On July 14th, solar active region 9077 (AR9077) produced a massive flare. The event also blasted an enormous cloud of energetic charged particles toward planet Earth, triggering magnetic storms and dramatic auroral displays. This striking close-up of AR9077 was made by the orbiting TRACE satellite shortly after the flare erupted. It shows million degree hot solar plasma cooling down while suspended in an arcade of magnetic loops.
The formation of stars begins with the collapse and fragmentation of molecular clouds into very dense clumps. These clumps initially contain ~0.01 solar masses of material, but increase in mass as surrounding material is accumulated through accretion. The temperature of the material also increases while the area
over which it is spread decreases as gravitational contraction
continues, forming a more stellar-like object in the process. During
this time, and up until hydrogen burning begins and it joins the main sequence, the object is known as a protostar.
This stage of stellar evolution may last for between 100,000 and 10 million years depending on the size of the star being formed. If the final result is a protostar with more than 0.08 solar
masses, it will go on to begin hydrogen burning and will join the main
sequence as a normal star. For protostars with masses less than this,
temperatures are not sufficient for hydrogen burning to begin and they
become brown dwarf stars.
Protostars are enshrouded in gas and dust and are not detectable at visible wavelengths. To study this very early stage of stellar evolution, astronomers must use infrared or microwave wavelengths.
Protostars are also known as Young Stellar Objects (YSOs).
A prominence is a large, bright, gaseous feature extending outward from the Sun’s surface, often in a loop shape. Prominences are anchored to the Sun’s surface in the photosphere, and extend outwards into the Sun’s corona. While the corona consists of extremely hot ionized gases, known as plasma, which do not emit much visible light, prominences contain much cooler plasma, similar in composition to that of the chromosphere. The prominence plasma is typically a hundred times more luminous and denser than the coronal plasma. (source)
The diffuse heliospheric current extends to the outer regions of the Solar System, and results from the influence of the Sun’s rotating magnetic field on the plasma in the interplanetary medium. source.
Milky Way’s Biggest Globular Cluster Unlikely to Host Habitable Exoplanets
Close encounters between stars in Omega Centauri, the only star cluster visible to the naked eye, leave little room for habitable planets, according to new research.
In the hunt for habitable exoplanets, Omega Centauri, the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way, seemed like a good place to look. Comprising an estimated 10 million stars, the cluster is nearly 16,000 light years from Earth, making it visible to the naked eye and a relatively close target for observations by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Starting with a rainbow-colored assortment of 470,000 stars in Omega Centauri’s core, the researchers homed in on 350,000 stars whose color—a gauge of their temperature and age—means they could potentially harbor life-bearing planets.
For each star, they then calculated the habitable zone—the orbital region around each star in which a rocky planet could have liquid water, which is a key ingredient for life as we know it. Since most of the stars in Omega Centauri’s core are red dwarfs, their habitable zones are much closer than the one surrounding our own larger sun.
“The core of Omega Centauri could potentially be populated with a plethora of compact planetary systems that harbor habitable-zone planets close to a host star,” Kane said. “An example of such a system is TRAPPIST-1, a miniature version of our own solar system that is 40 light years away and is currently viewed as one of the most promising places to look for alien life.”
Ultimately, though, the cozy nature of stars in Omega Centauri forced the researchers to conclude that such planetary systems, however compact, cannot exist in the cluster’s core. While our own sun is a comfortable 4.22 light years from its nearest neighbor, the average distance between stars in Omega Centauri’s core is 0.16 light years, meaning they would encounter neighboring stars about once every 1 million years.
“The rate at which stars gravitationally interact with each other would be too high to harbor stable habitable planets,” Deveny said. “Looking at clusters with similar or higher encounter rates to Omega Centauri’s could lead to the same conclusion. So, studying globular clusters with lower encounter rates might lead to a higher probability of finding stable habitable planets.” source
Super-massive black holes in the centers of some active galaxies create powerful jets of radiation and particles travelling close to the speed of light. Attracted by strong gravity, matter falls towards the central black hole as it feeds on the surrounding gas and dust. But instead of falling into the black hole, a small fraction of particles get accelerated to speed almost as great as the speed of light and spewn out in two narrow beams along the axis of rotation of the black hole. These jets are believed to be the sources of the fastest-travelling particles in the Universe – cosmic rays.
In some cases these jets can reach outside of the galaxy itself, ending in giant radio lobes far from the active galaxy center. Observed with radio telescopes these galaxies can have a variety of shapes, mostly resembling dumbbells. We call these objects either radio galaxies or quasars, depending on how bright they are and how fast they consume the surrounding matter. As these monster black holes grow to become a billion times more massive than our Sun, their jets eventually get strong enough to blow gas out of the galaxy and shut off the formation of new stars!
A small fraction of active galaxies with jets are oriented so that their jet is pointed straight at Earth. In those cases we observe radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum enhanced by the enormous speed of the jet and call such sources blazars. By combining NuSTAR X-ray observations with observations in the radio, visible light and extremely energetic gamma-rays, we are learning about the physics of how powerful jets are formed and sustained. One of the remaining mysteries is how do jets create radiation of such extraordinary broad spectrum up to very high energies.
