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Pelican Nebula by Roberto Colombari

Pelican Nebula


Roberto Colombari

Halley’s Comet on 8 March 1986 Credit…

Halley’s Comet on 8 March 1986


NASA/W. Liller

ALMA Discovers Trio of Infant Planets around N…

Novel technique to find youngest planets in our galaxy.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has transformed our understanding of protoplanetary discs — the gas- and dust-filled planet factories that encircle young stars. The rings and gaps in these discs provide intriguing circumstantial evidence for the presence of protoplanets. Other phenomena, however, could also account for these tantalising features.

But now, using a novel planet-hunting technique that identifies unusual patterns in the flow of gas within a planet-forming disc around a young star, two teams of astronomers have each confirmed distinct, telltale hallmarks of newly formed planets orbiting an infant star.

Measuring the flow of gas within a protoplanetary disc gives us much more certainty that planets are present around a young star,” said Christophe Pinte of Monash University in Australia and Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (Université de Grenoble-Alpes/CNRS) in France, and lead author on one of the two papers. “This technique offers a promising new direction to understand how planetary systems form.”

“We looked at the localised, small-scale motion of gas in the star’s protoplanetary disc. This entirely new approach could uncover some of the youngest planets in our galaxy, all thanks to the high-resolution images from ALMA,” said Richard Teague, an astronomer at the University of Michigan and principal author on the other paper.

Rather than focusing on the dust within the disc, which was clearly imaged in earlier ALMA observations, the astronomers instead studied carbon monoxide (CO) gas spread throughout the disc. Molecules of CO emit a very distinctive millimetre-wavelength light that ALMA can observe in great detail. Subtle changes in the wavelength of this light due to the Doppler effect reveal the motions of the gas in the disc.

The team led by Teague identified two planets located approximately 12 billion and 21 billion kilometres from the star. The other team, led by Pinte, identified a planet at about 39 billion kilometres from the star.

The two teams used variations on the same technique, which looks for anomalies in the flow of gas — as evidenced by the shifting wavelengths of the CO emission — that indicate the gas is interacting with a massive object [5].

The technique used by Teague, which derived averaged variations in the flow of the gas as small as a few percent, revealed the impact of multiple planets on the gas motions nearer to the star. The technique used by Pinte, which more directly measured the flow of the gas, is better suited to studying the outer portion of the disc. It allowed the authors to more accurately locate the third planet, but is restricted to larger deviations of the flow, greater than about 10%.

In both cases, the researchers identified areas where the flow of the gas did not match its surroundings — a bit like eddies around a rock in a river. By carefully analysing this motion, they could clearly see the influence of planetary bodies similar in mass to Jupiter.

This new technique allows astronomers to more precisely estimate protoplanetary masses and is less likely to produce false positives. “We are now bringing ALMA front and centre into the realm of planet detection,” said coauthor Ted Bergin of the University of Michigan.

Both teams will continue refining this method and will apply it to other discs, where they hope to better understand how atmospheres are formed and which elements and molecules are delivered to a planet at its birth.


Planetary Nebulae: Cat’s Eye Nebula &amp…

Planetary Nebulae: Cat’s Eye Nebula & Eskimo Nebula 

Our solar system will also have a planetary nebula. In about 5 billion years, when the sun comes loose from its outer layers, it will create a beautiful diffuse shell of gas.

Image credit: NASA

/ESA, Hubble

NASA’s Fermi Satellite Celebrates 10 Years of …

On June 11, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope celebrates a decade of using gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light in the cosmos, to study black holes, neutron stars, and other extreme cosmic objects and events.


Left: A STEREO B image of the far side of the sun during the Sept. 1, 2014, solar eruption. Right: The Earth-facing side of the sun at the same time as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The view includes the area from which NASA’s Fermi detected high-energy gamma rays. Includes animated gif. Credit: NASA/STEREO and NASA/SDO


A rupture in the crust of a highly magnetized neutron star, shown here in an artist’s rendering, can trigger high-energy eruptions. Fermi observations of these blasts include information on how the star’s surface twists and vibrates, providing new insights into what lies beneath. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger 


Fermi finds the first extragalactic gamma-ray pulsar. NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has detected the first extragalactic gamma-ray pulsar, PSR J0540-6919, near the Tarantula Nebula (top center) star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy that orbits our own Milky Way. Fermi detects a second pulsar (right) as well but not its pulses. PSR J0540-6919 now holds the record as the highest-luminosity gamma-ray pulsar. The angular distance between the pulsars corresponds to about half the apparent size of a full moon. Background: An image of the Tarantula Nebula and its surroundings in visible light. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; background: ESO/R. Fosbury (ST-ECF)


These maps, both centered on the north galactic pole, show how the sky looks at gamma-ray energies above 100 million electron volts (MeV). Left: The sky during a three-hour interval prior to the detection of GRB 130427A. Right: A three-hour interval starting 2.5 hours before the burst and ending 30 minutes into the event, illustrating its brightness relative to the rest of the gamma-ray sky. GRB 130427A was located in the constellation Leo near its border with Ursa Major, whose brightest stars form the familiar Big Dipper. For reference, this image includes the stars and outlines of both constellations. Labeled. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration.

