Remnants of our early solar system

❝ Scientists believe the solar system was formed some 4.6 billion years ago when a cloud of gas and dust collapsed under gravity possibly triggered by a cataclysmic explosion from a nearby massive star or supernova. As this cloud collapsed, it formed a spinning disk with the sun in the center.

❝ Since then scientists have been able to establish the formation of the solar system piece by piece. Now, new research has enabled scientists from The University of New Mexico, Arizona State University and NASA’s Johnson Space Center to add another piece to that puzzle with the discovery of the oldest-ever dated igneous meteorite…

❝ “The age of this meteorite is the oldest, igneous meteorite ever recorded,” said Professor and Director of the UNM Institute of Meteoritics Carl Agee. “Not only is this just an extremely unusual rock type, it’s telling us that not all asteroids look the same. Some of them look almost like the crust of the Earth because they’re so light colored and full of SiO2. These not only exist, but it occurred during one of the very first volcanic events to take place in the solar system.”

Take the time to learn a bit more about the formation of the system where we live, folks.

Scientists confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity


Click to enlargeESA/Hubble & NASA

❝ A new study validates Einstein’s theory of general relativity in a distant galaxy for the first time.

This study supports our current understanding of gravity and provides more evidence for the existence of dark matter and dark energy — two mysterious concepts that scientists know about only indirectly by observing their effects on cosmic objects.

❝ Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, published in 1916, explains how gravity is the result of a concept known as the fabric of space-time. Simply put, the theory predicts how much the mass of an object — in this case, a galaxy — curves space-time…

RTFA. Spend a few minutes thinking about a topic that supersedes all the bigotry and greed that frames so much of our lives. The scientific search for verifiable fact really is a driving force in where our species can grow to and thrive. If our politicians don’t kill us first.

Looking at 1.7 billion stars


Click to enlargeESA/Gaia/DPAC

❝ Nearly 1.7 billion stars have been plotted in unprecedented detail with the highly anticipated release of data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft.

The $1 billion (750 million euros) Gaia spacecraft launched in 2013 for a five-year mission to map the night sky with unmatched accuracy. The spacecraft is perched far beyond the moon’s orbit, in the Lagrange-2, or L2, point, a gravitationally stable spot about 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth. Unlike space telescopes such as Hubble that orbit the Earth, Gaia can scan the cosmos without Earth blocking a large chunk of its view. As it rotates in space, Gaia measures about 100,000 stars each minute and covers the whole sky in about two months. Each star is measured 70 times on average. The new 3D map, which was unveiled here at the ILA Berlin Air Show, offers the best-ever look at the Milky Way — now in color — and promises to unleash hundreds of scientific discoveries about our galactic home and beyond…

The link above isn’t for the smaller 3D map. There is a link to that in the article. But, the link up top takes you to a 58+mb hi-res star map that opens to 8000×4000 pixels on two-clicks.

❝ The $1 billion Gaia spacecraft launched in 2013 for a five-year mission to map the night sky with unmatched accuracy. The spacecraft is perched far beyond the moon’s orbit, in the Lagrange-2, or L2, point, a gravitationally stable spot about 1 million miles away from Earth. Unlike space telescopes such as Hubble that orbit the Earth, Gaia can scan the cosmos without Earth blocking a large chunk of its view. As it rotates in space, Gaia measures about 100,000 stars each minute and covers the whole sky in about two months. Each star is measured 70 times on average.

Wow! Folks alive in that most-likely-distant future with faster-than-light travel going to have some fabulous vacations.

Chandra Gives Us the Elementary Nature of Cassiopeia A

❝ Where do most of the elements essential for life on Earth come from? The answer: inside the furnaces of stars and the explosions that mark the end of some stars’ lives.

❝ X-ray telescopes such as Chandra are important to study supernova remnants and the elements they produce because these events generate extremely high temperatures — millions of degrees — even thousands of years after the explosion. This means that many supernova remnants, including Cas A, glow most strongly at X-ray wavelengths that are undetectable with other types of telescopes.

A rose by any other name…


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NGC 7129 is a fascinating and terribly lovely object. It’s a stellar nursery, a site of active star formation, buried deep within an invisible cloud of very cold molecular gas and dust…

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope sees in the infrared, and detects dust. Some of this dust defines the blister in the larger cloud (red), while some is coming from the stars ejecting material (green). The overall effect makes NGC 7129 look like a closed rose bud.