This video is compiled from a series of images taken on July 25 by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. The angular extent of the widest field of view is six degrees. Visible in the images are the comet C/2018 N1, asteroids, variable stars, asteroids and reflected light from Mars. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets around other nearby stars.
Credits: Massachusetts Institute of Technology/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Scientists at the University of Michigan have deduced that the Andromeda galaxy, our closest large galactic neighbor, shredded and cannibalized a massive galaxy two billion years ago.
Even though it was mostly shredded, this massive galaxy left behind a rich trail of evidence: an almost invisible halo of stars larger than the Andromeda galaxy itself, an elusive stream of stars and a separate enigmatic compact galaxy, M32. Discovering and studying this decimated galaxy will help astronomers understand how disk galaxies like the Milky Way evolve and survive large mergers.
This disrupted galaxy, named M32p, was the third-largest member of the Local Group of galaxies, after the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Using computer models, Richard D’Souza and Eric Bell of the University of Michigan’s Department of Astronomy were able to piece together this evidence, revealing this long-lost sibling of the Milky Way. Their findings were published in Nature Astronomy.
Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory, astronomers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland and the California Institute of Technology, USA, have discovered what appears to be the first known triplet of quasars. This close trio of supermassive black holes lies about 10.5 billion light-years away towards the Virgo (The Virgin) constellation. The photo shows the image of the triple quasar QQQ 1429-008, with the three components (A, B and C) indicated on the additional image.
For the first time ever, scientists using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have found the source of a high-energy neutrino from outside our galaxy. This neutrino traveled 3.7 billion years at almost the speed of light before being detected on Earth. This is farther than any other neutrino whose origin scientists can identify.
High-energy neutrinos are hard-to-catch particles that scientists think are created by the most powerful events in the cosmos, such as galaxy mergers and material falling onto supermassive black holes. They travel at speeds just shy of the speed of light and rarely interact with other matter, allowing them to travel unimpeded across distances of billions of light-years.
The neutrino was discovered by an international team of scientists using the National Science Foundation’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. Fermi found the source of the neutrino by tracing its path back to a blast of gamma-ray light from a distant supermassive black hole in the constellation Orion.
“Again, Fermi has helped make another giant leap in a growing field we call multimessenger astronomy,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Neutrinos and gravitational waves deliver new kinds of information about the most extreme environments in the universe. But to best understand what they’re telling us, we need to connect them to the ‘messenger’ astronomers know best—light.”
Scientists study neutrinos, as well as cosmic rays and gamma rays, to understand what is going on in turbulent cosmic environments such as supernovas, black holes and stars. Neutrinos show the complex processes that occur inside the environment, and cosmic rays show the force and speed of violent activity. But, scientists rely on gamma rays, the most energetic form of light, to brightly flag what cosmic source is producing these neutrinos and cosmic rays.
“The most extreme cosmic explosions produce gravitational waves, and the most extreme cosmic accelerators produce high-energy neutrinos and cosmic rays,” says Regina Caputo of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the analysis coordinator for the Fermi Large Area Telescope Collaboration. “Through Fermi, gamma rays are providing a bridge to each of these new cosmic signals.”
The discovery is the subject of two papers published Thursday in the journal Science. The source identification paper also includes important follow-up observations by the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov Telescopes and additional data from NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and many other facilities.
On Sept. 22, 2017, scientists using IceCube detected signs of a neutrino striking the Antarctic ice with energy of about 300 trillion electron volts—more than 45 times the energy achievable in the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth. This high energy strongly suggested that the neutrino had to be from beyond our solar system. Backtracking the path through IceCube indicated where in the sky the neutrino came from, and automated alerts notified astronomers around the globe to search this region for flares or outbursts that could be associated with the event.
Data from Fermi’s Large Area Telescope revealed enhanced gamma-ray emission from a well-known active galaxy at the time the neutrino arrived. This is a type of active galaxy called a blazar, with a supermassive black hole with millions to billions of times the Sun’s mass that blasts jets of particles outward in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light. Blazars are especially bright and active because one of these jets happens to point almost directly toward Earth.
Fermi scientist Yasuyuki Tanaka at Hiroshima University in Japan was the first to associate the neutrino event with the blazar designated TXS 0506+056 (TXS 0506 for short).
“Fermi’s LAT monitors the entire sky in gamma rays and keeps tabs on the activity of some 2,000 blazars, yet TXS 0506 really stood out,” said Sara Buson, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at Goddard who performed the data analysis with Anna Franckowiak, a scientist at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron research center in Zeuthen, Germany. “This blazar is located near the center of the sky position determined by IceCube and, at the time of the neutrino detection, was the most active Fermi had seen it in a decade.”
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States. The NASA Postdoctoral Fellow program is administered by Universities Space Research Association under contract with NASA.