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Klaudia Einhorn.

COROT-exo-7b, bottom left dot shadows in front of his central star (artist's impression). Because of its proximity to large solar researchers suspect temperatures over 1000 degrees Celsius on the extrasolar planets. Image: Klaudia Einhorn.

The CoRoT satellite has found the smallest terrestrial exoplanet yet, — with a diameter just under twice that of Earth — complete with a rocky surface you could walk on and possibly even oceans to sail across. However, if you traveled there, you might want to bring some protection, as the temperature of this planet is likely very high. CoRoT-Exo-7b is located very close to its parent star, orbiting once every 20 hours. Astronomers estimate temperatures on the planet could be between 1000 and 1500°C and it possibly could be covered in lava or water vapor. This latest exoplanet was detected as it transited in front of its parent star, dimming the light from the star just enough to be noticeable.

The parent star lies about 140 parsecs from Earth, located about half way between the star Sirius in Canis Major and Betelgeuse, the red giant star in Orion.

The internal structure of CoRoT-exo-7b particularly puzzles scientists; they are unsure whether it is an ‘ocean planet’, a kind of planet whose existence has never been proved so far. In theory, such planets would initially be covered partially in ice and they would later drift towards their star, with the ice melting to cover it in liquid.

CNES

COROT detects small, transiting exoplanet. Credits: CNES

“This discovery is a very important step on the road to understanding the formation and evolution of our planet,” said Malcolm Fridlund, ESA’s CoRoT Project Scientist. “For the first time, we have unambiguously detected a planet that is ‘rocky’ in the same sense as our own Earth. We now have to understand this object further to put it into context, and continue our search for smaller, more Earth-like objects with COROT,” he added.

About 330 exoplanets have been discovered so far, most of which are gas giants like Jupiter and Neptune. The density of COROT-Exo-7b is still under investigation: it may be rocky like Earth and covered in liquid lava. It may also belong to a class of planets that are thought to be made up of water and rock in almost equal amounts. Given the high temperatures measured, the planet would be a very hot and humid place.

transiting-movie“Finding such a small planet was not a complete surprise”, said Daniel Rouan, researcher at the Observatoire de Paris Lesia, who coordinates the project with Alain Léger, from Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (Paris, France). “CoRoT-Exo-7b belongs to a class of objects whose existence had been predicted for some time. COROT was designed precisely in the hope of discovering some of these objects,” he added.

Small terrestrial planets are difficult to detect, and so very few exoplanets found so far have a mass comparable to Earth, Venus, Mars, and Mercury. Most of the methods used to find planets are indirect and sensitive to the mass of the planet. The CoRoT spacecraft can directly measure the size of a planet’s surface, which is an advantage. In addition, its location in space allows for longer periods of uninterrupted observation than from ground.

Astronomers say this discovery is significant because recent measurements have indicated the existence of planets of small masses but their size remained undetermined until now. CoRoT (Convection Rotation and Transits) was launched in December 2006 and consists of a 27 cm-diameter telescope designed to detect tiny changes the brightness of nearby stars. The mission’s main objectives are to search for exoplanets and to study stellar interiors.

Source: ESA
Cited from : Universe Today by Nancy Atkinson

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Spitzer, Chandra and Calar Alto Telescope

Tycho's Supernova Remnant. Credit : Spitzer, Chandra and Calar Alto Telescope

On November 11, 1572 Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and other skywatchers observed what they thought was a new star. A bright object appeared in the constellation Cassiopeia, outshining even Venus, and it stayed there for several months until it faded from view. What Brahe actually saw was a supernova, a rare event where the violent death of a star sends out an extremely bright outburst of light and energy. The remains of this event can still be seen today as Tycho’s supernova remnant. Recently, a group of astronomers used the Subaru Telescope to attempt a type of time travel by observing the same light that Brahe saw back in the 16th century. They looked at ‘light echoes’ from the event in an effort to learn more about the ancient supernova.

A ‘light echo’ is light from the original supernova event that bounces off dust particles in surrounding interstellar clouds and reaches Earth many years after the direct light passes by; in this case, 436 years ago. This same team used similar methods to uncover the origin of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A in 2007. Lead project astronomer at Subaru, Dr. Tomonori Usuda, said “using light echoes in supernova remnants is time-traveling in a way, in that it allows us to go back hundreds of years to observe the first light from a supernova event. We got to relive a significant historical moment and see it as famed astronomer Tycho Brahe did hundreds of years ago. More importantly, we get to see how a supernova in our own galaxy behaves from its origin.”