Novae typically originate in binary systems containing sun-like stars, as shown in this artist’s rendering. A nova in a system like this likely produces gamma rays (magenta) through collisions among multiple shock waves in the rapidly expanding shell of debris. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger

Gamma Rays in Active Galactic Nuclei

Gamma-ray Burst Photon Delay as Expected by Quantum Gravity. Print resolution still. In this illustration, one photon (purple) carries a million times the energy of another (yellow). Some theorists predict travel delays for higher-energy photons, which interact more strongly with the proposed frothy nature of space-time. Yet Fermi data on two photons from a gamma-ray burst fail to show this effect, eliminating some approaches to a new theory of gravity. Credit: NASA/Sonoma State University/Aurore Simonnet

“Fermi’s first 10 years have produced numerous scientific discoveries that have revolutionized our understanding of the gamma-ray universe,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. 

By scanning the sky every three hours, Fermi’s main instrument, the Large Area Telescope (LAT), has observed more than 5,000 individual gamma-ray sources, including an explosion called GRB 130427A, the most powerful gamma-ray burst scientists have detected.

In 1949, Enrico Fermi — an Italian-American pioneer in high-energy physics and Nobel laureate for whom the mission was named — suggested that cosmic rays, particles traveling at nearly the speed of light, could be propelled by supernova shock waves. In 2013, Fermi’s LAT used gamma rays to prove these stellar remnants are at least one source of the speedy particles.

Fermi’s all-sky map, produced by the LAT, has revealed two massive structures extending above and below the plane of the Milky Way. These two “bubbles” span 50,000 light-years and were probably produced by the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy only a few million years ago.

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The highly distorted supernova remnant shown i…

The highly distorted supernova remnant shown in this image may contain the most recent black hole formed in the Milky Way galaxy. The image combines X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue and green, radio data from the NSF’s Very Large Array in pink, and infrared data from Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in yellow.

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/L.Lopez et al; Infrared: Palomar; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA

This gold aluminium cover was designed to pr…

This gold aluminium cover was designed to protect the Voyager 1 and 2 “Sounds of Earth” gold-plated records from micrometeorite bombardment, but also serves a double purpose in providing the finder a key to playing the record. The explanatory diagram appears on both the inner and outer surfaces of the cover, as the outer diagram will be eroded in time. Flying aboard Voyagers 1 and 2 are identical “golden” records, carrying the story of Earth far into deep space. The 12 inch gold-plated copper discs contain greetings in 60 languages, samples of music from different cultures and eras, and natural and man-made sounds from Earth. They also contain electronic information that an advanced technological civilization could convert into diagrams and photographs. Currently, both Voyager probes are sailing adrift in the black sea of interplanetary space, flying towards the outmost border of our solar system.

Credit: NASA/JPL

This scene, captured with a 35mm camera from i…

This scene, captured with a 35mm camera from inside the Space Shuttle Endeavour, shows Jupiter rising above the airglow over Earth’s horizon. The crescent Moon is at top frame.

Credit: NASA

Wolf–Rayet star Wolf–Rayet stars, often a…

Wolf–Rayet star

Wolf–Rayet stars, often abbreviated as WR stars, are a rare heterogeneous set of stars with unusual spectra showing prominent broad emission lines of highly ionised helium and nitrogen or carbon. The spectra indicate very high surface enhancement of heavy elements, depletion of hydrogen, and strong stellar winds. Their surface temperatures range from 30,000 K to around 200,000 K, hotter than almost all other stars.

Classic (or Population I) Wolf–Rayet stars are evolved, massive stars that have completely lost their outer hydrogen and are fusing helium or heavier elements in the core. A subset of the population I WR stars show hydrogen lines in their spectra and are known as WNh stars; they are young extremely massive stars still fusing hydrogen at the core, with helium and nitrogen exposed at the surface by strong mixing and radiation-driven mass loss. A separate group of stars with WR spectra are the central stars of planetary nebulae (CSPNe), post asymptotic giant branch stars that were similar to the Sun while on the main sequence, but have now ceased fusion and shed their atmospheres to reveal a bare carbon-oxygen core.

source | images: NASA/ Judy Schmidt, Michael Miller

What’s Your favorite space object?

What’s Your favorite space object?