180-degree panorama. Also, if you know what to look for, you can identify pervasive green airglow, an earthly cloud, the south celestial pole, and even a distant cluster of stars. But these are all easier to find than Comet 252P/LINEAR. The featured image, taken in el Leoncito National Park, Argentina in early April, also features the dome of the Jorge Sahade telescope on the hill on the far right. Have you found the comet yet? If so, good for you (it was the green spot on the left), but really the harder thing to find is Small Cloud of Magellan.
Monday, July 25, 2016
DEEP MAGELLANIC CLOUDS IMAGE INDICATES COLLISIONS Image Credit & Copyright: Yuri Beletsky (Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, TWAN) & David Martinez-Delgado (U. Heidelberg)
Did the two most famous satellite galaxies of our Milky Way Galaxy once collide? No one knows for sure, but a detailed inspection of deep images like that featured here give an indication that they have. Pictured, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is on the top left and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is on the bottom right. The surrounding field is monochrome color-inverted to highlight faint star streams, shown in gray. Perhaps surprisingly, the featured research-grade image was compiled with small telescopes to cover the large angular field -- nearly 40 degrees across. Much of the faint nebulosity is Galactic Cirrus clouds of thin dust in our own Galaxy, but a faint stream of stars does appear to be extending from the SMC toward the LMC. Also, stars surrounding the LMC appear asymmetrically distributed, indicating in simulations that they could well have been pulled off gravitationally in one or more collisions. Both the LMC and the SMC are visible to the unaided eye in southern skies. Future telescopic observations and computer simulations are sure to continue in a continuing effort to better understand the history of our Milky Way and its surroundings.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
M2-9: WINGS OF A BUTTERFLY NEBULA Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA - Processing: Judy Schmidt
Are stars better appreciated for their art after they die? Actually, stars usually create their most artistic displays as they die. In the case of low-mass stars like our Sun and M2-9 pictured above, the stars transform themselves from normal stars to white dwarfs by casting off their outer gaseous envelopes. The expended gas frequently forms an impressive display called a planetary nebula that fades gradually over thousands of years. M2-9, a butterfly planetary nebula 2100 light-years away shown in representative colors, has wings that tell a strange but incomplete tale. In the center, two stars orbit inside a gaseous disk 10 times the orbit of Pluto. The expelled envelope of the dying star breaks out from the disk creating the bipolar appearance. Much remains unknown about the physical processes that cause planetary nebulae.
As the Sun has set you should look behind you and enjoy the rise of the Earth shadow, a dark blue band stat slowly rises upwards from the horizon. Above the blue shadow band you can also se a pink band called the anti-twilight arch or Belt of Venus.