Category Archives: News

Strange Case of the Pulsating Star

News from the Hubble Space Telescope, and Hubblecast. The great observatory has observed the variable star RS Puppis over a period of five weeks, showing the star growing brighter and dimmer. These pulsations have created a stunning example of a phenomenon known as a light echo, where light appears to reverberate through the murky environment around the star.

A pulsating star forms when most of its hydrogen fuel has been consumed. It then becomes unstable, expanding and shrinking over a number of days or weeks and growing brighter and dimmer as they do so.

A new Hubble image shows RS Puppis, a type of variable star known as a Cepheid variable. As variable stars go, Cepheids have comparatively long periods. RS Puppis, for example, varies in brightness by almost a factor of five every 40 or so days.

RS Puppis is enshrouded by a nebula — thick, dark clouds of gas and dust. Hubble observed this star and its murky environment over a period of five weeks in 2010, capturing snapshots at different stages in its cycle and enabling scientists to create a time-lapse video of this ethereal object.

The apparent motion shown in these Hubble observations is an example of a phenomenon known Continue reading Strange Case of the Pulsating Star

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The Great Solar Magnetic Flip

Approximately every 11 years, the solar cycle puts our sun into a rage of incredible solar activity. Coronal mass ejections and solar flares are just some of the phenomena that occur on our sun’s violent surface. However, something is happening that is not so visible; magnetic changes are actually causing the the sun’s poles to swap.

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Surface of the Sun as You’ve Never Seen it

Our sun is an incredible fusion engine. From the surface of earth, we see it as a mere ball of light, but through amazing high-res imaging capabilities, we can observe real solar activities thanks to NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

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Einstein’s Rings and the Fabric of Space

This video is adapted from an intriguing episode of Hubblecast. nature’s telescopes. It explores a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. The gravitational force of a galaxy, full of stars, gas, dark matter, and dust, is so enormous that it affects the region it sits in and distorts the very fabric of the surrounding space.

It isn’t only galaxies that do this. Any object that has mass distorts the space around it with its gravity, from large galaxy clusters down to individual stars. In space, light travels invariably along straight lines. But what is a straight line? Well, it is the shortest distance between two points. But in a curved space, the shortest distance between two points may not look particularly straight to us.

Now what that means is that when light passes very near by a massive object that curves the space around it, the light ray is bent. As a result, this massive object, or rather the curved space around it produced by its gravity, acts like a lens; a gravitational lens that deflects light into our telescopes that would have otherwise never made it there.

This deflection means that distant and faint objects can suddenly be seen peeking from around the edge Continue reading Einstein’s Rings and the Fabric of Space

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Super Hurricanes and Typhoons

Hurricanes, typhoons, tropical cyclones: they are creatures of tropical seas, sweeping up heat laden waters, converting it to wind, rain, and waves. Why do a rare few evolve into colossal monsters, that leave in their wake a trail of destruction, death, and despair? Do we now face a rising tide of Super Hurricanes and Typhoons?

One reason is that more and more people are moving to coastlines around the world, drawn by a combination of jobs and lifestyle. In the United States, for example, 39% of the population lives in coastal counties.

A Columbia University report takes a global look at this trend by identifying major disaster hot spots: the east coast of North America, Bangladesh, the Philippines, the east coast of China. These hurricane-prone coastlines, with their dense population centers, hold enormous potential for economic loss and loss of life.

To make matters worse, the oceans have gotten steadily warmer over the last few decades, adding potency to the hurricane’s fuel. Sea levels are expected to rise by as much as a meter by the end of the century, increasing the risks of storm surge.

As more people pack the coastlines, man and nature are in the midst of an excrutiating Continue reading Super Hurricanes and Typhoons

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Cosmic Journeys – The Search for Earth-like Planets

Get the latest from the planet-hunting frontier. Find out what we are learning about our place in the cosmos from the search for earth-like planets.

This journey started tens of thousands of years ago, when humans began to fan out across the planet, following unknown pathways, crossing unmeasured distances. We traced coastlines, and sailed uncertain seas. We crossed ocean straits drained by an ice age.

Into every corner of Earth we ventured, looking for places to put down our roots, to raise our families, or just to see what was there. Today, it’s the final frontier that fires our imaginations. With so many stars in our galaxy, we make a simple extrapolation, that the cosmos must be filled with worlds like ours, with life, even intelligent life.

For four years, the historic planet hunting mission, Kepler, starred at a group of 150,000 stars located in a region extending three thousand light years away from earth.

The data collected by this spacecraft has brought a turning point in the long search for other planets like earth. Is ours one of countless life-bearing worlds strewn about the galaxy; or is it a rare garden of eden in a barren universe?

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What Curiosity is Discovering on the Road to Mt. Sharp

Join the scientists who manage Curiosity’s journey to Mt. Sharp in reveling in its ongoing discoveries. Find out what the rover is looking for, how it’s navigating the rocky terrain, and what ultimately the journey means to its human patrons. It’s one of the most sophisticated, and inspiring, missions ever undertaken to another planet. Video from NASA/JPL.

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Hubble’s Stunning Monkey Head Nebula

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have captured infrared-light images of a churning region of star birth 6,400 light-years away. New from Hubblecast.

The collection of images reveals a shadowy, dense knot of gas and dust sharply contrasted against a backdrop of brilliant glowing gas in the Monkey Head Nebula (also known as NGC 2174).

The image demonstrates Hubble’s powerful infrared vision and offers a tantalizing hint of what scientists can expect from the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Observations of NGC 2174 were taken in February, 2014.

Massive newborn stars near the center of the nebula (and toward the right in this image) are blasting away at dust within the nebula. The ultraviolet light emitted by these bright stars helps shape the dust into giant pillars.

This carving action occurs because the nebula is mostly composed of hydrogen gas, which becomes ionized by the ultraviolet radiation. As the dust particles are warmed by the ultraviolet light of the stars, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths.

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Super Hurricanes – Preview

Our latest episode of Cosmic Journeys, coming soon. This video asks: what are the conditions that can turn an average tropical storm into a destructive monster? While scientists work to identify the diagnostics of super hurricanes and typhoons, they face an escalating conflict between man and nature. More and more of the world’s people are living in proximity to the sea, making them vulnerable to ocean storms. At the same time, the oceans are getting warmer and sea levels are rising, potentially raising the destructive potential of powerful hurricanes and typhoons.

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