Cosmic Journeys – Interstellar Flight

Cosmic Journeys explores the challenges of interstellar flight and the technological possibilities that may one day send us on a long voyage out into the galaxy. What imperatives will define the mission when it launches and finally arrives: exploration and science, or a struggle for survival?

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Stunning New View of Planetary Genesis

From ESO-Cast. A new image from ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, reveals extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around a young star. These are the first observations that have used ALMA in its near-final configuration and the sharpest pictures ever made at submillimetre wavelengths. The new results are an enormous step forward in the observation of how protoplanetary discs develop and how planets form.

For ALMA’s first observations in its new and most powerful mode, researchers pointed the antennas at HL Tauri — a young star, about 450 light-years away, which is surrounded by a dusty disc. The resulting image exceeds all expectations and reveals unexpectedly fine detail in the disc of material left over from star birth. It shows a series of concentric bright rings, separated by gaps.

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Solar Storms: 10 Hottest Facts

Our Sun is located 24-26,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way. It circles the galaxy every 225-250,000 years, at a speed of 220 kilometers per second. The sun is a medium size star, a Yellow Dwarf, G type main sequence. It’s about one million times the size of planet Earth.

Core temperature:15,000,000 °C. Surface temperature: 5,500 °C.

The sun emits a steady stream of charged particles, the solar wind, at 450 km per second. It increases in strength during active periods, every 11 years or so. Active periods are marked by an increase in sunspots. Sunspots are Earth-sized regions where intense magnetic fields prevent hot gas from reaching the surface, driving temperatures down to around 4,000°C. They often correspond to active regions.

Where magnetic activity drives the formation of coronal loops, or prominences. Solar flares. And Solar tsunamis, technically “fast-mode magnetohydrodynamical waves.” In February 2009, the Stereo spacecraft detected one that rose to 100,000 km high, and raced outward at 250 kilometers per second. It was associated with an eruption of gas and magnetic fields called a coronal mass ejection.

A CME can blast a billion tons of matter out at 10 to 12 million kilometers per hour. Continue reading Solar Storms: 10 Hottest Facts

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Hubble Return to the Eagle Nebula

From HubbleCast. The Hubble Space Telescope has returned to one of its most famous landmarks: the Eagle Nebula, also known as the Pillars of Creation. The revolutionary space telescope has delivered a new visible-light image as well as a revealing infrared image. These two images show the Eagle Nebula in more detail than ever before.

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Superstar Duet in Eta Carinae

A gem from NASA Astrophysics. Eta Carinae is a binary system containing the most luminous and massive star within 10,000 light-years. A long-term study combined data from NASA satellites, ground-based observing campaigns and theoretical modeling to produce the most comprehensive picture of Eta Carinae to date. New findings include Hubble Space Telescope images that show decade-old shells of ionized gas racing away from the largest star at a million miles an hour, and new 3-D models that reveal never-before-seen features of the stars’ interactions.

Located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, Eta Carinae is actually two massive stars whose eccentric orbits bring them close every 5.5 years. Both produce powerful stellar winds, which enshroud the stars and stymy efforts to directly measure their properties. Astronomers have established that the brighter, cooler primary star has about 90 times the mass of the sun and outshines it by 5 million times. Its smaller, hotter companion weighs in at about 30 solar masses and emits a million times the sun’s light.

At closest approach, or periastron, the stars are 225 million kilometers apart, or about the average distance between Mars and the sun. Astronomers observe dramatic changes in the system during Continue reading Superstar Duet in Eta Carinae

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Deeper than the Hubble Deep Field

In landmark observations, the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile has given astronomers the best ever three-dimensional view of the deep Universe. After staring at the Hubble Deep Field South region for a total of 27 hours the new observations reveal the distances, motions and other properties of far more galaxies than ever before in this tiny piece of the sky. The new observations are allowing astronomers to go beyond the Hubble Deep Field and reveal a host of previously unseen objects.

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Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates 25 Years in Space

Revel in this spectacular commemorative image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, courtesy of HubbleCast.

Hubble was launched in orbit on 24 April 1990 as the first space telescope of its kind. For two and a half decades, it has beamed back data and images that have changed our understanding of the Universe and how it came to be.

This amazing image of the star cluster Westerlund 2 is a giant cluster of about 3000 stars. The cluster resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina.

The stellar nursery is enshrouded by dust, but Hubble’s Camera peered through the dusty veil in near-infrared light, giving us a clear view of its inner workings. The image resolves the dense concentration of stars in the center, about 10 light-years across.

The cluster is only about two million years old, but contains some of the brightest, hottest and most massive stars ever discovered. Some of the heftiest stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing torrents of ultraviolet light and high speed streams of charged particles, known as stellar winds. These are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which Continue reading Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates 25 Years in Space

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Black Holes and Dark Matter

A fascinating new simulation from NASA shows how astronomers might use black holes to look for signs of a theoretical dark matter particle called a WIMP. Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. When they get whipped up by a black hole, annihilation rates would soar, and we’d be able to see them.

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Space is exciting