Subaru Telescope

The view of the light echoes from Tycho’s supernova. Credit: Subaru Telescope

On September 24, 2008, using the Faint Object Camera and Spectrograph (FOCAS) instrument at Subaru, astronomers looked at the signatures of the light echoes to see the spectra that were present when Supernova 1572 exploded. They were able to obtain information about the nature of the original blast, and determine its origin and exact type, and relate that information to what we see from its remnant today. They also studied the explosion mechanism. What they discovered is that Supernova 1572 was very typical of a Type Ia supernova. In comparing this supernova with other Type Ia supernovae outside our galaxy, they were able to show that Tycho’s supernova belongs to the majority class of Normal Type Ia, and, therefore, is now the first confirmed and precisely classified supernova in our galaxy. This finding is significant because Type Ia supernovae are the primary source of heavy elements in the Universe, and play an important role as cosmological distance indicators, serving as ‘standard candles’ because the level of the luminosity is always the same for this type of supernova. For Type Ia supernovae, a white dwarf star in a close binary system is the typical source, and as the gas of the companion star accumulates onto the white dwarf, the white dwarf is progressively compressed, and eventually sets off a runaway nuclear reaction inside that eventually leads to a cataclysmic supernova outburst. However, as Type Ia supernovae with luminosity brighter/fainter than standard ones have been reported recently, the understanding of the supernova outburst mechanism has come under debate. In order to explain the diversity of the Type Ia supernovae, the Subaru team studied the outburst mechanisms in detail. This observational study at Subaru established how light echoes can be used in a spectroscopic manner to study supernovae outburst that occurred hundreds of years ago. The light echoes, when observed at different position angles from the source, enabled the team to look at the supernova in a three dimensional view. This study indicated Tycho’s supernova was an aspherical/nonsymmetrical explostion. For the future, this 3D aspect will accelerate the study of the outburst mechanism of supernova based on their spatial structure, which, to date, has been impossible with distant supernovae in galaxies outside the Milky Way.

The results of this study appear in the 4 December 2008 issue of the science journal Nature.

Source: Subaru Telescope

Cited from : universe today by Nancy Atkinson

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) launched 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) under the theme, The Universe, Yours to Discover. IYA2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical observation through a telescope by Galileo Galilei. It will be a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture, with a strong emphasis on education, public engagement and the involvement of young people, with events at national, regional and global levels throughout the whole of 2009. UNESCO has endorsed the IYA2009 and the United Nations proclaimed the year 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy on 20 December 2007.

The vision of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) is to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery. All humans should realize the impact of astronomy and basic sciences on our daily lives, and understand better how scientific knowledge can contribute to a more equitable and peaceful society.

Astronomy is one of the oldest fundamental sciences. It continues to make a profound impact on our culture and is a powerful expression of the human intellect. Huge progress has been made in the last few decades. One hundred years ago we barely knew of the existence of our own Milky Way. Today we know that many billions of galaxies make up our Universe and that it originated approximately 13.7 billion years ago. One hundred years ago we had no means of knowing whether there were other solar systems in the Universe. Today we know of more than 200 planets around other stars in our galaxy and we are moving towards an understanding of how life might have first appeared. One hundred years ago we studied the sky using only optical telescopes and photographic plates. Today we observe the Universe from Earth and from space, from radio waves to gamma rays, using cutting edge technology. Media and public interest in astronomy have never been higher and major discoveries are frontpage news throughout the world. The IYA2009 will meet public demand for both information and involvement.

There are outstanding opportunities for everyone to participate in the IAU IYA2009 events. This brochure outlines some of the events planned at the global level, which will be supported by thousands of additional national and regional activities.

The IAU, UNESCO and our Organisational Associates wish everyone a year rich in astronomical experiences as we all celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009!

For resources in the form of powerpoint and PDF, click on the following links.

  1. Powerpoint slides
  2. PDF Version (Not the original version, this is more compressed versions)

This video below is the official trailer for the IYA 2009

Source : www.astronomy2009.org


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