Wow!

The Alien Megastructure gets weirder and weirder

Last fall, a little-known star called KIC 8462852 became our planetary obsession when astronomers said that its erratic flickering could be the result of an alien megastructure. Further observation of Tabby’s Star yielded no signs of aliens, but the sudden dips in luminosity continue to defy explanation. Now, things just got a bit weirder.

In an unpublished paper posted today to arXiv, Caltech astronomer Ben Montet and Joshua Simon of the Carnegie Institute describe the results of a new photometric analysis of Tabby’s Star, which was first flagged in the Kepler Space Telescope’s database by citizen science astronomers.

By carefully examining all the full-frame images collected during Kepler’s observational campaign, Montet and Simon discovered something astonishing: Not only did the star’s light output occasionally dip by up to 20 percent, its total stellar flux diminished continuously over the course of four years…

“The part that really surprised me was just how rapid and non-linear it was,” Montet told Gizmodo. “We spent a long time trying to convince ourselves this wasn’t real. We just weren’t able to.”…

RTFA for possible explanations – none of which are currently provable. Some are really interesting.

Scary for folks who can’t deal with the insignificance of our species. 🙂

Coloring the Universe

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Wouldn’t it be fun to color in the universe? If you think so, please accept this famous astronomical illustration as a preliminary substitute. You, your friends, your parents or children, can print it out or even color it digitally.

While coloring, you might be interested to know that even though this illustration has appeared in numerous places over the past 100 years, the actual artist remains unknown. Furthermore, the work has no accepted name — can you think of a good one? The illustration, first appearing in a book by Camille Flammarion in 1888, is used frequently to show that humanity’s present concepts are susceptible to being supplanted by greater truths.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Court tosses Kansas case — Nutballs said science education lacked religion

A federal appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a case brought in Kansas by a religiously-minded group of parents and students. The plaintiffs were concerned about their home state’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards.

As Ars reported back in 2013 when the case was first filed, the NGSS standards are a nationwide attempt to improve science education in the US. They have been backed by organizations such as the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This case, COPE v. Kansas Board of Education, is a notable victory for science—and a blow to the creationist crowd and its progeny.

The Citizens for Objective Public Education…argue the NGSS do not include any religious explanation for the origins of life and the universe. Therefore, according to the group, the NGSS in Kansas violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids the government’s ability to “establish” a state-sanctioned religion.

WTF?

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver found that…“COPE does not offer any facts to support the conclusion that the Standards condemn any religion or send a message of endorsement…and any fear of biased instruction is premised on COPE’s predictions of school districts’ responses to the Standards — an attempt by COPE to recast a future injury as a present one.”

…The 10th Circuit also noted that while it did not consider one of COPE’s primary remedies — that teleological (goal-oriented) origin theories be taught alongside mainstream evolutionary science — the court would have found the remedy unconstitutional under a 1987 Supreme Court decision. That case, Edwards v. Aguillard, invalidated the requirement to teach creationism alongside evidence-based evolutionary science.

I think crap lawsuits like this may as well be dismissed early on as frivolous and a waste of time better spent by our courts. Silliness has been decided over and over again. Just because nutballs with money can afford to invent a new way to try a lost cause doesn’t make it any less frivolous.

Monster stars with 100 x our sun’s mass


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Astronomers using the unique ultraviolet capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have identified nine monster stars with masses over 100 times the mass of the Sun in the star cluster R136. This makes it the largest sample of very massive stars identified to date. The results, which will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, raise many new questions about the formation of massive stars.

Astronomical photography is such a delight. Thanks to WIRED for a weekly post.

Venus under the Spitzkoppe Arch

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Click to enlargeImage/Petr Horálek

…Although there was much to see in this spectacular panorama taken during the early morning hours of a day in late September, the brightest object in the sky was clearly the planet Venus.

In the featured image, Venus was captured actually through a natural rock bridge, itself picturesque, in Spitzkoppe, Namibia. The planet, on the left of the opening, was complemented by a silhouette of the astrophotographer on the right. Above and beyond the rock bridge were many famous icons of a dark night sky, including, from left to right, the Pleiades star cluster, the Orion Nebula, the bright star Sirius, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. This week, Venus remains visible to the east in the pre-dawn sky, being complemented by Mars, which is angularly quite close.

Thanks, Ursarodinia